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State v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Utah

January 6, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Timothy Noble Walker, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Mark S. Kouris No. 141904012

          Lori J. Seppi and Michael R. Sikora, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Sean D. Reyes and Marian Decker, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges J. Frederic Voros Jr. and Kate A. Toomey concurred.

          OPINION

          POHLMAN, Judge.

         ¶1 Timothy Noble Walker asserts that he was denied his federal constitutional right to a jury trial with respect to a key element of the State's case. We agree and therefore vacate his conviction and remand for a new trial.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         ¶2 Walker and his wife (Wife) had been married less than a month when Wife's employer transferred her job from South Carolina to Utah. The couple then moved to Utah, bringing Wife's teenage son (Son) with them. They stayed in hotels for a few days while Wife began work at her new location.

         ¶3 One evening the three were together in their hotel room. Walker and Wife had been drinking and, sometime during the evening, Wife picked up Walker's glass and poured his drink down the sink. Upset, Walker struck Wife in the face. She fell against the refrigerator, then stood up and walked around the hotel room, searching for something. She found the keys to the couple's van in Walker's clothing, and she put them in her pocket.

         ¶4 Walker approached Wife from behind and put his right wrist against her neck. He lifted her up with his right hand while reaching into her pocket with his left hand, attempting to get the keys. During the struggle that followed, Wife kicked at Walker and pulled at his arm, trying to loosen his hold on her neck. But Walker used his left hand to reinforce his grip, and he lifted Wife completely off the floor. Wife was unable to wrench free.

         ¶5 Son was sitting on a bed a few feet away. He saw Wife struggling to free herself and heard her making ''choking sounds.'' He told Walker to stop, but Walker persisted. Walker kept his wrist pressed against Wife's neck until she suddenly exhaled. Her eyes rolled back in her head, her arms fell to her sides, and her body went limp. She had been subject to Walker's grip for approximately ten to fifteen seconds.

         ¶6 Walker abruptly let go and pushed Wife away. She fell face-first against the wall and did not move. Walker began gathering his things. When Son asked him what he had done, Walker replied that he ''didn't do anything'' and that Wife was ''faking it'' because she was a ''drama queen.'' Walker then walked out of the room. He drove away, ultimately returning to South Carolina.

         ¶7 Son attempted to waken Wife and shift her into a sitting position. He also called the police. After about a minute, Wife began to regain her faculties. She heard Son crying and calling her name. Not long afterward, she heard a knock on the door when a police officer arrived.

         ¶8 The officer found Son and Wife in the hotel room. Wife was conscious but ''didn't appear [to be] in the right state of mind, '' and the officer ''couldn't understand what she was saying at first.'' After listening to Son's description of the evening's events, the officer called for medical assistance to evaluate Wife. He also photographed Wife's injuries, which consisted of ''visible injury'' to her right eye and ''red marks around her neck, '' which ''appeared to be swollen.'' The officer also called Walker. After the officer identified himself, Walker said, ''I'm driving out of the state, don't worry about me, '' and hung up.

         ¶9 A paramedic evaluated Wife and asked if she wanted to go to the hospital, but Wife declined. However, Wife saw a doctor several days later and told him that she felt soreness and tenderness about her head, face, and neck. She underwent testing and was told to ''take it easy'' and allow her body time to heal, but she was not prescribed any particular medical treatment.

         ¶10 Walker was charged with aggravated assault, a second degree felony. See Utah Code Ann. § 76-5-103(2)(b) (LexisNexis 2012).[2] He elected to have the charge tried by a jury. Wife, Son, and the officer each testified for the State regarding the evening's events. During cross-examination, Wife was asked about the medical documentation of her injuries. She testified that she had suffered a concussion and headaches, but she could not identify any reference to those injuries in the records ...


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