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People v. Wood

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

January 22, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
Patrick K. Wood. Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 14CA148

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General Ryan A. Crane, Senior Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender Mark Evans, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado



         ¶1 "Everything has to come to an end, sometime." L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz 182 (1904). Today, we hope to end this protracted habeas litigation and settle once and for all two questions that have plagued federal and state courts in Colorado for more than 12 years: Did Patrick Wood suffer simultaneous convictions for first-degree felony murder (a class 1 felony) and second-degree murder (a class 2 felony) in 1987 for the death of the same victim? And if so, what is the appropriate remedy?

         ¶2 In addressing Wood's double jeopardy claim, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit answered the first question in the affirmative and addressed the second question by conditionally granting Wood's habeas corpus petition. As a result, it remanded the case to the federal district court with instructions to vacate the first-degree murder conviction and allow the second-degree murder conviction to remain in place, unless the state district court decided within a reasonable time which of the two murder convictions to vacate. Unfortunately, the Tenth Circuit misread Wood's mittimus, and that error set in motion a Palsgrafian[1] chain of rippling events that ultimately landed the case before us. Wood's mittimus actually reflected a single murder conviction: for first-degree felony murder. Thus, no double jeopardy error existed, and no remedy was necessary-the only error was in believing there was an error.

         ¶3 Following an order by the federal district court effectuating the Tenth Circuit's mandate, the People filed a motion in state district court seeking to vacate the second-degree murder conviction. The state district court granted the motion and issued an amended mittimus expressly stating that the second-degree murder conviction was vacated.[2] Wood appealed. In a published, unanimous decision, a division of the state court of appeals reversed and remanded the matter with instructions for the state district court to vacate Wood's first-degree murder conviction and modify the amended mittimus to leave in place the second-degree murder conviction. We now reverse.

         ¶4 The division hung its hat on the Tenth Circuit's belief that the original mittimus reflected two murder convictions for the killing of a single victim. But the Tenth Circuit misunderstood the original mittimus. Consistent with the state district court's decision during the sentencing hearing to merge the two murder convictions, the original mittimus referenced a single murder conviction (for first-degree murder). Therefore, there was no other murder conviction to be vacated.

         ¶5 Even if the Tenth Circuit accurately understood the original mittimus, the proper remedy was to simply correct the clerical error pursuant to Rule 36 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure. Since the state district court has already amended the original mittimus, albeit based on other authority, and the amended mittimus clearly documents that Wood was not convicted of two counts of murder, we need not remand this matter. The state district court's amendment of the original mittimus was akin to a correction of a clerical mistake pursuant to Rule 36. The amended mittimus reflects that Wood stands convicted, as he has for more than 30 years, of a single count of murder.

         ¶6 Given this disposition, we decline to address the merits of the numerous conclusions reached by the division, including with respect to the scope of a state district court's authority. Instead, we vacate the division's opinion in its entirety.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         ¶7 While robbing a pizza delivery store in 1986, Wood shot and killed the store's assistant manager. Following a bench trial, the state district court found Wood guilty of committing five offenses: Count 1, second-degree murder, a class 2 felony naming the assistant manager as the victim;[3] Count 2, first-degree felony murder, a class 1 felony naming the assistant manager as the victim and listing aggravated robbery as the predicate felony; Count 3, aggravated robbery, a class 3 felony naming the assistant manager as the victim; and Counts 4 and 5, felony menacing, class 5 felonies naming two additional victims.

         ¶8 During the sentencing hearing, Wood's attorney addressed the state district court first. He stated that the first-degree felony murder and second-degree murder convictions "merge[d]" and that the aggravated robbery conviction then "merge[d]" into the felony-murder conviction because aggravated robbery was the predicate offense of the felony-murder conviction. The prosecutor agreed:

Your Honor, as to Count[s] [1] and [2], it's my understanding that they do merge and I would ask the Court to enter judgment on the conviction for murder in the first degree and impose the mandatory sentence of [life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after] forty calendar years as required by statute.
Judge, in regards [to] . . . Count [3], aggravated robbery, it's also my understanding that that does merge with the conviction for felony murder; therefore, I don't believe that the Court is in a position to impose a sentence on the aggravated robbery count and I'm not asking the Court to do that.

(Emphases added.) Defense counsel did not take issue with any of the prosecutor's comments.

         ¶9 The court concurred with the parties:

Well, obviously Counts [1] and [2] on the murder counts merge, and they merge also with the aggravated robbery count[]. So there [will] only be one sentence involving Counts [1], [2, ] and [3].
And the Court would just impose a life sentence as provided by law . . . .

(Emphases added.) Thus, the court imposed a single sentence (life imprisonment) on Counts 1, 2, and 3.[4] It then imposed prison sentences of four years on Counts 4 and 5, to be served "concurrent with the life sentence."

         ¶10 Wood's sentences were reflected in the original mittimus subsequently prepared and signed by the state district court. The original mittimus, formally titled "JUDGMENT OF CONVICTION: SENTENCE: AND ORDER TO SHERIFF (MITTIMUS)," read, in pertinent part, as follows:

The Defendant was arraigned in this Court upon an . . . Information, . . . to which the Defendant entered a plea of . . . Not Guilty, . . . was found Guilty, . . . by the Court, of the offense(s) of[:]
Count 1, Murder in the First Degree, (convicted of second degree murder) F-2
Count 2, Murder in the First Degree [felony murder], both counts 1 & 2 [as charged] are C.R.S. 18-3-102, F-1
Count 3, Aggravated Robbery, C.R.S. 18-4-302, F-3
Counts 4 & 5, Menacing, C.R.S. 18-3-206, ...

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