CHUUK STATE SUPREME COURT TRIAL DIVISION

Cite as Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008)

[15 FSM Intrm. 498]

CHUUK STATE,

Plaintiff,

vs.

JOSEPH WILLIAM and DEO WILLIAM,

Defendants.

CRIMINAL CASE NO. 061-2003

FINDINGS

Camillo Noket

Chief Justice

Trial:  November 8-9, 13, December 17-19, 2007, January 23-25, 28-30, 2008

Decided:  February 1, 2008

APPEARANCES:

For the Plaintiff:        Ken Uehara

                                 Assistant Attorney General

                                 Office of the Chuuk Attorney General

                                 P.O. Box 1050

                                 Weno, Chuuk FM 96942
 

For the Defendant:   Steven Y. George

 (Joseph William)     Office of the Public Defender

                                 P.O. Box 245

                                 Tofol, Kosrae FM 96944
 

For the Defendant:   Gideon Doone

  (Deo William)          P.O. Box 882

                                  Weno, Chuuk FM 96942

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[15 FSM Intrm 499]

HEADNOTES

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

       A person commits murder if he unlawfully causes the death of another human being intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 500 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      A person commits the offense of manslaughter if he causes the death of another human being when acting recklessly; or a homicide which would otherwise be murder is committed under influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse.  The reasonableness of such explanation or excuse shall be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant's situation under the circumstances as he believes them to be. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 500 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      In order to convict defendants on the counts of murder, for each defendant, the court must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of each element of the offense. The government must therefore prove: 1) the defendants 2) unlawfully caused 3) the death 4) of another human being 5) either intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 501 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      Although it is apparent that one defendant and not the other struck the fatal blows, when the defendants acted together to kill the victim by continuing to beat the victim after he was helpless and by the other holding the victim down when the one struck the fatal blows, the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that it was defendants who caused the victim’s death. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 502 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

       When, well after defendants subdued the victim and rendered him defenseless, they continued to beat him, use of force against the victim by a defendant claiming self-defense was not reasonably necessary for his self-defense because he did not face an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death from the victim when the victim was killed. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 502 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      Where the defendants together pinned the victim to the ground, rendering him defenseless, and used, respectively, a fresh coconut husk and fist-sized rock, to repeatedly strike him when he was obviously defenseless and where the defendants had long since rendered him helpless when the fatal blows were struck, such circumstances prove murderous intent. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 502 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

      When evidence of self-defense has been presented, the court must determine whether the circumstances surrounding the self-defense claim were sufficient to show that the defendant was provoked, with reasonable explanation or excuse, to commit the killing under a state of extreme emotional or mental distress. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 502 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

     If the attack on one defendant provoked his brother, with reasonable explanation or excuse, to

[15 FSM Intrm 500]

use force against the victim, and if either defendant killed the victim while in a state of extreme emotional or mental disturbance due to sufficient provocation, the murder charge against him must be reduced to manslaughter. The provocation must also have existed up until the time the victim was killed and the defendants did not have an opportunity to cool off. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 502 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      When both defendants were acting under extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which they had a reasonable excuse or explanation at the time they caused the victim’s death, although each of the elements of murder was met, each defendant’s extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the killing compels reduction of the murder charges to manslaughter. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 498, 503 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

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COURT’S OPINION

CAMILLO NOKET, Chief Justice:

Background

       Defendants, brothers Joseph William and Deo William, were charged, respectively, under the Chuuk State Criminal Code with murder, Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 415, and manslaughter, Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 416, arising from an altercation occurring on November 27, 2003, which resulted in the death of Kulou Harper, a Chuukese male of Satowan municipality. Trial was completed on January 30, 2008.

The Law

       In counts I and II of the Government’s information, Joseph William and Deo William were charged, respectively, with murder. "A person commits murder if he unlawfully causes the death of another human being intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life." Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 415.

