Closing argument provides an opportunity to draw a jury's attention to the evidence presented, but it does not give a prosecutor a right to present altered versions of admitted evidence to support the State's theory of a case, to present derogatory depictions of a defendant, or to express personal opinions on the defendant's guilt. Furthermore, Wash. R. Prof. Conduct 3.4(e) expressly prohibits a lawyer from vouching for any witness's credibility or stating a personal opinion on the guilt or innocence of an accused.
Defendant Odies Delandus Walker was charged as an accomplice to aggravated first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, first degree assault, first degree robbery, first degree solicitation to commit robbery, and first-degree conspiracy to commit robbery. For sentencing purposes, the State alleged that the murder, assault, and robbery were committed while armed with a deadly weapon. The prosecuting attorney used a PowerPoint presentation during closing argument where the presentation repeatedly expressed the prosecutor's personal opinion on the guilt of Walker. Walker was convicted and appealed.
Should Walker's convictions be reversed based upon the PowerPoint presentation the prosecuting attorney used during closing argument?
The state supreme court held that Walker's convictions were subject to reversal because the prosecution's slide presentation repeatedly expressed the prosecutor's personal opinion on guilt in violation of Wash. R. Prof. Conduct 3.4(e) and appealed to passion and prejudice, and their prejudicial effect could not have been cured by an objection. The court further ruled that the trial court's jury instructions properly stated the law on accomplice liability under Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.08.020(1),(4), (6) because the State introduced evidence that Walker contemporaneously participated in the crime via cellular phone, and in fact ordered the shooting, such that he could also have both premeditated and partially caused the death. Further, the court held that the lack of a unanimity instruction did not violate Walker's right to a unanimous jury verdict under Wash. Const. art. I, § 22 because the jury was not required to unanimously conclude as to the manner of participation.