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People v. Cockrell

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

October 5, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Brandon Chad Cockrell, Defendant-Appellant.

         El Paso County District Court No. 13CR2514 Honorable Robin L. Chittum, Judge

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Jillian J. Price, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Andrew C. Heher, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          JUDGE NIETO [*]

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Brandon Chad Cockrell, appeals the judgment entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of first degree murder and two violent crime sentence enhancers. We affirm.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 Two mountain bikers found the victim while they were riding on a trail just outside of Colorado Springs and stopped to help. At about the same time, a couple driving down the road also saw the victim and stopped to help. The victim was dressed only in his underwear and socks and had injuries to his neck and chest. The bystanders began asking him questions about what had happened and who had shot him, and, in an effort to keep him awake until help could arrive, asked him more general questions about his background and life. The victim told them he was dying, but was able to answer their questions and said that he knew who had shot him. He did not, however, provide the shooter's name.

         ¶ 3 When the paramedics arrived, they loaded the victim into the ambulance and rushed him to the hospital. An officer rode in the front of the ambulance and asked the victim questions about what had happened and who had shot him. The victim eventually identified Cockrell as the shooter.

         ¶ 4 By the time he arrived at the hospital, the victim was barely conscious. He had eleven gunshot wounds. He died soon thereafter during surgery.

         ¶ 5 Cockrell was ultimately arrested and charged with first degree murder and two crime of violence sentence enhancers. No DNA, fingerprint, or other forensic evidence tied Cockrell to the victim's murder. The primary evidence against him was the victim's dying declaration identifying Cockrell as the shooter and a bystander's statement that he saw a car leaving the area around the same time the victim was found that matched the description of the car Cockrell drove.

         ¶ 6 In a detailed and well-supported order, the trial court denied Cockrell's motions to suppress the dying declaration and to find section 13-25-119, C.R.S. 2017, unconstitutional.

         ¶ 7 A jury found Cockrell guilty as charged. The court sentenced him to a term of life without the possibility of parole in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

         II. Facial Constitutional Challenge

         ¶ 8 Cockrell contends that section 13-25-119, the dying declaration statute, is unconstitutional on its face because it violates the Confrontation Clause under the principles established in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004). We disagree.

         ¶ 9 We review the constitutionality of a statute de novo. People v. Helms, 2016 COA 90, ¶ 15. Statutes are presumed to be constitutional. Id. Therefore, the party challenging them has the burden of proving they are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.

         ¶ 10 The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article II, section 16 to the Colorado Constitution protect a defendant's right to confront the witnesses against him. This right requires that a defendant be given a meaningful ...


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