may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
William Harold Jones,
Filed May 4, 1999
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 97113936
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Beverly J. Benson, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan J. Andrews, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Foley, Judge.
Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction for first-degree assault in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.221 (1998). He contends the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense when he shot Alton Webb. Because there was sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could have found appellant did not act in self-defense, we affirm.
Appellant William Jones lived with his mother, Nancy Hansbrough, and her boyfriend, Alton Webb. Jones had his own bedroom and Hansbrough and Webb shared a bedroom. On the evening of December 16, 1997, Jones visited his girlfriend, came home, and went to bed. At approximately 11:30 p.m. Webb arrived home. He had been drinking. He went into his bedroom and turned on his stereo. He then received a phone call. Jones was awakened by the noise, stepped into the hallway, and closed Webb's bedroom door. Webb reopened the door and turned up his stereo until the vibration in the left speaker forced him to turn down the music.
At this point, the two stories diverge. Webb testified he heard Jones's door open and saw Jones come out of the door and lean forward. Jones had his left hand by his side and was holding a gun in it. He said, "Why are you always * * * with me, man?," lifted the gun, and shot Webb in the chest. Webb then hit Jones, and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, Jones shot Webb five times: once in the chest, once in each leg, once in the armpit, and once across the scalp.
Jones presented a different version of the events leading to the shooting. He testified that after he closed Webb's door, he crawled back into bed and tried to fall asleep. Webb then came into Jones's room. Jones could not tell if Webb was armed and decided he should get downstairs. He grabbed his cellular phone and a pistol. At the doorway he tried to go around Webb, but Webb hit him in the head. Jones responded by biting Webb's arm and the gun went off. They wrestled down the hallway and into the bathroom where the gun went off two more times. They ended up in Webb's bedroom where the last bullets were discharged.
Jones testified he never meant to hurt Webb. He said he was scared and simply wanted to get away from Webb. After the struggle, Jones called 911. When the police arrived, he let them in and told them where Webb was located. He also told the police he had shot Webb. One of the officers who responded to the 911 call noticed Jones was bloody and scratched up. Jones testified he had a broken hand and had scratches on his arms, face, and back.
Upon examining the house, the officers found a trail of blood in the hallway and more blood in the bathroom. They found part of a bullet near the bathroom door and a bullet lodged in some bathroom fixtures. They found indications a struggle had occurred in the bathroom. The police also found evidence of gunfire in Webb's bedroom.
In the ambulance en route to the emergency room, Webb told Officer Lisa Thome he was shot because he was "messing with Jones." Webb also told an acquaintance, Anthony Arnold, that when Jones objected to his loud music, he decided to "piss Jones off." Webb told Arnold he went into Jones's bedroom and began to "beat the * * *" out of him.
Jones was charged with attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, and second-degree assault. The case was tried to a jury, and Jones was convicted of first- and second-degree assault. On appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction for first-degree assault. He argues the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense when he shot Webb.
The elements of self-defense are:
(1) the absence of aggression or provocation on the part of the defendant; (2) the defendant's actual and honest belief that he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm; (3) the existence of reasonable grounds for that belief; and (4) the absence of a reasonable possibility of retreat to avoid the danger.
State v. Basting, 572 N.W.2d 281, 285 (Minn. 1997); McKissic, 415 N.W.2d at 344. The degree of force used in self-defense must not exceed that which appears to be necessary to a reasonable person under similar circumstances. McKissic, 415 N.W.2d at 344.
A defendant has the burden of going forward with evidence to support a claim of self-defense. State v. Graham, 371 N.W.2d 204, 209 (Minn. 1985). Once it is raised, the state has the burden of disproving one or more of the elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Basting, 572 N.W.2d at 286.
The question before us is whether there was sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could have found Jones acted in self-defense. See State v. Gray, 456 N.W.2d 251, 257-58 (Minn. 1990). Jones urges this court to disregard Webb's "self serving testimony" and find Jones was provoked and only shot Webb in an effort to protect himself and get away from Webb.
Although Jones's testimony that Webb initiated the conflict is corroborated by the testimony of Anthony Arnold and Officer Thome, the jury was free to believe Webb's testimony and disbelieve the testimony of the other witnesses. It is well settled that resolving conflicting testimony is the exclusive function of the jury because it has had the opportunity to observe the demeanor of witnesses and to weigh their credibility. State v. Lloyd, 345 N.W.2d 240, 245 (Minn. 1984).
The jury also may have concluded Jones did not have reasonable grounds to believe he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. Webb testified he did not have any type of a weapon in his hand. Jones testified Webb was silhouetted in his doorway and he could not see whether he had anything in his hand. Jones also testified Webb took a step back from him when Jones attempted to pass through the doorway and go downstairs.
Even disregarding Webb's testimony, the jury could have determined Jones used unreasonable force under the circumstances or that there was a reasonable possibility of retreat. The evidence indicated six rounds were discharged from the gun and Webb was hit five times. Additionally, Jones did not call the police for help immediately when confronted by Webb or attempt to lock Webb out of his bedroom.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we conclude there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's determination that Jones was not acting in self-defense when he committed the assault on Webb.
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by apointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.