For the second time this week, an Alaska appeals court has reversed the conviction of a man found guilty of murder — this time in a 2010 shooting at the Dimond Center mall in a dispute over stolen goods.
The three-judge panel on Thursday vacated the second-degree murder conviction of now 37-year-old Terence Clyde Gray, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2015 for shooting and killing Edwing Matos at the Anchorage mall five years earlier.
He was acquitted during the trial on additional charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and third-degree assault.
Gray’s defense argued during his trial that he had acted both in self-defense and in the “heat of passion” when he shot Matos, and the appeals panel found that the trial court had erred by refusing to instruct the jurors on how they should consider the “heat of passion” defense under the law during deliberations.
The “heat of passion” defense has three components, according to the appeals court’s opinion: The defendant was acting in the heat of passion, those strong emotions resulted from a “severe provocation” caused by the victim, and that a “reasonable person” facing the same circumstances would not have had time to cool off between the provocation and the killing.
“If a defendant presents ‘some evidence’ on each of these three elements, he is entitled to an instruction on heat of passion,” Judge Tracey Wollenberg wrote in the opinion.
The burden of presenting “some evidence” is, according to the opinion, “not a heavy one,” and the panel ultimately found that Gray’s defense met the bar.
The shooting arose from an apparent dispute between the two men that began in February 2010, when Matos’ home was burglarized, according to the opinion. One of the items stolen was a PlayStation video game console, which later turned up for sale on Craigslist. Gray was the seller.
Matos’ cousin bought the PlayStation back from Gray and returned it to Matos, who then arranged with Gray — possibly through threats, the defense argued — to have the rest of his belongings returned.
The two met inside the Dimond Center while Matos’ cousin watched from a distance. The two reportedly conversed “amicably” for a while before Gray pulled out a gun and shot Matos in the head and chest, killing him. He then turned the gun on Matos’ cousin and pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t fire, the opinion said.
Gray testified during trial that Matos had come to his house and threatened him the day before the shooting, and that he feared for his life when he met with Matos at the Dimond Center.
The court wrote in its opinion that prosecutors can either decide to retry Gray on the original second-degree murder charge or have the Superior Court enter an alternative conviction for manslaughter, which is the crime Gray would have been convicted on if the jury had decided in his favor on the “heat of passion” defense.
Gray also argued that the court had committed two additional errors during his trial, one relating to an argument made by the prosecution that the defendant found “improper,” and another relating to gun evidence the defense believed should not have been admitted. The appeals court rejected both of those claims.