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Willock v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

May 26, 2017

JONDEAN WILLOCK, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court, Fourth Judicial District Trial Court No. 4FA-11-366 CR, Fairbanks, Michael A MacDonald, Judge.

          Appearances: Sharon Barr, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

          Diane L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

          Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Suddock, Superior Court Judge. [*]

          OPINION

          MANNHEIMER Judge.

         JonDean Willock appeals his conviction for first-degree sexual assault. The question presented on appeal is whether the trial judge should have allowed the State to introduce evidence of Willock's prior conviction for sexual assault. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that the trial judge should not have allowed the State to introduce this evidence, and that this error requires reversal of Willock's conviction.

         Underlying facts

         The State's case was based on evidence that Willock lured a woman, R.F., to his apartment by promising her that she could use his telephone to call a cab. According to the State's evidence, after Willock and R.F. entered the apartment, Willock sat down next to her on a couch, put his arm around her, and tried to kiss her. R.F. told Willock "no", and she began to struggle. During this struggle, R.F. wriggled to the floor. Willock then got on top of R.F. and held her down. According to R.F., Willock stuck his hand down her pants and digitally penetrated her. R.F. continued to struggle (punching, scratching, and biting Willock), and she screamed for help. After a few minutes, Willock stopped attacking R.F., and she was able to run out of the apartment.

         R.F. sought help at a neighbor's apartment, where she called 911. When the troopers arrived to investigate, they saw Willock walking through the parking lot near his apartment complex. He had scratches on his face and fresh blood on his nose.

         When the troopers questioned Willock, he admitted that he had been with R.F. that evening. Willock said that R.F. had been in his apartment, and he recalled R.F. leaving the apartment, but he told the police that he had no memory of what happened while R.F. was in his apartment.

         Based on the foregoing evidence, Willock was indicted on one count of first-degree sexual assault.

         The trial judge's decision to allow the State to introduce evidence of Willock's prior conviction for sexual assault, and the prosecutor's use of this evidence at Willock's trial

         Before trial, the State asked the superior court for permission to introduce evidence that Willock had a prior conviction for sexual assault.

         In this prior incident, Willock broke into a woman's apartment and, despite her vigorous resistance, he assaulted her over the next two hours. Willock ultimately pleaded no contest to first-degree burglary and first-degree sexual assault. He spent most of the next 10 years in prison. He was released about 3 months before the incident in the present case.

         The superior court granted the State's request to introduce evidence of this prior sexual assault. Based on what the judge called the "great similarities" between the facts of the present case and the facts of Willock's prior burglary and sexual assault, the judge ruled that evidence of Willock's prior offense was admissible under Alaska Evidence Rule 404(b)(1) for four purposes: to show Willock's "plan" to commit sexual assault, his "intent" to commit sexual assault, his "knowledge" that his conduct was "sexual in nature", and Willock's "lack of reasonable mistake" regarding R.F.'s willingness (or lack of willingness) to engage in sexual activity with him.

         The evidence of Willock's prior conviction for sexual assault formed a significant part of the State's case at trial. During his opening statement, the prosecutor told the jury that the present case "[was not] the first time that [Willock] has had these kinds of difficulties." The prosecutor described the facts of the prior sexual assault, and he told the jurors that this prior sexual assault showed that Willock "[knew] what is illegal activity, and what is sexual activity, and what is reckless disregard of [the nature of] a person's [own] behavior."

         During closing argument, the prosecutor returned to Willock's prior conviction for sexual assault. The prosecutor argued that Willock's assault on R.F. was similar to the prior sexual assault, and he asserted that Willock's commission of the earlier sexual assault showed that Willock recklessly disregarded R.F.'s lack of consent in the present case.

         An overview of Alaska Evidence Rule 404(b), and a summary of a trial judge's duties under this rule

         Evidence Rule 404(b)(1) is deceivingly simple in its wording. It contains two sentences, each of which states an apparently straightforward principle.

         The first sentence of the rule declares that evidence of a person's past acts is never admissible "if the sole purpose for offering the evidence is to prove the [person's] character ... in order to show that the person acted in conformity [with that character]." This is simply a reiteration of the principle codified in Evidence Rule 404(a): "Evidence of a person's character or a trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving that the person acted in conformity therewith on a particular occasion[.]"

         The second sentence of Rule 404(b)(1) declares that evidence of a person's past acts can be admissible if the evidence is offered for other purposes (i. e., purposes other than proving the person's character). This second sentence lists several examples of non-character purposes: "proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident." But as our case law clarifies, this list is non-exclusive.[1] Evidence of a person's past acts is admissible for any non- character purpose - subject ...


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