Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Munzanreder

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

June 1, 2017

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
JOHN JOSEPH MUNZANREDER, Appellant, JUAN PABLO IBANEZ-CORTEZ, Defendant.

          Lawrence-Berrey, J.

         John J. Munzanreder appeals his conviction for the first degree murder of his wife. Because of the sensational nature of the alleged crime, local media extensively covered his case from arrest through trial. His principal arguments on appeal are the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to change venue, and the voir dire process used by the trial court failed to protect his constitutional right to an impartial jury.

         In the published portion of this opinion, we hold that the state constitutional right to an impartial jury is not more protective than the corresponding federal constitutional right, that the voir dire process used by the trial court protected Munzanreder's constitutional right to an impartial jury, and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Munzanreder's motion to change venue. We affirm Munzanreder's conviction, remand for two technical corrections to the judgment and sentence, and deny the State an award of appellate costs.

         FACTS

         Background facts

         Munzanreder worked with Juan Ibanez at Valley Ford in Yakima, Washington. In early February 2013, Ibanez approached Munzanreder and asked him for money for a toolbox. Munzanreder agreed to give him the money if he helped get rid of somebody. Munzanreder told Ibanez that he wanted help killing his wife, Cynthia, and would give him $20, 000. Ibanez said he would help, but he would not kill her.

         Munzanreder gave Ibanez cash and directed him to purchase a gun. Munzanreder told Ibanez his plan: Munzanreder and his wife would go the movies, he would shoot her with the new gun, he would then throw the gun to Ibanez in some nearby bushes, and Ibanez would run away with the gun.

         On February 28, 2013, the Munzanreders went to see a movie at the Majestic Theater in Union Gap, Washington, a small city immediately south of Yakima. Ibanez received a prearranged text message from Munzanreder that the plan would be executed and went to the theater and waited in the bushes adjacent to the theater's parking lot. After the movie, as the couple approached their car, Munzanreder shot his wife with the gun purchased by Ibanez. Munzanreder then threw the gun into the bushes where Ibanez waited. As Ibanez left the scene with the gun, he ran past a couple near his car.

         Law enforcement arrived and questioned witnesses. Munzanreder told law enforcement he heard a shot and saw a man in black clothes running away. Munzanreder said he had followed the man, but fell and injured himself, developing a black eye.

         Munzanreder's wife later died from her injuries.

         Law enforcement continued to investigate. They interviewed Ibanez, whose car had been reported at the crime scene. Ibanez quickly confessed and told law enforcement of the details of the crime. Media coverage of both the murder and the arrests quickly saturated Yakima County.

         Procedural facts

         The State originally sought to try Munzanreder and Ibanez together. But due to the difficulty in excising references to Munzanreder from Ibanez's confession, the court ordered the trials severed. The State and Ibanez later reached a plea deal that involved Ibanez pleading guilty and testifying against Munzanreder.

         Munzanreder's case proceeded to trial. Jury selection began on January 12, 2015, almost two years after the shooting. Of the 243 original venire jurors, nearly half were excused for hardship. The remaining venire jurors completed juror questionnaires.

         Defense counsel and the State had worked together to create an agreed juror questionnaire. The purpose of the questionnaire was to uncover juror bias, so that the trial court and the parties could individually interview venire jurors with possible bias in open court but outside the presence of other venire jurors.

         The questionnaire contained many questions, including questions focusing on pretrial publicity about the case. Those questions asked the venire jurors to list media sources they used, whether they generally believed the media, whether they thought the media was fair to both sides of a case, and what criminal cases they followed in the media. It also specifically asked about Munzanreder's case. The questionnaire asked venire jurors if they knew information about the case from any sources, and concluded the section by asking if they had formed any opinions about the case. The questionnaire also asked venire jurors if they wanted to discuss their answers separately from other jurors. The completed questionnaires revealed that 105 of the remaining 128 venire jurors knew about the case; of these 105, 24 had formed opinions; and of these 24, most believed Munzanreder was guilty.

         The trial court and the parties agreed on which venire jurors would receive individual interviews in open court. The trial court and the parties questioned each venire juror about media exposure, opinions of the case, the presumption of innocence, and the ability to reach a verdict based on the law given and the facts presented at trial. After each interview concluded and the venire juror left the courtroom, the parties had an opportunity to challenge the venire juror for cause. Munzanreder challenged venire jurors 29, 49, 51, 89, 190, and 216 for cause. The trial court denied Munzanreder's for cause challenges to venire jurors 29, 49, 51, and 89, but granted them as to venire jurors 190 and 216. Later, the trial court excused venire juror 29.

