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Adams v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

February 17, 2017


         Appeal from the Superior Court, No. 3PA-07-2037 CR, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Beverly W. Cutler, Judge.

          AndrewSteiner, Bend, Oregon, for the Appellant.

          Kenneth M. Rosenstein, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty and Craig W. Richards, Attorneys General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

          Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Coats, Senior Judge. [*]


          MANNHEIMER Judge.

         Frank Lewis Adams was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Stacey Johnston, and tampering with evidence to cover up the homicide. In this appeal, Adams contends that various statements he made to the police following his arrest were obtained in violation of the Miranda rule and should have been suppressed.

         In a separate argument, Adams contends that the superior court should have granted his motion for a new trial. Adams's request for a new trial was based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel - in particular, his trial attorney's failure to raise a confrontation clause objection to the State's expert testimony concerning the cause of Johnston's death. The testimony in question was given by Dr. Robert Whitmore, the state medical examiner. Dr. Whitmore did not personally perform the autopsy; rather, the autopsy was performed by another doctor-a doctor who died before Adams's trial. In Dr. Whitmore's testimony regarding the cause of death, he relied on observations made by the other doctor. Adams now claims that, because Dr. Whitmore relied on the other doctor's observations, Whitmore's testimony violated the confrontation clause.

         Finally, Adams argues that his sentence is excessive in one respect. The superior court sentenced Adams to serve a total of 102 years in prison, and the court further ordered that Adams not be eligible for discretionary parole release during this term of imprisonment. Adams contends that the superior court lacked justification for imposing this parole restriction.

         For the reasons explained in this opinion, we reject Adams's claims of error and we affirm the superior court's judgement.

         Facts relating to Adams's arrest and the first police interview

         In the early morning hours of July 28, 2007, a gas station attendant in Palmer called the police to report that a recent customer - a man driving a small red car- was probably drunk. According to the attendant, the man was driving south on the Glenn Highway (i.e., toward Anchorage).

         A Palmer police officer located the vehicle and attempted to conduct a traffic stop, but the driver would not stop. Because the car was headed toward Anchorage, the Palmer police contacted the Alaska State Troopers and the Anchorage police, asking them to deploy spike strips on the highway. The Anchorage police placed spike strips on the highway near Peters Creek, and they were able to stop the car.

         The car came to rest in a ditch alongside the highway. The driver - Frank Adams - was initially slumped over the steering wheel, but as the police approached the vehicle, Adams roused himself and picked up a tire iron. Adams told the police that he had crashed his small plane, and that his wife was dead.

         When Adams refused to comply with police commands, the officers sprayed him with pepper spray and shot him twice with a Taser. After Adams was subdued, the police looked inside his car and saw what appeared to be a bundle of clothes. Upon closer inspection, this bundle turned out to be the body of Stacey Johnston.

         Officers initially transported Adams to the police station, and then they took him to a hospital. While Adams was at the hospital, a police officer overheard Adams telling one of the hospital staff that he wanted a lawyer.

         After Adams was released from the hospital, the police brought him back to the station. One of the officers who transported Adams back to the station told State Trooper Sergeant Leonard Wallner (one of the lead investigators in the case) that Adams had said he wanted an attorney.

         Apparently, Sgt. Wallner inferred that Adams had said this directly to the transporting officer - because later, when Adams's suppression motion was litigated, Wallner testified that "the information ... I was given was that Mr. Adams had invoked his rights, his constitutional rights as far as legal counsel", and that this invocation of rights "had been conveyed to patrol officers that were with him."

         (Based on Wallner's testimony, the superior court premised its decision on the purported fact that Adams had told the officers who transported him from the hospital to the station that he wanted an attorney.)

         When Adams was returned to the station, Sgt. Wallner and Anchorage Police Detective Glenn Klinkhart (the other lead investigator in the case) decided to speak to Adams and ascertain for themselves whether Adams wished to invoke his right to counsel.

         When Wallner and Klinkhart entered the interview room, Adams appeared to be sleeping. (It was now 5:40 a.m.) After the officers awakened Adams, he told them, "I think I need an attorney." The following exchange then took place:

Det. Klinkhart: Well, I wanted to just - I wanted to clarify that.
Adams: [Well], I'm clarifying that.
Klinkhart: All right. So you-you don't want to talk to me. You don't want to make any statements or say anything? Okay. You've already been at the hospital. Do you need anything else before we continue what we need to do? Okay.
Adams: This just isn't happening.
Klinkhart: Okay. All right. Well, ...
[The video recording shows that, at this point, Klinkhart and Wallner began to leave the room, but Adams indicated - both verbally and with a gesture of his head - that he wished to speak to Sgt. Wallner.]
Wallner. You want to talk to me?
Adams: Yep.
Wallner. Well, we can talk. But I'm going to have to - you know, because you've already said [that you] want an attorney...
Adams: Sir; yes, sir; no, sir.
Wallner: But I got to ...
Adams: I want an attorney, but I'd like [to] talk to you [referring only to Wallner, not Klinkhart] just a couple of minutes.
Klinkhart: You want - would you like me to leave, Mr. Adams?
Adams: Yes, sir.
Klinkhart: Okay. [The video recording shows that Klinkhart immediately walked out of the room.]
Wallner: Okay. Well, what I'm going to do, I'm going to read you your Miranda [rights] here, okay. ...
[Wallner then advised Adams of his Miranda rights. Adams acknowledged that he understood these rights, and he told Wallner that he had no questions concerning them.]
Wallner: Now, you said you want a - okay.
Adams: I just want to talk to you for just a minute.
Wallner. Okay, that's fine. I -just go ahead; I'll just listen.

         At this point, Adams commenced a narrative description of the events of the preceding several hours. Wallner's contribution to the conversation consisted of numerous "okays" and occasional questions.

         Adams told Wallner that Stacey Johnston was his girlfriend, and that they lived together in a cabin in Chickaloon. Adams was absent from the cabin for a while, and when he returned, he found Johnston "beat up" and dead. Adams told Wallner that he tried unsuccessfully to revive Johnston with CPR. When this was unsuccessful, Adams left the cabin and went looking for the person who he suspected had killed Johnston. Adams could not find this person, so he eventually returned to the cabin, put Johnston's body in his car, and started driving her "to town" (i.e., to Anchorage).

         Adams told Wallner that he and Johnston had recently tried to buy drugs from some people, and the transaction had ended badly - with the drug dealers threatening to kill them. Adams suspected that these drug dealers had murdered Johnston.

         A little later in the interview, Wallner asked Adams if he would allow the police to search his cabin. The following colloquy ensued:

Adams: Sir, without sounding bad or anything...
Wallner. Uh-huh.
Adams: I don't know what to do ...
Wallner: Okay. Okay.
Adams: ...right now. I need an attorney. ...

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