March 13th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. McReynolds (No. 97,936) a direct appeal of a murder conviction from Wyandotte County. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Johnson, the Court affirmed Brandon McReynolds’ convictions for first degree murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery. The court also affirmed his sentences for the crimes (life without parole until after 20 years and 34 months).
On August 12th 2005 Brandon McReynolds and three others lured Zhihai Cui, a restaurant delivery driver, to a house in Kansas City, Kansas and beat and stabbed him to death. The gang netted a little more than $50 for their troubles. Police quickly identified the suspects after searching the home of Tamara Ford (McReynolds’ cousin) next to where Cui was killed where they found bloody knives. Ford gave up the names of his attackers.
When arrested on August 13th, and in a statement three days later, McReynolds signed a Miranda waiver and admitted to police that he had been part of the gang, but claimed that he did not deliver any of the life threatening injuries. When brought to trial, he changed his story and claimed that he was high on PCP when he gave the statements. The trial court held a hearing and admitted the tapes of his confessions as evidence.
On appeal, McReynolds’ makes a flurry of claims as to why his conviction should be reversed, all of which fail. The two most significant are:
- An allegation that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct, by seeming to endorse the reliability of the police testimony and during voir dire by saying that everyone deserved a fair trial, even if they were guilty (paraphrasing).
- A claim that the judge improperly relied on past testimony in other cases when making a finding on the reliability of the police officer’s testimony when deciding to admit the taped confession evidence.
The Court rejected the first of these, finding that the statements fell within the wide latitude available to prosecutors when choosing their words, though the court hinted that it was not happy about the choice of wording in the voir dire example.
The Court was also troubled by the judge’s apparent reliance on prior experiences with the police officer on the case, but found that since the evidence supporting the admission of the taped statements was ample and broad based, this was not a reversible error.
Finally, the Court rejected McReynold’s contention that the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines improperly allow evidence of past convictions to influence sentencing without the facts being tried before a jury, noting that it has already found the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines not to fall foul of Apprendi or Cunningham v. California.