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State v. Seumanu

Court of Appeals of Utah

May 23, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
Viliamu Seumanu, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Randall N. Skanchy No. 141900236

          Brett J. DelPorto, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Kris C. Leonard, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Diana Hagen concurred.


         ¶1 In retaliation for a drug deal gone sideways, Chris Leech orchestrated the kidnapping of two individuals (Middleman and Victim). Leech and several other individuals-including defendant Viliamu Seumanu-held, bound, and transported Middleman and Victim to a remote location in Weber Canyon. There, Leech shot Victim and then told Middleman to shoot Victim or else Leech would kill Middleman. Middleman complied. Seumanu, under the orders of Leech, later destroyed all physical evidence of the murder. Seumanu was charged with murder, aggravated kidnapping of Victim and Middleman, and obstruction of justice. A jury convicted Seumanu on all charges. He appeals one of the aggravated kidnapping convictions for which he was sentenced to life without parole. We affirm.


         The Murder

         ¶2 Middleman was supposed to deliver four ounces of methamphetamine to a distributor (Soules) waiting at a local residence (Residence). Middleman could not reach his supplier and, therefore, could only procure two ounces. During the additional two-day wait to get more methamphetamine, Middleman confided his problem to Victim, who offered to get the remaining two ounces for a little more money. After Middleman was yet again unable to reach his supplier, he accepted Victim's offer to get the additional two ounces without notifying Soules of the deal or the price increase.

         ¶3 Middleman waited at a friend's house while Victim went to get the drugs. Victim took longer than expected and stopped answering his phone when Middleman called. This caused Middleman to begin ignoring Soules's repeated requests for an update on where the drugs were.

         ¶4 After waiting several hours, Middleman had Soules pick him up. Together, they went to the Residence, where Middleman told Soules about Victim and how Victim was now in charge of procuring the additional two ounces of methamphetamine. Soules complained that she had customers waiting and urged Middleman to get the problem taken care of before Leech arrived. Soon thereafter, Leech arrived at the Residence.

         ¶5 Upon arrival, Leech pulled out a gun and asked Middleman what was going on. Middleman tried to assure Leech that he was dealing with it, to which Leech replied that he had better get it done "or it was [Middleman's] ass." After this exchange, Leech left a man with a gun in the garage with Middleman and refused to let Middleman leave. Around this time, Seumanu and several others arrived at the Residence.

         ¶6 In an effort to find and punish Victim, four men-Leech, Seumanu, Middleman, and one other (Myore)-left the Residence and went to an apartment where Victim was supposed to meet Soules. When Victim arrived at the apartment, Leech pulled a gun out and ordered Victim and Middleman to lie face down, side-by-side, on the floor. Leech then frisked them both, removed their shoes, and emptied their pockets. Victim tried to explain that he had the additional two ounces of drugs, but Leech told him to shut up. Leech then ordered Myore to blindfold both men and tie their hands behind their backs, which he did. While there were other people present in the room, including Seumanu, no one tried to stop Leech.

         ¶7 In the early morning hours, Myore transferred Middleman and Victim to the backseat of Myore's truck. Seumanu sat in the backseat next to Middleman and Victim. Myore then drove Leech, Seumanu, Victim, and Middleman to an abandoned road in Weber Canyon, stopping once for gas. During their travels, Victim pleaded for his life and asked them not to follow through with their plan. He promised not to say anything to anyone, but Leech said it was already "too late."

         ¶8 Leech asked Myore for his firearm, and Myore complied. On Leech's order, Seumanu opened the door of the truck and escorted Middleman and Victim approximately 100 yards down a hill. There, after their faces were uncovered, Middleman looked to Victim, who said, "I guess this is it," and, "I'm sorry, bro." Leech then shot Victim in the back.

