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State v. Cook

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

April 24, 2012

State of New Hampshire
v.
Grady Cook a/k/a SirGrady Law

The defendant, Grady Cook a/k/a SirGrady Law appeals his conviction for conspiracy to commit theft by unauthorized taking. He argues that the State failed to present sufficient evidence that he had the conscious object of stealing money from the victim. We affirm.

To prevail upon his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, the defendant must prove that no rational trier of fact, viewing all of the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the State, could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Ruggiero, 163 N.H. 129, 138 (2011). When the evidence is solely circumstantial, it must exclude all rational conclusions except guilt. Id. Under this standard, we still consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and examine each evidentiary item in context, not in isolation. Id.

"A person commits theft if he obtains or exercises unauthorized control over the property of another with a purpose to deprive him thereof." RSA 637:3 (2007). "A person is guilty of conspiracy if, with a purpose that a crime defined by statute be committed, he agrees with one or more persons to commit or cause the commission of such crime, and an overt act is committed by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy." RSA 629:3 (2007).

We briefly summarize the facts underlying this case. The victim posted an advertisement on the Internet seeking a roommate. He received a response from Cami Benson, who indicated that she lived in Detroit, Michigan but had recently obtained employment in New Hampshire. After several exchanges, they reached agreement on the terms of the tenancy. Benson then sent a check for $3000, an amount in excess of that required under their agreement. Several days later, Benson wrote again and asked that the victim return $2000 to cover her moving expenses. She asked that the check be sent to the defendant in Niagara Falls, New York. After the victim complied, he learned that the original $3000 check was fraudulent.

The defendant argues that because the State presented no evidence that he was aware of the content of the communications between his alleged co-conspirator, Benson, and the victim, it failed to prove that he knew of the criminality of Benson's acts. He contends that because he made no effort to hide his identity when he received and then forwarded the funds to Nigeria, the evidence does not exclude the rational conclusion that he did not know "that the transfers effected a theft from [the victim]"; rather, it is plausible that he might have understood that the funds were in payment of a debt "honestly owed to the principal."

We have previously observed that the "very essence [of conspiracy] is secrecy and concealment and the State [is] entitled to rely on inferences drawn from the course of conduct of the alleged conspirators." State v. Gilbert, 115 N.H. 665, 667 (1975) (citations and quotations omitted). To establish a prima facie case of conspiracy the State is not required to demonstrate an explicit agreement among the conspirators. Id. Rather a tacit understanding between the parties to cooperate in an illegal course of conduct will warrant a conviction for conspiracy. Id.

We will assume without deciding that, contrary to the State's argument on appeal but consistent with its position at trial, the evidence presented to establish the defendant's mental state was circumstantial. The evidence included: (1) the victim was originally contacted by Benson, who indicated that she lived in Detroit, Michigan; (2) the $3000 check arrived in a FedEx envelope that listed David Goyke of Auburn, Washington as the sender; (3) the check appeared to be drawn on a New Jersey corporate account; (4) when Benson wrote to ask that $2000 be returned, she directed the victim to send the money to the defendant in Niagara Falls; (5) the address provided for the defendant was a used car dealership; (6) the defendant received the $2000, sent $1840 of the proceeds to Nigeria, and after paying a service charge of $110.40, retained $49.60 for himself; and (7) when he sent the money to Nigeria, the defendant also identified a password that the recipient in Nigeria could use to obtain the funds.

Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we conclude that it excludes all rational conclusions except guilt. See State v. Lacasse, 153 N.H. 670, 672 (2006) (when assessing sufficiency of circumstantial evidence, proper analysis is not whether every possible conclusion has been excluded but rather whether other rational conclusions based on the evidence have been excluded). The evidence included that the defendant had possession of the victim's funds and no connection to the victim, and the victim had been directed to send the funds to the defendant at an address that was actually a used car lot. The jury could consider these factors in assessing the evidence. Cf. State v. Casey, 113 N.H. 19, 20 (1973); State v. Brown, 132 N.H. 321, 326 (1989) (in receipt of stolen property cases, the State is rarely able to prove by direct evidence that the defendant possessed requisite guilty knowledge; rather "the State may prove this essential element 'by any surrounding facts or circumstances from which such knowledge may be inferred'"); Barnes v. United States, 412 U.S. 837, 843 (1973) ("For centuries courts have instructed juries that an inference of guilty knowledge may be drawn from the fact of unexplained possession of stolen goods.").

Affirmed.

HICKS, CONBOY, and LYNN, JJ., ...


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