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Newson v. State

Supreme Court of Nevada

October 10, 2019

VERNON NEWSON, JR., Appellant,
v.
THE STATE OF NEVADA, Respondent.

          Appeal from a judgment of conviction, pursuant to a jury verdict, of first-degree murder with use of a deadly weapon, two counts of child abuse, neglect or endangerment, and ownership or possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Douglas W. Herndon, Judge.

         Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

          Darin F. Imlay, Public Defender, and William M. Waters, Deputy Public Defender, Clark County, for Appellant.

          Aaron D. Ford, Attorney General, Carson City; Steven B. Wolfson, District Attorney, and Alexander Chen, Chief Deputy District Attorney, Clark County, for Respondent.

          BEFORE HARDESTY, STIGLICH and SILVER, JJ.

          OPINION

          SILVER, J.

         Vernon Newson and Anshanette McNeil were driving in a rented SUV on a freeway on-ramp when Newson turned and shot Anshanette, who was seated in the backseat next to the couple's infant son and Anshanette's toddler. Newson pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road, and Anshanette either fled or was pulled from the vehicle. Newson shot her additional times before driving off, leaving her behind. Newson drove the children to Anshanette's friend, reportedly telling her that Anshanette had "pushed me too far to where I can't take it no more." Newson fled to California, where he was apprehended. The State charged Newson with open murder. Although Newson did not testify at trial, defense counsel conceded in closing argument that Newson shot Anshanette, arguing Newson did so in a sudden heat of passion and that the killing was not premeditated. The district court declined to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter, concluding the evidence did not establish that offense. The jury convicted Newson of first-degree murder, two counts of child abuse, neglect or endangerment, and ownership or possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

         In this appeal, we primarily consider whether the district court abused its discretion by declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter. We conclude it did, as the circumstantial evidence strongly suggested the killing occurred in a sudden heat of passion upon provocation. We reiterate that district courts must instruct juries on the defendant's theory of the case where there is any evidence, no matter how weak, to support it. We therefore reverse the first-degree murder conviction and remand for a new trial on that charge. We reject Newson's remaining assertions of error and therefore affirm the judgment of conviction as to the other charges.

         I.

         Late one night, witnesses driving in Las Vegas on Lamb Boulevard near the 1-15 heard rapid gunfire coming from a nearby freeway on-ramp. Looking in the direction of the gunfire, they observed an SUV on the on-ramp and thought they heard more than one car door slam before the SUV sped off. Persons who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter saw a badly injured woman lying on the road. She had been shot seven times: through her cheek and neck, chin and neck, chest, forearm, upper arm, and twice in the back. At least one of the shots-the one that entered through the victim's right cheek, exited her right neck, and reentered her right upper chest-was fired at a close range of six inches to two feet. Three of the shots were independently fatal, and the woman passed away shortly after the shooting. The victim had no shoes, and a cell phone, damaged by a gunshot was on the ground a few feet away. Responding officers recovered six spent cartridges from the area, and the pavement showed evidence of j fresh dents from bullet strikes. The toxicology report later showed that the victim had methamphetamine and its metabolite amphetamine, and hydrocodone and its metabolites in her system at the time of death.

         Meanwhile, Zarharia Marshall was waiting at her residence for Anshanette McNeil to drop off Anshanette's infant son. Zarharia and Anshanette were close friends, and Zarharia often babysat for Anshanette. But Anshanette never arrived. Instead, Vernon Newson, Anshanette's boyfriend of three years and the infant's father, arrived in Anshanette's rental SUV to drop off the infant and, to Zarharia's surprise, Anshanette's two-year-old son.

         As Newson exited the vehicle, bullets fell from his lap. Newson was acting frantic, irritated, and nervous. He struggled to extricate the infant's car seat from the SUV and, according to Zarharia, ordered the crying child "to shut up." Newson handed the car seat with the infant inside to Zarharia before retrieving a baby swing and diaper bag from the trunk. Newson went around the SUV to let the two-year-old out. The toddler looked frightened, and when Zarharia asked him whether he was staying with her and whether he was going to cry, the toddler looked at her without answering and then ran into the house. Newson followed Zarharia and the children inside and kissed his infant son before asking to speak with Zarharia. Zarharia followed Newson outside and watched him pick up a bullet from the driveway and place it in a gun magazine. Zarharia also noticed Anshanette's shoes and purse in the back seat of the SUV. Zarharia testified that Newson retrieved the purse from the SUV, handed it to her, and asked her to tell his son that he always loved him. Zarharia asked Newson what had happened, and she testified that he responded, "you know, just know that mother fucker's pushed me too far to where I can't take it no more." Newson drove off.

         Zarharia retrieved several of the bullets that had fallen onto her driveway and tried to call Anshanette, who did not answer. Zarharia took the infant out of his car seat to change his diaper and realized he had blood on his pants and that there was blood in the car seat as well. She called Anshanette's mother, who in turn called the police. Based on her description, detectives identified Anshanette as the shooting victim.

         Police located and arrested Newson more than a week later in California. Newson's watch had Anshanette's blood on it, and he was carrying bullets of the same caliber and make as those used in the shooting. Police did not recover the murder weapon but did recover the SUV, which had been abandoned and still contained bloody clothing, a pair of flip-flops, a car seat, spent cartridges, and other items. Anshanette's blood was on the driver's side rear seat, seatbelt, door, and door handle, as well as on the steering wheel. Detectives also recovered six spent cartridges and one unfired round from the SUV, and ...


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