Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. CR-89-00218-MDC. M. D. Crocker, District Judge, Presiding.
Before: Norris, Beezer, and Leavy, Circuit Judges
Stevie Gray appeals his conviction for murdering his wife by pushing her off a cliff in Yosemite National Park. We affirm.
Gray's wife died from a fall off a 350-foot cliff in Yosemite Park near Discovery View less than four months after she married him. Gray initially told rangers he had taken a short nap and found that his wife was gone when he woke up. A team of forest rangers found her body at the foot of the cliff the next morning. There were no witnesses to the fall itself.
The government argued at trial that Gray killed his wife for insurance money after he had enticed her into a loveless, sham marriage. Gray purchased two insurance policies on his wife's life. Nine days before his marriage, he purchased the maximum amount of insurance available on his wife, an IRS clerk, through the Uniformed Services Benefit Association. Gray also took out insurance on his own life, which had a secondary benefit that paid $145,000 upon the death of his wife. Both policies paid a $32,000 benefit for accidental death. Less than 24 hours after the discovery of his wife's body, Gray began efforts to collect the approximately $500,000 in insurance proceeds.
Gray admits that, before marrying her, he lied to his wife about his accomplishments. He falsely told her that "he was a flight engineer involved with an aircrew, his dad was wealthy, he had maids, and his mother was a business executive." Appellant's Opening Brief 22. Gray saw other women during their courtship and marriage. Gray called another woman on the night of his marriage and, shortly before his wife's death, he proposed to another woman.
Gray also admits that he gave several different versions of the events on the day of his wife's death. In his initial call reporting her as "missing," he stated that he had fallen asleep and awakened to find her gone. He gave the same account to a ranger who met with him in response to the call and to a second ranger who spoke to him that night. Later that month, Gray told another ranger a similar version of events. When asked about insurance, Gray responded that insurance would barely cover the costs of a funeral.
Gray told a somewhat different story in an interview by an FBI agent several weeks later. He admitted applying for insurance, but denied receiving any confirmation and denied contacting the insurer after her death. After further questioning, Gray changed his story and admitted hearing his wife scream. He claimed that they had been discussing her relationship with her mother and that she had gone off to relieve herself shortly before he heard her screams. The next month, in a meeting with an FBI agent to provide fingerprints and samples of his handwriting, Gray volunteered that he knew about insurance policies on his wife's life.
Gray testified at trial. He again stated that his wife had left to relieve herself shortly before he heard her screams. In his trial testimony, however, he stated that they had been discussing not her relationship with her mother, but his affairs with other women.
At trial, Gray's counsel emphasized that the government's case rested entirely on circumstantial evidence and lacked any physical evidence that was inconsistent with an accidental death. In an effort to explain Gray's lies, his counsel argued that he came from a poor background and suffered discrimination by his wife's family because he was black, and they were not.
A jury convicted Gray of murder, and the district court sentenced him to life in prison.
Gray argues that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. We review the sufficiency of evidence to determine whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the conviction, "'any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" United States v. Gillock, 886 F.2d 220, 221-22 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979) (emphasis deleted by Gillock). In conducting this review, we "'must respect the exclusive province of the jury to determine the credibility of witnesses, resolve evidentiary conflicts, and draw reasonable inferences from proven facts, by assuming that the jury resolved all such matters in a ...