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United States v. Wrensford

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 31, 2017


          Argued May 2, 2017

         APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS (D.C. Nos. 1-13-cr-00003-001 & 1-13-cr-00003-002) Hon. Wilma A. Lewis District Judge.

          Omodare B. Jupiter, Esq. [ARGUED] Federal Public Defender Counsel for Appellant Elvin Wrensford

          Martial A. Webster, Sr., Esq. [ARGUED] Law Office of Martial A. Webster, Sr. Counsel for Appellant Craig Muller

          Alphonso G. Andrews, Jr., Esq. Rhonda Williams-Henry, Esq. [ARGUED] Office of United States Attorney David W. White [ARGUED] Office of United States Attorney Counsel for Appellee United States of America

          Before: GREENAWAY, JR., SHWARTZ, and FUENTES, Circuit Judges.


          SHWARTZ, Circuit Judge.

         Elvin Wrensford and Craig Muller ("Defendants") were convicted of federal and territorial crimes arising from a May 10, 2012 shooting in Christiansted, St. Croix. Defendants appeal the District Court's orders denying their motions to suppress evidence, the admission at trial of out-of-court identifications, orders denying their motions for mistrials based on the jury poll, and the refusal to give a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction. Muller also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence against him.

         Because Wrensford was de facto arrested when, without probable cause, he was transported from the location where police found him to a police station and placed in a cell, we will vacate and remand to the District Court to determine whether (1) an exception to the Fourth Amendment applies and renders the evidence admissible, or (2) a new trial is warranted. As to Muller, we will affirm the District Court's judgment because (1) he waived his challenge to the suppression rulings, (2) the District Court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the eyewitness identification, polling the jury and instructing it to redeliberate, or refusing to give a voluntary manslaughter jury instruction, and (3) the District Court correctly concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict against him.



         Wrensford and Muller were involved in an altercation with a man at Ben's Car Wash on the afternoon of May 10, 2012. A few hours later, the man returned to the car wash with Gilbert Hendricks, apparently looking for someone. Hendricks and the man left, but Hendricks returned to the car wash at around 8:00 p.m. Shortly after he arrived, a red truck passed in front of the car wash and, moments later, the truck turned around and chased Hendricks down the road toward Food Town, a local supermarket. The passenger, who was later identified as Wrensford, fired several shots at Hendricks. Hendricks died two days later from gunshot wounds to his head.


         Several officers responded to the scene at around 8:06 p.m. Witnesses told Officer Julio Mendez that a red truck left the area at a high speed. Mendez drove in the direction the truck was observed going, and 45 minutes later, he encountered two men walking on the road. Mendez stopped in front of them and noticed that both were sweating profusely; one said they were coming from a basketball court in the area. Mendez called for backup, and before he could approach them, both men ran. One ran into the bushes and the other ran toward a gas station. Mendez radioed a general description of the men to other officers.

         Officer Leon Cruz was patrolling after the shooting when, at 8:46 p.m., he heard the transmission from Mendez stating that two "black, rasta males" were on the run. App. 358-59. (Cruz testified that "rasta" means a person who has dreadlocks. App. 428-29.) Cruz thereafter observed a man wearing a white shirt running across the street toward a ballpark. Cruz turned toward the ballpark and saw a "rasta guy" standing near the bush area. App. 362-63. He also saw a white shirt hanging in the bushes. At approximately 8:58 p.m., Cruz drew his gun, ordered the individual- Wrensford-to show his hands and get on the ground, and once another officer arrived, Cruz placed Wrensford in handcuffs. Cruz patted Wrensford down and removed a knife, keys to a GMC truck, a wallet, and an insurance card from Wrensford's pockets. Wrensford was then transported to the "C Command" police station in a police vehicle at around 9:06 p.m. and placed in a cell. Officers later returned to the area where Wrensford was stopped and recovered a Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol close to where he had been standing. Shortly after Wrensford was detained, Mendez notified the other officers that a red GMC truck had been found, partially hidden in bushes, next to an abandoned building.

         At the scene of the shooting, Detective Kirk Fieulleteau spoke to two witnesses: Tynicia Teague and her father, Trevor Teague, who were in the Food Town parking lot during the shooting and said they were able to identify the shooter. Fieulleteau decided to speak with the witnesses at C Command, so he asked a fellow officer, Lydia Figueroa, to take Wrensford from C Command to the Rainbow Building police station in Frederiksted. Fieulleteau went to the station and found Wrensford in a cell. Fieulleteau took Wrensford's driver's license and then he, Figueroa, and another officer escorted Wrensford outside while handcuffed and placed him in a police car in front of the station. Fieulleteau testified that he did not want the witnesses "to have any sort of inadvertent interaction with him." App. 659.

