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Ashton v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma

June 1, 2017











         ¶1 Appellant, Isaac Luna Ashton, was tried by jury and convicted of First Degree Murder (Counts 1 & 2) (21 O.S.Supp.2012, § 701.7 (A)) and Carrying a Weapon Unlawfully (Count 4) (21 O.S.Supp.2013, § 1272) in District Court of Tulsa County Case Number CF-2014-4108. [1] The jury recommended as punishment imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole in both Count 1 and Count 2. The jury further recommended incarceration in the county jail for thirty (30) days in Count 4. The trial court sentenced Appellant accordingly, ordered the sentence in Count 4 to run concurrent with Counts 1 and 2, and ordered the sentences in Counts 1 and 2 to run consecutively. It is from these judgments and sentences which Appellant appeals.


         ¶2 On August 18, 2014, Appellant shot and killed both Verdell Walker and Tiara Sawyer. The homicides occurred in the parking lot outside Appellant's apartment at 47th and Darlington in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Four different individuals were outside the apartments that day and observed the incident. At trial, they described what had occurred. None of the witnesses observed any physical contact between the parties. Neither Walker nor Sawyer was armed. Walker did not attack Appellant. He did not fight Appellant for the gun. Instead, Appellant was the aggressor. He shot both Walker and Sawyer after Walker cursed him.

         ¶3 Appellant, his girlfriend, Tyesha Goff, and his best friend, Doneka Brown, had recently become acquainted with Walker and Sawyer. The duo lived in an apartment near Appellant's home. They visited Appellant's home on the night of August 17th without any problem.

         ¶4 The next morning, Walker and Sawyer asked Appellant for a ride to a tag agency. Goff gave the duo a ride in the Gold Honda CRV which Appellant's mother owned. When they returned to Appellant's apartment, Goff and Sawyer argued over Goff's missing cellphone. The two women yelled loudly at each other.

         ¶5 The argument lasted for close to ten minutes. It grew to include all five of the individuals. Goff and Brown argued with Sawyer as Appellant searched the apartment for the phone. Walker and Sawyer remained in the parking lot. They stood just outside the small fenced enclosure which led to the front door of the apartment. Appellant entered the fray after Walker cursed Goff. He walked to the waist high gate, opened it and declared: "You better step off my lady, Cuz." [2]

         ¶6 Walker backed further out into the parking lot. Sawyer went with him. After several feet, Walker stopped and took a few steps back towards Appellant. He gestured with his hands in the air similar to a referee declaring a touchdown in a game of football. Walker exclaimed, "You're a bitch." [3] He laughed and backed away from Appellant.

         ¶7 Appellant walked out into the parking lot. He drew his Smith & Wesson.38 special from his waist, pointed it at Walker, and declared; "I got your bitch right here." [4] From approximately four feet away, Appellant shot Walker one time in the abdomen. Walker fell to the ground.

         ¶8 Sawyer took off running towards a nearby pole. Appellant chased her and shot her in the head with the gun. After Sawyer fell to the ground, Appellant returned to where Walker lay on the ground. He shot Walker on the side of his head.

         ¶9 Appellant, Brown and Goff fled the scene. Goff drove the trio away from the apartments in the Gold Honda CRV. They travelled to the home of Appellant's mother in Jenks. The Tulsa Police Department in cooperation with the Jenks Police Department placed the home under surveillance. Brown telephoned her mother and asked her to come pick her up. When she arrived, Brown, Appellant and Goff got into the car. Appellant laid down in the backseat so he could not been seen. However, the surveilling officers had seen him enter the car and they stopped the vehicle and placed him under arrest.

         ¶10 After Appellant waived his rights under Miranda, Detective Justin Ritter of the Tulsa Police Department interviewed him concerning the events. Appellant noted that Ritter's shirt indicated that he worked for the Homicide Division and asked Ritter: "Who died?" [5] Appellant did not claim accident, self-defense, or defense of another. Instead, he repeatedly claimed that he did not know anything about the events. He informed Ritter that he was not present at the apartments that day. He claimed that he did not stay at the apartment in question and asserted that he did not know why Ritter was questioning him concerning the deaths of Walker and Sawyer.

