DEVIN M. ROSSITER, Appellant,
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
from the Superior Court, No. 1KE-11-197 CR First Judicial
District, Ketchikan, Trevor N. Stephens, Judge.
Marjorie Mock, under contract with the Public Defender
Agency, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for
L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal
Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General,
Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Suddock,
Superior Court Judge.[*]
a jury trial, Devin M. Rossiter was convicted of
second-degree murder for stabbing a man. Rossiter was also
convicted of tampering with evidence for later cleaning the
push-knife he used in this stabbing.
appeal, Rossiter argues that his murder conviction should be
reversed because the prosecutor made improper arguments to
the jury. For the reasons explained here, we agree that the
prosecutor made a number of improper arguments and that the
cumulative effect of those arguments undermined the
fundamental fairness of Rossiter's trial. We therefore
reverse Rossiter's conviction for second-degree murder.
March 12, 2011, eighteen-year-old Devin Rossiter was in a
trailer park in Ketchikan; he was rifling through someone
else's car, apparently looking for cigarettes.
car belonged to the elderly parents of Nick Stachelrodt. When
Stachelrodt saw what Rossiter was doing, he went to the car
and pulled Rossiter out. As Stachelrodt pulled Rossiter out
of the car and into the driveway, Rossiter began to struggle
with Stachelrodt. Rossiter later told the police that he
"flipped out" because he was afraid Stachelrodt was
going to harm him. During this struggle, Rossiter used a
push-knife (a small dagger with a perpendicular grip) to stab
Stachelrodt, once in the chest and once in the neck. The stab
wound to Stachelrodt's chest severed an artery, and
Stachelrodt died at the scene. Rossiter later used mouthwash
or alcohol to clean off his knife.
on this incident, Rossiter was indicted for second-degree
murder and tampering with evidence.  At his trial, Rossiter's
attorney argued that Rossiter should be acquitted of
second-degree murder because he stabbed Stachelrodt in
self-defense, under the fear that Stachelrodt was going to
kill or seriously harm him. The defense attorney argued in
the alternative that Rossiter was guilty only of manslaughter
because he acted in the heat of passion. 
to delivering the State's closing argument, the
prosecutor furnished the defense attorney and the trial judge
with copies of a PowerPoint presentation (both text and
photographs) that the prosecutor intended to show to the jury
during his summation. Some of the prosecutor's slides
addressed Rossiter's defenses to the murder charge.
these slides read, "Nick Stachelrodt did not deserve to
die". The next slide then told the jurors:
The only way you can find the defendant not guilty of Murder
in the Second Degree is:
- you disagree [with the preceding slide, and] Nick
Stachelrodt deserved what he got (self-defense / heat of
attorney objected to this slide, arguing that it
impermissibly shifted the burden of proof from the State to
his client. The trial judge overruled this objection,
concluding that the slide did not, on its face, shift the
State's burden of proof. The judge told the defense
attorney that if the prosecutor actually made a