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Barr v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

March 14, 2014

RONALD K. BARR JR., Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court, Second Judicial District, Kotzebue, Paul A. Roetman, Judge. Trial Court No. 2KB-10-124CR.

Hanley Robinson Smith, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Nancy Simel, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 817

ALLARD, Judge.

Ronald K. Barr Jr. was convicted of physically and sexually assaulting M.B. Barr appeals his convictions, arguing that the superior court erred when it asked one of the State's expert witnesses a question submitted by a juror: whether the injuries to M.B. constituted the " worst beating" the expert had seen in Northwest Alaska. Barr also argues that the superior court committed plain error when it permitted the prosecutor to make statements during closing argument that Barr's claims were an indirect comment on his failure to take the stand.

For the reasons explained below, we conclude that the juror's question was improper and should not have been allowed, but that the error was harmless in this particular instance. We further conclude that Barr has failed to show plain error with respect to the prosecutor's comments. We therefore affirm Barr's convictions.

Background facts

Ronald Barr and M.B. are residents of a village near Kotzebue who have engaged in a consensual sexual relationship in the past. On two separate occasions in March 2010, M.B. reported being physically and sexually assaulted by Barr.

She reported that the first incident occurred on March 14, 2010. Barr invited M.B. to his house to drink. She drank heavily and became intoxicated. Barr indicated to M.B. that he wanted to have sexual intercourse; she did not want to. He engaged in vaginal penetration with her and she tried to fight him off, but he choked her until she nearly passed out. When Barr stopped choking her, M.B. pushed him off and went to another room. Barr then dragged her by her shirt or hair back into the bedroom and had sexual intercourse with her again.

After Barr fell asleep, M.B. ran next door wearing only pants because she was scared that if she retrieved more of her clothing Barr would wake up. The next morning, M.B. found a mark on her arm that looked like a bite mark, her throat hurt (it was a few days before she was able to swallow properly), and her eyes and neck were very red. M.B. went to Barr's house and showed him her injuries. He told her that the mark on her arm occurred when she fell on a water pipe. When M.B. told Barr that he had almost killed her, he hugged her, apologized, and promised that he would not do it again.

A week later, on March 24, Barr held a small social gathering at his house. The group, which included M.B., spent the evening drinking, smoking marijuana, and playing and recording music.

M.B. became very intoxicated as the night progressed. She later testified that she recalled Barr dragging her into the bedroom and slapping her head several times with his hands. He took her clothes off and engaged in vaginal penetration with her after she told him she did not want to have sexual intercourse. The next thing M.B. remembered was waking up on the floor with Barr sleeping

Page 818

on the bed nearby. She was in a lot of pain.

M.B. was later examined by the local health aide, Kathleen Tebbits. Tebbits observed that M.B. had bumps on her head, a deviated nose, a black eye that had swollen shut, blood crusted on her mouth, injuries to her throat and back, and bruising on her face, arms, and legs. M.B. had difficulty speaking, but she was able to tell Tebbits that Barr had beaten her up and raped her.

Tebbits called the troopers, who arranged for M.B. to be medevaced to Kotzebue and then to Anchorage, ...


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