IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
STATE OF WASHINGTON,
Penoyar, C.J. — A jury convicted Anthony Sakellis of second degree assault of Luis
Bernal and acquitted him of four other charges. He appeals his conviction, arguing that (1) the
trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury that it had to be unanimous as to the specific act
constituting the assault; (2) the prosecutor committed flagrant and ill-intentioned misconduct in
closing argument by employing a “fill-in-the-blank” argument that misstated the reasonable doubt
standard, and (3) his counsel committed ineffective assistance by failing to (a) propose a
unanimity instruction, and (b) object to the “fill-in-the-blank” argument and request a curative
instruction. Additionally, in a statement of additional grounds (SAG),1 Sakellis asserts that the
victim’s mother spoke to jurors and a witness and that the prosecutor committed perjury while
examining a witness. We affirm.
Sakellis and Bernal2 were friends.
They earned money by selling Sakellis’s stereo
equipment on eBay. They deposited the sale proceeds into a shared PayPal account.
Bernal also earned money by selling methamphetamine. Abel Contreras was Bernal’s
supplier. As of December 10, 2006, Bernal apparently owed Contreras several thousand dollars.
On the afternoon of December 11, 2006, violence broke out at Bernal’s apartment.
Sakellis and his friend Jonathan Mayhall were visiting Bernal at his apartment when Contreras,
Roman Atofau, and Kelly Kowalski arrived. At trial, Sakellis testified that he was on “[b]ad
terms” with Atofau because he believed that Atofau had robbed Sakellis’s girlfriend. Report of
Proceedings (RP) (Feb. 12, 2008) at 2336. At one point, Contreras placed his gun on the coffee
table in the living room. Several of the people present were seated on an L-shaped couch around
the coffee table. Atofau removed a gun from his sweatshirt pocket and showed it to the others.
Sakellis testified that he was scared that Atofau was about to rob or to shoot him. Sakellis
grabbed Contreras’s gun from the coffee table.
At trial, witnesses gave varying accounts of what happened next. Mayhall testified that
Sakellis pointed the gun at Bernal “very briefly” and said, “Remember, Homey, just don’t fuck me
off.” RP (Feb. 4, 2008) at 53. Kowalski testified that Sakellis held the gun to Bernal’s head and
yelled something about Bernal owing him money. Atofau testified that Sakellis pointed the gun at
At times, the record refers to the victim and various witnesses by their respective nicknames:
• Luis Bernal = “Taco” (victim)
• Abel Contreras = “Lalo” (convicted in separate trial of Bernal’s murder)
• Roman Atofau = “Rome” (witness)
• Jonathan Mayhall = “Lanky” (witness)
Bernal and said “I want my shit.” RP (Feb. 11, 2008) at 2170.
Sakellis equivocated about whether he pointed the gun at Bernal. On cross examination,
the following exchange occurred:
Now, your whole explanation to the jury today is you only armed yourself
with a gun because you felt your life was at risk, correct?
And the only reason you felt you were at risk is because of all these events
that you had described you knew about Roman, correct?
Yes, and of just what was happening in front of me.
Absolutely. So you have explained all of your actions, everything you did
that day, possessing a firearm when you know it’s a felony to do so?
Pointing a gun at two people when you recognized that that could be
RP (Feb. 12, 2008) at 2485-86. Later during the State’s cross-examination of Sakellis, this
You pointed the gun at [Bernal], correct?
Not pointed. Believe—I don’t even think it was a point.
The gun was directed at Taco, correct?
RP (Feb. 12, 2008) at 2515.
Although Sakellis equivocated about whether he pointed the gun at Bernal, he testified
that he hit Bernal in the face after he picked up the gun:
Earlier in his testimony, Sakellis explained that Atofau frequently robbed and assaulted people,
including drug dealers and people he contacted through Craigslist, Nickel Ads, and the Seattle
Before trial, Sakellis stipulated that he had been convicted of a “serious offense,” making his
possession of a firearm a felony under RCW 9.41.040(1)(a). Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 113-14.
As explained later, there was testimony that Sakellis also pointed the gun at Atofau.
[Y]ou can describe what it is that you did.
