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United States v. Rezene

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 7, 2017

SAMUEL N. REZENE, Defendant.


          JAMES L ROBART United States District Judge


         Before the court is Plaintiff United States of America's ("the Government") motion to preclude Defendant Samuel N. Rezene from presenting a justification defense at trial. (Mot. (Dkt. #30).) In opposition to the motion, Mr. Rezene has filed a proffer (Proffer (Dkt. # 31)), a supplemental proffer (Supp. Proffer (Dkt. # 32)), and a supplemental response (Supp. Resp. (Dkt. # 54)). On March 28, 2017, the court held an evidentiary hearing, during which five witnesses testified, a sixth witness submitted a declaration, the court admitted numerous exhibits, and the parties argued in support of their respective positions. (3/28/17 Min. Entry (Dkt. # 64); M. Rezene Decl. (Dkt. # 65).) The court has reviewed the parties' filings, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Considering itself fully advised, the court GRANTS the Government's motion.

         II. BACKGROUND [1]

         The Government charged Mr. Rezene as a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Indictment (Dkt. # 3).) That charge stems from a May 15, 2014, incident in which Mr. Rezene suffered multiple gunshot wounds while allegedly in unlawful possession of a Glock .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol with a foregrip and extended magazines. (Id. at 2; Kordel Direct; Exs. 10, 14.) Mr. Rezene intends to present evidence at trial that he was justified in possessing the pistol. (See generally Proffer; Supp. Proffer; Supp. Resp.; S. Rezene Arg.) In accordance with the legal standard at this juncture, see infra § IILA-B., the court presents the facts below in the light most favorable to Mr. Rezene.

         A. February 2012 through May 14, 2014

         The events that Mr. Rezene contends support his justification defense began in 2012.[2] (See Supp. Resp. at 7.)

         1. February 2012 Homicide

         On February 2, 2012, Mr. Rezene was driving his family's Cadillac Escalade through Tukwila when a vehicle pulled up alongside Mr. Rezene and shot at the Escalade. (See Id. at 7; Heckelsmiller Direct.) The gunshots hit Mr. Rezene's girlfriend, Nykiba McDonald. (Heckelsmiller Direct.) Mr. Rezene rushed Ms. McDonald toward the hospital, but she died on the way there. (Id.; Ex. 18 ("2/3/12 Tr.") at 001952.) Based on the angle at which the lethal bullet struck Ms. McDonald, the officers briefly suspected Mr. Rezene of accidentally shooting her in an attempt to return fire. (Ex. 21 ("2/3/12 Reports") at 001931; Heckelsmiller Direct; Heckelsmiller Cross; Heckelsmiller Redirect.) However, upon analyzing the blood spatter, officers abandoned that theory and continued investigating the crime. (Heckelsmiller Direct; Heckelsmiller Cross; Heckelsmiller Redirect.)

         Tukwila police officers interviewed Mr. Rezene regarding the incident. (See Heckelsmiller Direct; 2/3/12 Tr.; 2/3/12 Reports.) During the interview, Mr. Rezene indicated that he thought the shooter had targeted him. (See Heckelsmiller Direct.) Law enforcement asked Mr. Rezene a series of questions in an attempt to ascertain one or more suspects for the shooting, but Mr. Rezene attested that he could not provide any useful information regarding potential suspects or people who had a problem with him. (Id.; 2/3/12 Tr. at 001981-82, 001986-87.) Instead, he indicated that if he knew who shot Ms. McDonald, he would take care of it himself. (Heckelsmiller Direct.) The Tukwila Police Department performed an extensive investigation into the homicide, including witness interviews, conversations with a confidential informant, ballistic analysis, an autopsy, revisiting the crime scene with Mr. Rezene, and reviewing surveillance footage from the route that Mr. Rezene drove, but the crime remains unsolved. (2/3/12 Reports at 001907-50; Heckelsmiller Direct; Hecklesmiller Cross.)

         2. September 2013 Shootings

         The next relevant events occurred in September 2013. On September 17, 2013, unknown assailants shot at Mr. Rezene as he disembarked his mother's Cadillac in front of his family home. (See Ex. 5 ("9/17/13 Reports") at 00395; Tesfaselasie Direct.) Police arrived on scene to investigate. The officers searched Mr. Rezene and his vehicle (see Thomas Cross) and spent at least 20 minutes investigating the scene and interviewing Mr. Rezene and other witnesses, many of whom were members of his family (see id.; Thomas Direct; Exs. 115 ("N'bound 9/17/13 Video"), 117 ("S'bound 9/17/13 Video")). Mr. Rezene indicated that he had no knowledge why someone would be shooting at him. (9/17/13 Reports at 00395; Thomas Cross.) The officers were skeptical of Mr. Rezene's professed ignorance, but he maintained that he had no useful information to provide. (See Thomas Cross.)

         Approximately 20 minutes into the investigation, Mr. Rezene became upset and began to resist the officers. [See S'bound 9/17/13 Video at 18:50-19:50; Thomas Direct.) He refused to comply with orders to remain in one location, called one of the officers "Nigga" and "Boy, " clenched his fists, and threatened to beat up one of the officers. (9/17/13 Reports at 00408; see also N'bound 9/17/13 Video at 19:04-34; S'bound 9/17/13 Video at 18:50-19:50.) At that time, the officers arrested Mr. Rezene for misdemeanor harassment. (9/17/13 Reports at 00408-09; see also S'bound 9/17/13 Video at 19:20-50.) An officer took Mr. Rezene to the ground and several officers assisted him in securing handcuffs. (See S'bound 9/17/13 Video at 19:20-50; N'bound Video at 19:04-34; M. Rezene Decl. ¶ 3.)

