December 5th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Angelo, No. 96, 175, a unanimous criminal law decision authored by Justice Nuss rejected Patrick Angelo Jr’s appeal of his double conviction for first degree murder. The case arose over the killings of Kevin Brown and Jamie Wilson in a Wyandotte County drug house. Angelo was reportedly angered at Brown over advances Brown had made to his girlfriend and possibly over a ring which he had leant to Brown. On February 20th 2004 Angelo showed up at the house and having lured Brown into the bathroom, shot him in the head. Wilson was in the room next to the bathroom – she was also shot in the head, presumably for having heard the first killing. After an initial trial resulting in a hung jury, Angelo was retried and convicted. He was sentenced to two consecutive 25-life terms.
On appeal Angelo raised several alleged failures at this trial:
- That his right to a speedy trial was denied because of a delay in starting his trial while he was held in a Missouri gaol for unrelated reasons
- That the State excluded jurors for racial reasons
- That the trial court should have instructed the jury that it could bring in a verdict on the lesser charge of second-degree murder
- That the trial court should not have allowed the state to present evidence of Angelo’s bad character
- That the trial court should not have allowed the state to play a recording of a defense witness’s police statement in rebuttal to her testimony after she was no longer on the stand
- That the sum of these errors deprived Angelo of his right to a free trial
The court disposed of each of these and affirmed his conviction – Angelo will serve his sentences. However; on two of them, while rejecting Angelo’s claims, the Court found error in the trial court’s actions. These errors did not rise to the level of imperilling Angelo’s convictions, to wit:
- The Court ruled that the trial court should have instructed the jury on lesser charges, since a trial judge has an affirmative responsibility to do so. In this case however, Angelo had insisted beforehand that the court not do so. Therefore, since he invited the error, the Court ruled that he cannot benefit from it.
- More cloudily, the Court ruled that the State should not have been allowed to present evidence of Angelo’s bad character because he had not opened the door to it by presenting evidence of his ‘good’ character. The trial court had ruled that the defense cross-examination of a prosecution witness had openned the door when the defense counsel asked the witness to agree that his client was a ‘pretty easy going guy’. Angelo maintained that this was merely developing testimony that had begun with a statement to the prosecution that the incident under discussion (not the murders) was the first time the witness had seen Angelo get violent. The Court sided with Angelo on this, because the prosecution had not objected to its own witness stating that this was the first time he had seen Angelo being violent. In this case the Court then ruled that the error did not prejudice Angelo because the testimony of this witness, to which Angelo did not object, sufficiently established Angelo’s violent character, with or without the further evidence that should not have been admitted. Prosecutors should beware this ruling for fear of being tripped up in future, less clear cut situations, where there witness says something positive about a defendant.