       In counts III and IV of the Government’s information, Joseph William and Deo William were charged, respectively, with manslaughter. A person commits the offense of manslaughter if he "causes the death of another human being when acting recklessly; or a homicide which would otherwise be murder is committed under influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse.  The reasonableness of such explanation or excuse shall be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant's situation under the circumstances as he believes them to be." Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 416.

Proven Facts from Evidence

       Evidence adduced at trial established that on the morning of November 27, 2003, defendants were sitting under an apple tree on the island of Fefan with a few other people. Kulou Harper suddenly approached them, cursing and calling for a fight, before advancing toward Joseph William swinging a machete. Witnesses were frightened and believed that Harper intended to inflict serious injury with the machete. Harper swung the machete at a retreating Joseph William and missed. Joseph William deflected a second swing of the machete with a spade or shovel that he picked up. Still with machete in hand, Harper tackled Joseph William and the two scuffled on the ground. There was testimony that Joseph William was cut on his hand and possibly his chest from Harper’s machete.

[15 FSM Intrm 501]

       Deo William came to the aid of his brother and was able to remove the machete from Harper. A bystander took the machete, although it was not established conclusively that defendants were aware the machete was removed from the immediate vicinity. Deo William pulled Harper from Joseph William by his legs. Deo William held Harper by his legs while Joseph William held him down around his chest area. Harper was unable to move. Deo William requested that a bystander give him a rock lying nearby and was given a "fist sized" rock. Although the evidence was conflicting, the court found the testimony that Joseph William obtained a fresh coconut husk to be credible. Then, Joseph William beat Harper in the face and head with the coconut husk while Deo William struck him with the rock. Eventually, Harper ceased struggling and begged forgiveness. Finally, Harper lay motionless and unresponsive, but defendants continued to hold him down and beat him for an indefinite, but prolonged duration.

       The various accounts of Harper’s attack, the ensuing scuffle and beating established a timeframe for the incident ranging anywhere between a few minutes to twenty minutes to over an hour. One witness, seeing that Harper was injured and helpless, asked defendants to stop beating him. When they did not stop, he left the scene. According to other testimony, defendants did not stop beating Harper until another witness arriving on the scene and seeing Harper’s condition, commanded them to stop. When defendants finally rose from Harper, they tossed their weapons on him, and left the scene.

       Others responding to the scene tended to Harper who was, for a brief period, conscious and audible, but when he tried to rise from the ground he vomited blood and collapsed unconscious. Harper was dead on arrival at the Chuuk State Hospital, where autopsy results revealed the cause of death to be severe hemorrhaging in the brain from one or more blows with a blunt instrument.

Application of Law to Relevant Facts

      In order to convict defendants on the counts of murder, for each defendant, the court must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of each element of the offense. The government must therefore prove:

1.  the defendants
2.  unlawfully caused
3.  the death
4.  of another human being
5.  either intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.

Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 415.

       The court is convinced, based on the substantial eye witness and decisive medical testimony,

[15 FSM Intrm 502]

that the cause of Harper’s death was blows to the head occurring during defendants’ prolonged beating of him. Although it is apparent that Joseph William and not Deo William struck the fatal blows, the court finds that Deo William acted together with Joseph William to kill Harper by continuing to beat Harper after he was helpless and by holding Harper down when Joseph William struck the fatal blows. The court therefore finds the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that it was defendants who caused Harper’s death.

       As to whether Harper’s death was caused "unlawfully," Joseph William contended that his conduct should be excused on the basis that he acted in self-defense. The court is convinced that Joseph William acted in self-defense when Harper attacked him with a machete. The court, however, found credible the accounts of the incident that well after defendants subdued Harper and rendered him defenseless, they continued to beat him. The court concludes that Joseph William’s use of force against Harper was not reasonably necessary for his self-defense because he did not face an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death from Harper when Harper was killed. Davis v. Kutta, 7 FSM Intrm. 536, 544-45 (Chk. 1996); Alik v. Kosrae, 6 FSM Intrm. 469, 473 (App. 1994); Loch v. FSM, 1 FSM Intrm. 566 (App. 1984). Therefore, the court finds that Harper’s death was unlawfully caused.

