SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appellate case of David Ingersoll, 50, Tuesday. On appeal, Ingersoll argued improper testimony offered during his case resulted in an unfair trial.
Ingersoll was accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl at Walmart in July 2019, court documents state. A jury found Ingersoll guilty of second degree sexual abuse of a minor after a four-day trial in March 2021, past reporting by The Sheridan Press indicates. During a May 2021 sentencing hearing, Ingersoll was sentenced to 16 to 20 years in prison.
Now appealing the verdict to the Wyoming Supreme Court, Ingersoll’s defense attorneys — the Chief Appellate Counsel for the Office of the State Public Defender Kirk A. Morgan and Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel Francis McVay — said testimony provided by several prosecution witnesses was inappropriate as it included statements vouching for other witness’ credibility or offered opinions on the guilt or innocence of the defendant, Ingersoll’s appellate brief states.
For example, Ingersoll argued several witnesses provided testimony implying the victim’s credibility or otherwise bolstering the allegations made by the victim, which is improper when those opinions decide the case for jurors, Ingersoll’s appellate brief said.
Similarly, Ingersoll argued testimony by the primary investigating officer in the case, Sheridan Police Department then-Sgt. James Hill, directly testified to the defendant’s guilt. Ingersoll asserted Hill’s testimony included a description of how sexual abusers often groom their victims and indicated Ingersoll groomed the victim in this case, implying Ingersoll is a sexual abuser. This statement, Ingersoll’s defense counsel asserted before the court, is about the ultimate issue in the case: Ingersoll’s guilt or innocence.
The problem with these statements is they invade the province of the jury, Ingersoll’s brief argued. Jurors alone are meant to determine the credibility of witnesses and the defendant’s ultimate guilt or innocence.
Ingersoll’s attorneys maintained the cumulative effect of this improper testimony resulted in an unfair trial and requested the district court’s judgment and sentence be reversed and remanded for a new trial.
In its response to Ingersoll’s appeal, the state asserted evidence presented at the trial did not include improper testimony on witness’ credibility or Ingersoll’s guilt. Instead, prosecutors argued the statements were proper fact or opinion testimony on issues relevant to the case.
Not all testimony that supports a witness’ credibility or leads to inferences about a defendant’s guilt is improper, the state argued in its appellate brief. The testimony in the Ingersoll trial did not violate the rule of law by explicitly vouching for the credibility of a witness or directly testifying to the defendant’s guilt, the state argued, and testimony that simply incidentally bolsters a witness’ credibility or explains why a witness’ interpretation of the evidence led to an inference of guilt is not improper.
In addition, the state argued the verdict in Ingersoll’s case was not unjustly affected by the pieces of testimony to which the defendant objected. The state’s trial brief asserts other pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution during Ingersoll’s trial — including photos, texts, social media posts and call logs between Ingersoll and the victim as well as an abundance of other evidence presented during the trial to which the defense did not object — would still have secured a guilty verdict.
“The state respectfully requests that this court affirm Ingersoll’s conviction in all respects,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Joshua Eames summarized on behalf of the state.
After oral arguments Tuesday afternoon, the Wyoming Supreme Court took the matter under advisement. The court will issue a written opinion on the case at a later date.