Then I looked to the right of me and Taco is right there, and then I went—
I hit him with my hand. I was like, hey, man don’t fuck me off. I went
straight back and Rome went like that. I said, don’t fuck me off.
I am going to stop you right there. You are describing that you reach back
and you hit Taco?
Okay. The gun was in your hands when you hit Taco?
Did the gun make contact with the face?
No, I don’t think so.
You can’t be certain if the gun made contact with his face or not?
But you know your hands did?
Okay. Are you claiming any justification for hitting Taco?
RP (Feb. 12, 2008) at 2392-94.
Other trial witnesses provided somewhat different accounts of Sakellis striking Bernal.
Atofau testified that Sakellis hit Bernal in the head with the gun, drawing blood, and told him,
“You fat mother fucker, you know what I could do to you?” RP (Feb. 11, 2008) at 2205.
Mayhall observed Sakellis “slightly backhand” Bernal in the face with his right hand, which was
holding the gun. RP (Feb. 4, 2008) at 59. Sakellis hit Bernal with enough force to “maybe give
you a bloody nose but not to break the nose.” RP (Feb. 4, 2008) at 60. Mayhall said Bernal
appeared injured because he was holding his nose, but Mayhall did not see any blood. Mayhall
could not determine whether the gun made contact with Bernal’s face. Kowalski testified that she
left the apartment after Sakellis aimed the gun at Bernal; thus, she provided no testimony about
Sakellis’s testimony suggested, by this phrase, he meant that Bernal should not use money from
their joint PayPal account to pay Contreras for Bernal’s outstanding drug debt.
Sakellis striking Bernal.
After hitting Bernal, Sakellis aimed the gun at Atofau. Sakellis told Atofau to put his gun
down. Contreras then took the gun out of Atofau’s hand.
After disarming Atofau, Contreras yelled something like, “You know why I didn’t get my
shit yesterday?” or “You know why I fucking didn’t re-up?” RP (Feb. 4, 2008) at 61; RP (Feb.
12, 2008) at 2395. Contreras then struck Bernal on the head with the gun with great force. The
gun discharged upon impact with Bernal’s head, sending a bullet into the wall. At that point,
everybody but Contreras and Bernal fled the apartment. Sakellis testified that only a few seconds
passed from the moment he took the gun from the coffee table until he fled the apartment.
After fleeing the apartment, Kowalski, Atofau, and Mayhall heard multiple gunshots from
inside the apartment. Bernal died from these gunshot wounds.8
The State charged Sakellis with second degree murder, second degree assault of Atofau,
first degree unlawful possession of a firearm, second degree assault of Bernal, and intimidating a
witness (Kowalski). Count X of the information alleged that Sakellis assaulted Bernal under
RCW 9A.36.021(1)(c), which states that it is second degree assault when a person “assaults
another with a deadly weapon.” The information did not allege that Sakellis assaulted Bernal
under any other subsection of the second degree assault statute.
As Mayhall explained, a “re-up” refers to a drug dealer’s receipt of a new supply of drugs.
Mayhall interpreted Contreras’s statement as blaming Bernal for preventing him from receiving a
new supply of drugs.
The State charged Contreras with first degree murder and other crimes. See State v. Contreras,
noted at 157 Wn. App. 1043, 2010 WL 3313402, at *2, review denied, 170 Wn.2d 1025 (2011).
Upon Sakellis’s motion, the trial court severed Sakellis’s and Contreras’s trials. The jury found
Contreras guilty as charged, and we affirmed Contreras’s convictions. Contreras, 2010 WL
3313402, at *3, *7.
Sakellis’s trial began on January 29, 2008 and spanned several days. In its opening
argument, the State told the jury:
[T]he evidence will show you that . . . the Defendant retrieved the gun
from a coffee table in this small congested apartment complex where Taco lived.
He armed himself with this chrome revolver as witnesses will describe it, and
immediately and abruptly approached Taco . . . and he struck him in the face so
severely with his handgun that he drew blood.
This is . . . the first step in this series of events where a gun, or violence,
has been introduced, and it’s been introduced by this man right here. You will
hear that the evidence will support the crime of assault in the second degree that
the State has charged the Defendant for striking Taco in the face with a handgun.
