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State v. Bethea

Supreme Court of Maine

December 19, 2019

STATE OF MAINE
v.
ANTOINNE BETHEA

          Argued: November 5, 2019

          Jeremy Pratt, Esq. (orally), and Ellen Simmons, Esq., Camden, for appellant Antoinne Bethea

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          ALEXANDER, J.

         [¶1] Antoinne Bethea appeals from a judgment of conviction of manslaughter (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 203(1)(A) (2018), entered by the trial court (Penobscot County, A. Murray, J.) following a jury trial on an indictment for murder, 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A) (2018). Bethea asserts that the trial court (1) erred in its conduct of voir dire by crafting race-related questions for potential jurors but not using questions proposed by Bethea; (2) abused its discretion by admitting a photograph of the victim with his son; and (3) abused its discretion by only giving a curative instruction after the prosecutor misstated the evidence during closing arguments. We affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         A. Facts

         [¶2] Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, the jury could have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Nobles, 2018 ME 26, ¶ 2, 179 A.3d 910.

         [¶3] On Easter weekend 2017, the victim and a friend traveled to Bangor. The victim's eight-year-old son lived in Bangor with his mother-the victim's ex-wife-and Bethea. While they were together that weekend, the son told his father that Bethea had been cooking "white stuff" in the apartment and that the white stuff gave him a headache. The victim's friend understood the "white stuff" to be crack cocaine.

         [¶4] After hearing this story from his son, the victim sent several text messages to his ex-wife. Bethea interpreted those text messages as threatening. Bethea and the victim's ex-wife drove to her father's home, where Bethea retrieved a handgun he had kept hidden there. When Bethea and the victim's ex-wife returned to their apartment, they saw the victim and his friend standing in the driveway. The victim and his friend were waiting for the victim's son to change his clothes inside. Bethea and the victim spoke briefly before Bethea entered the apartment. Bethea testified that he showed his handgun to the victim's friend as he walked up the stairs to his apartment.

         [¶5] Shortly after Bethea returned outside, he started a fight with the victim. During the fight, the victim's friend saw Bethea reach for his handgun. The friend then jumped on Bethea, and the three fell to the ground. While they were on the ground, Bethea discharged his firearm twice. The shots struck the victim, causing his death.

         [¶6] Bethea quickly left the scene and cut off his dreadlocks. Bethea also gave an acquaintance an object wrapped in a sock, which the acquaintance buried in the woods. The object inside the sock was the handgun used in the shooting, which law enforcement eventually recovered.

         B. Procedural History

         [¶7] On April 18, 2017, Bethea was charged by criminal complaint with murder. See 17-A M.R.S. § 201(1)(A). He was arrested in Ohio on May 21, 2017. Following his arrest, Bethea was indicted and, on arraignment, pleaded not guilty. A jury trial was held in August 2018.

         [¶8] The court used a written questionnaire as part of its voir dire of potential jurors. Following best practice, see State v. Roby, 2017 ME 207, ¶ 3 n.2, 171 A.3d 1157, the court and counsel initially met more than a week prior to the start of jury selection for an extensive discussion of proposals for the written questionnaire. The day before the start of jury selection, the court and the parties met again to finalize the questionnaire. At these conferences, Bethea proposed that the court include in the written questionnaire certain questions designed to identify possible racial biases held by potential jurors. Bethea also proposed that each question have answer choices of "YES," "NO," or "NOT SURE." The questions proposed by Bethea included the following:

18. Do you believe or feel African-American men are more likely to commit crimes when they come to Maine than people ...

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