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United States v. Stephens

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 24, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Bruce Wayne Stephens Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: February 16, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Jefferson City.

          Before LOKEN, BENTON, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.

         On October 11, 2016, Bruce Wayne Stephens was charged in a single-count indictment with obstruction of justice for threatening to retaliate in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513(b)(1). Stephens proceeded to a jury trial and was convicted. At the sentencing hearing he was found by the district court to be at offense level 24, criminal history category IV, with a guideline range of 77-96 months. Stephens was sentenced to ninety-six months' imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release. Stephens contends on appeal that: (1) the district court impermissibly amended the indictment through its verdict director; and (2) the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Bruce Stephens's son, Malcolm Redmon, faced nineteen felony counts in a multi-defendant drug trafficking conspiracy indictment filed in the Western District of Missouri. The case against Redmon was based in part on the testimony of cooperating co-conspirators. As part of a plea bargain, Redmon pled guilty to Count One of the Superseding Indictment, which charged him with Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess with Intent to Distribute Cocaine.

         A number of Redmon's co-defendants also pled guilty to various charges and were set for sentencing hearings at the U.S. Courthouse in Jefferson City, Missouri, on September 29, 2016. Redmon's hearing was set for 2:00 p.m. Earlier that day a cooperating co-defendant who had provided information about Redmon was sentenced. The co-defendant appeared along with his counsel, a CJA panel lawyer named Brian Risley.

         When Risley arrived to the courtroom before his client's sentencing hearing, several persons asked him whom he represented. When Risley named his client, Stephens repeatedly told him, "Snitches belong in ditches." During the hearing, Risley argued his client was entitled to sentencing mitigation due to his cooperation. When the hearing concluded, Stephens acted disruptively and told Risley, "I am gonna whip your ass." Two Court Security Officers (CSOs) escorted Stephens out of the building. Stephens told the CSOs, "I hope you die and I hope your whole family dies."

         A few minutes later, Risley left the courthouse. Risley was accosted by Stephens on the street. Stephens told Risley, "Snitches, you a mother fucking snitch. Fuck you. I will kill you, kill your wife, kill your family." Risley drove away and reported the threat. Stephens was taken into custody, was informed of his Miranda rights, and voluntarily made a videotaped statement in which he admitted to making a threatening statement to Risley.

         Stephens was indicted in a single-count indictment with obstruction of justice for threatening to retaliate in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513(b)(1). The text of the indictment referenced "an official proceeding, that is, the investigation and prosecution of Malcolm Desean Redmon in Case No. 14-04065-02-CR-C-SRB." The "-02" in the case number is the defendant identifier identifying Malcolm Desean Redmon.

         The case was tried to a jury. Final Jury Instruction No. 20 was the verdict director setting forth the essential elements of the charged offense. The instruction referenced "U.S. v. Scott, et al., case no. 14-04065-CR-C-SRB, which case included the prosecution of codefendant Malcolm Desean Redmon." Instruction 20 dropped the defendant identifier number, but included the language identifying 14-04065 as a case involving Malcolm Redmon. On December 7, 2016, the jury found Stephens guilty of the crime as charged in the indictment under Instruction No. 20. The district imposed a sentence at the high end of the Guidelines.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Challenge ...


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