         ¶9 Next, Leech unbound Middleman's hands. He then handed his gun to Middleman and said, "There's your home boy, you finish it or I'm going to kill you." Middleman attempted to fire a single shot at Victim, but the gun jammed. Middleman quickly gave the gun back to Leech, who ordered Seumanu to point a different gun at Middleman's head. Seumanu did so, and once the original gun was unjammed, Leech gave it back to Middleman. With a gun pressed against the back of Middleman's head, Middleman shot Victim.

         ¶10 Victim was left alone where he was shot, and the four other men-Leech, Seumanu, Myore, and Middleman-left in the truck. On the way back to the Residence, Leech directed everyone to pretend they were still trying to find Victim. Leech further ordered Myore to clean, vacuum, and shampoo the truck, and he told Seumanu to burn everything belonging to Victim and Middleman. Myore and Seumanu complied.

         The Investigation

         ¶11 Several months later, detectives from the West Valley City Police Department discovered Victim's body. Police interviewed many of the people present the night of the murder, including Seumanu. During Seumanu's interview, he claimed that he did not know what the officers were talking about and stated that "it had been a while since he'd seen" Middleman; and he last saw Victim three or four months earlier smoking outside an apartment complex in Taylorsville. When pressed further, Seumanu changed his story, admitting that he had been at the Residence with Soules, Myore, Leech, Middleman, and Victim.

         ¶12 Seumanu then admitted that he waited for Victim at the Residence along with Soules, Myore, Middleman, and Leech; he got into Myore's truck and went into the mountains; the group stopped for gas on the way to Weber Canyon; they drove about an hour; and they parked near a gate and everyone else got out while he remained at the truck. Seumanu eventually told police that Leech and Myore walked Middleman and Victim down a hill while he followed, that he watched Leech shoot Victim, saw Leech and Middleman walk toward Victim's body, and saw Middleman shoot Victim. Finally, Seumanu stated that when they returned from Weber Canyon, Myore and Leech took care of destroying evidence while he went home.

         The Proceedings

         ¶13 Over a year before trial, the State filed charges against Seumanu as an accomplice to one count of murder, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, and one count of obstruction of justice (Information).[1] Count 3 in the Information is titled "AGGRAVATED KIDNAPPING" and makes specific reference to the aggravated kidnapping statute: Utah Code section 76-5-302. The Information also contains the State's probable cause statement describing Seumanu's role in the kidnapping and that during the course of Middleman's kidnapping, Victim was shot and killed.

         ¶14 On the morning of trial, Seumanu received the State's proposed verdict form (Verdict Form), proposed special verdict form (Special Verdict Form), and proposed jury instruction 40 (Instruction 40). The Verdict Form listed the charges-including count 3 for aggravated kidnapping-and required the jury to indicate whether Seumanu was guilty or not guilty on each charge. The Special Verdict Form required the jury to indicate whether it found "beyond a reasonable doubt" that "[d]uring the course of the commission of the Aggravated Kidnapping of [Middleman, ] [Seumanu], as a party, caused serious bodily injury to [Victim]"-which, if found, could result in a sentence of life without parole. Instruction 40 defined the "as a party" language used in the Special Verdict Form. Specifically, Instruction 40 stated that "a person can commit a criminal offense even though that person did not personally do all of the acts that make up the offense" if "(1) the defendant had the mental state required to commit the offense, and (2) the defendant solicited, requested, commanded, encouraged, or intentionally aided another to commit the offense, and (3) the offense was committed." When Seumanu's counsel received the Verdict Form, the Special Verdict Form, and Instruction 40, he did not object, request a continuance, or indicate that he was unprepared to proceed with trial.

         ¶15 At trial, Seumanu claimed that his presence at the murder was coerced by Leech and that his actions did not contribute to the murder. His wife (Wife) also testified that she attempted to persuade Leech not to do anything, but he was "gone in his mind" and would not listen. She claimed that she attempted to prevent Leech from taking Seumanu with him, but in response, Leech pointed his gun at her and insisted that Seumanu would be leaving with him. And only then did ...

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