from a judgment of conviction, pursuant to a jury verdict, of
one count of murder and one count of robbery. Eighth Judicial
District Court, Clark County; Kathleen E. Delaney, Judge.
M. Schieck, Special Public Defender, and JoNell Thomas, Chief
Deputy Special Public Defender, Clark County, for Appellant,
Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Carson City; Steven B.
Wolfson, District Attorney, and Steven S. Owens, Chief Deputy
District Attorney, Clark County, for Respondent.
DOUGLAS, GIBBONS and PICKERING, JJ.
convicted Lesean Collins of robbery and first-degree murder,
for which he was sentenced to life in prison without the
possibility of parole. On appeal, Collins argues that his
constitutional rights were violated on the first day of trial
when the district court barred him from the courtroom for
disruptive conduct for a two-hour period, during which it
excused individual jurors for hardship, statutory
ineligibility, and language barrier reasons. Collins also
raises claims of evidentiary and instructional error and
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his
convictions. Because none of these issues requires reversal,
days after Brandi Payton went missing, two ATV riders
discovered her decomposed body in a ravine. Drag marks led
through the dirt and brush to the body. No purse, wallet,
cell phone, or means of identification or transportation were
found. Brandi's shirt was pulled up over her head, and
she was shoeless. Three of her acrylic fingernails had broken
off-two were found at the scene-and one of her pockets was
inside out. Some nearby rocks had blood on them.
sister identified her body. Although identifiable, the body
had decomposed too much for the coroner to definitively state
the cause of death. The autopsy established that before she
died Brandi sustained three blows to her head from a rod-like
instrument. While the blows did not fracture Brandi's
skull, they were strong enough to render her unconscious. The
coroner deemed Brandi's death consistent with
asphyxiation or being locked in the trunk of a car in
southern Nevada's late summer heat, Circumstantial
evidence tied Collins to Brandi and to her robbery and death.
Collins and Brandi knew one another. Brandi occasionally
dealt drugs and used cell phones and rental cars to conduct
business. Cell phone records showed that Collins and Brandi
exchanged numerous calls and texts the day she disappeared.
Brandi's phone received its last call at 3:38 p.m., then
shut off. Earlier, both Collins's and Brandi's phones
sent signals through a cell phone tower close to
Collins's girlfriend's house, where Collins often
stayed during the day. That night, Collins's cell phone
signals placed him in the remote area where Branch's body
girlfriend testified that Collins picked her up from work the
day Brandi disappeared. He had jewelry with him he didn't
have before, including a necklace he later asked his
girlfriend to pawn and a Rolex bracelet (at trial the State
proved both pieces of jewelry had been Brandi's). When
they got home, the girlfriend found a gold Hyundai parked in
the garage. The carpet in the house was soiled and something
had spattered on the laundry room walls. Collins told his
girlfriend that Brandi rented the car for him and that he had
spilled oil on the carpet, which he tried to clean with
bleach. That night, Collins left in the Hyundai, returned,
washed the Hyundai, and fell asleep outside in the car. At
some point, the North Las Vegas police came by to check on
the car and its occupant. Rather than get out as asked,
Collins sped off, eluding the police. Collins's
girlfriend found a long acrylic fingernail in her home, which
Collins admitted to her was Brandi's.
of their investigation, the police interviewed Brandi's
boyfriend, Rufus. They ruled him out as a suspect and focused
on Collins. Several weeks after finding Brandi's body,
the police found the gold I Hyundai, minus its tires. Tests
showed traces of blood belonging to Brandi on the
Hyundai's trunk mat. The police also tested the spatter
on the walls of Collins's girlfriend's home and
confirmed it was Brandi's blood.
was arrested for, charged with, and convicted of robbery and
first-degree murder. He appeals.
criminal defendant has the right under the Confrontation
Clause of the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clauses of
the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to be present at every
stage of the trial. Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337,
338 (1970); United States v. Gagnon, 470 U.S. 522,
526 (1985); see Nev. Const, art. I, § 8.
Collins complains that the district court deprived him of
this right when it excused him from the courtroom for the
last two hours of the first day of trial.
defendant has the right to be present at every stage of
trial, that right is not absolute. Allen, 397 U.S.
at 342-43. A defendant may lose the right to attend trial if,
after being warned, he persists in disrupting the proceedings
by engaging in conduct inimical to the dignity and decorum
required in a court of law. Id. at 343; see
NRS 175.387(1)(c). A district court's decision to remove
a defendant from the courtroom for disruptive behavior is
reviewed under an abuse-of-discretion standard. United
States v. Hellems, 866 F.3d 856, 863-64 (8th Cir. 2017);
cf. Tanksley v. State, 113 Nev. 997, 1001-02, 946
P.2d 148, 150 (1997) (holding in an analogous context that
"[a] defendant may be denied his right of
self-representation if he or she is unable or unwilling to
abide by rules of courtroom procedure" and that, because
the trial court judge has "the opportunity to
observe" the defendant's "demeanor and
conduct" first-hand, "[t]his court will not
substitute its evaluation for that of the district court
judge's own personal observations and impressions").
must indulge every reasonable presumption against the loss of
constitutional rights." Allen, 397 U.S. at 343
(citing Johnson v. Zerbst,304 U.S. 458, 464
(1938)). But district court judges "confronted with
disruptive, contumacious, stubbornly defiant defendants must
be given sufficient discretion to meet the circumstances of
each case. No one formula for ...