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State v. Rucker

Supreme Court of Kansas

June 7, 2019

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Jason L. Rucker, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence of an alternative means crime, sufficient evidence must support each alternative means charged to ensure that the verdict is unanimous as to guilt.

         2. When reviewing for sufficiency of the evidence, an appellate court does not reweigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or pass on the credibility of witnesses.

         3. A party must make a specific and timely objection at trial to preserve evidentiary issues for appeal.

          Appeal from Wyandotte District Court; Delia M. York, judge. Affirmed.

          Jeffrey C. Leiker, of Leiker Law Office, P.A., of Kansas City, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

          Daniel G. Obermeier, assistant district attorney, argued the cause, and Mark A. Dupree Sr., district attorney, Jennifer S. Tatum, assistant district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellee.

          OPINION

          Rosen, J.

         Jason Rucker appeals his conviction for first-degree murder. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On October 22, 1997, Celestino Zavala Ruiz went to V.E.'s house in Kansas City, Kansas. The two were dating and Zavala wanted to ask V.E. out for coffee. When Zavala arrived, the door to the house was unlocked. He went inside and immediately noticed that the television was missing. Zavala found V.E.'s body in the bedroom and immediately called the police.

         When officers arrived at V.E.'s home, they found her body lying on the bed. V.E. was unclothed from the waist down. Her bra had blood stains on it and appeared to have been torn in several places. V.E.'s hands and feet were bent behind her and tied together with rope. There was a rope wrapped around her neck, pulled back, and tied around her hands. V.E.'s throat had been cut and her head showed signs of blunt force trauma. Investigators observed that it looked like the house had been "ransacked." Drawers had been pulled out and scattered around the floor, and it appeared someone had dumped the contents out of a purse. Officers found a hammer in the kitchen closet.

         A coroner conducted an autopsy and used a sexual assault kit to collect DNA evidence from V.E.'s body and clothes. The coroner observed that V.E. had two different "crush lacerations" on her head, a skull fracture, a 6-inch cut along her throat, a stabbing injury that went through the neck, abrasions on her knees, and wounds on her hands. The coroner concluded that V.E. died as a consequence of blunt trauma to the head and a stab wound to the neck and that her death was a homicide.

         The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) began testing the physical evidence from V.E.'s body and the crime scene in 2001. Preliminary testing revealed semen on the vaginal swab and on several items-a quilt, a pair of pantyhose, a jacket, and a pair of pants. There was also blood on the head of the hammer and DNA evidence on some cigarette butts found in the house. Further testing revealed Zavala's DNA on two of the cigarette butts. There was a different and unknown male DNA profile discovered in the semen on the vaginal swab and on one of the cigarette butts. A second unknown male DNA profile was found in the semen on the jacket and the semen on the quilt. There was a third unknown male DNA profile found in the semen on the pants and the semen on the pantyhose. And there was a fourth unknown male DNA profile found on another one of the cigarette butts.

         The KBI entered the DNA profiles of the four unknown males into CODIS, a database that collects and compiles DNA evidence. In 2006, the DNA profile found in the semen on the vaginal swab and on one of the cigarette butts matched with a DNA profile belonging to Torry Johnson. In 2010, CODIS matched the DNA profile found in the semen on the jacket and the quilt with Rucker's DNA.

         In March 2015, investigators interviewed Johnson. Johnson told them that on the day of V.E.'s death, he, Rucker, and a man named Jesus had been at V.E.'s house. Johnson admitted that they had planned to rob V.E. and that they had tied her up, Rucker had raped her, and they had ...


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