RP (Jan. 29, 2008) at 1322-23.
At trial, the witnesses testified consistent with the statement of facts above. Additionally,
Andrea Rideout, a friend of Bernal’s, testified that Sakellis called Bernal on his cell phone two
days before the murder. Rideout answered the call, and Sakellis asked to speak with Bernal.
Rideout responded that Bernal was sleeping, and Sakellis told her to wake him up. When Rideout
told Sakellis that she had been unable to rouse Bernal, Sakellis stated with anger, “I am going to
kill that fat fuck.” RP (Jan. 30, 2008) at 1569. Rideout assumed that Sakellis’s anger had to do
with money because he and Bernal were business partners. Knowing that Bernal owed other
people money, she offered to give $450 to Sakellis. He accepted the offer, and she paid him
through an intermediary.
Atofau also testified that he was in Bernal’s apartment the night before the murder.
Atofau overheard a telephone conversation between Sakellis and Bernal. Sakellis demanded
$10,000 in money orders from Bernal. Atofau also overheard Sakellis tell Bernal, “I will come
over there and tell him myself.” RP (Feb. 11, 2008) at 2191.
At the close of trial, the trial court instructed the jury that (1) a person commits second
degree assault “when he or an accomplice assaults another with a deadly weapon” (instruction 8);
and (2) a firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, is deadly weapon. Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 269;
accord RCW 9A.04.110(6) (defining “[d]eadly weapon”); RCW 9A.36.021(1)(c). The trial court
also provided the following assault instruction, which is modeled after the pattern instruction:
An assault is an intentional, touching, striking, or shooting of another
person, with unlawful force, that is harmful or offensive regardless of whether any
physical injury is done to the person. A touching, striking, or shooting is offensive,
if the touching, striking, or shooting would offend an ordinary person who is not
An assault is also an act, with unlawful force, done with intent to inflict
bodily injury upon another, tending, but failing to accomplish it and accompanied
with the apparent present ability to inflict the bodily injury if not prevented. It is
not necessary that bodily injury be inflicted.
An assault is also an act, with unlawful force, done with the intent to create
in another apprehension and fear of bodily injury, and which in fact creates in
another a reasonable apprehension and imminent fear of bodily injury even though
the actor did not actually intend to inflict bodily injury.
CP at 270; 11 Washington Practice: Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal 35.50, at 547
(3d ed. 2008). The trial court also provided the jury with (1) a self-defense instruction for the
second degree assault of Atofau, (2) a necessity defense instruction for unlawful firearm
possession, and (3) an inferior degree offense instruction (fourth degree assault) for the second
degree assault of Bernal.
In closing argument, the State explained to the jury that Sakellis assaulted Bernal by
pointing a gun at him and by hitting him with the gun:
The next count, Count X, . . . is uncontested. The Defendant assaulted
Luis with a gun. The Defendant told you, or he offered no explanation whatsoever
that while holding the gun, he backhanded Luis in the face, and that is an assault.
We know that he was armed with that gun when he backhanded Luis in the
Kelly, Lanky, Roman and the Defendant all told you that he was armed
with that gun when he backhanded and pointed the gun at Luis. . . . [A]ll of the
witnesses who observed that event indicated that the Defendant pointed the gun
first at Luis, and then turned it towards Roman Atofau. And then there was
apparently some movement at which point he backhanded Taco in the face, and
redirected the gun back to Luis.
There [were] really two assaults on Luis that night. We know that he
backhanded him and pistol whipped Luis, which is with a gun, and Lanky testified
to that. Rome testified to that, and the Defendant admitted to that. After that
event there has been various people describing how Taco reacted, and that he, in
fact, was bleeding from the injury.
We know it was a deadly weapon that he used in the commission of this
assault, and so the Defendant is guilty of assault in the Second Degree for
assaulting Luis on December 11th.
RP (Feb. 14, 2008) at 2825, 2827, 2829, 2833-34.
