The D.C. Court of Appeals has overturned a man's murder and attempted armed robbery convictions because a jury note was improperly addressed.
Omar A. Euceda had been convicted of first-degree felony murder, two counts of attempted armed robbery and firearms charges in connection with a 2003 incident. On Thursday, the appeals court reversed all of Euceda's convictions, except the one for carrying a pistol without a license.
Euceda and another man were accused of trying to rob two drug dealers in November 2003 and killing one of the dealers, Walter Kirkland, in the process. At Euceda's 2006 trial, eyewitnesses gave confusing and contradictory testimony.
During the deliberations process, the jury sent five notes to the court that Ecueda and his counsel knew about at the time. But when Euceda's lawyer later opened his client's file to begin working on an appeal, he discovered a sixth jury note and found no record that the court had ever responded to it. The note contained detailed questions concerning the attempted armed robbery charges.
Based on an investigation that followed the note's discovery, it appears that a courtroom clerk received the note and told the jurors to refer back to the instructions that the judge gave them before deliberations. The clerk did not alert Euceda or his lawyer to the note.
A three-judge appeals court panel determined that the exchange between the clerk and the jury violated Euceda's constitutional right to have his lawyer present at all stages of the prosecution.
The appeals court judges also determined that the clerk's direction that the jurors refer back to their earlier instructions "did not come close to clearing away the jurors' confusion with 'concrete accuracy.'"
It appears from the sixth note that the jury was unsure whether Euceda had done anything that was "reasonably designed to commit" a robbery of Kirkland and his drug-dealing partner at the time of the shooting. The jury wanted to know whether acts committed earlier in the night against others could count toward convicting Euceda for attempted robbery, according to the appeals court opinion.
The indictment charged Euceda with attempting to rob Kirkland and his partner. And Euceda could only be convicted of felony murder if Euceda killed Kirkland while trying to rob him. In response to the note, the court should have made it clear that the jurors couldn't consider acts that Euceda engaged in that were unrelated to the pair of drug dealers named in the indictment, the opinion stated.