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State v. Williams

Supreme Court of Montana

August 7, 2018

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
JESSY LEE WILLIAMS, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: July 18, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DC 14-198 Honorable Gregory R. Todd, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Robin A. Meguire, Attorney at Law, Great Falls, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Scott D. Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Billings, Montana



         ¶1 Jessy Lee Williams (Williams) appeals from the September 9, 2016 final Judgment entered by the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, pursuant to jury verdict finding Williams guilty of Count I, Sexual Intercourse Without Consent (SIWOC) (a felony); Count II, Aggravated Burglary (a felony); and Count III, Aggravated Assault (a felony). We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

1. Whether the District Court erred in denying Williams's post-trial motion to dismiss?
2. Whether the District Court erred in instructing the jury regarding Count III (Aggravated Assault) of the Amended Information?
3. Whether the District Court erred in ordering restitution based on the victim's testimony without written supporting documentation?


         ¶3 As to the underlying facts of the offenses, the State and Williams presented dramatically different versions of events at trial. According to Williams, he drank at Bugz Bar and used methamphetamine with friends on February 28, 2014. Williams got a ride to another friend's house, but after his ride left, he discovered that his friend was not home. It was extremely cold outside and Williams decided to walk to his sister's home because she lived nearby. On his way to his sister's house, he saw K.T. (the victim) smoking in her doorway. He knew K.T. and her boyfriend. He claimed he had previously been to K.T.'s home, where she had invited him in and they used methamphetamine together and then engaged in consensual sex. Williams asserted the same occurred on the evening of February 28, 2014. After having consensual sex, K.T. inexplicably ran outside into the snow wearing only a tank top. To protect her from the freezing cold and get her to come back inside, he had to chase and tackle her.

         ¶4 The State presented a far different version of events. K.T. testified Williams broke into her home on February 28, 2014, sexually assaulted her, and held her against her will. She testified Williams strangled her, she peed her pants, and then passed out from lack of oxygen. Before losing consciousness, she believed she was going to die. When she awoke, Williams was raping her. At that time, she thought her children, who were present in the home, were likely already dead. She struggled with Williams and eventually escaped, fleeing into the cold and snow where Williams again pursued and attacked her. With her son's assistance, she escaped again, yelled for her son to "Run, run, run," and fled to a nearby neighbor's home. While K.T. was escaping from Williams, K.T.'s daughter got her baby brother, ran outside into the road, flagged down a car, and pleaded for help. Also, a cellmate of Williams after his arrest testified Williams disclosed to him several details of the crimes unknown to the public which corroborated the physical evidence at K.T.'s residence and K.T.'s testimony.

         ¶5 The jury evidently believed the State's version of events and convicted Williams of three felony offenses: SIWOC, Aggravated Burglary, and Aggravated Assault.

         Williams's Post-Trial Motion to Dismiss

         ¶6 Post-trial, Williams filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing the District Court should dismiss the charges against him due to the State's failure to disclose that Steven Brester, an evidence technician with the Montana State Crime Lab (Lab) who was fired from the Lab for suspicion of tampering with evidence, was involved in processing evidence at the Lab during the time the Lab processed blood and DNA evidence in Williams's case.

         ¶7 Williams asserts the Lab gave notice to the State in July 2015 regarding Brester but the State did not disclose this notice to Williams despite Williams's specific request for "[a]ll internal and external audits of the Montana State Crime Lab conducted within the last three years and all information pertaining to those audits, including but not limited to reports, findings, deficiencies, conclusions, remedies, communications, memoranda, resulting changes or directive, suggested changes and/or subsequent personnel actions."

         ¶8 The District Court heard Williams's post-trial Motion to Dismiss on May 24, 2016. Emily Wemlinger, the Lab's quality assurance manager and evidence supervisor, testified as to the Lab's process in receiving and testing items sent to it. Wemlinger testified Brester was employed as an evidence technician[1] from September 8, 2014 to June 18, 2015, at which time he was terminated due to suspicions regarding missing drug evidence. Following Brester's termination, Wemlinger and Judi Hoffman, the chemistry supervisor, inventoried the drug vault. Wemlinger did not consider this to be an "internal audit" and had no concerns about evidence stored in the other sections of the Lab.

         ¶9 Lacey Van Grinsven, the Lab serologist assigned to examine the blood/DNA evidence in Williams's case, testified she knew Brester had not opened any of the blood and DNA items in Williams's case because Brester was not employed at the Lab when it received this evidence. Van Grinsven had retrieved the blood/DNA evidence from the main vault and placed it in the DNA vault, a keyed vault, before Brester started working at the Lab. Brester did not have access to the DNA vault during his employment. After Van Grinsven completed her analysis, the stains/swabs not consumed by testing were repackaged into coin envelopes and placed into the DNA vault freezer where they have remained. The only items returned from the Lab to the Billings Police Department (BPD)-items Brester placed into shipping containers and mailed to BPD-were items not tested or analyzed.

         ¶10 Joe Pasternak, a forensic scientist at the Lab and the DNA supervisor for the State of Montana's Biology Analysis Operations, testified he received an additional order for discovery in Williams's case to provide all internal and external audits of the Lab conducted within the last three years. He indicated requests for recent audits are common as the DNA section of the Lab is audited externally every two years and internally in the years between the external audits. Pasternak supplies this audit information whenever defense counsel requests audit results. In response to Williams's discovery requests and the court's discovery order, Pasternak provided a CD containing this audit information to Williams's counsel.

         Denial of Williams's motion to strike language from Count III of the Amended ...

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