While making this argument, the State also showed the jury the following PowerPoint
slides to reiterate its argument that Sakellis assaulted Bernal by pointing a gun at him and by
hitting him with the gun:
Defendant pointed gun
at Luis and Rome = Assault 2
Instruction _ _
A person commits the crime of ASSAULT IN
THE SECOND DEGREE when he or an
accomplice assaults another with a deadly
Here, the prosecutor apparently meant to say “back to Atofau.”
(Assault on Luis)
Count X: Assault in the Second Degree (Luis Bernal)
Defendant assaulted Luis Bernal with a deadly
Defendant angry with Luis over money
Phone call days prior
“I’m going to kill that fat fuck!”
Phone call day of murder demanding
$10k in money orders
“I’ll come over there and tell
Defendant pointed gun at Luis
and argued about money
Defendant jumped up and
held gun to Taco’s head,
yelled something about
“You fat motherfucker,
you know what I could
do to you?”
“Don’t fuck me off”
Defendant assaulted Luis a second time
Back handed pistol whipped
Luis with gun
“I’m bleeding,” hand to face,
“No justification for hitting Taco”
LUIS WITH DEADLY WEAPON
CP at 242-43 (illustrations omitted).
In closing, the State explained how Sakellis had committed second degree murder:
The felony murder rule indicates the Defendant was an accomplice to
Lalo’s assault on Luis, and then Lalo murdered Luis during the immediate flight
from the assault, and that evidence is clear. And because of that evidence, the
Defendant is liable as an accomplice to murder.
RP (Feb. 14, 2008) at 2841. The State also showed PowerPoint slides to the jury that were
consistent with this argument.
The State discussed the reasonable doubt standard in its closing argument:
Reasonable doubt is defined in the jury instructions . . . I am not going to
read it to you word for word. It’s an instruction created by lawyers, and
sometimes not very helpful because it uses the words to define itself. A reasonable
doubt is one for which a reason exists, but it’s hard. That is helpful. It’s a doubt
for which you have an abiding belief no matter what. It doesn’t say—it says it’s
one for which a reason exists.
In order for you to say the Defendant is not guilty you have to ask yourself,
or answer this question. You have to say I have doubt the Defendant did this. For
you to find the Defendant not guilty you have to fill in that blank because to have a
reasonable doubt, it’s one for which a reason exist[s], and you should be able to
articulate the doubt which you have, nor does it say beyond any doubt, beyond a
shadow of a doubt, beyond a hundred percent certainty, or beyond all doubts.
RP (Feb. 14, 2008) at 2893-94. While discussing the reasonable doubt standard, the State
displayed the following PowerPoint slide:
WHAT IT SAYS
A doubt for which a reason exists
In order to find the defendant not guilty, you have to
“I doubt the defendant is guilty, and my reason is
And you have to fill in the blank
CP at 257.
The jury convicted Sakellis of the second degree assault of Bernal and acquitted him on all
other charges. Sakellis appeals his conviction.
Sakellis argues that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument by
employing a “fill-in-the-blank” argument that misstated the reasonable doubt standard. He further
asserts that the prosecutor’s use of the PowerPoint slide to illustrate the “fill-in-the blank”
argument constituted “especially egregious” misconduct because visual aids are “more memorable
for jurors” during deliberations. Appellant’s Br. at 38-39. We conclude that Sakellis’s argument
fails because he cannot demonstrate that he suffered an enduring and resulting prejudice from the
prosecutor’s “fill-in-the-blank” statement and PowerPoint presentation.
Before proceeding further, we pause to consider the continuing use of the term “waiver”
in cases where a defendant raises a claim of prosecutorial misconduct on appeal without having
objected to the alleged misconduct at trial. Several cases characterize the defendant’s failure to
object to the alleged misconduct at trial as a “waiver” of any error. See, e.g., State v. Thorgerson,
__ Wn.2d __, 258 P.3d 43, 46 (2011); State v. Fisher, 165 Wn.2d 727, 747, 202 P.3d 937
(2009); State v. Gregory, 158 Wn.2d 759, 841, 147 P.3d 1201 (2006). But reliance on the term
“waiver” in this context invites an overly simplistic analysis that is based on purely procedural
grounds. The proper analysis turns not on the mere fact of the defendant’s objection or lack
thereof but also on the existence, nature, and extent of any prejudice that results from the
prosecutor’s alleged misconduct. See State v. Emery, 161 Wn. App. 172, 196 n.7, 253 P.3d 413
(2011), review granted, No. 86033-5 (Wash. Sept. 26, 2011).
