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United States v. Owens

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 26, 2019

GREGORY OWENS, Defendant, Appellant.


          Sarah A. Churchill, with whom Nichols & Churchill, P.A., was on brief, for appellant.

          John M. Pellettieri, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, with whom Sangita K. Rao, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, John P. Cronan, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, Matthew S. Miner, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, Halsey B. Frank, United States Attorney, Darcie McElwee, Assistant United States Attorney, and James W. Chapman, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Thompson, Circuit Judges.


         This is a case about a double life, an attempted uxoricide, and excellent police work. Defendant-Appellant Gregory Owens ("Owens") was convicted of interstate domestic violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2261(a)(1) and (b)(2); and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii). He was sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, Owens challenges the sufficiency of evidence supporting his convictions, the reasonableness of his sentence, and the district court's denial of his pretrial motions seeking to suppress evidence and dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. After careful review, we find Owens's convictions supported by sufficient evidence, his sentence substantively reasonable, and the motions for suppression and dismissal properly denied. Seeing no reason to vacate Owens's convictions or sentence on the grounds that he has presented, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1. The Home Invasion

         In the early morning hours of December 18, 2014, at approximately 2:45 a.m., Carol Chabot ("Carol") awoke to a shuffling noise coming from the downstairs of her two-story house in Saco, Maine. Sensing something was not right, she woke her husband, Steve Chabot ("Steve"), who lay beside her. Steve, however, did not hear the noise but told Carol "it's probably Rachel" who caused the noise - with "Rachel" being Rachel Owens ("Rachel"), a family friend who was staying the night. Then Steve rolled over to go back to sleep. Undeterred, Carol got out of bed to investigate.

         As she walked down the upstairs hallway, toward the spare bedroom where Rachel was staying, Carol heard a second noise --this time the loud sound of glass shattering. With haste, she looked into the spare bedroom and noticed Rachel was sound asleep in bed. Steve also heard the loud noise and hurried out of bed to check what was going on. He peeked out of his bedroom towards the staircase and saw an intruder racing up the stairs with a gun in his right hand. The intruder, later identified as Owens, was approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall with a slim, athletic build; he wore dark clothing, gloves, and a black mask with a single opening at the eyes and glasses protruding from it.

         Steve shouted an expletive at the intruder and dashed back into the master bedroom. Carol, who did not see the intruder but saw a look of horror on her husband's face, ran into a third bedroom used as a home office and barricaded herself inside. The intruder followed her and tried to force his way into the room, but, after a few failed attempts, suddenly stopped. He then walked toward the room where Rachel lay and fired at her three times, hitting her in the head, arm, and torso.

         Having heard the gun shots, Steve peeked out of the master bedroom again. He saw the intruder about two feet away, heading towards him. They looked at each other face to face. Steve immediately slammed the door shut and held his arm against it. Undaunted, the intruder kicked the door in, looked inside through the now slightly-opened doorway, and fired shots through the door, striking Steve in the arm, neck, and rib area.[1] The intruder then abandoned the Chabot residence. He did not take any valuables with him.

         2. The Crime Scene

         In response to a 911 call from Steve Chabot received at 2:47 a.m., police arrived at the Chabot residence. During their investigation of the crime scene, officers learned that the intruder gained entry into the garage through a door located in the back of the house, and into the interior of the Chabot residence through a door located in the garage that led to the kitchen. The upper part of this garage door was double-paned glass, sectioned into nine squares by wood framing. The intruder broke the outer pane of the lower left square of glass, leaving glass shards scattered on the floor and separating the inner pane, which remained intact, from the door, thereby creating a gap that allowed the intruder to reach in and unlock the deadbolt. Officers retrieved human hair from the area between the shattered outer pane of glass and the inner pane of glass, and swabbed the area for DNA.

         Police officers also recovered numerous .9mm shell casings stamped "WCC 1987," later identified as 27-year-old Western Cartridge Company casings, from the second floor of the house.

         Finally, while inspecting the periphery of the Chabot residence, officers found a footprint in the damp dirt outside the first-floor window near the garage and proceeded to make a cast of it.

         3. Search, Intervention, and Interview

         At around 5:00 a.m., Maine police officers informed New Hampshire law enforcement of the shooting at the Chabot residence. Two New Hampshire police officers, Randy Dyer ("Officer Dyer") and Keith Lee ("Officer Lee"), were instructed to visit Owens's residence in the town of Londonderry to verify the presence of his two vehicles. They were, however, instructed not to make contact with Owens.

