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Bramlett v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma

May 31, 2018

RENESE BRAMLETT, Appellant
v.
STATE OF OKLAHOMA, Appellee.

          AN APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TULSA COUNTY THE HONORABLE WILLIAM J. MUSSEMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE

          APPEARANCES AT TRIAL MARNY HILL SOPHIA JOHNSON ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDERS COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT.

          BENJAMIN FU KENNETH ELMORE ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEYSCOUNSEL FOR STATE.

          APPEARANCES ON APPEAL STUART W. SOUTHERLAND TULSA COUNTY PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT.

          MIKE HUNTER OKLAHOMA ATTORNEY GENERAL JAY SCHNIEDERJAN ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE.

          OPINION

          ROWLAND, JUDGE

         ¶1 Appellant Renese Bramlett was convicted by jury in the District Court of Tulsa County, Case No. CF-2015-4266, of First Degree Murder, in violation of 21 O.S.2011, § 701.7. The jury assessed punishment at life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Honorable William J. Musseman, District Judge, presided at trial and sentenced Bramlett accordingly. Bramlett appeals his Judgment and Sentence, raising the following issues:

(1) whether his statement should have been suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree because his arrest violated Oklahoma law and was therefore illegal;
(2) whether the admission of his video recorded interview was error which violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment;
(3) whether he was denied his right to due process and a fair trial by the admission of evidence of prior bad acts;
(4) whether inadmissible hearsay was admitted in violation of his rights under the Confrontation Clause;
(5) whether a discovery violation deprived him of his right to a fair trial;
(6) whether the trial court erred in ruling that Corporal Shilling's testimony was lay testimony rather than expert testimony; and
(7) whether prosecutorial misconduct deprived him of a fair trial requiring modification of his sentence.

         ¶2 We affirm the judgment but vacate the sentence of the district court and remand the case for resentencing.

         Background

         ¶3 On the night of March 19, 2015, Michelle Spence took her fourteen and eleven year-old sons to their grandparents' house to spend the night. Between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. the following day, their grandfather took the boys home to Spence's house and dropped them off. Their mother wasn't home and when Spence had not come home by 10:00 p.m., the boys walked down the street to see if she was at Renese Bramlett's apartment. [1] When the two boys arrived at Bramlett's apartment complex, they saw their mother's vehicle, a blue Mercedes-Benz SUV, parked in the parking lot of the apartment complex across the street. They tried to call Bramlett but he did not answer. The boys walked around the apartments and when they did not find their mother, they went to her vehicle to charge their phone. Inside the SUV they found their mother dead in the backseat. She was naked and wrapped in a blanket. The boys went to an apartment for help and the occupants called the police. Michelle Spence's death was subsequently ruled a homicide caused by asphyxia due to strangulation.

         ¶4 The case against Bramlett was pieced together from information the police gathered from Spence's neighbors, video surveillance footage from a security guard at the apartment complex where Spence's SUV was found, video footage from a QuickTrip located between Spence's house and Bramlett's apartment, and cell phone records from Spence's phone and from Bramlett's phone. Cell phone records indicated that Spence called Bramlett from her home at 10:48 p.m. on March 19, 2015. At around 11:11 p.m. video surveillance from a QuickTrip located between Spence's house and Bramlett's apartment showed a Cadillac similar to Bramlett's traveling on 129th East Avenue in the direction of Spence's house. Cell phone records showed that Bramlett's phone was taken to Spence's house around this time and remained there until after 2:00 a.m. when it was taken back to his apartment. Spence's phone remained at her house until 2:10 a.m. when it, too, was taken to Bramlett's apartment. Video Surveillance from the Quicktrip showed a vehicle that looked like Spence's SUV traveling on 129th East Avenue toward Bramlett's apartment around this same time at 2:14.

         ¶5 A security guard patrolling several apartment complexes in his vehicle noticed Spence's SUV in the Stonecrest apartment complex across the street from Bramlett's apartments during his patrol at 3:57. The SUV had not been there when he drove by earlier at 11:07.

         ¶6 At approximately 6:45 a.m. on March 20, 2015, when Spence's neighbor left his house to go to work, there was a dark Cadillac blocking his driveway. Another neighbor also noticed the Cadillac between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. She had seen it at Spence's residence before. Video surveillance from the QuickTrip showed an African-American man with a body type similar to Bramlett's walking in the direction of Spence's house at about 7:30 a.m. Approximately 28 minutes later the QuickTrip video surveillance showed a green Cadillac traveling in the direction of Bramlett's apartment.

         ¶7 Cell phone records showed that a call was made from Bramlett's phone to the bus station and that Spence's phone was at the bus station at 1:47 p.m. on March 20, 2015. That was the location of the last activity on Spence's phone. Bramlett's Cadillac was discovered later parked near the bus station.

         ¶8 Bramlett was subsequently located in Chicago, Illinois. He was arrested on a material witness warrant and taken into custody in Chicago where he was interviewed by Tulsa detectives on July 22, 2015. During this interview, Bramlett denied seeing Spence on the night she was killed; he claimed to have last seen her several days earlier. When advised that the detectives had evidence to the contrary, Bramlett terminated the interview. He was arrested, charged with first degree murder, and returned to Oklahoma to stand trial.

         ¶9 Bramlett testified at his trial. He acknowledged that he and Spence had been friends since 2012 and although they had been boyfriend/girlfriend in the past, they were not romantically involved at the time of her death. They remained friends because they used drugs together multiple times a week; their drug of choice was PCP. Bramlett testified that on Thursday, March 19, 2015, Spence contacted him right before he got off work around 10:30. He went home, got some PCP, and went over to her house. They smoked the PCP and when they had used all that he brought over, she wanted more. They got in her car and she drove him to his apartment where she left him to go meet her dealer to get more PCP. Bramlett testified that he made her leave her phone with him so that she would be sure to come back to get him. He wanted her to take him back to her house to get his car so that he would not have to walk there to get it. Bramlett testified that he eventually went to sleep until morning. When he awoke and Spence had not come back or called he started walking to her house to get his car. Bramlett testified that went he returned to his apartment complex in his car he noticed Spence's SUV parked in that parking lot of the complex across the street. He thought she had a drug deal there and started panicking because he was worried that something went wrong. Bramlett testified that he started operating out of fear because he knew that he was one of the last people to see her. He called the bus station, bought a ticket to Chicago, and left that day. He testified that Spence's phone died so he threw it into the trash at the bus station. Bramlett acknowledged that the QuickTrip video introduced by the State of the car driving by and person walking could have been his car and him. He denied that he killed Spence.

         1. Legality of Arrest and Admissibly of Statement

         ¶10 Bramlett argues that his statement to the police should not have been admitted at trial because it was made during an illegal arrest and detention and was therefore fruit of the poisonous tree. Bramlett raised the issue below and appeals the trial court's ruling overruling his objection to the admission of his statement. This Court reviews a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion. State v. Pope, 2009 OK CR 9, ¶ 4, 204 P.3d 1285, 1287. See also Gomez v. State, 2007 OK CR 33, ¶ 5, 168 P.3d 1139, 1141. In reviewing a trial court's decision, we defer to the trial court's findings of fact ...


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