A defendant claiming prosecutorial misconduct on appeal must demonstrate that the
prosecutor’s conduct at trial was both improper and prejudicial. Fisher, 165 Wn.2d at 747. Once
a defendant has demonstrated that the prosecutor’s conduct was improper, we evaluate the
defendant’s claim of prejudice on the merits under two different standards of review depending on
whether the defendant objected at trial.
If the defendant objected to the misconduct, we determine whether the misconduct
resulted in prejudice that had a substantial likelihood of affecting the verdict. State v. Anderson,
153 Wn. App. 417, 427, 220 P.3d 1273 (2009) (citing State v. Reed, 102 Wn.2d 140, 145, 684
P.2d 699 (1984)), review denied, 170 Wn.2d 1002 (2010). If the misconduct did not result in
prejudice that had a substantial likelihood of affecting the verdict, our inquiry ends and the claim
fails. See, e.g., Anderson, 153 Wn. App. at 429 (defendant’s prosecutorial misconduct claim
failed on appeal when he objected to prosecutor’s misconduct at trial but failed to demonstrate
that the misconduct had a substantial likelihood of affecting the verdict).
Alternatively, if the defendant failed to object to the prosecutor’s misconduct at trial, we
apply a different level of scrutiny to ascertain whether the prosecutor’s misconduct was so
flagrant and ill-intentioned that it caused an “enduring and resulting prejudice” incurable by a jury
instruction. Gregory, 158 Wn.2d at 841 (quoting State v. Stenson, 132 Wn.2d 668, 719, 940
P.2d 1239 (1997)). This standard requires the defendant to establish that (1) the misconduct
resulted in prejudice that “had a substantial likelihood of affecting the jury verdict,” and (2) no
curative instruction would have obviated the prejudicial effect on the jury. Thorgerson, 258 P.3d
at 52; see also State v. Russell, 125 Wn.2d 24, 86, 882 P.2d 747 (1994) (a defendant cannot
demonstrate “enduring and resulting prejudice” without demonstrating “a substantial likelihood
that the alleged prosecutorial misconduct affected the verdict.”).
Neither of these standards involves “waiver,” which is the voluntary relinquishment of a
known right. See State v. Thang, 145 Wn.2d 630, 648, 41 P.3d 1159 (2002) (citing Black’s Law
Dictionary 1574 (7th ed. 1999)). When defense counsel fails to object to a prosecutor’s alleged
misconduct at trial, it cannot be said that the defendant has knowingly relinquished his or her right
to obtain a more favorable standard of review with regard to the resulting prosecutorial
misconduct claim on appeal. What can be said is that the defendant has failed to preserve his or
her right to obtain the more favorable standard of review by depriving the trial court of the
opportunity to correct the claimed error.
Thus, we urge the abandonment of the use of the term “waiver” when analyzing
prosecutorial misconduct claims. Instead, courts should simply apply the appropriate standard of
review depending on whether the defendant objected to the misconduct at trial. Reliance on the
concept of “waiver” can cause parties to believe, erroneously, that appellate courts will not
scrutinize the merits of a claim of prosecutorial misconduct when the defendant did not object to
the alleged misconduct at trial. This erroneous assumption may lead, in turn, to less rigorous
briefing and analysis of the claim’s merits by the parties on appeal.
We turn now to the threshold question of whether the prosecutor’s arguments here were
improper. We review the prosecutor’s comments during closing argument in the context of the
entire argument, the issues in the case, the evidence addressed in the argument, and the jury
instructions. State v. Dhaliwal, 150 Wn.2d 559, 578, 79 P.3d 432 (2003).
We have repeatedly held that the “fill-in-the-blank” argument is improper.