         Before the remaining venire panel returned to the courtroom, Munzanreder orally moved for a change of venue. The motion was anticipated because Munzanreder had earlier said he would make such a motion, and had provided the trial court and the State with copies of local media stories and media Facebook posts. The State, although opposing Munzanreder's motion, indicated the trial court might give additional peremptory challenges. Munzanreder responded that he might ask for additional peremptory challenges, but would not do so until after the court ruled on his motion. The trial court took the motion under advisement and said it would make its ruling later in the jury selection process.

         The parties completed voir dire and then went through the process of selecting the jury. The trial court permitted each party 6 peremptory challenges for the first 12 jurors, and 1 additional peremptory challenge for each of the 3 alternate jurors. Munzanreder never asked for additional peremptory challenges.

         The peremptory process began with the venire jurors sitting in numerical order with the lowest 12 numbered panel members being the presumed jurors. The parties alternated each of their peremptory challenges. Because of the number of venire jurors who remained, the number of peremptory challenges allowed, and the number of juror and alternative juror slots, it was not possible for venire juror 89, or any venire juror higher than 89, to be seated as a juror or alternate juror. For this reason, venire juror 89, one of the venire jurors whom Munzanreder had unsuccessfully challenged, could not have sat on the jury.

         This left venire jurors 49 and 51 as the only venire jurors whom Munzanreder had unsuccessfully challenged for cause who could have sat as a juror or alternate juror. Munzanreder had six peremptory challenges to remove these two venire jurors. In exercising his six peremptory challenges, Munzanreder removed venire juror 49, but elected not to remove venire juror 51. Venire juror 51 was the only empaneled juror whom Munzanreder had unsuccessfully challenged for cause.

         The panel was sworn in. The trial court provided the panel various preliminary instructions and then excused them for lunch. With the panel excused, the trial court gave its oral ruling denying Munzanreder's motion to change venue:

Before we break, I need to put on the record-perhaps it's obvious. There was a motion for change of venue. The motion is denied.
I was impressed by the quality of the panel. I was impressed by their promises and descriptions of how they would stay free of any outside influence or their representations as to how any influences might have impacted them.
There has been coverage on this case. I, frankly, don't think it's as extensive as has been represented. A number of the identifications that have been offered, newspaper headlines, frankly, two of them startled me. I never saw those. I quickly looked at the date. They were approximately two years ago. I didn't recall them personally.
I saw nothing in the dialog we had with the jurors that we've impaneled now that would suggest that they were in any way influenced or biased by the news coverage. I think we have an excellent panel.
I also noted that the nature of the media coverage has changed over the years. The fact that TV might have covered this in the last week or two, I was also interested to see how few people really had seen it. News coverage is very diverse, and local coverage seems to be left out of the mix to a large extent.
One of the comments that one of the panelists had made was that there have been so many homicides in Yakima that she couldn't tell whether it was this case or another that she was thinking about. Obviously that's not a good thing to say about the community. On the other hand, it certainly added to my belief that there was no particular prejudice by denying the motion.
So the motion is denied.

1 Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (Jury Selection-Pretrial Motions) at 1231-32. Over the next several days, the parties presented their evidence.

         After the parties presented their evidence, the trial court conferred with the parties to discuss jury instructions. The State proposed a lesser included offense of second degree murder. Munzanreder objected, and asserted that the evidence did not support the inclusion of the lesser included offense. The trial court granted the State's request. The trial court later asked Munzanreder whether he had any objections or exceptions to the State's instructions, other than its decision to give the lesser included offense instruction. Munzanreder responded that he saw no difference between the State's offered instructions and his own. The trial court adopted the State's instructions, instructed the jury, and the parties gave their closing arguments.

         The jury returned a guilty verdict on first degree murder with a firearm enhancement. The trial court sentenced Munzanreder to 340 months of incarceration. Munzanreder timely appealed.

         ANALYSIS

         In the published portion of this opinion, we address Munzanreder's arguments that (1) the state constitutional right to an impartial jury provides greater protection than the corresponding federal constitutional right, (2) constitutional due process and the right to an impartial jury require a better process than the one used by the trial court to root out bias, and (3) the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to change venue.

         In the unpublished portion of this opinion, we address Munzanreder's other arguments that (4) there was an error in the to-convict instruction for second degree murder, (5) there are two clerical errors in the judgment and sentence, and (6) this court should deny the State an award of appellate costs in the event it substantially prevails.

         1. Scope of state constitutional right to an impartial jury

         Munzanreder, providing a Gunwall[1] analysis, contends our state constitution provides greater protection for an accused's right to an impartial jury than the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Although the right to an impartial jury is protected in article I, section 22 of the Washington State Constitution, Munzanreder's analysis relies heavily on article I, section 2 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.