APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, JUDITH E. RETCHIN, J. [721 A2d Page 939]
Before Terry, Steadman and Ruiz, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge:
Michael J. Edwards was indicted on counts of first degree murder while armed (premeditated); assault with intent to kill while armed; possession of a firearm during a crime of violence; and carrying a pistol without a license. *fn1 These charges arose from an incident in which Edwards fatally shot one man, and shot and wounded a second, upon their perceived discovery that Edwards and a friend were attempting to dupe the men by selling them soap rather than cocaine. Edwards argued that he acted in self-defense in shooting both victims, but the trial court instructed the jury that it was to consider a claim of self-defense only as to the fatal shooting of one of the victims. Edwards was convicted by the jury of voluntary manslaughter while armed, as a lesser-included offense of armed first degree murder; *fn1 assault with a dangerous weapon, as a lesser-included offense of armed assault with intent to kill; *fn1 possession of a firearm during a [721 A2d Page 940]
crime of violence; and carrying a pistol without a license.
Edwards appeals from these convictions, contending that several of the trial court's instructional and evidentiary rulings related to his claim of self-defense were in error. Specifically, Edwards claims that the trial court erred when it: 1) denied a self-defense jury instruction as to the non-fatal shooting; 2) instructed the jury to consider separately the threat Edwards perceived from each of the two shooting victims; 3) instructed the jury that Edwards could not claim self-defense if it found that he deliberately placed himself in a position he had reason to believe would provoke trouble; 4) excluded evidence of the assault victim's prior acts of violence which were unknown to Edwards at the time of the assault; and 5) failed to instruct the jury that it could consider the assault victim's prior acts of violence known to Edwards, and Edwards's opinions regarding the violent characters of both victims, in assessing the reasonableness of Edwards's fears for his own safety and in determining who was the aggressor. In addition, Edwards claims that the trial court erred by admitting evidence that the victims owed Edwards money from a previous drug sale, permitting the prosecutor to argue that this debt from a prior drug sale was Edwards's motive for the shooting, and failing to find explicitly that Edwards would not benefit from sentencing under the Youth Rehabilitation Act. Finding no merit in any of these arguments, we affirm.
Edwards's version of the facts of this case was presented to the jury in two forms: Edwards's confession, videotaped subsequent to his arrest, and his trial testimony. *fn2 Edwards admitted in his confession that he and his friend, Gary Martin, sold crack cocaine, and that on at least two previous occasions, Edwards had dealt drugs to William ("Show-time") Long for resale. Edwards recounted that on the night of the shootings, he and Martin plotted to recover forty dollars that Long owed them from a prior sale by delivering to Long soap instead of cocaine for resale to a buyer from West Virginia. Soon after Edwards returned from a restroom to Long's small room, where Martin, Long, A.W. Jackson, Jr., the West Virginian buyer and Long's teenage daughter were gathered, Long prepared to open the bags of fake cocaine onto a plate. