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Hall v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

June 28, 2019

BRIAN HALL, Appellant,

          Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Trial Court No. 3AN-14-09493 CI, Anchorage, Michael L. Wolverton, Judge.

          Cynthia L. Strout, Law Office of Cynthia L. Strout, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

          Nancy R. Simel, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

          Before: Allard, Chief Judge, and Wollenberg and Harbison, Judges.


          ALLARD JUDGE.

         In 1995, Brian Hall was convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree murder for the shooting deaths of Mickey Dinsmore and Stanley Honeycutt. In the years following his conviction, Hall litigated two post-conviction relief applications, both of which were denied. Hall now seeks to litigate a third post-conviction relief application based on what he claims is newly discovered evidence of innocence that was not available when he litigated his previous post-conviction relief applications.

         In the proceedings below, the superior court summarily dismissed Hall's application under AS 12.72.020(a)(6) - the statutory provision that prohibits a defendant from bringing an application for post-conviction relief if "a previous application for post-conviction relief has been filed under [AS 12.72] or under the Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure." On appeal, Hall argues that this statutory provision should not apply to claims based on newly discovered evidence of innocence. For the reasons explained here, we agree with Hall that due process precludes application of the statutory bar on successive petitions when a defendant is raising a post-conviction relief claim based on newly discovered evidence of innocence that was not previously available to the defendant. However, because it is not clear whether Hall's claim qualifies as newly discovered evidence of innocence under AS 12.72.020(b)(2), we conclude that a remand for litigation of this question is required.

         Accordingly, we vacate the superior court's dismissal of Hall's postconviction relief application, and we remand this case to the superior court for further proceedings consistent with the guidance provided here.

         Factual background and prior proceedings

         Late in the evening of April 16, 1993, seventeen-year-old Brian Hall and four of his friends drove together to a bonfire in a parking lot on Campbell Airstrip Road. Hall had a loaded pistol with him.

         Shortly after they arrived, Hall and his friends got into a shouting match with the occupants of another vehicle, Mickey Dinsmore and Stanley Honeycutt. A fifteen-year-old girl, Monica Shelton, briefly acted as an intermediary between the two vehicles. Moments later, Dinsmore and Honeycutt began to slowly drive up along the driver's side of Hall's vehicle. As they did so, Dinsmore extended a beer bottle, bottom end up, to the driver of Hall's car, stating, "We ain't got no beef with you; do you want some of this?"

         Hall, who was then standing outside the passenger door of his vehicle, testified at trial that he thought Dinsmore had a gun. Hall pulled his own gun out of his back pocket and fired three shots over his car towards Dinsmore. One shot hit Dinsmore on the top of the head and another shot hit Honeycutt in the mouth. Both Dinsmore and Honey cutt died as a result of the gunshot wounds inflicted by Hall.

         Following waiver of juvenile jurisdiction, Hall was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder. Hall's defense at trial was self-defense. He testified that he believed that Dinsmore had a gun because Monica Shelton had relayed to Hall and his friends, "[Dinsmore and Honeycutt] have a gun, and they'll shoot [you], so just leave." Likewise, Hall's defense investigator claimed that Shelton had told him, in an unrecorded interview prior to trial, that she thought she had told Hall that Dinsmore and Honeycutt had a gun or might have a gun.[1]

         However, at trial Shelton maintained that she never told Hall that Dinsmore had a gun.

         Shelton's equivocation on whether she said anything to Hall about a gun was discussed in the defense opening statement at trial, and again during closing arguments. During his direct examination of Shelton, the prosecutor questioned Shelton about her statement to the defense investigator. Shelton testified that she did not recall making that statement, but that she may have done so. Shelton was adamant, however, that the truth was that she had not told Hall that Honeycutt and Dinsmore had a gun.

         Hall was convicted of one count of first-degree murder for shooting Dinsmore and one count of second-degree murder for shooting Honeycutt.

         Seventeen years after Hall was convicted, in November 2012, a defense investigator who had been hired by Hall's family contacted Shelton and interviewed her. In the interview (which was recorded and transcribed), Shelton said that she was willing to "put the record straight." Shelton told the defense investigator that she did remember telling Hall that there was a gun because Dinsmore and Honeycutt said they had a gun and pointed to their glove box. She stated, "I did tell [Hall and his friends] that there was a gun . . . and that might've been why [Hall] thought 'I'm gonna shoot first.'"

         Shelton's statement was not made under oath, and she never affirmed the statement in an affidavit.

         A year after the recorded interview was obtained, Hall's attorney filed a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. The motion was later modified and refiled as an application for post-conviction relief. This was Hall's third application for post-conviction relief. Hall had previously filed two applications for post-conviction relief in 1999 and 2008, raising various ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Both applications had been dismissed and their dismissals affirmed by this Court.[2]

         The State filed a motion to dismiss the third post-conviction relief application, arguing, inter alia, that Hall's application was barred under ...

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