         At approximately 5:20 a.m., the two police officers arrived at Owens's neighborhood and parked their car at the beginning of Winthrop Road, the dead-end street where Owens's residence was located. Under the cover of darkness, they began heading down Winthrop Road toward the house. At around 5:24 a.m., before the officers could reach their destination, a state trooper patrol car with flashing blue lights drove near the Owens residence. Contemporaneously, a light visible from the house's front windows went off, making the inside of the house go dark. The officers stopped the trooper and instructed him to turn off the flashing lights. After this, the officers, now accompanied by the trooper, continued their approach towards the residence. With Officer Lee and the trooper providing cover, Officer Dyer eventually made his way into the driveway, where he placed his hand on Owens's Hyundai Santa Fe SUV ("Owens's vehicle") and noticed its hood and grill were warm.[2] The officers and trooper then retreated back down Winthrop Road to the staging area.

         Several minutes after arriving at the staging area, the officers saw Owens's vehicle exit Winthrop Road and proceeded to follow it. The vehicle stopped at a nearby Circle K store, where Owens got out. The officers approached Owens and told him that his wife had been shot. Owens acted surprised and complained of chest pains, after which the officers requested medical attention for him. While waiting for the medical personnel to arrive, the officers saw blood, a pair of boots with wet stains, and a computer hard drive inside Owens's vehicle. Owens agreed to go with the officers to the police station for a videotaped interview (the "police interview") after receiving medical assistance.

         During the police interview, Owens provided a detailed account of his night. Specifically, he explained, albeit with some variation, that, after speaking to his wife Rachel at around 9:15 p.m., he went to bed, but got up a few times to work on his computer on a proposal for a military consultancy contract with the Ukrainian government that was due the next day. In particular, Owens claimed that at around 2:30 a.m. -- fifteen minutes before the Chabot residence was broken into -- he sent an e-mail to one of his colleagues regarding a tweak to the proposal.

         Owens also admitted to leaving his home on multiple occasions throughout the course of the night and early morning: first, to Circle K at around 12:30 a.m. to get a soda and cigarettes; then, to Dunkin' Donuts between 4:15-4:45 a.m. to get coffee and donuts; and finally, to Circle K again at around 6:30 a.m. to grab another cup of coffee, at which point he came in contact with officers Dyer and Lee. Furthermore, he informed the interviewing officers that he was a military retiree and had what he described as an "arsenal" of weapons in his house. After collecting some evidence (e.g., DNA samples from his hands and mouth, clothes, etc.), the police released Owens from custody.

         4. The Double-Life and Motive

         To fully understand the motive behind Owens's crime, we must look back to the preceding decade. In 2005, Owens met Betsy Wandtke ("Wandtke"), a woman from Wisconsin, in a flight back from a hunters' rights convention, which they had both attended.[3] About three years later, their relationship turned into an affair. As the affair progressed, Owens and Wandtke began to spend more time together -- up to ten days a month. Owens considered Wandtke his "lover" and his "life." He represented to her that he was in the process of divorcing Rachel, which Wandtke was unable to independently confirm, given that it was not true. To partly explain his long absences when he was actually with Rachel in New Hampshire, Owens told Wandtke that his work as a military consultant required him to travel and take part in covert missions in places like Afghanistan.

         While the affair continued, in or about 2011, Rachel began to develop early-onset dementia. The responsibility of having to care for her burdened Owens, but did not deter him from continuing his affair with Wandtke. Then, on December 3, 2014, the affair came to an abrupt end. Due to an inadvertent call from Owens's mobile phone, Wandtke discovered that Owens was leading a double-life -- his marriage with Rachel continued in regular course. Wandtke confronted Owens about it and told him their relationship was over.[4] After a failed attempt to convince Wandtke that she misunderstood the conversation she overheard, Owens promised Wandtke he was going to make it up to her.

         A mere fifteen days after the breakup, the events at the Chabot residence unfolded. Furthermore, in the days following the shooting, Owens contacted Wandtke via e-mail and told her that he was being "targeted" because of his work and instructed her to "go dark" and not tell anyone about their relationship. Then, on December 31, 2014 -- thirteen days after the incident at the Chabot residence and with his wife still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head -- Owens unexpectedly arrived at Wandtke's doorstep with a limousine and roses. Owens and Wandtke celebrated New Year's Eve and spent time ...

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