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State v. Qualls

Supreme Court of Kansas

April 19, 2019

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
James A. Qualls III, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. A defendant is entitled to an instruction on every affirmative defense that is supported by competent evidence. Once the defendant satisfies the burden of producing such evidence, the State has the burden of disproving the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

         2. A defendant may meet his or her burden of showing that a reasonable person in his or her circumstances would have perceived the use of deadly force as necessary for self-defense, even if the only evidence supporting the defendant's theory consists of the defendant's own testimony, which may be contradicted by all other witnesses and by physical evidence.

         3. Error in refusing to give a requested self-defense instruction is subject to harmless error analysis.

          Appeal from Shawnee District Court; Cheryl A. Rios, judge.

          Kasper C. Schirer, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause, and Carol Longenecker Schmidt, of the same office, was on the brief for appellant.

          Rachel L. Pickering, assistant solicitor general, argued the cause, and Michael F. Kagay, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with her on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          ROSEN, J.

         In 2008, James Qualls shot a man to death following a dispute over a pool game. He was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder. This court reversed the conviction for failure to give lesser included offenses instructions. State v. Qualls, 297 Kan. 61, 298 P.3d 311 (2013). On retrial in 2014, a jury again found him guilty of premeditated first-degree murder. He takes this direct appeal.

         Facts

         At the second trial, evidence of the following facts was introduced to the jury.

         On the evening of July 16, 2008, Qualls and his wife, whom he had married five days earlier, and their children attended the Mexican Fiesta in Topeka. Qualls drank some beer there, and then the family returned to their house, where he drank some more. Qualls, his wife, and his sister then decided to go to a bar and, shortly after midnight, ended up at the Whiplash bar. Qualls was carrying a recently purchased 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol in his pocket.

         A dispute broke out over a pool game, when Qualls made a joking comment to Amber Martindale that she had made a lucky shot. As the dispute escalated, Qualls' wife bet Martindale $1000 that she could beat her in a fight. Qualls attempted to get between the women, and his wife went to the door and encouraged Martindale to come outside to fight. Martindale's fiancè, Joseph Beier, shouted at Qualls, telling him he had to get his "bitch" under control. The situation deteriorated, as Qualls' wife started yelling in Beier's face, and Beier hit Qualls in the face. Qualls grabbed hold of Beier and pushed him back against a wall.

         The bartender, Cliff Cormier, attempted to break up the fight. From behind he grabbed Qualls around the neck and pulled him away from Beier. Beier hit him again, and then another bar patron, Mitchell McDonald, grabbed Beier and moved him against a wall.

         What happened next is subject to some dispute. Qualls went to the ground as a result of Cormier's chokehold grip, and McDonald may have released Beier from his grip. Qualls got up and started to walk toward the door. Qualls testified that Beier's arms were free and he reached into his pants as if reaching for a gun. McDonald testified that he had a firm grip on Beier. In either event, Qualls pulled his pistol from his pocket and fired its contents, some 12 bullets, into Beier. Beier died from his wounds.

         Multiple security cameras recorded the activities in the bar, and the recordings were introduced at trial. Unfortunately, the video recordings, although taken from different angles, are too choppy and indistinct to allow a clear understanding of what happened, and they neither confirm nor disprove Qualls' version of the events that prompted him to draw his gun and open fire.

         Qualls and his wife then left the bar and drove off while someone fired shots at them, shooting out a car window and a tire as they left. Qualls dropped the gun somewhere in Topeka and later drove to Kansas City. He turned himself in to police a couple of weeks later. Following his conviction in the second trial, he took a direct appeal to this court, raising numerous claims of error. We ...


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