The Missouri Supreme Court’s heard an appeal of the 2011 2nd degree murder conviction in Jackson County of Christopher Sanders.
Sanders’ attorneys are challenging the lower court’s refusal to instruct the jury to consider the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Attorney Jeannette Wolpink argued the lesser charge is part of a subset of elements which are required to reach the level of 2nd degree murder. She also said not allowing the jury to consider involuntary manslaughter limited the jury’s ability to interpret facts. “When it comes to facts and what to believe from facts, that should always be left to the jury or the fact finder” said Wolpink.
Among other things, the state argued that not every element of the greater 2nd degree murder offense needs to be considered for a jury’s verdict too be reliable. State attorney Shawn Mackelprang said the jury’s option to acquit a defendant negates the need to present all the elements. “The option to acquit, in every case, always tests the elements of the greater offense” said Mackelprang. “Because if the jury is in fact not convinced of one of those elements, it can always acquit. And so there is a testing that occurs of every element because the option to acquit.”
In deliberations, jury only considered charges of 2nd degree murder and voluntary manslaughter after the trial court rejected the Sanders’ motion to allow the jury to also consider involuntary manslaughter.
The Supreme Court didn’t say when it would rule on the case.
Sanders was convicted of kicking and strangling a woman to death during an incident involving the exchange of sex for drugs.
According to police reports, Sanders rented a room at the now closed Royale Inn in Kansas City in late November of 2011. He was joined there by Sherilyn Hill and Zonia Brown.
Brown told police that she and Hill had agreed to have sex with Sanders in exchange for crack cocaine. Brown said that after Sanders only provided them with a very small amount of crack, Hill pulled out a knife three times, pointed it at Sanders and told him he needed to provide them with more.
Brown said that after the third time, Hill left the knife on the sink in the bathroom. Soon after, Sanders asked Hill “Are you ready?”, then quickly spun around and kicked her. According to Brown, Hill fell to the floor, at which point Sanders kicked her ten more times until she appeared to be lifeless.
Brown said she then ran out of the room and fled the hotel, but before doing so, observed Sanders grabbing a sheet off of a bed and wrapping it around Hill’s head.
At trial, Sanders gave a different account. He said that after they smoked $50 worth of crack, Hill pulled out the knife a couple of times.
Sanders claimed he then told the women they could just go. He said Hill then put the knife to his throat after he had turned around and said “Pussy, I’ll just take your s**t”. He said Hill then took his wallet out of his pocket and tossed it to Brown, telling her to get his money. After two tangled and Sanders had kick Hill in response several times, he said Hill fell to the floor but crawled toward the knife.
Sanders said he tried to kick the knife away from her, but missed and kicked her in the head instead. Thinking she was knocked out, he took her out of the room and left her on a stairway landing while Brown was fleeing the scene.
Sanders said he then told the hotel manager that Hill was passed out on the stairway, and then began looking for Hill’s pimp, and for Brown in an effort to track down his stolen money.
Sanders denied ever removing any sheets from the bed and wrapping them around Hill’s head.
With that last remark, Sanders basically denied strangling Hill, which was an element to the charges in which he was convicted. The 2nd degree conviction was for kicking and strangling Hill.