JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The State Supreme Court today overturned the conviction of a California man for aggravated assault. Joshua Roy Delbert Black, 38, who was tried and convicted in Jackson in September 2015. As a habitual criminal, Black’s conviction of a felony for severely beating his then-girlfriend triggered Wyoming’s habitual criminal statute and a mandatory life sentence. It was Black’s fourth felony conviction since turning 18.
In his appeal, Black contended he was denied a fair trial as a result of prosecutorial misconduct. He also claimed that his due process rights were violated because he was required to wear a leg restraint during trial.
In delivering the opinion of the High Court, CJ Burke wrote: “We find that prosecutorial misconduct occurred when the State failed to comply with the district court’s discovery order and when the prosecutor made improper comments during closing argument. We also find that the district court abused its discretion in requiring Appellant to wear a leg restraint at trial without conducting a hearing to evaluate the necessity for the restraint. The cumulative impact of those errors deprived Appellant of a fair trial. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial.”
Prosecutor Becket Hinckley said he has never had a case remanded. His office is looking into procedure on how to proceed from here.
“One thing I will tell you,” Hinckley said, “the State of Wyoming will retry this case, and I will prosecute this case.”
Judge Burke found the prosecution did not do enough to obtain social media posts and records from Verizon and Facebook that defense counsel asked for.
During the State Supreme Court hearing on the case, the following transcript was obtained by Buckrail:
THE COURT: So what would you expect to be produced that would be enlightening?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: . . . This is a couple, particularly [the defendant] documented everything. This is a woman who posted and texted and selfied constantly.
There’s discrepancies in her timeline that night of where she was. And since October the State has known that she’s documented her whereabouts and used that phone and information from Facebook posts to help her reconstruct her timeline and story and now that’s not being turned over to the [defense].
THE COURT: What evidence is there of discrepancies of where she was?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: For example, she says she was at Teton Village that night. I don’t have any information that she actually was at Teton Village that night. . . . [T]hey are using that as where she was out and about. There is information that she left the night of the assault and that she was at least in her car and she hit a bear trash can backing into it the night of the assault.
Her whereabouts on where these things happened are important to her entire credibility on how she even remembers where she was. She used her phone and her postings to tell law enforcement, to jog her own memory to tell them what had happened that night. To tell them her story was that she was at the residence and she had been assaulted by Mr. Black.
And I can’t verify when she left and went to Teton Village in particular or who she was with when she did it because that information is missing, except for it being written in a law enforcement report and talked about in the interviews.
Further, Hinckley’s closing statement was called improper by the High Court
During closing, the prosecutor stated: “I have been stunned by the police work here. I used to be in Cheyenne, the police work that this detective has done has been as complete as anything I’ve ever seen. All texts, everything.” The State also concedes the prosecutor committed misconduct during his rebuttal, where he stated there “might be a few bad [law enforcement officers], but there aren’t any around here.” The State also concedes that the prosecutor’s statements to the jury that a particular officer involved with the investigation was “good” and that . . . “[the lead detective] has done unbelievable police work” were improper.
Once paperwork clears at the state penitentiary in Rawlins where Black has been incarcerated for more than two years, he will be transferred to the Teton County Detention Center and a new trial will be scheduled. He will likely be back in Jackson Hole for Christmas.
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