Upon Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal – DENIED
Kate S. Keller, Deputy Attorney General
Joseph M. Leager, Jr., Assistant Public Defender
FRED S. SILVERMAN JUDGE
1. Although the State later dropped the murder charge, Defendant was indicted for Murder Second Degree and related firearm charges following a confrontation ending in Toney Morgan's death on April 23, 2013. To understand Defendant's motion for acquittal, the trial's dynamic is important. Defendant, admittedly, is a person prohibited from possessing a firearm. Defendant, admittedly, killed Morgan with a firearm. Defendant contended, nonetheless, that he was not guilty of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited Negligently Causing Serious Physical Injury or Death because he only possessed the firearm momentarily and used it only in self-defense, having wrestled it away from Morgan, who was then attacking Defendant. The court charged the jury that if Defendant only possessed and used the weapon momentarily in self-defense, then he was not guilty.
2. The State having dropped two of the five indicted charges: the murder and related weapons charge, trial began January 7, 2014 on the remaining three charges: Reckless Endangering First Degree, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of Felony, and Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited Negligently Causing Serious Physical Injury or Death. The jury acquitted Defendant of the first two charges, while convicting on Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited Negligently Causing Serious Physical Injury or Death.
3. On January 17, 2014, Defendant's trial counsel filed this motion for acquittal alleging the verdicts are legally inconsistent. The State responded on February 5, 2014. Defendant, himself, submitted letters on February 7, 2014 and March 4, 2014. The letters are out of order but they bear mention, so the court addresses them briefly at the decision's end.
4. Through counsel, Defendant alleges, as in some other compound firearm cases, having acquitted on the underlying felony, convicting for the compound firearm offense is inescapably inconsistent. Specifically, Defendant first contends by convicting on Count III, the jury had to have found Defendant possessed his own firearm, not Morgan's. And, by acquitting on Counts I and II, the jury had to have accepted Defendant's self-defense assertion. Defendant argues:
In light of the defense 'all or nothing' strategy and argument, it is logically inconsistent and irreconcilable that the jury accepted self-defense as to Counts I and II in which a higher state of mind was required, but rejected self-defense as to Count III in which the required state of mind was simple negligence.
5. The State responds the two verdicts are easily reconciled. Counts I and II related to victim Antwyne Mangrum, whereas Count III related only to victim Toney Morgan. Further, Count III contained some distinct elements. Thus, it is entirely plausible for the jury to have found Defendant was not reckless - the scienter for Count I, but was negligent - the scienter for Count III. Negligence, of course, is a less wrongful state of mind than recklessness. The State further asserts the acquittals could be based, not on self-defense, but on some inconsistency in the witnesses' testimony. For example, three witnesses testified differently as to where Antwyne Mangrum was in relation to Defendant, casting doubt about Defendant's involvement in Mangrum's injuries or, at a minimum, Defendant's state of mind as to hurting Mangrum.
6. A motion for acquittal is a motion to set aside the verdict, replacing a directed verdict. All evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State. Then, if a reasonable jury could conclude from the evidence that Defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a motion for acquittal shall be denied.
7. Defendant's contrary argument notwithstanding, the Delaware Supreme Court has established firmly that convicting on possession by a person prohibited is not inherently inconsistent with acquitting on possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony and the underlying felony. In Wescott, the State presented ample evidence from which "the jury could have inferred that [Defendant] possessed a gun, and even fired a gun ..., but did not have the intent to kill or injure required."
8. Further, even some inconsistent verdicts are sustainable as jury lenity. Where there is enough evidence to convict, logically or legally inconsistent acquittals may be upheld.
9. Here, Count III's elements are: 1) Defendant was a person prohibited, 2) he possessed a firearm, and 3) he negligently killed Morgan with the firearm. At trial, Defendant stipulated he was a person prohibited. Three witnesses testified Defendant brought a firearm to the scene. And, there is significant evidence that Defendant's negligence with the firearm killed Morgan. Two witnesses testified Defendant shot Morgan, and continued to shoot him after he had fallen. Trajectory analysis was consistent with that. The forensic witness testified the 9mm handgun, which matched the bullet removed from Morgan, had only Defendant's DNA on it. In short, the State produced ...