review de novo whether a trial court's exclusion of
defense evidence violated the accused's constitutional
right to present a defense. The more the exclusion of defense
evidence prejudiced the accused, the more likely we will find
a constitutional violation. Where the excluded defense
evidence has minimal or no relevance, we affirm the trial
Corey Burnam sought to admit evidence that the woman he
killed had four years earlier dated a man accused of murder
and that she had hid the murder weapon. We agree with the
trial court that this evidence had minimal or no relevance to
Mr. Burnam's claim at trial that he feared serious injury
or death. We therefore affirm.
January 2016, Mr. Burnam and Alicia Sweet were staying at the
home of Norman Anderton and Pamela Schuman. One night, Mr.
Anderton was at home and heard a few faint thumps from a
bedroom, followed by a louder thump; he did not hear any
voices. Mr. Anderton got up to investigate but the sound
stopped, so he sat back down.
after, Mr. Burnam appeared with a knife in his hand and blood
on his shoe. Mr. Burnam went to the kitchen sink and washed
his hands and face in the sink but did not put the knife
down. Mr. Anderton went to check the bedroom but could not
enter because the door was partially blocked. He could see
Ms. Sweet on the floor, covered in blood. Mr. Anderton
returned to the living room and attempted to use his
telephone to call law enforcement, but Mr. Burnam took the
telephone from him after remarking, "'You're
calling 911, aren't you?'" Report of Proceedings
(RP) at 274.
Anderton left the home and got into his car to drive to a
nearby relative's home. As he was leaving, he saw Mr.
Burnam outside attempting to get into a blue truck owned by
Ms. Schuman's father. Mr. Anderton arrived at the
relative's home and called law enforcement.
enforcement arrived and unsuccessfully tried to revive Ms.
Sweet. In the bedroom, law enforcement found a shotgun barrel
that was covered with blood toward the breech end. Law
enforcement found blood in several places in the bedroom and
outside the home, including near the bedroom window.
Meanwhile, Mr. Burnam attempted to gain entry to the home of
a neighbor, who refused him.
Deputy Jason Hunt arrived at the scene and began to track Mr.
Burnam with his partner Gunnar. Deputy Hunt saw a person
running down a nearby street and called out, but the man
continued running and ducked behind a shed. Gunnar located
Mr. Burnam underneath a nearby trailer and began to pull him
out. As law enforcement pulled him out and arrested him, he
exclaimed that Ms. Sweet had tried to kill him. Detective
Kirk Keyser later performed a videotaped interview of Mr.
Burnam. In this interview, Mr. Burnam claimed Ms. Sweet
attacked him because she thought he had taken her heroin.
autopsy revealed Ms. Sweet had dozens of cuts and blunt
impact injuries all over her body, head, and hands. Of
particular note was a blunt impact head injury that went
through several layers of Ms. Sweet's scalp, described as
two symmetrical circles that appeared to be from the breech
end of a shotgun barrel. Ms. Sweet had five stab wounds to
the right side of her neck. The majority of those stabs
wounds were in the same area of the neck and formed a wound
that reached all the way to her cervical spine. In addition
to hitting her spine, these stab wounds severed Ms.
Sweet's jugular vein, typically a mortal injury on its
own. In contrast, Mr. Burnam had a black eye, a cut on one of
his left fingers, a cut on one of his right fingers, and a
bite wound caused by Gunnar.
tests revealed that Ms. Sweet had methamphetamine and
marijuana in her system, but no heroin. Mr. Burnam had
methamphetamine and marijuana in his system, but no heroin.
Blood testing revealed that the shotgun barrel had
bloodstains on the breech end and that nearly all of the
blood was from Ms. Sweet. Only a trace and an unidentifiable
component was from another person, and that trace blood was
on the center of the barrel. Law enforcement never recovered
the knife used in the homicide.
State charged Mr. Burnam with first degree murder or, in the
alternative, second degree murder and interfering with the
reporting of domestic violence.
trial approached, Mr. Burnam notified the court of his intent
to testify on his own behalf in support of his self-defense
claim and his intent to testify that Ms. Sweet had been
involved in a prior homicide. Mr. Burnam claimed that this
was character evidence and asked the court to analyze its
admissibility under ER 404(b).
According to the record, the prior homicide occurred in
December 2012. Bud Brown allegedly murdered David Deponte.
According to the affidavit of facts, law enforcement learned
that Ms. Sweet was dating Mr. Brown at the time. Sometime
after the homicide, Ms. Sweet briefly gave the firearm away
and then attempted to get it back. When law enforcement
questioned her, she was evasive and misleading. The State
charged her with first degree rendering criminal assistance
by means of concealing, altering, or destroying the gun. The
affidavit does not state or imply that any person other than
Mr. Brown was involved in Mr. Deponte's killing.
Brown and Mr. Burnam are cousins. Mr. Brown's homicide
trial was set to begin a few days after Mr. Burnam killed Ms.
Sweet, a material witness in that case.
Burnam made a lengthy offer of proof in support of his
motion. Mr. Burnam argued that the evidence would help
establish the reasonableness of his fear of serious harm or
death during his struggle with Ms. Sweet. Mr. Burnam
repeatedly asserted the jury should know that Ms. Sweet was