Johnson, 158 Wn. App. 677, 684-85, 243 P.3d 936 (2010), review denied, 171 Wn.2d 1013
(2011); State v. Venegas, 155 Wn. App. 507, 523-24, 228 P.3d 813, review denied, 170 Wn.2d
1003 (2010); Anderson, 153 Wn. App. at 431. As we have explained:
The jury need not engage in any such thought process. By implying that
the jury had to find a reason in order to find [the defendant] not guilty, the
prosecutor made it seem as though the jury had to find [the defendant] guilty
unless it could come up with a reason not to. Because we begin with a
presumption of innocence, this implication that the jury had an initial affirmative
duty to convict was improper. Furthermore, this argument implied that [the
defendant] was responsible for supplying such a reason to the jury in order to
Anderson, 153 Wn. App. at 431.
Despite the impropriety of the prosecutor’s “fill-in-the-blank” argument, however, Sakellis
cannot demonstrate an enduring and resulting prejudice because he cannot demonstrate a
substantial likelihood that the prosecutor’s “fill-in-the-blank” argument affected the jury’s guilty
verdict. See Thorgerson, 258 P.3d at 52. Here, the State had to prove that Sakellis assaulted
Bernal with a loaded or unloaded firearm. RCW 9A.36.021(1)(c); see also RCW 9A.04.110(6).
An “assault” includes, in relevant part, an unlawful touching (actual battery) and putting another
person in apprehension of harm. State v. Elmi, 166 Wn.2d 209, 215, 207 P.3d 439 (2009). Three
witnesses testified that Sakellis pointed the gun at Bernal or held it to his head.
Such an act
would have caused “apprehension and fear of bodily injury” on Bernal’s part.
CP at 270.
Additionally, Sakellis testified that he hit Bernal while the gun was in his hands, although his
testimony was not entirely clear as to whether he used his gun hand. Two witnesses—Atofau and
Mayhall—testified that Sakellis used his gun hand to hit Bernal, and Atofau specifically testified
that Sakellis struck Bernal with the gun. Taken together, this testimony is very strong evidence
that Sakellis unlawfully touched Bernal with a deadly weapon.
Because of the strength of the evidence that Sakellis assaulted Bernal with a deadly
weapon, there is not a substantial likelihood that the prosecutor’s “fill-in-the-blank” argument
affected the jury’s guilty verdict. Accordingly, because the “fill-in-the-blank” argument in this
case was not so flagrant and ill-intentioned as to cause an enduring and resulting prejudice,
Sakellis’s claim fails.
A majority of the panel having determined that only the foregoing portion of this opinion will
be printed in the Washington Appellate Reports and that the remainder shall be filed for public record
in accordance with RCW 2.06.040, it is so ordered.
Sakellis argues that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that it had to be
unanimous as to which of his acts constituted the second degree assault of Bernal. He contends
that three separate acts could have supported the second degree assault charge: (1) pointing the
gun at Bernal, (2) hitting Bernal in the face with his hand while holding the gun, and (3) acting as
an accomplice to Contreras’s blow to Bernal’s head. Because the State explained to the jury that
Sakellis assaulted Bernal by performing only the first two of these acts and because those two acts
were part of a “continuing course of conduct,” the trial court did not err by failing to provide a
Standard of Review
Because Sakellis raises the unanimity argument for the first time on appeal, we review his
claim for manifest constitutional error. RAP 2.5(a)(3).
Continuing Course of Conduct
A defendant may be convicted only when a unanimous jury concludes that the defendant
committed the criminal act charged in the information. State v. Kitchen, 110 Wn.2d 403, 409,
756 P.2d 105 (1988). When the State presents evidence of multiple acts of similar misconduct,
any one of which could form the basis of the count charged, the State must either elect which of
these acts it relies on for a conviction, or the trial court must instruct the jury that all 12 jurors
must agree that the State has proved the same underlying act beyond a reasonable doubt. State v.
Coleman, 159 Wn.2d 509, 511-12, 150 P.3d 1126 (2007); Kitchen, 110 Wn.2d at 409. This
ensures a unanimous verdict on one criminal act. Coleman, 159 Wn.2d at 512. Where there is
neither an election nor a unanimity instruction in a multiple acts case,1 a constitutional error
A “multiple acts” case such as this one should be distinguished from an “alternative means” case.
