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September 11, 1991


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Gladys Kessler, Trial Judge

Steadman and Schwelb, Associate Judges, and Kern, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman

This case involves a killing that occurred after two months of controversy between drug dealers over an unpaid debt. The principal issue on appeal concerns the trial court's ruling on the extent to which the events leading to the killing could be aired before the jury, and specifically whether that ruling was in harmony with our line of cases beginning with Drew v. United States, 118 U.S. App. D.C. 11, 331 F.2d 85 (1964), limiting the use of evidence of "other crimes." Also challenged is the trial court's denial of a severance motion. We find no error *fn1 and affirm.

I: The Facts

The two appellants were convicted in a joint jury trial of premeditated first-degree murder while armed. *fn2 The decedent was Bernard Smith, who was shot by appellant James Johnson on a street corner the evening of January 16, 1988, immediately following a heated conversation between Smith and appellant Bullock.

Counsel for all parties and the trial court engaged in an extensive pretrial colloquy as to the extent to which the government could introduce evidence of the drug-related events leading to the killing. The trial court ruled that evidence could be admitted relating to the original drug transaction giving rise to the debt and to the demands for payment, but that no evidence could be presented that Bullock led a drug distribution organization or about the general rules of that organization, nor that Johnson was Bullock's lieutenant and enforcer.

Pursuant to this ruling, the following events were presented to the jury. In November of 1987, in a drug establishment called "Penny's," as Bullock stood by, Johnson handed "ten-packs" of heroin to Smith and the witness, Lenora Cole, to sell on the streets. Thereafter, *fn3 Smith sold heroin from a "ten-pack" to an acquaintance, Donald Fields, at the same time indicating to Fields a fear of Bullock - who was standing nearby during the transaction - and a desire to leave the drug-selling area without completing the sale of all of his drugs.

During the next two to three weeks, Bullock approached Fields and Cole on a daily basis, inquiring about Smith's whereabouts and mentioning that Smith owed him money. Bullock made increasingly hostile demands of Fields to relay his request for money to Smith until, on January 15, 1988, the day before the killing, Bullock told Fields that he was "tired of talking," that he wanted his money from Smith, and that Fields must transmit his demands to Smith. As Fields put it, Bullock's demands "went from I want to see him to tell him I don't have any rap for him, I want my money."

On January 16, 1988, the day of the murder, Fields told Smith about Bullock's demands. About an hour later Bullock arrived at 11th and O Streets where Smith was stationed. Bullock was with Cole, from whom he was also seeking money owed him from the sale of drugs. On the way to 11th and O, Bullock had asked Cole whether she had seen Smith, but she had lied and answered no. Just at that moment she saw Smith as she and Bullock neared the intersection, and they headed straight for him. As they approached Smith, Bullock ordered Cole to go around the block, find Johnson, and tell him to bring Bullock "his stuff." Cole left to do so.

Zanton Brown testified that just before the murder, Bullock had threatened her (Brown) while he had his hand on a pistol in his belt. He told her to move on or else he would "kill ass, too." Frightened, Brown hastened away from the area. Linda Young stated that she heard Bullock threaten both Brown and Smith, demanding his money from Smith. According to Young, Bullock said to Smith: "He [presumably Fields] told me you was going to string me out. He said that but the time for talk is over now, man."

Cole returned to inform Bullock that she had seen Johnson, but that he could not get the "stuff" because "the dude wasn't there." Bullock, angered, ordered Cole to go back and bring Johnson to him, but she refused and went across the street to a liquor store. Meanwhile, Brenda Coates approached Smith and Bullock intending to buy drugs from Smith, and heard Bullock demanding from Smith his "damn money" because Smith had "told the previous week that he would pay him and he hadn't paid him. . . ." Bullock yelled at her to leave him and Smith alone, and Coates went across the street to stand in front of the liquor store. Coates, Young, Brown, Cole, and Fields all testified that they could hear Bullock yelling at Smith.

Coates testified that when she was over near Bullock, she had seen Johnson at the corner of 11th and O standing near the wall of a television shop. Fields, in an alley off 11th Street, stated that he also saw Johnson standing nearby during the altercation between Bullock and Smith. Fields testified that after Bullock threatened Smith, he saw Smith turn and begin to walk away from Bullock. As Smith turned, Johnson, the gunman, told Bullock to "step back." Fields saw Bullock step back and raise his arm above his head. Johnson pulled a gun "from his coat" and fired at Smith, who flinched, turned back toward Bullock, and fell on the ground.

Johnson walked quickly away with his gun in hand. Bullock also walked off the way he had come, down O Street. Cole went to Smith's aid and saw that he had been shot. She stated that when she saw Bullock a few days later, he castigated her for coming to Smith's aid after the shooting. A few days after the murder, Fields saw a .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver in ...

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