         Tynicia and Trevor Teague arrived at C Command at around 9:55 p.m. As Wrensford was being taken out of the station and into the car, which was a few steps from the station's front door, Tynicia Teague was waiting at a traffic light outside the station. She looked toward C Command and observed Wrensford being put into the police car. The Teagues thereafter entered the police station and met with the police. Before Fieulleteau had formally commenced the interview with Tynicia Teague, she "blurted out" that she saw the shooter, referring to Wrensford, being taken out of the station. App. 600. Trevor Teague told Officer Richard Matthews "the same thing." App. 661. Tynicia Teague then provided a statement concerning the shooting, and when shown Wrensford's driver's license, she confirmed that he was the shooter and the person she saw outside the station.

         Matthews met with Wrensford later that night at Rainbow Building. At 12:23 a.m., Matthews read Wrensford his Miranda rights, and Wrensford acknowledged his rights but did not sign the Miranda waiver form. Wrensford told Matthews that he was playing basketball that evening in the Princess area with "a partner of his, " but he declined to give his partner's name. App. 509. While being booked at approximately 1:30 a.m. on May 11, Wrensford agreed to provide a DNA sample.

         Tynicia Teague also said she saw the truck's driver. Three days after the shooting, she was shown a photo array that included Muller's photo and she identified him as the driver. She said that prior to the shooting, she had seen Muller with Wrensford.


         At trial, Muller's grandfather testified concerning Muller's actions and whereabouts after the shooting. Muller began staying with his grandfather on the fourth day after the shooting. Muller told his grandfather that he was ill, considered not going to work, and planned to travel to New York to see his mother and a doctor. Notably, two of his co-workers testified that Muller never mentioned that he was feeling ill or planning to leave St. Croix. Rather, one of Muller's co-workers testified that he overheard co-workers asking Muller whether he was involved in the shooting (they heard that he was). Muller's supervisor testified that, after the shooting, Muller asked to be reassigned to work in a different area of the island, because "he had a situation." App. 1920-21.

         Just four days after he began living with his grandfather, Muller left St. Croix and traveled to the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport, where he was met by Tomas Garcia, a Customs and Border Protection officer. Garcia testified that he approached Muller from behind and told him he was "there to pick him up." App. 1544. Muller "lowered his head and shoulders" and "said that's okay. I figured somebody was going to pick [me] up." App. 1544. Garcia handcuffed him and advised him that he would be detained "on some business that he had in St. Croix . . . ." App. 1544. Garcia escorted Muller to an inspection area and asked whether Muller knew of any issues or problems in St. Croix. Muller then "broke down crying, " App. 1545, and returned to St. Croix.


         Wrensford and Muller were charged with: (1) possession of a firearm in a school zone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(q)(2)(A) and 924(a)(1)(B) (Count I); (2) using a firearm during a violent crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) (Count II); (3) first degree murder, in violation of 14 V.I. Code §§ 922(a)(1) and 923(a) (Count IV); and (4) unauthorized possession of a firearm, in violation of 14 V.I. Code § 2253(a) (Count V). In addition, Wrensford was charged with possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(k) (Count III).

         Wrensford moved to suppress items found in his possession, the statements he made to law enforcement, identifications made by Tynicia and Trevor Teague, and his DNA sample. Muller moved to suppress any identification evidence. The District Court granted Wrensford's motion to suppress the truck keys, wallet, and insurance card, but denied his motion to suppress the knife, his statements to the police, the DNA evidence, and the eyewitness identifications. The District Court found the DNA sample was admissible because it was taken after he was arrested and pursuant to probable cause. As to the identifications of both Wrensford and Muller, the Court concluded that the identifications were not the product of unduly suggestive procedures and denied the motions to suppress them.


         In addition to the events described above concerning the apprehension of Wrensford and Muller, the jury heard testimony from Henry Mason, who knew Wrensford, Muller, and Hendricks. Mason testified that he was at Ben's Car Wash on the afternoon of the shooting and observed Muller and Wrensford having an altercation with an associate of Hendricks.

         Tynicia Teague testified that she was in the Food Town parking lot on the night of the shooting and went to the police station afterward, but claimed she did not remember any details about the shooting or her identification of Wrensford. Portions of her statements to the police, which included her identifications of Wrensford and Muller, and the photo array were admitted into evidence.

         The Government presented evidence that 9 mm, .38 class (9 mm), and .40 caliber bullet casings were found at the scene of the shooting or in the truck. The jury also heard evidence that a 9 mm Smith & Wesson was found where Wrensford was stopped, his DNA was found on ...

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