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State v. Skinner

Court of Appeals of Utah

January 3, 2020

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Steven Dennis Skinner, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Vernice S. Trease No. 141907373

          Debra M. Nelson and Brady Smith, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and John J. Nielsen, Attorneys for Appellee

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

          OPINION

          HARRIS, JUDGE

         ¶1 Seeking a "dominant/submissive" experience, Steven Dennis Skinner summoned a professional escort to his apartment in the wee hours of the morning. When the escort objected to some of the acts in which Skinner wanted her to participate, he produced a gun and forced her to perform sexual acts to which she had not consented. Eventually, the two of them fought over the gun, and it discharged, hitting the escort and injuring her; in the resulting confusion, the escort somehow gained control of the gun and shot Skinner several times, injuring him. A jury later convicted Skinner on four counts of aggravated sexual assault, as well as one count of theft by receiving stolen property. Skinner appeals, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of any offense. We reject Skinner's arguments and affirm his convictions.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         ¶2 In 2014, V.M. worked as an escort for a business known as the Dollhouse. Clients seeking the services of an escort contact the Dollhouse, and the company's phone operator-a sort of dispatcher-then contacts the individual escorts and tells them the identity of the client and where to meet. At approximately 3:00 a.m. one morning, the Dollhouse phone operator contacted V.M. and told her that a client, Skinner, had requested a "submissive person" and that he wanted "some sort of dominating" experience. V.M. drove to the address the phone operator had provided, which turned out to be Skinner's apartment. Skinner met her at her car and escorted her inside, at which point V.M. collected a $200 "show-up" fee, by which Skinner purchased one hour of V.M.'s time. At that point, pursuant to company protocol, V.M. called the phone operator and reported that she was in the apartment and had collected the "show-up" fee, and that the clock could start on Skinner's hour.

         ¶3 V.M. had to give half of the "show-up" fee to the Dollhouse, but was entitled to keep the other half, plus any tips the client might provide. V.M. told Skinner that, for a tip, she would be "more entertaining." In response, Skinner stated that "he likes whips and cuffs and stuff." Because V.M. was "trying to get the money," she did not immediately reject Skinner's suggestions, instead saying "we'll see." Skinner paid V.M. an additional $200 tip, and V.M. then took off her clothes, leaving on only her bra and underwear. Soon thereafter, Skinner produced a whip and told V.M. that he wanted to use it on her; after expressing initial objections, V.M. agreed to let Skinner use the whip, but only if Skinner used it "really lightly." As Skinner whipped V.M., he instructed her to call him "sir." At some point, the whipping became too hard for V.M.'s liking, and she asked Skinner to stop. Skinner complied, but became frustrated that V.M. would "not agree[] to do what he want[ed]." Skinner then went into a back room, leaving V.M. alone in the living room.

         ¶4 After sitting alone for a few minutes in the living room, V.M. became worried that Skinner had been gone for "too long," so she walked toward the back room to "see what was going on." From the doorway to the room, V.M. observed Skinner "facing the wall" and "[s]taring down, looking at something." Concerned that Skinner "looked really odd and suspicious," V.M. decided to text the Dollhouse phone operator to inform her that Skinner was "acting a little bit odd," and she returned to the living room to retrieve her phone, which was in her purse on the couch. But before V.M. could send the message, Skinner appeared behind her, wielding a "long" handgun. Skinner held the gun to the back of V.M.'s head and knocked the phone out of her hand, causing it to land between the wall and the couch. With the gun still against V.M.'s head, Skinner told her that she was "going to do what the f*** I say"; he then forced V.M. to "get down on [her] knees" and perform oral sex on him, even though V.M. testified that she had not agreed to do so. Skinner forced V.M. to continue until Skinner ejaculated in her mouth.

         ¶5 After that, Skinner continued to demand that V.M. perform various sex acts, including anal sex, and ordered her to "bend over on the couch" with her back to him while he "rubb[ed]" and "push[ed]" himself against her in an attempt to insert his penis into her anus. Skinner also inserted his fingers into V.M.'s anus and rubbed his penis against her vagina. But Skinner was unable to maintain an erection, so he ordered V.M. to "get him hard again" by performing additional oral sex. Skinner continued this "back and forth"-with V.M. performing oral sex followed by unsuccessful attempts to perform anal sex- for what seemed to V.M. like "a long time."

         ¶6 Eventually Skinner grew tired of this routine, and placed the gun down on the couch. With V.M. still bent over facing the couch and Skinner behind her with his stomach against her back, Skinner wrapped his left arm around V.M.'s neck and began to choke her. As V.M. began to black out, she reached for the gun. At that point, Skinner went for the gun as well, and "a little tussle" ensued. The gun went off twice, hitting V.M. both times: once in her left leg, where the bullet entered the outside of her calf and exited on the inside of her knee; and once in her left hand, where the bullet entered her palm and exited the top of her hand. Despite having been shot, V.M. continued to struggle with Skinner until she gained control of the gun. Then, using her right hand, V.M. shot at Skinner "as many times" as she could, hitting him three times: once in his left abdomen, once in his left upper arm, and once on his right inner thigh.

         ¶7 After shooting Skinner, V.M. "picked up [her] leg," which was "hanging off" with "the bone coming out," and dragged herself out of the apartment. Once outside, V.M. continued to drag herself down the outside stairs, all the while "yelling for help." A neighbor responded to her pleas and called the police and paramedics.

         ¶8 When officers arrived at Skinner's apartment complex, they found the neighbor sitting with V.M., who was lying at the bottom of the stairs to the apartment. V.M. was "naked for the most part," covered in blood, and "screaming that she had been shot." V.M. told officers that a man upstairs had a gun. Officers noticed that there was "quite a bit of blood on the stairs" so they followed its trail, which led to Skinner's apartment. Officers found the door to the apartment open and, through the door, saw Skinner lying across a chair naked and covered in blood, with multiple gunshot wounds. When asked about the gun, Skinner told officers, "[I]t's her gun, she brought it."

         ¶9 V.M. and Skinner were taken to a hospital where they both underwent surgeries to treat their gunshot wounds. V.M. suffered fractures to her femur, tibia, and left hand, and has required multiple reconstructive surgeries. Skinner suffered injuries to his colon, diaphragm, liver, ribs, and left arm.

         ¶10 During a search of Skinner's apartment, which was in complete "disarray," officers found three bullet holes: one in the wall above the television, one in the window, and one in the wall by the couch. There were copious amounts of blood throughout the apartment, including "a lot of blood from the kitchen"; blood on the couch; a blood trail from the front door into the apartment; and a pool of blood just inside the front door. Although there were blood stains on the exterior side of the front door, there were no visible stains on the interior of the door, and neither the doorknob nor the dead bolt on the door was tested for blood. There were also blood spatter stains on "the wall directly behind the couch, the wall on the side of the couch, and the ceiling." Tissue was found on the walls, ceiling, and bookshelf. A crime scene technician took blood swabs from the areas that were "the most saturated with blood," but unfortunately the swabs became contaminated before they could be tested for DNA. No tissue was collected for DNA testing.

         ¶11 Officers recovered a gun from the front room, and located two gun cases in the back room. One of the cases was empty and was made for a Ruger GP100 357 magnum revolver-the same brand and make of gun found in the front room. Subsequent investigation indicated that this firearm did not belong to Skinner and had been reported stolen.

         ¶12 After completing its investigation, the State charged Skinner with four counts of aggravated sexual assault, one count of theft by receiving stolen property for possessing the gun, and one count of aggravated assault. On the State's motion, the aggravated assault charge was ...


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