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State v. Bonds

Court of Appeals of Utah

September 26, 2019

State of Utah, Appellee,
Christopher James Bonds, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Keith A. Kelly No. 161912346

          Nathalie S. Skibine, Attorney for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellee

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


          HARRIS, Judge

         ¶1 After a scuffle, Christopher James Bonds fatally shot his friend (Victim). In an interview with police a few hours after the shooting, Bonds admitted that he had shot Victim, but claimed that, right before the shooting, Victim had threatened to harm Bonds's children, and that he had shot Victim in order to protect them. A jury was not persuaded by Bonds's theory of self-defense, and convicted Bonds of murder, rather than acquitting him or convicting him of manslaughter. Bonds now appeals, asserting that his confession was coerced and should have been suppressed, and that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to improper jury instructions regarding self-defense, as well as part of the State's evidence regarding self-defense. We conclude that the trial court did not err by denying Bonds's motion to suppress his confession. But we agree with Bonds that his attorney provided ineffective assistance, and therefore reverse all but one of his convictions and remand for a new trial.


         ¶2 Bonds and Victim were good friends and socialized often; indeed, about a week before the events giving rise to this case, Bonds permitted Victim to live with him on a temporary basis after Victim's girlfriend (Girlfriend) kicked him out of her apartment. One evening, Bonds and his wife (Wife) left their two children with Wife's mother-who lived in the same apartment complex as they did-and went out with Victim and Girlfriend. The evening started with drinks at Girlfriend's aunt's house, and then the group decided to visit a bar in Salt Lake City, Utah. En route to the bar, they stopped at Bonds's apartment to smoke some marijuana, and continued to drink alcohol, having brought a bottle with them in the car.

         ¶3 Once the couples arrived at the bar, however, the evening began to turn sour. They encountered a man (Man) in the bar who had allegedly sexually assaulted Wife on a prior occasion. Bonds confronted Man about the incident, but Wife also argued with Bonds because she "was mad that [Bonds] didn't do anything in the first place." Meanwhile, Victim and Girlfriend were arguing in another section of the bar about some cocaine that Girlfriend had apparently lost. Eventually, Girlfriend and Wife tried to leave the bar without the men, but Bonds and Victim followed them outside. Victim thought Girlfriend was too intoxicated to drive, and expressed his opinion on the issue by punching the driver's side door of her car. Eventually, Bonds and Victim got into the car and the four of them drove off. Victim continued to vociferously opine that Girlfriend was too intoxicated to drive, and eventually Girlfriend pulled over to let Victim drive. At this point, Bonds began talking about going back to the bar to "get [Man]" and later speculated that they might "shoot up the bar" in the process.

         ¶4 Once they got back to Bonds's apartment, Bonds went inside to retrieve a gun, coming back outside with it before anyone else went inside. At this point Girlfriend wanted to go home, but Victim insisted on staying to "have his friend's back." When Bonds told Wife that he and Victim were going to go back to the bar, Girlfriend told Victim that, if he left with Bonds, she wanted nothing more to do with him. Neither woman felt threatened at this time, and they eventually went inside the apartment to have another drink, leaving the two men outside by themselves.

         ¶5 A few minutes later, around 2:00 a.m., the women heard gunshots outside. They heard first a single shot, then about a ten-second pause, then two or three more shots. Very shortly thereafter, Bonds came to the door of the apartment and told the women that he had just shot Victim; Bonds did not say anything more about any reason for the shooting, and did not offer additional details. Bonds then left the scene.

         ¶6 Girlfriend then ran outside and found Victim, a few buildings away within the same apartment complex, bleeding from a gunshot wound in his back. Victim was still conscious, and asked Girlfriend where Bonds was and said, "I can't believe he did this." A neighbor called the authorities and Victim was promptly taken to the hospital, where he died from his wounds at approximately 2:50 a.m. In addition to the gunshot wound in his back, Victim had also been shot in the front of his arm, just below the elbow crease. According to autopsy results, Victim had a blood alcohol content of .141 and also tested positive for THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

         ¶7 After leaving the scene, Bonds called a friend to ask for a ride, and in the course of the five-minute conversation, told him that he had just shot Victim, although he offered no reason why the shooting occurred. The friend thought Bonds seemed "drunk and high, " and declined Bonds's request for a pick-up.

