from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Palmer,
Eric Smith, Judge. Trial Court No. 3PA-13-283 CR
Marjorie A. Mock, Anchorage, under contract with the Public
Defender Agency, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender,
Anchorage, for the Appellant.
McLaughlin, 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. [*]
Vaitului Lega was convicted of kidnapping and robbery, based
on evidence that he and an accomplice, Arthur Gray, kidnapped
and stole money from two Big Lake residents, Judy Holmes and
Michael Gearing. The kidnapping was ended when the police
conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle in which all four
people were riding.
appeal, Lega argues that his trial judge committed error by
allowing the prosecutor to introduce various statements that
the two victims, Holmes and Gearing, made to the police after
the officers had ended the kidnapping and freed the victims.
reasons explained here, we conclude that some of Holmes's
and Gearing's prior statements were properly admitted,
and that the trial judge's error in admitting the
remainder of the prior statements was harmless.
the evening on February 2, 2013, Judy Holmes was dozing in a
chair at her home in Big Lake when she was awakened by her
dogs barking. When Holmes opened her eyes, she saw Arthur
Gray (Lega's co-defendant) pointing a gun at her.
Benjamin Lega was also present in the room.
to Holmes's testimony, Gray and Lega asked her to give
them money - $17, 000 that they claimed Holmes owed to a
woman in Anchorage. When Holmes told Lega and Gray that she
had no idea what they were talking about, the men began
searching Holmes's house for money and valuables.
point, Holmes's boyfriend, Michael Gearing, walked over
to Holmes's house to check on her. (Gearing lived in a
separate cabin on Holmes's property.) When Gearing tried
to enter the house, he was intercepted by Lega, who pointed a
gun in Gearing's face.
Gray guarded Holmes, Lega escorted Gearing to his cabin. Lega
searched the cabin and found Gearing's wallet and bank
cards. When they left the cabin, Lega noticed a Quonset hut
that contained marijuana plants. Lega ordered Gearing to cut
down all these plants and set them aside.
and Gearing then returned to Holmes's house. Lega and
Gray decided to force Holmes and Gearing to drive back to
Anchorage - to clear things up by bringing Holmes face to
face with the woman who claimed that Holmes owed her money.
Lega's and Gray's direction, the valuables from
Holmes's house, plus the freshly cut marijuana plants and
Gearing's television, were all loaded into Holmes's
vehicle, a Ford Explorer. Lega and Gray then forced Gearing
to drive the Explorer toward Anchorage, with Holmes riding
handcuffed in the rear seat.
before 2:00 a.m. that morning (February 3, 2013), Officer
William Rapson observed a Ford Explorer driving on the Parks
Highway near Wasilla. The car's headlights were flashing
erratically, so Officer Rapson conducted a traffic stop of
the vehicle. Gearing was in the driver's seat, with Lega
in the front passenger seat next to him. Gray and Holmes were
in the back seat.
Rapson testified that he could smell a "strong odor of
marijuana" coming from the vehicle, and he saw a bag in
the cargo area that appeared to contain marijuana plants.
Rapson also observed what appeared to be a rifle case inside
Officer Rapson attempted to speak to Gearing, Lega kept
interrupting, and Lega answered many of the questions that
Rapson directed to Gearing. It seemed to Officer Rapson that
Lega was trying to end the contact as quickly as possible.
When Rapson asked each occupant for identification, all of
them claimed not to be carrying identification. Officer
Rapson then asked each passenger for their name, so he could
check the APSIN database for arrest warrants. Rapson was able
to locate three of the occupants' names in APSIN, but he
could not find Lega's name-because Lega had given the
officer a false name.
point, Officer Rapson had Gearing get out of the car,
intending to question him about the rifle case and the
marijuana. Once Gearing was outside the vehicle, he told
Officer Rapson that he and Holmes had been robbed and
kidnapped by Lega and Gray. Officer Rapson ...