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United States v. Harriman

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern (Waterloo) Division

March 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JASON TROY HARRIMAN, Defendant.

          ORDER

          C.J. WILLIAMS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On January 29, 2019, a jury found defendant guilty of two counts of murder for hire, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1958, rejecting defendant's claim that a federal agent entrapped his into hiring the agent to kill defendant's ex-wife, D.H., and her new boyfriend, A.W. The Court denied defendant's motions for judgment of acquittal made at the close of the government's case and renewed at the close of all of the evidence. Before the Court now is defendant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and New Trial. (Doc. 95). Defendant argues that the government failed to prove the essential elements of murder for hire beyond a reasonable doubt and failed to disprove the affirmative defense of entrapment beyond a reasonable doubt. The governments resists defendant's motion. (Doc. 98). For the reasons that follow, the Court denies defendant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and New Trial.

         I. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL

         A. The Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 governs defendant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal. Rule 29(a) provides: “After the government closes its evidence or after the close of all the evidence, the court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). When a defendant moves for judgment of acquittal after the prosecution rests,

[t]he court may reserve decision on the motion, proceed with the trial (where the motion is made before the close of all the evidence), submit the case to the jury, and decide the motion either before the jury returns a verdict or after it returns a verdict of guilty or is discharged without having returned a verdict.

         Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(b). If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the defendant may renew a motion for a judgment of acquittal “within 14 days after a guilty verdict or after the court discharges the jury, whichever is later.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c)(1). “If the court reserve[d] decision, it must decide the motion on the basis of the evidence at the time the ruling was reserved.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(b) . Here, defendant has renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal. Thus, the Court may consider the entire trial record in deciding whether to grant defendant's motion.

         A judgment of acquittal is only appropriate if “the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). “The standard for determining the sufficiency of the evidence is strict, and a guilty verdict should not be lightly overturned.” United States v. Jiminez-Perez, 238 F.3d 970, 972-73 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing United States v. Ryan, 227 F.3d 1058, 1063 (8th Cir. 2000)); see also United States v. Peneaux, 432 F.3d 882, 890 (8th Cir. 2005); United States v. Stroh, 176 F.3d 439, 440 (8th Cir. 1999). “Sufficient evidence exists to support a verdict if ‘after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'” Jiminez-Perez, 238 F.3d at 972 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). Thus, the Court may grant a judgment of acquittal “only if no reasonable jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Tate, 633 F.3d 624, 628 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Morales, 445 F.3d 1081, 1084 (8th Cir. 2006)). In ruling on a motion for a judgment of acquittal, a court must “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict, granting all reasonable inferences that are supported by that evidence.” Id. (quoting United States v. Milk, 447 F.3d 593, 598 (8th Cir. 2006)).

         Here, the Court instructed the jury that for it to find defendant guilty of murder for hire, the government had to prove three essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

One, from about February 2018, through on or about May 30, 2018, the defendant used or caused another person to use a facility of interstate commerce;
Two, the defendant did so with the intent that a murder be committed, namely the murder of D.H. and A.W. (his ex-wife and her boyfriend); and
Three, the defendant intended that the murder be committed as consideration for the receipt of or a promise to pay anything of pecuniary value.

(Doc. 77; Instruction Nos. 12 & 13).

         B. ...


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