Arizona Court Denies Defendant’s Appeal in Arizona Murder Case, Affirming His Conviction and Sentence

In a recent Arizona murder case, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentencing for second-degree murder. In the appeal, the defendant argued on many counts, challenging the lower court decision through the Arizona separation-of-powers doctrine, disputing evidence introduced at trial, filing motions to suppress evidence, disputing jury instructions, and arguing that his sentencing was also improper. The appeals court denied his appeals and affirmed both his conviction and his sentence.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion in May of 2015, the defendant, a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, lived with his wife and twenty-month-old step-daughter at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. On May 18, his wife spent time playing with the daughter, and neither she nor their neighbor observed any injuries on her. Photographs taken by the defendant’s wife that day also do not reveal any evidence of injuries to her daughter. That night when the defendant picked up his wife, she was upset that he did not bring her daughter because she did not like leaving her daughter alone. The defendant told her during the ride home that he had spanked the daughter because she had been misbehaving. When they arrived home, the defendant’s wife went directly to bed, while the defendant checked in on the daughter before going to sleep.

The next morning, when the wife went in to see her daughter after the defendant had left for work, she found her “laying halfway off the bed with her head on the floor.” Her daughter’s body was cold and stiff. She saw marks that resembled burns and called 911. When paramedics arrived on the scene they were unable to resuscitate the daughter, who had no pulse. She was then transported to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. The defendant was subsequently interviewed and investigated by Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents as well as the Yuma Police Department. During his interviews with the NCIS agents, the defendant made several incriminating statements and signed a waiver relieving them of the need to advise him of his constitutional rights.

The defendant was first charged in court-martial proceedings and ultimately the charges were dismissed without prejudice.

A Yuma County Grand Jury then indicted the defendant on one count of second-degree murder. At the superior court level, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. On appeal, the defendant made a wide range of arguments. stating that due to his military status that his prosecution violated Arizona’s separation-of-powers-doctrine, challenging the admission of autopsy photographs at the trial court stage, entering three motions to suppress statements made to investigators, entering a motion to suppress expert testimony from the trial court stage, arguing that defense witnesses were improperly precluded at the trial court stage, disputing multiple evidentiary rulings from the trial court decision, and lastly arguing that the superior court erroneously denied his request to give the jurors an other-act limiting instruction. Additionally, the defendant challenged his sentence on two grounds, asserting the superior court (1) considered an improper aggravator in imposing his sentence, and (2) by sentencing him without the necessary specific jury finding.

Regarding the defendant’s separation-of-powers argument, the appeals court found that Arizona has the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed within its territorial borders. Regarding the evidentiary claims, the motions to suppress statements by the defendant, the exclusion of defense witness claims, and the improper jury instruction claim, the appeals court found that the evidence was properly admitted, that the superior court properly denied the defendant’s motions to suppress, that the witnesses were not improperly excluded and that the denial of jury instruction was not improper. Finally, the appeals court found no issue in the trial court sentencing of the defendant. The appeals court affirmed both his conviction and his sentence.

Have You Been Charged with a Violent Crime in Arizona?

If you are facing criminal charges for a violent crime in Arizona, call us at The Law Office of James E. Novak. We are committed to advocating for your rights and exploring every aspect of your case to find the holes in the prosecution’s charges against you. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 480-413-1499. You can also send us an online message to have your questions answered.

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