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United States v. Parsons

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 7, 2020

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Michael Wayne Parsons Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: November 11, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Lincoln

          Before GRUENDER, KELLY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          ERICKSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Michael Parsons appeals after a jury found him guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, claiming that the the district court[1] erred by denying his Rule 29 motion for judgment of acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction. Because we find the evidence was sufficient to support Parson's conviction, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Parsons claims to be an ambassador and diplomat of the Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin) Nation, located in British Columbia, Canada. In 2009, Parsons was convicted of aggravated assault - a felony offense - in Tipton County, Tennessee. In January 2017, Parsons absconded while on pretrial release awaiting trial on new Tennessee state charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. A warrant was issued in Tennessee for his failure to appear.

         On January 11, 2017, Parsons piloted a small plane to the Arapahoe Airport located in Furnas County, Nebraska. It appears that Parsons was en route to the Tsilhqot'in Nation in Canada. That same day, law enforcement officers triangulated Parsons' cell phone activity to the area surrounding the Arapahoe Airport. Parsons elected to sleep in the airport overnight and was arrested at the airport the next morning by officers from several state and federal agencies. Because the law enforcement officers mistakenly believed that Parsons had arrived by motor vehicle, they did not impound or search Parsons' plane at the time of Parsons' arrest. It is undisputed that the plane remained in the hangar for approximately two months, and that several people had access to the plane during this time.

         On March 22, 2017, officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched the plane pursuant to a warrant and discovered an AR-15 style rifle, three fully-loaded 30-round magazines and additional ammunition. Items bearing Parsons' name, including an insurance application and a hangar receipt, were found near the gun. Parsons was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

         Parsons elected to proceed to trial pro se. The jury heard evidence related to the plane and its contents. The evidence included excerpts from three recorded jail calls made by Parsons prior to the search of the plane. During the recorded calls Parsons alluded to items (which he referred to as "gifts" and the "nation's items") that were left in the plane and that needed to be removed from the plane immediately.

         Law enforcement traced and testified about the provenance of the gun, showing an original purchase in Alabama in 2006 by Matthew Lovan. Lovan testified that he sold the gun to Parsons in 2008 and he never saw it again. Parsons himself testified that he purchased a gun from Lovan, and he admitted that the firearm found in the plane appeared to be the same gun that he purchased from Lovan. Notwithstanding this admission, Parsons claimed to have traded the gun to a friend who later passed away.

         After the government rested, Parsons moved for a judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, which the district court denied. Parsons was convicted, and the district court imposed a below-guidelines sentence of 84 months' imprisonment. Parsons now appeals, contending insufficiency of the evidence. He asserts the district court erred when it denied his Rule 29 motion. Parsons claims the evidence failed to establish he "knowingly" possessed a firearm because the airplane where the gun was found had been left unlocked and unattended before law enforcement officers found the gun.

         II. Discussion

         We review sufficiency of the evidence in a criminal case de novo, viewing the evidence "in the light most favorable to the government, resolving conflicts in the government's favor, and accepting all reasonable inferences that support the verdict." United States v. Morris, 723 F.3d 934, 938 (8th Cir. 2013) (quotation omitted). Reversal is warranted only when "no reasonable jury could find all the elements ...


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