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Smith v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

September 26, 2013

Richard SMITH, Appellant
v.
COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee.

Page 161

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 162

Brandon Neil Jewell, Assistant Public Advocate, Counsel for Appellant.

Jack Conway, Attorney General, Jeffrey Allan Cross, Assistant Attorney General, Counsel for Appellee.

OPINION

VENTERS, Justice.

Appellant, Richard Smith, appeals from a judgment of the Wayne Circuit Court convicting him of wanton murder, three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, two counts of second-degree wanton endangerment, and sentencing him to a total of twenty years' imprisonment.

As grounds for relief Appellant raises four issues: (1) the trial court erred by denying his pretrial motion to suppress the recorded interview he gave to the police shortly after his arrest; (2) he was entitled to a directed verdict on two of the counts of first-degree wanton endangerment; (3) palpable error occurred as a result of the trial court's failure to define self-protection in connection with the self-defense instruction; and (4) he was entitled to an instruction defining reasonable doubt. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In the light most favorable to the verdict the facts are as follows. On the evening of September 18, 2009, at around 11:00 p.m. Appellant rode his horse about two miles from his residence to the home of Jonathan and Samantha Rigney, and their two small children, Gabe and Jazzlyn. When Appellant arrived at the Rigney home, Samantha was seated on one side of the front porch, holding Jazzlyn. Jonathan, sitting beside Samantha, was holding Gabe. Samantha's cousin, Stacie Conn, and Stacie's

Page 163

son, Austin James Conn, were seated on the other side of the porch, which measured about seven feet deep and fourteen feet wide.

As Appellant approached the house, Samantha asked him why he was out so late. Appellant then drew a gun from his pants, and began shooting. As he did so, Samantha was heard to exclaim, " No, Richard, no...." At the first sound of gunfire, Appellant's horse bucked but Appellant continued shooting. Jonathan immediately took Gabe into the house, and then returned to get Jazzlyn. In the meantime, Stacie and Austin successfully took cover inside the house. Altogether, Appellant fired four to six shots. When the shooting concluded, Appellant fled the scene. Samantha was mortally wounded by a gunshot in the forehead and she died at the hospital a short time later.

After Appellant was identified as the shooter, deputies from the Wayne County Sheriffs Office went to his residence. Appellant was not home, but his wife gave them permission to search the property for him. They located the horse, which appeared to have been recently ridden, and they discovered two beers in the saddlebag. After about two hours, the deputies abandoned the search for Appellant and asked his wife to have him call them when he returned.

Appellant called about an hour later and the deputies returned to his residence. When they arrived, Appellant came out of his house drinking a beer. When informed by the officers that they wanted to question him about a shooting, Appellant responded that if he had shot somebody he could not remember doing so. Appellant was subsequently taken to the sheriff's office where he was formally interviewed. It is not disputed that Appellant had been drinking alcoholic beverages and was intoxicated at the time of the interview.

After an appropriate rendition of his Miranda warnings, Appellant signed a written acknowledgment that he understood his rights. He then admitted that he was at the Rigney home that evening, and suggested that he had gone there to confront Jonathan because he believed that Jonathan had stolen property from his brother.

At first, Appellant told the officers that when he arrived at the Rigney home and saw a large gathering on the porch, he did nothing more than set off an M-80 firecracker. Later in the interview, however, when asked if anyone else had a gun, Appellant said that when he arrived, Jonathan went inside, got a rifle, and pointed it at him. In this alternate version of events, Appellant said he lit the firecracker in response to Jonathan's threatening gesture with the rifle. However, some time later Appellant again explained that he had set off the firecracker, but he omitted the ...


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