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Reid v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

December 5, 2019

Eric REID, Appellant
STATE of Arkansas, Appellee


         Willard Proctor, Jr., P.A., by: Willard Proctor, Jr. and Dominique T. King, Little Rock, for appellant.

         Leslie Rutledge, Att’y Gen., by: Chris R. Warthen, Ass’t Att’y Gen.; and Joseph Karl Luebke, Ass’t Att’y Gen., for appellee.


         RHONDA K. WOOD, Associate Justice

          Eric Reid appeals from his two capital-murder convictions, a firearm enhancement, and his sentence of death. He alleges multiple errors during the trial’s guilt and sentencing phases. We affirm.

          I. Facts

          On October 19, 2015, Eric Reid killed his wife, Laura Reid, and his daughter, Mary Ann Reid. The night of the murders, Reid argued with Mary Ann regarding her parenting habits. Following the argument, Reid retrieved a pistol from his nightstand and shot his wife twice in the back and once as she lay on the ground. He then turned the gun toward his daughter, Mary Ann, and began shooting. Reid’s first shot missed. But the second shot struck both Mary Ann and Heather, Reid’s other daughter who was standing next to Mary Ann when the shooting began. Mary Ann retreated to the back of the house, and Reid pursued. After shooting Mary Ann a total of four times, Reid walked to the end of the driveway and waited for the police.

          At trial, there was no question that Reid killed his wife and daughter. The central issue was whether Reid’s actions were premeditated and deliberate. The State’s evidence included testimony from Heather. She depicted the week leading up to the shooting as volatile, describing ongoing disputes between Reid, Laura, and Mary Ann regarding financial struggles and parenting decisions. Heather also recounted the shooting. She explained how her father shot Laura and Mary Ann each at least one time after they were already down, and that after killing them both, Reid instructed her to call 911 and tell them that he had shot his wife and daughter.

          The State also played Reid’s police interview from the night of the murders. When asked to explain what happened, Reid stated that he knew he used "deadly force" after he allowed a woman to "draw [him] off sides" and "push [him] over the edge." Consistent with Heather’s testimony, Reid explained that the tension with his wife and daughter had been "brewing for quite a while." Finally, the jury heard testimony from a prison guard who overheard Reid tell another inmate, "If you’re going to shoot someone with a gun[,] make sure they die, like I did."

          A jury convicted Reid of both capital-murder counts and a firearm enhancement. The jury sentenced him to death. Reid appeals his convictions and sentence.

          II. Voir Dire

          Reid first argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in limiting his use of hypotheticals during voir dire. The extent and scope of voir dire falls within the broad discretion of the circuit court. E.g., Isom v. State, 356 Ark. 156, 171, 148 S.W.3d 257, 267 (2004). Accordingly, we will not reverse voir dire restrictions unless that discretion is clearly abused. Gay v. State, 2016 Ark. 433, at 5, 506 S.W.3d 851, 856. An abuse of discretion occurs when the circuit court acts arbitrarily or groundlessly. Id.

          A. Colorado Technique

          Before trial, defense counsel requested permission to employ the "Colorado Method" of voir dire examination. This method presupposes a guilty verdict, and then utilizes increasingly specific hypotheticals to determine how likely a prospective juror will vote for death. The circuit court ruled that it would allow the use of general hypotheticals, but that it would not allow specific hypotheticals, as they would lead to "fact qualifying" potential jurors. During a break in voir dire, the State objected to Reid’s use of a hypothetical involving a school shooting in Florida. The circuit court sustained the State’s objection and cautioned Reid to only use general hypotheticals that were relevant to the case. On appeal, Reid contends that this restriction was improper.

