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Evidence sufficient to support conviction for homicide by negligent handling of a weapon

State v. Jonathan Thomas, 2014AP543-CR, District 1, 1/5/15 (not recommended for publication); case activity

At his trial on a charge of second degree reckless homicide for causing the death of Michael Brown, Thomas claimed Brown accidentally shot himself while handling a gun. The jury found Thomas guilty of the lesser included offense of homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon, § 940.08(1). The court of appeals rejects Thomas’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence for that verdict.

¶14      While it is true that the State did not present direct evidence that Thomas handled the gun or shot Brown, there was ample circumstantial evidence sufficient to prove that he did so, and that his doing so was criminally negligent and ultimately caused Brown’s death. See, e.g., [State v.Poellinger, 153 Wis. 2d [493,] 501-02[, 451 N.W.2d 752 (1990)] (circumstantial evidence is sometimes stronger and more satisfactory than direct evidence). Brown was shot in the head with a handgun that Thomas had stolen, and Brown and Thomas were the only ones in the car at the time. Thomas admitted as much at trial, even though he initially told police that he had been relieving himself behind a dumpster and that he had never seen the gun before. The absence of stippling on Brown’s wounds and the location of the gun showed that the gun had been fired by someone else, not Brown; indeed, the medical examiner opined that Brown’s death was a homicide. Additionally, the gun not only appeared to have been wiped clean after the fact, but also the chamber had been manipulated—something Brown could not have done after shooting himself in the head. Moreover, evidence at trial showed that Thomas was homeless, hungry, and desperate for the money that Brown owed him, and during the same time that Thomas was homeless and hungry, Brown was openly spending money on things like clothes, drugs, and bailing other friends out of jail. Indeed, [a close friend of Thomas’s] testified that Thomas was extremely angry with Brown for spending money when he owed Thomas. Thus, the evidence amply supports the jury’s conclusion.

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