The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the second-degree murder conviction of a 25-year-old Topeka man for shooting and killing another Topeka man in January 2006 in downtown Lawrence.
Justices found two legal errors occurred in his trial centering on how jurors were instructed to consider “the degree of certainty” in testimony by eyewitnesses and comments a prosecutor made in closing arguments. However, the Supreme Court found that the jury could not have been misled by the instruction about eyewitness testimony and that prosecutor Amy McGowan’s comments were “harmless.”
A Douglas County jury in 2007 convicted Rashawn Anderson of second-degree murder for shooting Robert Earl Williams, 46, five times and killing him. He was also convicted of aggravated battery for shooting and injuring another man, Pierre Burnette, of Kansas City, Kan. The shooting occurred early on Feb. 5, 2006, on a downtown sidewalk after a hip-hop concert at The Granada, 1020 Mass.
Witnesses at the trial said Williams, who did have a knife with him, was involved in several arguments earlier that night, and prosecutors accused Anderson of shooting Williams to prove to his friends he was “a big man.” Anderson’s attorneys had argued eyewitnesses did not properly identify Anderson as the shooter.
District Judge Paula Martin instructed jurors they could consider “the degree of certainty demonstrated” by eyewitnesses at the time they identified a suspect. Anderson’s appellate attorneys argued the instruction was unfair because it prompts the jury “to conclude that eyewitness identification is more reliable when the witness expresses greater certainty.”
In the opinion released on Friday, the Supreme Court found Martin should have omitted that instruction, but justices ruled there was “substantial additional evidence implicating Anderson as the shooter.” Prosecutors presented evidence that Anderson’s DNA was found on the murder weapon and Anderson’s ex-girlfriend testified that he confessed to shooting Williams.
In the opinion, justices found that McGowan’s comments were improper in closing arguments about Williams being able to get “redemption” through a possible guilty verdict and that Anderson was a “little, little man.”
“But there was substantial evidence of Anderson’s guilt, and it is unlikely these isolated comments, which were in rebuttal and not part of an obvious pattern of misconduct by the prosecution, would have affected the jury’s determination,” Justice Dan Biles wrote in the opinion.
District Attorney Charles Branson argued the case before the Supreme Court.
Anderson is also serving a prison sentence for first-degree murder in a separate shooting in Topeka that occurred in July 2005, months before the Lawrence shootings. His earliest possible date of release from prison is in 2033.