         Voir dire is conducted to identify and eliminate unqualified jurors; those who are not able to impartially follow the court’s instructions and evaluate the evidence. Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 729-30, 112 S.Ct. 2222, 119 L.Ed.2d 492 (1992). As noted above, how this is accomplished falls within the court’s discretion. Isom, 356 Ark. at 172, 148 S.W.3d at 268. The judge shall initiate voir dire by identifying the parties and their respective counsel, revealing any names of prospective witnesses, and briefly outlining the nature of the case. Ark. R. Crim. P. 32.2(a) (2019). But beyond these four requirements, counsel may only ask additional questions "as the judge deems reasonable and proper." Id.

         In Harmon v. State, the circuit court limited the use of hypotheticals during voir dire that involved "specific factual issues not involved in th[at] case." 286 Ark. 184, 186, 690 S.W.2d 125, 126 (1985). On appeal, we opined that this limitation was not an abuse of discretion, reasoning that a defendant has never been "in a position to present a venireman a totally irrelevant hypothetical situation" during voir dire. Id. (quoting Rector v. State, 280 Ark. 385, 398, 659 S.W.2d 168, 175 (1983)).

         Here, Reid was not entitled to unfettered examination through any means desired. Isom, supra. Limiting the use of emotionally charged hypotheticals— such as those involving school shootings— was well within the circuit court’s broad discretion. The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in limiting Reid’s use of hypotheticals during voir dire.

          B. Strike for Cause

          Reid also claims that, because he could not conduct unrestricted voir dire in the specific manner desired, he was compelled to exhaust his preemptory strikes prematurely. As a result, he contends that he was forced to accept Juror Phillips; a juror that he argued should have been struck for cause. The proper test for releasing prospective jurors for cause is whether their views would prevent or substantially impair the performance of their duties as jurors in accordance with their instructions and oath. E.g., Gay, 2016 Ark. 433, at 9, 506 S.W.3d at 858.

          Reid maintains that the court should have struck Juror Phillips for cause because his religion taught the principle of "an eye for an eye." Reid extensively questioned Phillips on this point. Without waver, Phillips maintained that, if "there are mitigating circumstances," he would consider them before deciding the issue of death. More directly, Reid asked Phillips whether he would automatically impose the death penalty. Phillips responded that he would "have to see the evidence." Additionally, Phillips affirmatively stated that he could follow the law, that his decision on death would be based on "how the trial goes," rather than automatic, that he would consider both mitigators and aggravators prior to reaching a decision, and that he appreciated the option of mercy.

          Although Reid argues on appeal that the voir dire procedure the circuit court adopted prevented him from unearthing Phillips’s true bias, Reid made no such argument at trial. Therefore, based on Juror Phillips’s answers, we hold that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Phillips could perform the duties of a juror in accordance with the court’s instructions and his oath.

          III. The State’s Opening Statement

         Reid next asserts that the circuit court erred in denying his mistrial motion because the State’s opening statement referenced evidence that was not adduced at trial. Specifically, the prosecution told the jury that, before Reid shot Mary Ann a final time, "he said something ... to the effect he called her a bitch." Reid explained that he did not object to the statement when it was made because it was not yet apparent that the statement would not be supported by the evidence. But at the close of the State’s case, Reid promptly moved for a mistrial.

          Mistrial is an extreme and drastic remedy that is appropriate only when there has been error so prejudicial that justice cannot be served by continuing with the trial or when the fundamental fairness of the trial has been manifestly affected. E.g., McClendon v. State, 2019 Ark. 88, at 6-7, 570 S.W.3d 450, 454. A circuit court has wide discretion to grant or deny a motion for a mistrial, and absent an abuse of that discretion, the decision will not be disturbed on appeal. Id.

          While the State should not appeal to prejudices, pervert the testimony, or make statements that cannot be proven during opening, "it is not uncommon for an attorney to outline in an opening statement what he or she anticipates the testimony is going to be, and then, in view of developments in the trial, decide not to produce that evidence." Henry v. State,337 Ark. 310, 319, 989 S.W.2d 894, 898 (1999). Indeed, where evidence is admissible, a party may refer to it during opening statement. Rank ...

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