District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Roger S.
Dutson No. 121903822
M. Nelson and Charity Shreve, Attorneys for Appellant
D. Reyes and William M. Hains, Attorneys for Appellee
Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges David
N. Mortensen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.
Defendant Ryan Randy Robinson appeals his convictions of one
count of murder, one count of aggravated assault, and one
count of use of a firearm by a restricted person.
Specifically, he appeals the trial court's refusal to
allow him to cross-examine a witness (Witness) about a plea
in abeyance and the trial court's refusal to allow the
jury to be transported to the scene of the crime. We affirm.
The State charged Robinson with the murder of the victim
(Victim) as well as aggravated assault and use of a firearm
by a restricted person, based on events that occurred on
April 9, 2012. At that time, Robinson and Victim were in
a relationship and living together. On the day of the murder
they were temporarily staying at Robinson's parents'
home over the weekend while his parents were out of town.
Witness, a friend of Robinson's-who was an instructor at
the college Robinson attended-drove Robinson to his
parents' home after their classes had ended for the day.
When they reached the Robinson home, Robinson invited Witness
inside. Robinson and Witness went down to the basement and,
while there, Robinson went into his father's bedroom and
retrieved from a shelf a black and silver Smith & Wesson
9mm semiautomatic handgun to show Witness. Robinson claimed
he had received it for his birthday. He and Witness
"checked out" the gun, and Robinson "took the
bullets out of it, " after which he put the gun away.
Robinson and Witness then left to run an errand. When they
returned, Robinson and Victim started to argue. The argument,
though only verbal at that time, "escalated pretty
quickly, " and Witness, feeling "uncomfortable,
" started to leave. Robinson tried to "hold"
Witness to keep him from leaving, telling Witness to
"not . . . let it get to [him]." Around this time,
Victim "ran out the front door, " and Robinson
chased after her. Witness "went straight to [his] car
A neighbor (Neighbor) was in her backyard with her
sixteen-year-old son (Neighbor's Son) when she observed
Victim "running fast" past Neighbor's house,
followed by Robinson. Both Neighbor and Neighbor's Son
went to the front of their house "to see what was going
on, " and they saw Victim lying with her back on the
ground and Robinson on top "punching, "
"kick[ing], " and "beating" her. Both
neighbors described Robinson as being in a type of
"rage." When Neighbor told Robinson to stop,
Robinson got up and lunged at Neighbor, but he turned around
when Victim alerted him that Neighbor's Son was on his
phone, apparently dialing 911. Robinson then walked back to
his parents' home, with Victim following behind. Neighbor
and Neighbor's Son called the police and reported the
Police officers arrived shortly after 3:00 p.m. and, after
speaking with Neighbor and Neighbor's Son, knocked on the
Robinson's door and rang the doorbell. Receiving no
response, the officers checked windows and went around the
back of the house. Eventually, more than thirty minutes
later, Robinson emerged from the backyard to talk to the
officers. The officers universally described Robinson as
being in a state of emotional upset-that he was
"[t]eary" and "shaking" and that he
appeared to be "nervous, " "agitated, "
"pretty aggressive, " "[v]ery angry, "
and "annoyed." Though Robinson initially refused to
allow the officers into the home, the officers told him that
they would not leave without checking on Victim. Robinson
then called into the house, telling Victim to come up to
"show the police [he] didn't hurt [her]."
The officers spoke separately with both Robinson and Victim
about the incident; both denied that their argument became
physical. Two of the officers carefully looked at
Victim's face, head, and scalp but could see no injuries.
They also did not see any injuries on Robinson's hands.
Finding no evidence of assault, the officers left the home at
approximately 4:16 p.m.
Meanwhile, after leaving the Robinson's home, Witness
went to a mutual friend's (Friend) house where Robinson
and Victim had been living. While there Friend received
several phone calls from Robinson, some of which Witness
overheard. In one of the early calls, Robinson told Friend
that he and Victim were arguing. In the last phone call,
Robinson informed Friend that he had shot Victim in the head
and that she was dead, and he told Friend that he needed to
"get some money [Friend] owed him." Witness,
overhearing Friend question Robinson about whether he shot
Victim, immediately called 911 and reported that Victim had
been shot. He reported the incident at approximately 4:40
The first responding officer arrived at the Robinson's
home at approximately 4:50 p.m. The officer noticed a man-
Robinson-walking down the street, and another of the
neighbors flagged the officer down to let him know she had
observed a gun tucked into the back of Robinson's pants
as he walked by her house. The officer then attempted to
approach Robinson, and a foot chase ensued, ending in
Other responding officers entered the Robinson's home and
discovered Victim lying at the bottom of the basement stairs.
