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State v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

May 30, 2017


          SCHINDLER, J.

To impose criminal liability, the conduct of the defendant must be both the cause in fact and the legal cause of the result. Kareem Harris seeks reversal of the jury conviction of premediated murder in the first degree of Wilbur Lee Gant. Harris contends insufficient evidence supports the jury finding that the injuries Gant suffered when Harris shot him at least five times at close range was the proximate cause of his death. Because sufficient evidence supports the jury finding a direct causal connection between the intentional shooting and the death, we conclude as a matter law Harris is criminally liable, and affirm.


         Kareem Harris and Wilbur Lee Gant worked on the assembly line at Milgard Windows & Doors in Fife. At the end of May 2009, operations manager Anthony Campbell terminated Harris and lead operator John Helsel for "falsification of time records." Campbell asked Gant to fill the lead operator position.

         On October 16, 2009, the Washington State Employment Security Department ruled Harris was not entitled to unemployment benefits and ordered Harris to repay $6, 885 in benefits he had received.

         At approximately 5:00 a.m. on October 28, 2009, Gant was getting ready to leave to go to work in his car. Harris approached the car and shot Gant at close range at least five times. Several neighbors heard the gunshots and Gant's cry for help.

         A number of Federal Way Police Department officers responded to the 911 calls, including Officer Brigham Schulz and Lieutenant Kurt Schwan. Officer Schulz saw the car "parked on the side of the road with the door open" and the "driver window was damaged." Gant was lying to the south of the car on the roadway.

         Lieutenant Schwan said Gant was lying on his right side on the roadway with "a large amount of blood soaking his pants from the seat of his pants almost all the way down to his legs." Gant told Lieutenant Schwan his "left arm hurt and he had no feeling in his legs." Gant was "alert and conscious." Gant "pleaded" with Lieutenant Schwan "to help him." Lieutenant Schwan used a towel to apply pressure to the area "where the most amount of blood was coming" from until medics arrived. Gant told Lieutenant Schwan, "Kareem Harris shot me."

         After the medics arrived and cut off Gant's clothing, Lieutenant Schwan saw a "massive amount of blood, " a "hole in the underwear, " and wounds to the buttocks, lower abdomen, and hip. Gant arrived unconscious at the emergency room at Harborview Medical Center. Both of Gant's lungs had collapsed as a result of trauma to his chest. Hospital staff inserted an "endotracheal tube to help control his breathing." "[G]iven the location of the bullet wounds and his low blood pressure, " doctors decided to operate immediately.

         Dr. Joseph Cuschieri performed the surgery to stop the bleeding. Dr. Cuschieri said one third of Gant's total blood supply had pooled in his abdominal cavity. Dr. Cuschieri looked for the source of the bleeding. Gant had bullet wounds in "the left upper quadrant of the abdomen, " the right hip, the left inner thigh, the left buttock, the back, and his left elbow. The "major source of bleeding was from his liver." A "bullet had gone through the entire liver from the left side" and "[t]here was a hole in the gall bladder, which sits underneath the liver." The pylorus valve that connects the stomach to the small intestine "also had a hole in it" and the cecum valve that connects the small intestine and colon was damaged.

         Dr. Cuschieri repaired the laceration of the liver and removed Gant's gall bladder, the pylorus valve, and the cecum valve. Dr. Cuschieri removed the "dead tissue" from the bullet wound in the abdomen and around the abdominal wall. Dr. Cuschieri temporarily closed Gant's abdomen. After the surgery, Gant was unconscious while in the intensive care unit. Gant was on a ventilator and given blood transfusions.

         Dr. Cuschieri performed a second surgery the next day. Because Dr. Cuschieri had removed the pylorus valve, he reconnected the stomach to the small intestine. Because he had removed the cecum valve, Dr. Cuschieri reconnected Gant's small intestine to the colon. Later that day, doctors performed surgery to remove bullet fragments and repair his elbow. Gant remained intubated and on a ventilator.

