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State v. Reinert

Supreme Court of Montana

May 8, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
RICHARD DOUGLAS REINERT, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 24, 2018

          District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DC 14-0010 Honorable Mary Jane Knisely, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Colin M. Stephens, Smith & Stephens, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Jonathan M. Krauss, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Billings, Montana

          MIKE MCGRATH CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Richard Douglas Reinert's appeal stems from a March 6, 2015 trial, where a jury found him guilty of deliberate homicide. He appeals the August 4, 2015 District Court order denying his motion for a new trial based on the State withholding exculpatory or impeachment evidence and the District Court's trial ruling allowing the State to elicit testimony of a prior bad act. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

Issue One: Did the District Court err when it denied Reinert's motion for a new trial based on his assertion that the State withheld evidence regarding the forensic pathologist's expert testimony?
Issue Two: Did the District Court abuse its discretion when it allowed the State to elicit testimony of a prior bad act by Reinert to rebut the assertion that he was justified in his use of deadly force?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Richard Douglas Reinert (Reinert) killed Jessica Stephenson (Jessica) at 11:30 p.m. on December 21, 2013, inside his home. Reinert discharged nine bullets, with at least six bullets striking Jessica in the upper chest and head. Earlier that evening Jessica went to Reinert's home to meet up with her friend, Danielle, Reinert's wife. The three began drinking alcohol and then attended the Billings rodeo, where they continued to drink. After the rodeo, they continued to drink at a local bar. Surveillance recordings of that night showed Reinert outside the bar, slipping on the ice, and at one point laying in the road requiring assistance. Jessica drove them all home around 11:00 p.m. Before they arrived home, Reinert jumped out of Jessica's vehicle, injuring himself, and then reluctantly returned to the vehicle. At the Reinert residence, Reinert and Danielle engaged in a violent verbal and physical domestic dispute. At some point Jessica went into the home to help.

         ¶4 Danielle and Reinert testified that Reinert had made himself a drink and used a bread knife to slice a lime. Reinert was walking around with the knife, he and Jessica fought over it, and eventually Danielle took the knife from Reinert, slicing her palm in the process. She was afraid of Reinert's conduct that evening, so she began hiding their home defense guns. Danielle testified that Reinert and Jessica got into a physical fight where they were both on the floor and kicking, punching, hair pulling, and screaming at each other. Danielle testified that Reinert retrieved a revolver. Danielle managed to take the revolver and went into the bathroom to hide it. Reinert then retreated to the master bedroom. While in the bathroom Danielle heard the gun shots.

         ¶5 Reinert testified that when he retreated to the master bedroom, he obtained a pistol from his bed. Jessica then came into or was already in the master bedroom, moving quickly towards him, with something in her hand. When surprised, Reinert shot nine bullets and killed Jessica. Immediately prior to her death, Jessica had been on the phone with 911 for approximately one and a half minutes, reporting the domestic dispute. The call to 911 recorded Jessica prior to the shooting, the shooting itself, and the aftermath.

         ¶6 The 911 recording reveals that, immediately after the shooting Danielle started screaming. Reinert shouted at her "you made me f**king shoot her, " "you made me f**king do this because of you, " "you made me do this, " and "you are the one that made me kill her." The couple's domestic dispute continued. The police arrived shortly thereafter and found Reinert struggling with Danielle. He was on top of her in the hallway outside of the master bedroom. The revolver was found underneath Danielle. Jessica was pronounced dead at the scene.

         ¶7 Reinert and Danielle were transported to the Billing Police Department. In jail, when informed by police that he could not see his wife because they were investigating, Reinert asked "investigating what?" During the police interview that day Reinert admitted to shooting Jessica and causing her death, yet told police "I've done nothing wrong" because he was scared for his life and justified in his use of force.

         ¶8 At trial, the State presented testimony of Dr. Thomas Bennett, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Jessica. Dr. Bennett testified regarding his findings, described where Jessica was standing when she was shot, and how many bullets struck her. The jury heard the 911 call placed by Jessica just a minute before her death. They listened to a crying woman report a domestic dispute, that her friend's husband was so drunk he was pointing a gun at his own head, and the sudden firing of nine shots. The jurors heard Danielle screaming and Reinert saying he killed Jessica because of Danielle. Physical evidence showed that Jessica was standing about three feet away from Reinert and was on the phone when he shot her. The lead detective testified that Reinert's assertion that he acted in self-defense was not supported by the evidence.

         ¶9 Reinert testified on his own behalf. Reinert testified he believed Jessica was coming at him with something in her hand. He shot her because of his fear of serious bodily injury or death. Pursuant to his justifiable use of force theory, Reinert testified he was a peaceful man and introduced evidence that he was trustworthy and truthful. He testified to a specific instance where another man wanted to fight him and instead of fighting, Reinert filed for a restraining order. Reinert testified that he was not someone who was quick to get into physical confrontations with others and that he had never been violent towards his wife. A previous instance of him punching through their bathroom door was an attempt to protect his wife who had fallen in the locked bathroom. Reinert reiterated that he told the police he had "done nothing wrong, " because when he shot his gun he believed he was in danger of serious bodily injury or death.

         ¶10 The State was allowed to introduce, on cross-examination, a 2011 police report that Reinert filed after a night of drinking. The State argued the police report was false and went directly to Reinert's assertion of his truthfulness and that he was trustworthy.

         ¶11 On March 6, 2015, after five days of trial and four hours of deliberation, the jury found Reinert guilty of deliberate homicide, and in the commission of that crime he used a deadly weapon. On April 2, 2015, Reinert filed a motion for a new trial asserting the State withheld favorable impeachment evidence regarding Dr. Bennett. The District Court denied the motion. Reinert appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶12 Following a verdict or finding of guilty, the court may grant the defendant a new trial if required in the interest of justice. Section 46-16-702(1), MCA. We review the district court's denial of a motion for a new trial for an abuse of discretion. State v. Jackson, 2009 MT 427, ¶ 50, 354 Mont. 63, 221 P.3d 1213. This Court's review of questions regarding constitutional law is plenary and the district court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error. Jackson, ¶ 50.

         ¶13 District courts are vested with broad discretion in controlling the admission of evidence at trial. Seltzer v. Morton, 2007 MT 62, ¶ 65, 336 Mont. 225, 154 P.3d 561. We review the district court to determine whether the court abused its discretion. Seltzer, ¶ 65.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶14 Issue One: Did the District Court err when it denied Reinert's motion for a newtrial based on his assertion that the State withheld evidence regarding ...


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