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State v. Leteve

Supreme Court of Arizona

August 12, 2015


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Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County. The Honorable Karen L. O'Connor, Judge. No. CR2010-005965.

David Goldberg (argued), Attorney at Law, Fort Collins, CO, Attorney for Andre Michael Leteve.

Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, John R. Lopez IV, Solicitor General, Lacey Stover Gard, Chief Counsel, Capital Litigation Section, Julie A. Done (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona.

CHIEF JUSTICE BALES authored the opinion of the Court, in which VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER and JUSTICES BERCH, BRUTINEL, and TIMMER joined.


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[¶1] This automatic appeal arises from Andre Michael Leteve's convictions and death sentences for murdering his two young sons. We have jurisdiction under Article 6, Section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § § 13-4031 and 13-4033(A)(1).


[¶2] Leteve married Laurie in 1998. They had two sons: Alec in 2004 and Asher in 2008. After Leteve revealed a series of marital infidelities, Laurie moved out of their home in August 2009 and filed for divorce two months later. On the day Laurie filed for divorce, Leteve bought a handgun. In the following months, he retaliated against Laurie in several ways. Events tragically culminated in late March 2010, when Alec and Asher were staying at Leteve's home. On the morning of March 31, Leteve called 911 to report that he had killed his two sons and attempted to commit suicide. When police arrived, they found each child shot to death, and Leteve had a gunshot wound to his face. He repeated that he had shot his sons. Police also found a letter to Laurie that Leteve had prepared days earlier. It ended by saying, " Enjoy the rest of your life without us."

[¶3] A jury found Leteve guilty of two counts of first degree murder. The jury also found three aggravating circumstances: Leteve had committed the murders in an especially heinous or depraved manner, he was convicted of multiple homicides committed on the same occasion, and each victim was under the age of fifteen. A.R.S. § § 13-751(F)(6), (F)(8), (F)(9). Considering these factors and the mitigation evidence, the jury sentenced Leteve to death for each murder.


A. Admissibility of Leteve's Statements to Police at His Home

[¶4] Statements made by a suspect during custodial interrogation generally are not admissible unless preceded by the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Leteve argues that the trial court erred by admitting statements he made to police officers at his home before he was given Miranda warnings. We reject this argument because the statements were admissible under the " public safety" exception to the Miranda rule recognized in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 656, 104 S.Ct. 2626, 81 L.Ed.2d 550 (1984).

[¶5] Just after he killed his sons, Leteve shot himself in the chin and the bullet exited through his nose. These wounds made it difficult for the 911 operator to understand him. When he tried to tell her that he had shot his sons, ages one and five, the operator understood him to say that he had shot one son, age fifteen. She relayed this information to the police.

[¶6] When the police arrived at Leteve's home, they saw Leteve bleeding profusely from his face and a young child lying on a couch. For safety reasons, Leteve was handcuffed and questioned by two officers. One

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officer asked Leteve if he had killed the child on the couch, and Leteve nodded up and down. As officers inspected the child, they asked Leteve where he had shot the child and he said, " In the back of the head."

[¶7] A second officer opened Leteve's shirt to check for other injuries, asking Leteve what had happened. Leteve responded that he had shot his children. The officer asked where his children were and Leteve said one was on the couch and the other was upstairs. The officer asked Leteve to be more specific, and he said the second child was in the crib. When the officer asked Leteve where he had shot his children, Leteve again said, " In the back of the head." The officer asked Leteve what had happened to him, and Leteve answered that he had shot himself in the chin, lifting his head to show the officer the injury. The officer asked if anyone else was home, and Leteve said no. Noting Leteve's wedding ring, the officer asked, " Where is your wife?" Leteve answered, " At work." The officer then asked, " Why did you do this?" Leteve replied, " I don't know."

[¶8] Leteve moved to suppress these statements, arguing that they were involuntary and made before he received Miranda warnings. The trial court ruled that the statements were voluntary and, except for Leteve's answer to the final question, admissible under Quarles. (At trial, after the State introduced evidence of Leteve's other statements, Leteve elicited through cross-examination that he had said " I don't know" when asked why he had done this.) On appeal, Leteve argues only that his statements were admitted in violation of Miranda ; the State does not dispute that he was in custody and being questioned when he made the statements.

[¶9] Under Quarles, a suspect's statements made in response to " questions necessary to secure [the officers'] own safety or the safety of the public" are admissible even if Miranda warnings have not been given. 467 U.S. at 659. Whether questioning falls within the public safety exception turns on " whether there was an objectively reasonable need to protect the police or the public from any immediate danger." State v. Ramirez, 178 Ariz. 116, 124, 871 P.2d 237, 245 (1994) (quoting United States v. Brady, 819 F.2d 884, 888 n.3 (9th Cir. 1987)).

[¶10] Here, the officers reasonably asked questions to assess what had occurred (particularly given their misimpression that Leteve had reported shooting one fifteen-year-old child), to determine the nature of the injuries to those present, and to identify any remaining threats. The only question that might be characterized as " designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect," Quarles, 467 U.S. at 659, was the police asking Leteve why he had committed the murders. Leteve, having himself introduced his response at trial, cannot object on appeal to its admission. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of Leteve's other statements to officers at his home.

B. Admissibility of Evidence of Leteve's Other Acts

[¶11] Leteve argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting other acts evidence under Arizona Rule of Evidence 404(b). That rule precludes evidence of " other crimes, wrongs, or acts" to prove the character of a defendant or " action in conformity therewith." Ariz. R. Evid. 404(b). Such evidence may be admissible, however, for other purposes, such as " proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident." Id. When other acts evidence is offered for a non-propensity purpose under Rule 404(b), it is also subject to Rule 402's relevance test, Rule 403's balancing test, and Rule 105's requirement that certain limiting jury instructions be given. State v. Ferrero, 229 Ariz. 239, 242 ¶ 12, 274 P.3d 509, 512 (2012).

[¶12] The trial court admitted evidence of Leteve's other acts to show Leteve's intent or motive. Leteve did not object to the admission of two notes he wrote to Laurie contemporaneously with the killings. In the first, Leteve predicted that " This should fuck you up for a good long time to come," and admonished that " none of this had to happen this way if you had made the effort." The

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second note, left at the scene of the shootings and signed by both Leteve and Alec, said " For everything you get in life, you must give something up. I wonder if you'll understand what ...

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