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01/31/91 JOICE E. RUSSELL v. UNITED STATES

January 31, 1991

JOICE E. RUSSELL, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Peter H. Wolf, Trial Judge

Rogers, Chief Judge. Ferren and Steadman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

Appellant appeals her convictions by a jury arising out of a murder and violation of the Bail Reform Act (BRA), D.C. Code § 23-1327 (a) (1989), *fn1 on the grounds that the trial Judge abused his discretion in refusing to sever appellant's trial from that of her codefendant, and to sever the Bail Reform Act charge. Appellant also contends that she was prejudiced by the Judge's instruction to the jury on the codefendant's absence from trial, by the improper admission of a photograph of the decedent, and because there was insufficient evidence of causation. We affirm.

I.

The grisly facts of the murder of William Jefferson, appellant's ex-boyfriend and a drug dealer, were related through the testimony of Denise Lewis, an eyewitness to the murder. According to Ms. Lewis, on August 30, 1986, she went to the decedent's apartment at 54 Galveston Street to purchase $50 worth of cocaine. Lewis performed oral sex in exchange for the cocaine, and she and the decedent then smoked cocaine for several hours.

During this time, Jefferson received three telephone calls. During the second call, Jefferson screamed to the person on the other end, "you owe me, you owe me, hell I'm not giving you shit," and later during the third phone call, he yelled, "you want to come over here and get this God-damn shit and you owe me money, God-damn it, come and get it."

Some time thereafter, appellant arrived at the apartment. Appellant asked Jefferson "where is the package," and Jefferson responded, "where is the money?" Appellant said that she did not have the money, but that there was a girl waiting in the car who was interested in purchasing the package, and that she would go to her car and bring back the customer with the money.

A few minutes later Lewis heard a knock on the door, and as Jefferson unlocked the door, appellant and her boyfriend, John Thacker, burst in. Thacker moved towards Jefferson yelling, "hold it right there, mother - - -, didn't I tell you don't - - with Joice." Lewis saw Thacker pull a knife out of a sheath, and Lewis fled to the kitchen. Appellant followed her and threatened Lewis with a knife, saying "where are you going bitch, I will kill you." After Lewis told appellant that she was scared, and she did not know Jefferson well, appellant put the knife away, and went back to the living room.

Lewis, watching from the kitchen, saw Thacker standing over Jefferson, who was lying on his back. Thacker asked appellant repeatedly, Where is it at?" Thacker then ordered appellant to ". . . gag his mouth." Lewis saw appellant putting something, possibly a spoon, into Jefferson's mouth

When appellant subsequently removed the object from Jefferson's mouth, Jefferson continued to protest that he did not have anything. Thacker told appellant that, "if you don't give it to me, I will slash your God-damn eyes out." Lewis then heard appellant say, "my face my face," and noises like there was fighting going on. She then saw Jefferson with slashes on his face, legs and chest stumbling toward the curtains. Thacker followed him, stabbed Jefferson repeatedly in the stomach, and Jefferson fell face down, apparently dead or dying.

While Thacker ransacked the apartment, appellant searched for cocaine, and found some traces of cocaine on the dining room table which she proceeded to smoke. Appellant asked Lewis if she knew where Jefferson hid the cocaine; Lewis said she did not know. After Thacker completed ransacking the apartment, appellant told Lewis to get ready to leave, pulled out her knife and told Lewis to remain calm. The three left the apartment and drove away in Thacker's van. Appellant told Lewis not to mention what she had seen in the apartment, and Thacker dropped Lewis off at an abandoned building.

Lewis also testified that she never saw Thacker threaten or in any way harm appellant. *fn2

Appellant testified that she had gone to Jefferson's apartment on the night of the murder, and was present when Thacker stabbed Jefferson. Her defense was duress, that Thacker forced her to participate, and innocent presence, that she did not give any assistance to Thacker. She related several occasions when Thacker had threatened her, claimed that she was afraid of him and that Thacker prevented her from leaving Jefferson's apartment. She denied that she had a knife, and that she had threatened Lewis with a knife. She claimed that she did not give any encouragement or assistance to Thacker, nor take anything from the apartment.

Appellant did not appear at her scheduled trial date, and was indicted under the Bail Reform Act. *fn3 The charges were consolidated and the trial Judge denied appellant's motions to sever the BRA count and also to sever her trial from that of Thacker, her codefendant. Appellant entered a conditional guilty plea on ...


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