         ¶8 A few minutes later, at 2:17 a.m., police located Bonds at a convenience store and arrested him; during the course of the arrest, they found Bonds to be unarmed and compliant. Other than telling officers, while he was being arrested, that he did not have a gun on him, Bonds remained "pretty quiet" during his interactions with the officers, and the officers did not ask him any questions. By about 2:20 a.m., officers had transported Bonds to the police station and ushered him into a small interview room that contained a video camera; Bonds's entire experience in that room was recorded. Officers instructed Bonds to sit, handcuffed, in a chair in the corner of the room, and told him that someone would come soon to "talk to" him. But officers decided to first speak with both Wife and Girlfriend, and so it took them some time to get around to speaking with Bonds. As the hours ticked by, officers would occasionally come into the interview room to check on Bonds, sometimes loosening his cuffs or giving him water, and instructing him that he was to remain in the chair. Bonds attempted to sleep in the chair, but found it difficult to do so while handcuffed. At 5:55 a.m., officers escorted Bonds to a "break room" with a couch, where Bonds was able to sleep for about an hour. At about 7:00 a.m., officers brought Bonds back to the small interview room, and two detectives (Detectives) began interviewing Bonds at 7:07 a.m.

         ¶9 Before interviewing Bonds, officers had spoken with both Wife and Girlfriend, and although the record does not contain transcripts or video of those interviews, Detectives were aware of those witnesses' observations before interviewing Bonds. In addition to some of the facts recited above, Detectives were also aware that Bonds had at one point been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, even though he had not taken any medication for that condition in about a year. Detectives would later testify that they did not observe any signs of intoxication or mental illness in Bonds by the time they spoke with him, some five or six hours after he would have last consumed alcohol or drugs.

         ¶10 After getting basic contact information from Bonds and exchanging pleasantries, Detectives advised Bonds of his Miranda[2] rights and asked him if he understood those rights and whether he wished to talk to Detectives about the events of that past night. Bonds agreed to answer questions, and offered, as his initial version of events, that he "didn't do nothing to nobody" and that he had gotten into an altercation with Man at the bar but that was it. When first asked about his later encounter with Victim, Bonds stated that he "heard gunshots" but that he "was never around when the gunshots came around" and that the blood on him was not from the incident with Victim. Detectives did not believe Bonds's denial, and told Bonds that they had "talked to a lot of people" and that Bonds did not "know everything that we know." Bonds then stated that he and Victim had gotten into a fistfight at the bar, and that he and Victim had fought again outside his apartment, but continued to maintain that he had "no access to no gun at all" and that he had "been actually in the clean."

         ¶11 Detectives then told Bonds that they knew he had been in possession of a gun "because there's like at least three to four people that saw you with a gun out in front of your apartment tonight." Bonds continued to deny possession of any gun, and Detectives continued to press, telling Bonds that he needed "to start being honest and up front, " and reiterating that people had seen him with a gun, had heard shots fired, and had "see[n] [Victim] get shot" by Bonds. Bonds appeared frustrated by these comments, questioning how anybody could have seen Victim get shot "when me and [Victim] was outside by our self, " and telling Detectives that he knew his rights and that he knew what they were trying to do because his mother had previously been a deputy sheriff.

         ¶12 Detectives then took a different tack, softening their tone and telling Bonds that he seemed like a "nice guy and respectful and everything" and "it sounds like a mistake was made tonight, " even implying that he might have been trying to protect Wife or his children. After Bonds shared with Detectives that he was a religious man, Detectives asked Bonds "what God would want [him] to do at this point" about "coming clean and everything else." In this same vein, Detectives told Bonds that Wife "wants you to do the right thing" and that his children would one day respect the fact that he had "manned up to it and he did the right thing afterwards."

