Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Robin
W. Reese No. 071909449
D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Daniel W. Boyer, Asst. Solic. Gen.,
Salt Lake City, for appellee.
J. Kittrell, Kristina H. Ruedas, Salt Lake City, for
JUSTICE PEARCE authored the opinion of the Court in which
CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT, ASSOCIATE CHIEF JUSTICE LEE, JUSTICE
DURHAM, and JUSTICE HIMONAS joined.
A jury convicted defendant Anthony James Prater of aggravated
murder and obstructing justice, both first-degree felonies.
The jury also convicted Prater on five counts of discharging
a firearm from a vehicle, a third-degree felony. At trial,
three witnesses testified that Prater confessed to the crime,
and one witness testified that he was there when Prater
pulled the trigger. Forensic evidence supported the
eye-witness's trial testimony. The district court also
admitted a letter Prater had authored that suggested he had
committed the murder. The district court sentenced Prater to
life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prater
appeals his convictions, arguing that much of the witness
testimony was inherently improbable and therefore the State
did not present evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable
jury to find him guilty on any of the counts.
We affirm Prater's convictions.
In the early morning of November 27, 2007, T.W. drove Vincent
Samora to a 7-Eleven. When she parked, T.W. noticed a silver
Jeep in the parking lot.
Ryan Sheppard, the Jeep's owner, sat in the driver's
seat. Sheppard was accompanied by his friend Prater. Sheppard
recognized Samora, who was sitting in T.W.'s car, and
pointed him out to Prater. Prater had been searching for
Samora for months. In 2005, one of Prater's colleagues,
Christopher Archuletta, shot Samora in the stomach. Samora
later identified Archuletta as the shooter to police and
testified at Archuletta's preliminary hearing. The State
anticipated calling Samora to testify at Archuletta's
upcoming trial. Prater had been "waiting to get
[Samora]" because of Samora's testimony.
After a few minutes in the parking lot, T.W. drove to
Samora's house. The Jeep followed them. After T.W. parked
on Samora's driveway, someone in the Jeep fired shots
into T.W.'s car. At least five bullets struck the car;
one of the bullets killed Samora. T.W. reported she saw two
men in the Jeep.
After the shooting, Sheppard and Prater went to Donna
Quintana's house. Prater lived with Quintana, who was his
girlfriend at the time. Sheppard and his girlfriend, Sherilyn
Valdez, also stayed at Quintana's house. Sheppard,
Quintana, and Valdez later testified that upon hearing a
local news channel report Samora's death, Prater
celebrated by laughing, jumping up and down, and commenting
that Samora was "sleeping with the fishes." Prater
instructed Quintana to remove his belongings from the Jeep
and clean the vehicle.
Soon after hearing the news of Samora's death, Prater
left for his cousin's house with Sheppard and Quintana
because he became nervous that Quintana's neighborhood
was getting too "hot." Prater sent Quintana back to
her neighborhood with specific instructions to retrieve his
gun and throw it into the Jordan River.
Evidence Presented at Trial
The State charged Prater with aggravated murder, a
first-degree felony, in violation of Utah Code section
76-5-202; obstructing justice, also a first-degree felony, in
violation of Utah Code section 76-8-306; and discharging a
firearm from a vehicle, near a highway, or in the direction
of any person, building or vehicle, a third-degree felony, in
violation of Utah Code section 76-10-508.
At trial, Sheppard identified Prater as the shooter. Sheppard
testified that after he and Prater pulled out of the 7-Eleven
parking lot, Prater said, "Follow [Samora], I will get
out and smash him." Sheppard also testified that shortly
after pulling up to Samora's house, Prater fired shots
from the Jeep's window. Sheppard testified that Prater
laughed when he saw the news that Samora had been killed.
Sheppard recalled that Prater said "I knew I got
him" and that Samora was "sleeping with the
Sheppard revealed that he had initially lied to police and
denied any involvement in Samora's murder. Sheppard
admitted that the State had offered him reduced charges if he
agreed to testify against Prater. Sheppard also revealed a
potential motive Sheppard would have had to harm Samora:
Sheppard had previously dated a woman who-unbeknownst to
Sheppard at the time-was married to Samora. Sheppard also
testified that Samora had once thrown a retaliatory punch at
him. Sheppard further testified that his current girlfriend,
Valdez, had previously dated Samora.
Quintana testified that when Prater learned from the news
that Samora had been killed, Prater celebrated by jumping up
and down and exclaiming that Samora was now "sleeping
with the fishes." Quintana testified that she cleaned
the Jeep and retrieved Prater's items at his request.
Quintana also testified that Prater told her where to locate
the gun used to kill Samora and that, upon his request; she
threw it into the Jordan River.
Quintana admitted that she "denied knowing anything
whatsoever" about the shooting in her first interview
with police. Quintana also testified that, in a second
interview with police, she did not "tell them the truth
about the gun" and that only "half" of what
she said was truthful. Quintana admitted that at both the
second interview and the preliminary hearing, she had been
dishonest when she said, and then testified, that she had
discarded a "package" because she knew she had
thrown a gun into the river. On cross-examination, Quintana
admitted she also lied at the preliminary hearing when she
told the court that Prater had told her he was not involved
in the shooting. She also confessed that, at the preliminary
hearing, she lied about being asked to clean the Jeep.
Quintana explained that she lied at the preliminary hearing
because she was "scared" after people on both
Prater's and Samora's sides ...