See, e.g., State v. Bobenhouse, 166 Wn.2d 881, 892-93, 214 P.3d 907 (2009). This is not an
“alternative means” case because the State alleged in the information that Sakellis assaulted
occurs. Coleman, 159 Wn.2d at 512; Kitchen, 110 Wn.2d at 409, 411.
But when the evidence that the State relies on for the charged crime indicates a
“continuing course of conduct” rather “several distinct acts,” neither an election nor a unanimity
instruction is required. See State v. Handran, 113 Wn.2d 11, 17, 775 P.2d 453 (1989) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (citing State v. Petrich, 101 Wn.2d 566, 571, 683 P.2d 173 (1984),
overruled in part on other grounds by Kitchen, 110 Wn.2d at 405-06). To determine whether
criminal conduct constitutes one continuing act, we evaluate the facts in a commonsense manner.
Handran, 113 Wn.2d at 17.
Handran is particularly instructive. There, a man climbed through the window of his exwife’s apartment and, while nude, kissed her as she slept. Handran, 113 Wn.2d at 12. She
demanded that he leave; instead, he pinned her down and struck her in the face. Handran, 113
Wn.2d at 12. The State charged him with first degree burglary. Handran, 113 Wn.2d at 12. On
appeal, Handran argued that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that it had to be
unanimous as to which act—the kiss or the strike to the face—constituted the assault underlying
the burglary charge. Handran, 113 Wn.2d at 17. Our Supreme Court rejected this argument:
Handran’s alleged criminal conduct occurred in one place during a short
period of time between the same aggressor and victim. Under a commonsense
evaluation of these facts, the actions evidence a continuing course of conduct to
secure sexual relations with his ex-wife, whether she consented or not, rather than
several distinct acts.
Handran, 113 Wn.2d at 17. Accordingly, the trial court did not error by failing to provide a
unanimity instruction. See Handran, 113 Wn.2d at 17.
Bernal “with a deadly weapon.” CP at 108; see also RCW 9A.36.021(1)(c). The State did not
allege that Sakellis assaulted Bernal under any other subsection of the second degree assault
Here, Sakellis testified that he picked up the gun from the coffee table and, seconds later,
hit Bernal in the face with his gun hand. Before hitting Bernal, three witnesses also saw him aim
the gun at Bernal. Although Sakellis disputed whether he aimed the gun at Bernal, we defer to
the fact finder on issues of witness credibility.11 State v. Drum, 168 Wn.2d 23, 35, 225 P.3d 237
(2010). Sakellis explained that his purpose for striking Bernal was to prevent Bernal from giving
Contreras money from their shared PayPal account. Like the ex-husband’s acts in Handran,
Sakellis’s two discrete acts—aiming the gun at Bernal and hitting Bernal—occurred “in one place
during a short period of time between the same aggressor and victim” and involved the same
See Handran, 113 Wn.2d at 17.
Accordingly, because these acts constituted a
“continuing course of conduct,” a unanimity instruction was not required.
Sakellis does not appear to dispute the above analysis. Rather, he argues that “the
separate conduct by [Contreras] of hitting [Bernal] in the head, to which Sakellis was allegedly an
accomplice, could not be seen as part of that offense.” Appellant’s Br. at 32. As he correctly
observes, trial testimony suggests that Contreras’s purpose for striking Bernal—to punish Bernal
for preventing Contreras from acquiring more drugs—was different than Sakellis’s purpose for
aiming a gun at and striking Bernal.
Sakellis’s attempt to link Contreras’s assault to Sakellis’s two acts in order to undermine
the “continuing course of conduct” analysis is unpersuasive. Here, the State consistently stated
throughout opening and closing arguments that it relied only on Sakellis’s two voluntary acts,
rather than a theory of accomplice liability, to support the charge that Sakellis committed second
The fact that the jury found Sakellis more credible that Kowalski and Atofau with regard to the
other charged crimes does not mean, as Sakellis suggests, that we should decline to defer to the
jury’s credibility determinations regarding the assault of Bernal.
degree assault against Bernal. The PowerPoint slides from closing argument also indicate that the
State relied only on Sakellis’s two voluntary acts to support the assault charge. The State
explained to the jury that it relied on accomplice liability only for the second degree murder
charge. Because Sakellis cannot demonstrate that the trial court committed an error by failing to
provide a unanimity instruction, he fails to show manifest constitutional error.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Sakellis argues that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to (1) request a
unanimity instruction and (2) object to the “fill-in-the-blank” argument and request a curative
instruction. This argument fails.