         ¶13 Bonds then asked for a cigarette and asked Detectives "what am I facing?" Though Detectives knew at that point that Victim had died, they told Bonds that, as far as they knew, Victim was "in the hospital" and that they did not know any further details about "what happened and what's going on with him." After telling Detectives that "you all the coolest detectives I've ever met in my life in Utah, " Bonds again stated that his mother had been a sheriff, and Detectives asked Bonds what he thought his mother would want him to do. After some additional back-and-forth, Bonds then made the following statement: "I don't know where that gun at man, but I did shoot [Victim] . . . ." Bonds stated that he "shot three shots, " and that the shooting occurred somewhere between his apartment and his mother-in-law's apartment.

         ¶14 After confessing to the shooting, Bonds offered additional details, giving Detectives a description of the gun, and telling Detectives that he gave the gun to Wife's mother after the shooting (an allegation his mother-in-law later denied; the gun was eventually found outside a neighboring apartment building, wrapped in a sweatshirt). Bonds described a scuffle between him and Victim where Victim attempted to grab the gun from him, the gun fell to the ground and discharged, and Bonds shot Victim as soon as he recovered the gun. According to Bonds, Victim had "said some crazy shit" during the altercation, including a threat to "shoot this whole house and these kids, " a threat that Bonds claimed put him "in a rage" at Victim bringing his "kids in this, " and causing him to vow that "nobody gonna hurt my kids."

         ¶15 Bonds was eventually charged with murder; felony discharge of a firearm with serious bodily injury; three counts of felony discharge of a firearm; and possession of a firearm by a restricted person. After some pretrial proceedings, Bonds filed a motion to suppress the statements he made during the interview, arguing that he was intoxicated to a degree that he did not understand his rights, and that his statements during his interview were involuntary and were the product of coercive police tactics. The trial court denied the motion, finding that Bonds knowingly and intelligently waived his rights, and that his confession was not coerced.

         ¶16 At trial, Bonds's counsel acknowledged to the jury that Bonds had indeed shot Victim, but argued that he acted in defense of himself and/or his Wife and children. In support of that defense, Bonds sought-and the court agreed to give- various instructions on self-defense, including instructions about imperfect self-defense and manslaughter. The instructions specifically addressing self-defense and imperfect self-defense correctly stated that the State bore the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that self-defense does not apply. But the separate instruction (Instruction No. 35) setting forth the elements of murder and manslaughter stated as follows:

Before you can convict the Defendant, Christopher Bonds, of the lesser included offense of Manslaughter in Count 1 of the Information, you must find from all of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt each and every one of the following elements of that offense:
* * *
1.Christopher Bonds;
2.Commits murder (See instruction no. 30)
3.but is found to having acted in accordance with an imperfect self defense. (See instruction no. 51)
After you carefully consider all the evidence in this case, if you are convinced that each and every element has been proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, then you must find the defendant, GUILTY. On the other hand if you are not convinced that each and every element has been proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, then you must find the defendant NOT GUILTY.

         ¶17 At trial, the State presented testimony from Girlfriend and officers who responded to the scene. Bonds did not testify, but the State showed the jury a video recording of his interview with Detectives. In his cross-examination of Girlfriend, Bonds's counsel stressed that everyone was intoxicated and that Victim had been arguing, sometimes violently, with Girlfriend throughout the night. In his closing argument, Bonds's counsel argued that Bonds acted in self-defense or imperfect self-defense, in order to protect his children from Victim, and specifically referred the jury to the instructions regarding self-defense. In its closing argument, the State acknowledged that, at the time of the shooting, Victim was running in the general direction of Bonds's mother-in-law's apartment, where Bonds's children were staying. The State also emphasized Bonds's silence while being arrested, noting that Bonds "said ...

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