The paramedics discovered a gunshot wound to Victim's
head and, shortly after responding, they pronounced her dead.
The responding officers also discovered several holes through
which a single bullet appeared to have passed-a hole in the
molding of the basement's "low hanging ceiling . . .
at the bottom of the [basement] stairs, " a hole in the
basement door, and a "divot" in the kitchen
ceiling. The officers also discovered a bullet in the
cat's dish on the kitchen floor. At trial, witnesses-both
fact and expert-testified about Victim's location at the
time the gun was fired as well as the bullet's
trajectory. Though various witnesses disagreed on the exact
stair on which Victim had been standing at the time she was
killed, witnesses postulated that Victim had been standing on
one of the basement stairs. Witnesses also postulated that
the bullet had traveled in an upward direction from the
basement, going first through the molding of the
"low-hanging" basement ceiling, then entering the
right side of Victim's head and exiting on the left,
passing through the basement door to the kitchen ceiling,
creating a "divot" in that ceiling, and finally
coming to rest in the cat's dish in the kitchen upstairs.
In addition, two handwritten notes were discovered in the
kitchen, which read, "Accident, I love you, " and,
"I'm sorry. This was an accident, so will be the
Based on these events, the State charged Robinson with
murder, a first degree felony. See Utah Code Ann.
§ 76-5-203 (Lexis Nexis 2017). The case proceeded to
At trial, both parties agreed that, despite the low basement
ceiling, at the time Robinson shot Victim from the basement
he would have seen at least part of her body on the stairs.
The central issue at trial was whether Victim's death was
merely reckless and accidental on Robinson's part, or
whether it was knowing and intentional. Robinson asserted
that he was guilty only of manslaughter-that Victim's
death was the result of a "tragic accident"
involving his unfamiliarity with, and reckless operation of,
the gun. In contrast, the State asserted that, according to
the elements of the variants of murder, Robinson intended his
actions. To that end, the State introduced several
fact witnesses to testify regarding their observations and
involvement, including Witness, Neighbor, Neighbor's Son,
the various responding police officers, and the lead
detective on the case. The State also introduced several
expert witnesses, including a ballistics expert, a bloodstain
pattern analyst, and the forensic pathologist who performed
Robinson made two motions during trial that are the subject
of this appeal. First, Robinson apparently discovered on the
second day of trial that Witness had previously pleaded
guilty to theft by deception but that the plea had been held
in abeyance. Robinson therefore moved under rule 608(b) of
the Utah Rules of Evidence to cross-examine Witness about
that plea. Robinson asserted that the plea was
probative of Witness's character for untruthfulness, as
required under rule 608(b). The court denied Robinson's
request, finding that "it would certainly be more
prejudicial than probative also because it's not actually
a plea of guilty entered." While Robinson was therefore
unable to cross-examine Witness about the plea itself, he
otherwise extensively cross-examined Witness about what he
characterized as Witness's apparent tendency to omit
facts "when . . . talking to law enforcement."
Second, Robinson moved under rule 17(i) of the Utah Rules
of Criminal Procedure to have the jury transported to view
the basement at the Robinson's home where the shooting
occurred. Both parties agreed that the scene had changed
since the crime because the homeowner had remodeled the
basement following the shooting. Nevertheless, Robinson
claimed that the jury view was "critical" and
"crucial" to his case and that the jury needed to
"personally observe the angles and obstructions, "
arguing that "[t]he angle of the stairs, the obstruction
of the basement ceiling, and the location of both parties on
the stairs casts considerable doubt on whether [he] could
have been acting knowingly and intentionally where his vision
was obstructed." He also asserted that, although the
basement had been remodeled and the "paint and flooring
ha[d] changed, " the important aspects, such as the
approximate ceiling height, "remain[ed] primarily the
To support this assertion, Robinson offered testimony from
his father, who testified that he had the "whole
[basement] redone." For the ceiling, he testified that
where it had been tiled with molding at the bottom, the tile
was removed and the ceiling sheet rocked, which he opined
changed the ceiling height about "an inch." He also
testified that he had completely replaced the stairs with
thinner treads and carpeted them. As for the rest of the
basement, where it had been open before, separate rooms had
been walled off and finished.
The State opposed Robinson's motion, arguing that the
significant changes to the basement meant that the jury would
view "a completely different scene" than the one in
which Victim was shot, which it asserted would only be
"confusing, " particularly in light of the
photographs and other visual evidence of the scene that would
be presented during trial. The State also argued that the
outcome of Robinson's motion was controlled by State
v. Cabututan, 861 P.2d 408 (Utah 1993), in which our
supreme court affirmed the trial court's denial of a
motion to view a crime scene in part because it was
"unlikely that the site would have ...