         On October 29, 2009, the State charged Kareem Harris with attempted murder in the second degree of Gant. Harris fled to Miami, Florida.

         Gant was released from the hospital on November 13, 2009. Gant was in pain. He had to use a wheelchair and had general weakness throughout his body. Harborview psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Zatzick diagnosed Gant as suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

         In January 2010, the police arrested Harris in Miami.

         In June 2010, Dr. Dennis Rochier diagnosed Gant with acute bronchitis. Because both of Gant's lungs collapsed after he was shot and X-rays of his lungs showed scarring from being on a ventilator at Harborview, Dr. Rochier treated him with antibiotics.

         By September 2010, Gant's physical condition had improved but Dr. Rochier concluded Gant continued to suffer from PTSD and could hot return to work.

         On December 2, 2010, Dr. Rochier diagnosed Gant with acute bronchitis and treated him with antibiotics. When Dr. Rochier saw Gant on December 22, Gant no longer had bronchitis.

         On January 9, 2011, Gant told his spouse Margaret Gant that he did not feel well. Gant was short of breath. After Gant coughed up blood, Margaret called an ambulance. The medics took Gant to the St. Francis Hospital emergency room. Doctors ordered blood tests and a computerized tomography (CT) scan. Blood tests showed Escherichia coli (E. coli) in Gant's bloodstream and his kidney function was compromised. The CT scan showed multiple areas of bacterial infection in his lungs and food particles in his throat. Critical care physician Dr. Manuel Iregui diagnosed Gant with "sepsis, " a severe and lethal bacterial infection. Contraction of sepsis can vary from "hours to a couple days." Dr. Iregui told Gant's spouse that "the likelihood that he would survive this was pretty close to zero." Gant died the next day on January 10, 2011.

         King County medical examiner Dr. Timothy Williams performed the autopsy. Dr. Williams concluded the fatal cause of death was "bilateral bronchopneumonia, " or pneumonia in both lungs, and the previous or "remote" gunshot wounds. Dr. Williams noted mild emphysema on the lungs and cirrhosis of the liver. The death certificate lists the cause of death as "bilateral bronchopneumonia" and "remote gunshot wounds."

         The State filed an amended information charging Harris with premeditated murder in the first degree of Gant in violation of RCW 9A.32.030(1)(a). The information alleged, in pertinent part:

That the defendant KAREEM HARRIS in King County, Washington, on or about October 28, 2009, with premeditated intent to cause the death of another person, did cause the death of Wilbur Lee Gant, a human being, who died on or about January 10, 2011;
Contrary to RCW 9A.32.030(1)(a), and against the peace and dignity of the State of Washington!, ]... [while] armed with a pistol, a firearm as defined in RCW 9.41.010, under the authority of RCW 9.94A.533(3).
Harris entered a plea of not guilty. Harris denied shooting Gant.

         The State called a number of witnesses at trial, including Milgard employees; neighbors, including Lloyd Peterson and Mary Boldt; Federal Way police officers; Dr. Cuschieri; Dr. Iregui; Dr. Rochier; Dr. Zatzick; and King County Medical Examiner Dr. Williams.

         Milgard employee Myron Woods testified that Harris was angry that he was fired and that he had to pay back his unemployment benefits and called Woods and Gant "about that." Harris told Woods that he "had a .45" that he stored under the seat of his car.

         Lloyd Peterson testified that at approximately 5:00 a.m. on October 28, he heard the sound of gunshots and went outside. Gant told Peterson that "if anything happens to me, let everybody know Kareem Harris shot me, " and "make sure if I die, you'll know who shot me, tell 'em Kareem Harris shot me."

         Lieutenant Schwan testified Gant told him, "Kareem Harris. Kareem Harris shot me. He told me he'd do this to me. Kareem Harris did this." Gant told Lieutenant Schwan that Harris "was a coworker, that he worked with him, and that Mr. ...

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