The federal and state constitutions guarantee the effective assistance of counsel. See U.S.
Const. amend VI; Wash. Const. art. I, § 22; Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686, 104 S.
Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984); State v. Hendrickson, 129 Wn.2d 61, 77, 917 P.2d 563
(1996). To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must overcome a strong
presumption that counsel was effective by demonstrating that (1) counsel’s performance was
deficient by an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced
him. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-89.
As we explain in section I, Sakellis was not entitled to a unanimity instruction.
Accordingly, his counsel did not perform deficiently by failing to request one. As we explain in
section II, Sakellis did not suffer prejudice from the prosecutor’s improper “fill-in-the-blank”
argument. Therefore, even if his counsel performed deficiently by failing to object and request a
curative instruction, his argument fails under Strickland’s prejudice prong.
Statement of Additional Grounds
In his SAG, Sakellis states that Bernal’s mother, who was a witness, “spoke to . . . jury
members.” SAG at 1. Communications by or with jurors may constitute misconduct; the party
asserting juror misconduct bears the burden of showing that it occurred. State v. Kell, 101 Wn.
App. 619, 621, 5 P.3d 47 (2000); State v. Murphy, 44 Wn. App. 290, 296, 721 P.2d 30 (1986).
Although Sakellis does not have to cite to the record in his SAG, he must inform us of the “nature
and occurrence of alleged errors.” RAP 10.10(c). We are not obligated to search the record in
support of an appellant’s SAG claims.
Here, Sakellis has not adequately
identified the nature and occurrence of this alleged error because he has not explained when the
communication happened or how the contents of the communication constituted misconduct.
Therefore, we are unable to address Sakellis’s argument.12
In his SAG, Sakellis also states that Bernal’s mother “spoke to witness Roman [Atofau]
before he got on the stand & was brought to court’s attent[ion].” SAG at 1. Atofau was present
in court on February 5, 6, and 11; the transcripts from these days do not include an on-record
discussion about a conversation between Bernal’s mother and Atofau. Because Sakellis relies on
matters outside the record, we cannot review his claim; a personal restraint petition is Sakellis’s
remedy for this alleged error. State v. McFarland, 127 Wn.2d 322, 338, 899 P.2d 1251 (1995).
Finally, Sakellis argues that the prosecutor committed perjury13 while examining Mayhall.
SAG at 1. Sakellis appears to be referring to the prosecutor’s statements during a colloquy that
occurred on redirect examination.
The State sought to ask Mayhall whether Sakellis ever
To the extent that Sakellis relies on matters outside the record, a personal restraint petition is
the appropriate means to raise such issues. State v. McFarland, 127 Wn.2d 322, 338, 899 P.2d
Perjury is a knowingly false statement under oath. See RCW 9A.72.020.
requested that Mayhall “change his story” about the events of December 11. RP (Feb. 4, 2008) at
135. The defense objected and asked for a hearing outside the jury’s presence. The defense then
stated, “[The prosecutor] told me earlier today that he had learned [that Sakellis had asked
Mayhall to change his story] for the first time this morning and was not planning on going into it
RP (Feb. 4, 2008) at 135.
The prosecutor responded that defense counsel’s
characterization was “an inaccurate description of what occurred.” RP (Feb. 4, 2008) at 135.
The prosecutor clarified that he had learned specific details about Sakellis’s request to Mayhall
that morning; specifically, he learned for the first time that Sakellis told Mayhall to say that
Sakellis was holding a remote control, not a gun, in Bernal’s apartment on the day of the incident.
Sakellis presents no evidence whatsoever that this clarification was a knowing false statement to
the trial court. Accordingly, this argument fails.
Van Deren, J.