         ¶11 Joshua Lanter, M.D., of the State Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy on Walker's body. He found that Walker had been shot through the abdomen. This gunshot had transected his aorta and would have likely been fatal. This injury was consistent with Walker turning to run away from the shooter. Lanter further found that Walker had also been shot through the right ear. This gunshot caused excessive injury to Walker's brain and was incompatible with life. This injury was consistent with the shooter firing at Walker while he was on the ground. Lanter further found that Walker did not have any injuries to his hands which would be consistent with fisticuffs. Lanter determined that Walker had died from the gunshot wounds. He recovered both projectiles from Walker's body.

         ¶12 Lanter also performed an autopsy on Sawyer's body. He found that Sawyer had been shot through the left temple. Lanter was able to recover the projectile from Sawyer's body. He did not find any recent injuries on Sawyer's hands. Lanter determined that the single gunshot wound caused Sawyer's death.

         ¶13 Officers executed a search warrant on the home of Appellant's mother and found Appellant's.38 special handgun and some spent shell casings. Firearms Examiner, Joy Patterson, of the Tulsa Police Department compared the projectiles recovered from the bodies of Walker and Sawyer with the handgun. She determined that the handgun had fired the projectiles which had killed the duo.

         ¶14 Brown testified at trial on Appellant's behalf. Although she had given a different account to the detectives when she was initially interviewed concerning the incident, Brown asserted that Walker had hit Goff. She claimed that Appellant only shot Walker after Walker threatened him and rushed at him.

         ¶15 Appellant testified in his own defense at trial. He wholly admitted that he had repeatedly lied to Detective Ritter during his interview. He further admitted that he was carrying the handgun without a license. Although he asserted that he had not intended to shoot either Walker or Sawyer, Appellant claimed that Walker had hit Goff, threatened to kill him, and came at him. Appellant admitted that he had pulled out the gun and pointed it at Walker but claimed that he had inadvertently pulled the trigger on the gun in reaction to Walker. Appellant asserted that Walker pushed against his free arm, he stepped backwards, and in the process the gun simply fired. Appellant further claimed that Walker had reached for the gun.

         ¶16 Appellant explained that the initial shot hit Walker in the abdomen. He asserted that he fired the gun two more times because Walker continued to advance on him. He related that he closed his eyes, turned his head, and shot the gun twice more from approximately his waist level. He acknowledged that he had fled the scene with Brown and Goff. He asserted that he had panicked.

         ¶17 On cross-examination, Appellant admitted that neither Walker nor Sawyer was armed with any weapons. He acknowledged that his revolver had to be held in just the right position to fire because it was missing the frame lug. Despite this fact, he maintained that he randomly fired the shots which hit Walker and Sawyer in the head. Although he retracted his claim that he fired these shots with the gun at waist level, he continued to assert that he had fired the shots with both his eyes closed and his head turned.



         ¶18 In his first proposition of error, Appellant contends that he was denied his constitutional right to present a complete defense. Citing Tyesha Goff's invocation of the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination, he argues that he was precluded from presenting Goff's account of the homicides.

         ¶19 "[T]he Constitution guarantees criminal defendants a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense." Crane v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683, 690, 106 S.Ct. 2142, 2146, 90 L.Ed.2d 636 (1986) (quotations and citation omitted). However, a defendant's right to present relevant evidence is not unlimited, but rather is subject to reasonable restrictions. United States v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303, 308, 118 S.Ct. 1261, 1264, 140 L.Ed.2d 413 (1998); Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 295, 93 S.Ct. 1038, 1045-1046, 35 L.Ed.2d 297 (1973). "The accused does not have an unfettered right to offer testimony that is incompetent, privileged, or otherwise inadmissible under standard rules of evidence." Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400, 410, 108 S.Ct. 646, 653, 98 L.Ed.2d 798 (1988). This Court has recognized that a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense does not include the right to compel a witness to give testimony in contravention of the witness's privilege against self-incrimination. Pavatt v. State, 2007 OK CR 19, ¶ 43, 159 P.3d 272, 286; Sherrick v. State, 1986 OK CR 142, ¶ 6, 725 P.2d 1278, 1282; Bryant v. State, 1967 OK CR 196, ¶ 9, 434 P.2d 498, 500.

         ¶20 Appellant, first, argues that the trial court erred when it allowed Goff to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination. He mistakenly asserts that Goff's recitation of the circumstances which occurred prior to Appellant's flight from the apartment complex would not have tended to subject her to criminal prosecution. We review the trial court's ...

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