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United States v. Thomas

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 21, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Michael M. Thomas Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: November 17, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Omaha

          Before BENTON, SHEPHERD, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         Michael M. Thomas appeals his convictions for domestic assault by an habitual offender and assaulting an intimate partner by suffocation or attempted suffocation, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 113(a)(8), 117, and 1153. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

         At trial, Thomas's girlfriend, Morgyn Redhorn, testified that he pushed her onto a couch, plugged her nose, covered her mouth, and threatened to "put me out." Redhorn said she struggled to breathe, was afraid she might lose consciousness, and feared for her life. A neighbor testified she heard screams "like someone was in trouble." Police, responding to the scene, testified Redhorn had a swollen lip, red face, and was visibly upset. At the close of evidence, the district court[1] denied Thomas's motion for judgment of acquittal. The jury convicted on both counts.

         At sentencing, the district court shared a conversation it had with the jury immediately after the verdict:

As the lawyers know, every time there's a jury trial, I go back and I meet with the jury to thank them, and I never of course inquire about anything concerning deliberations. I invite them to ask me questions about the general court operation, if they have questions.
But as soon as I went back to meet with this jury, they did say we want you to know we did not think that the defendant intended to hurt this victim. We believe his actions were negligent. Now, of course, under the instruction the term negligence isn't used, the term recklessness is used, and so it can be inferred with some certainty that the jury concluded the defendant's actions were reckless.
I'll also note that while the defendant's actions were completely inexcusable and the evidence demonstrated that he did cover the victim's mouth and nose and impeded her breathing and did that repeatedly, it appeared from the evidence that the defendant was not attempting to cut the victim off from all oxygen but was attempting to stop her from screaming, and that's not an excuse for his conduct.
His conduct violated the statute, and he was guilty of the crime.

         The district court sentenced him to 37 months' imprisonment on each count, to be served concurrently.

         Thomas appeals, arguing the jury's statement shows there is insufficient evidence to support the verdict, and the jury ...


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