January 30th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. Trotter (No. 98,563) a collateral attack on Christopher Trotter’s capital murder and first-degree murder convictions for the killings of Traylennea Huff and James Wallace. In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Luckert, the Court vacated Trotter’s first-degree murder conviction as multiplicitous with the capital murder conviction. (I.e. the conviction was for the same crime), but also affirmed the District Court’s summary denial of the rest of Trotter’s habeas claim (concerning witnesses changing their testimony). Trotter was sentenced to fifty years without parole for the capital murder conviction, a sentence unaffected by the removal of the first degree murder conviction.
Trotter, Kevin Eddington, Michael Navarre and Virdal Nash planned and executed a botched home invasion robbery of Huff and Wallace’s home (Nash left before the robbery began). Trotter’s comrades testified that he was the mastermind behind the plan and that when Wallace fought with Trotter and removed a shirt from his head that he had been using to mask his identity, Trotter had shot him. They further testified that they had encountered Huff upstairs in the house, and that after they left (and Trotter went in) they heard him shoot her. Huff and Wallace’s 8-year old son Damante survived the incident and testified that he heard his father say ‘Chris’, saw Trotter in the house and heard the shootings. At trial he identified Trotter as the killer. Trotter was convicted and lost his direct appeal on various grounds, though the jury did not choose the death penalty. The capital murder conviction was for the premeditated intentional killing of two or more people. The first degree murder conviction was for the killing of Wallace.
He filed a habeas motion attacking his sentence on two grounds: the first was that his sentence for first degree murder was multiplicitous with the capital murder conviction. The Court agreed that it was: the capital murder conviction was for killing two or more people, one of whom was Wallace. All the components of the first degree murder conviction were therefore related to the same crime as the capital murder conviction, and first degree murder is a lesser included offence of capital murder. Under Double Jeopardy, Trotter could not be convicted of both charges. Trotter however had to pass a procedural barrier first, since he had not raised this issue on direct appeal. Such issues may not be raised in habeas actions without exceptional justifying circumstances. In this case Trotter argued (and the Court agreed) that he had ineffective assistance from the Kansas Appellate Defenders Office, since they were aware of the Court’s previous ruling that these two crimes were multiplicitous at the time his original appeal was filed, but omitted the claim. Trotter’s first degree murder conviction was therefore vacated. [Since his sentences for both crimes were concurrent anyway, and the capital murder sentence was higher the impact of this is on paper only].
Attached to Trotter’s habeas petition were two affidavits. One signed by Eddington, and one by Nash which purport to refute their trial testimony about Trotter’s masterminding the crime. The District Court dismissed this motion on the grounds that it was vague (Trotter had not filled out all the paperwork as required), but the Kansas Supreme Court overlooks that, ruling that the affidavits being attached should have been considered. It then does this and affirms the dismissal of the motion. It finds that even if the affidavits are accepted as true, all they do is refute the suggestion that Trotter was behind the robbery: something that is irrelevant to his conviction for the two murders, since the State did not need to prove that he was the mastermind behind the robbery to secure his conviction.