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King v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

March 23, 2017




          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Roy Alyette Durham II

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear James Daryl Havey



         Appellant, Ronald Lee King, was convicted of second-degree assault for shooting his stepson in the arm, fourth-degree assault for injuring his wife, first-degree wanton endangerment for threatening his wife with a gun, and third-degree arson for starting a fire inside his trailer. His primary claim on appeal is that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary intoxication under KRS 501.080(1). This Court agrees that the evidence was sufficient to entitle him to such an instruction. But because voluntary intoxication provides only a partial defense as explained below, the failure to include the instruction was reversible error only as to the second-degree assault conviction. We affirm the remaining convictions and sentences.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ronald Lee King lived in a trailer with his wife of 32 years, Hope; her son, David, and his fiancee, Rachel; Hope's sister; and Hope's two minor grandchildren. He took prescribed doses of Prozac, Lortab, and arthritis medicine on a daily basis. According to his wife, he did so on the day in question.

         On that day in May 2014, David purchased a 1.-75 liter bottle (a so-called handle) of bourbon. King, David, and Rachel each had a few mixed drinks over the course of two to three hours that afternoon. Afterward, David stowed the more-than-half-full bottle in the freezer, as was his custom. In the hours that followed, however, as the trailer's various residents retired to their own devices (watching movies, falling asleep, etc.), King apparently finished off the rest of the bourbon by himself. (Although the Commonwealth argued at trial that there was no evidence of this, as King did not testify, there was also no evidence that anyone but he continued drinking after the trio's shared drinks that afternoon.)

         At some point later in the evening, Rachel left the room she shared with David and encountered King with a drink in his hand. She testified that he was coherent and intelligible at that time, although he informed her that the bourbon was almost gone. They talked briefly about family pictures. In the meantime, Hope had gone to bed because she had to be up early the next morning. In spite of that, King repeatedly disturbed her by coming into their bedroom and turning on the lights to roll cigarettes. When she eventually asked him to stop so that she could sleep, an argument ensued and King became belligerent. He called her derogatory names and threatened her with a gun held against her head. He also somehow injured her arm, but not seriously. Hope testified that he appeared to have drunk too much and had a "blank look on his face like he wasn't there."

         Rachel overheard the commotion and became worried. After hearing King threaten to kill Hope, she roused David. When he heard his mother say something about a gun, he entered the bedroom to investigate. He saw King holding his mother down on their bed with a gun to her head, so he grabbed King's shoulder and pulled him off his mother. After David did so, King cried, "111 shoot you, " before making good on the threat and shooting David in the left forearm. The gunshot wound, it seems, also was not serious.

         King then apparently just sat on a chair in his bedroom while the others fled the trailer and called 911. Rachel reentered the trailer a few times to retrieve various items. On one of those reentries, she observed King standing by his bed, appearing to count pills.

         Police soon arrived and surrounded the home. They did not immediately enter because they knew the suspect inside was armed. A short time later, an alarm sounded and they observed smoke and fire coming from the trailer. The smoke choked officers and impeded their entry into the trailer. One officer entered briefly on his stomach to avoid the smoke, however, and noted a pile of clothes engulfed in flames at the end of a hallway.

         In the meantime, King barricaded himself in the bathroom at the back of the trailer. He attempted to exit out of the bathroom window but got stuck. Police outside found him dangling from the window and pulled him down. Once on the ground, he was initially unresponsive and appeared to be unconscious and intoxicated. One officer noted in his report that he suspected a drug or alcohol overdose. King had sustained minor cuts, scrapes, and burns.

         Police handcuffed King, carried him away from the trailer, and laid him on the grass, where he vomited a few times. He then became combative and remained so. Emergency medical responders arrived, and because of his unruliness, police handcuffed him to his gurney for the trip to the hospital. Crime scene investigators later found the empty bourbon bottle on King's bedroom floor, along with three prescription pill bottles, all also empty save for one pill. They also found a semi-automatic handgun on the bedroom floor and an unloaded revolver next to the toilet in the barricaded bathroom. There was fire and smoke damage throughout the trailer, but they found no evidence that an accelerant was used. Nor did they find any evidence of an accidental source of the fire, such as the dryer or other heat source. Two cigarette lighters were found, one in King's bedroom accompanying his cigarettes and another inside the dresser that he used to barricade the bathroom door.

         A few days after his arrest, King told police that he remembered taking ' the rest of his pills in a suicide attempt. He did not testify at trial. Hope, David, and Rachel all testified that they had never before seen King act as he did that evening-that he had never in any way been violent, aggressive, or threatening, with a gun or otherwise. David knew of no prior argument between his mother and stepfather having become physical. Nor could he recall even the last time they argued at all.

         King was charged with first-degree arson, first-degree wanton endangerment of Hope for holding a gun to her head, second-degree assault for shooting David in the arm, and fourth-degree assault for injuring his wife's arm. His defense at trial was voluntary intoxication, i.e., that his state of drunkenness negated his capacity to form the criminal intent necessary for conviction. See KRS 501.080. Although the trial court instructed the jury on the lesser-included offenses of second- and third-degree arson and fourth-degree assault of David, it rejected his request for an explicit jury instruction on voluntary intoxication.

         The jury convicted King of third-degree arson, second-degree assault of David, first-degree wanton endangerment of Hope, and fourth-degree assault of Hope. They recommended consecutive prison sentences for the first three convictions of five years, ten years, and five years, respectively, along with a concurrent 12-month prison sentence for the fourth-degree assault conviction. The trial court sentenced him to the ...

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