         Two days later, on September 19, 2013, additional shots were fired on Mr. Rezene's block. [See Thomas Direct; Thomas Cross; M. Rezene Decl. ¶ 3.) Witnesses first heard shots early in the morning and also reported shots later in the day. [See Thomas Direct; M. Rezene Decl. ¶ 3.) The shots struck at least one home on the same block as Mr. Rezene's family's home, and officers found shell casings on that block and interviewed neighbors and witnesses. [See Thomas Direct; M. Rezene Decl. ¶ 3.) Although law enforcement does not know for certain whether the September 19, 2013, shootings were related to Mr. Rezene or the shooting two days earlier, officers suspect a connection. [See Thomas Cross.) Law enforcement investigated thoroughly but was unable to solve either September 2013 shooting. [See Thomas Direct; Thomas Cross.)

         3. March 2014 Arson and Gun Purchase

         On March 6, 2014, an unidentified male assailant broke a window and set fire to Mr. Rezene's mother's Mercedes, which was unoccupied and parked in the Holly Park neighborhood of south Seattle. (Ex. 6 ("3/6/14 Reports") at 001878-79; Tesfaselasie Direct.) Mr. Rezene often drove the Mercedes, and he twice spoke with Detective Martin Heuchert regarding the arson. (3/6/14 Reports at 001879.) Detective Heuchert called Mr. Rezene on March 11, 2014, and Mr. Rezene indicated that he was not involved in gang activity and did not know why the incident had occurred. (Id.) On March 25, 2014, in response to a March 21, 2014, voicemail from Detective Heuchert, Mr. Rezene called Detective Heuchert to confirm several details about the evening of March 6, 2014. (Id. at 001880-82.) In that call, Mr. Rezene opined that the arson was "a targeted event." (Id. at 001882.) On March 26, 2014, law enforcement closed the file on the arson because it had not identified any suspects or evidence and no known witnesses could identify a suspect. (Id.)

         Sometime in "mid-March 2014" Mr. Rezene purchased the Glock pistol that he is now charged with unlawfully possessing. (Supp. Resp. at 9.) He purchased the gun from a stranger for $400.00. (Id.; Kordel Direct.) Helen Yohannes Rezene[3] testified that she believes he purchased the gun after the arson. (See H.Y. Rezene Redirect.)

         4. Early May 2014 Shooting

         At some point in early May 2014, unknown assailants shot toward Mr. Rezene and his then-girlfriend, Helen Yohannes Rezene, [4] when Mr. Rezene was driving his family's BMW through Renton.[5] (Supp. Proffer at 2; Ex. 7 at 002444-45; H.Y. Rezene Direct; Supp. Resp. at 9.) They shot toward the vehicle from the sidewalk on both sides of the street as Mr. Rezene drove by. (See H.Y. Rezene Direct.) Mr. Rezene disclosed the shooting to his insurance company, but he declined to report the incident to police because he did not have a phone and he believed the police would not care. (See id.; Ex. 7 at 002445.) Helen Yohannes Rezene also did not have a phone and did not report the incident to police. (See H.Y. Rezene Direct.) Mr. Rezene and Helen Yohannes Rezene also did not believe they were the intended targets of the shooting, but rather thought that they had merely been in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Ex. 106 ("5/15/14 Report") at 00052; H.Y. Rezene Cross.)

         B. The May 15, 2014, Shooting and Subsequent Events

         Shortly before 4:00 a.m. on May 15, 2014, Mr. Rezene pulled his mother's BMW into a Shell station in Renton to add air to his tires. (Kordel Direct; H.Y. Rezene Direct; 5/15/14 Report at 00044-45.) Helen Yohannes Rezene accompanied him, and as Mr. Rezene filled the tire, Helen Yohannes Rezene walked toward the store to pay for gas. (H.Y. Rezene Direct; 5/15/14 Report at 00046.) As she was walking toward the store, an unidentified individual wearing a hooded sweatshirt approached Mr. Rezene, who remained near the car, and began shooting at him from close range. (H.Y. Rezene Direct; 5/15/14 Report at 00044, 00067.) Several of the bullets struck Mr. Rezene. (5/15/14 Report at 00044-45.) Mr. Rezene retrieved his Glock, which he kept "snugged" between the driver's seat and the center console, and returned fired at the assailant. (Id. at 00044-45, 00067.) The assailant fled behind the Shell station and was not apprehended, and Helen Yohannes Rezene threw Mr. Rezene's Glock into the car. (Id. at 00047; H.Y. Rezene Direct.)

         Renton police responded immediately to the report of shots fired. (Id. at 00044.) They transported Mr. Rezene to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening gunshot wounds. (Id. at 00044, 00053.) At the hospital, officers spoke with or attempted to speak with each member of Mr. Rezene's immediate family, but two of his siblings declined to speak with officers and none of his family members that did speak with officers provided any useful information. (Id. at 00057-59; Kordel Cross.) On June 3, 2014, after Mr. Rezene had been medically cleared, Detective Kordel interviewed him at Harborview. (5/15/14 Report at 00066-70.) Mr. Rezene indicated that he did not know who would shoot him, but that he has many enemies. (Id. at 00070.) He carried the gun to ...

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