       The final element that must be proven for the murder charges against each defendant are that they caused Harper’s death intentionally or knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. The evidence demonstrates that together Joseph William and Deo William pinned Harper to the ground rendering him defenseless and used, respectively, a fresh coconut husk and fist sized rock, to repeatedly strike him when he was obviously defenseless. When the fatal blows were struck, defendants had long since rendered him helpless. Such circumstances prove murderous intent. See Loch, 1 FSM Intrm. at 576 (trial court reasonably concluded that a police officer who hit a person four times with a mangrove coconut husker and killed him had murderous intent). Therefore, the court finds that the elements of murder were demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt as to each defendant.

       Where evidence of self-defense has been presented, as Joseph William has presented here, however, the court must determine whether the circumstances surrounding the claim of self-defense were sufficient to show that the defendant was provoked, with reasonable explanation or excuse, to commit the killing under a state of extreme emotional or mental distress. Bernardo v. FSM, 4 FSM Intrm. 310, 315 (App. 1990). The court must also consider whether the attack on Joseph William provoked his brother Deo William, with reasonable explanation or excuse, to use force against Harper. Id. If the court finds that either defendant killed Harper while in a state of extreme emotional or mental disturbance due to sufficient provocation the murder charge against him must be reduced to manslaughter. Id.

       Based on the undisputed evidence of Harper’s attack, the court finds that Harper sufficiently provoked Joseph William. The court also finds that Harper’s attack on Joseph William was sufficient provocation for Deo William to come to the aid of his brother.

       As discussed in some detail in the court’s order denying defendants’ respective motions for acquittal, however, the court must also find that the provocation existed up until the time Harper was killed and that defendants did not have an opportunity to cool off. Upon review of the entire record, the court is not convinced that after their initial reaction to Harper’s attack either defendant deliberated over his actions or otherwise had a reasonable opportunity to cool off and regain his senses. Crucial to the court’s finding is the undisputed fact that the incident, beginning with Harper’s attack until the time defendants left the scene, constituted an unbroken sequence of events. During the entire incident defendants were in Harper’s immediate proximity and physically engaging him under circumstances where they had, at least at the outset, reasonably feared for their lives. Under these unexpected,

[15 FSM Intrm 503]

emotionally charged circumstances, the court is unable to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that even a reasonable person would have realized the consequences of his actions.

Conclusion

       The court therefore finds that defendant Joseph William and defendant Deo William were acting under extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which they had a reasonable excuse or explanation at the time they caused Harper’s death. Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 416; Bernardo, 4 FSM Intrm. at 315. The court concludes that each of the elements of murder was met, but that Joseph William and Deo William’s extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the killing compels reduction of the murder charges to manslaughter. Id.

       Based on the foregoing, the court finds defendant Joseph William and defendant Deo William innocent of the charges set forth, respectively, in counts I and II of the information for murder in violation of Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 415, which charges are therefore dismissed with prejudice. The court finds Joseph William and Deo William guilty of the charge set forth, respectively, in counts III and IV of the information for manslaughter in violation of Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, § 416.

      A pre-sentencing hearing and sentencing in this matter will be held on March 12, 2008 at 2:00 p.m.

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Footnotes:

1.  One witness for the prosecution testified under oath that Joseph William beat Harper with a coconut husk, then was called as a witness for the defense and testified under oath that Joseph William used only his hands to beat Harper. Another witness called by the prosecution contradicted his written statement that Joseph William beat Harper with a husk stating that Joseph William had used only his hands. Both witnesses were relations of defendants. Other, unbiased eyewitness testimony established that Joseph William struck Harper one or more times with a husk. Combined with the medical cause of death, the court is convinced that Harper was killed by strikes to the head from a hard blunt object, the husk, and not from Joseph William’s bare hands. The only other possible explanation for the severe damage to Harper’s skull was that Harper had fallen and hit his head on a rock, but the court found no plausible support for this possibility.

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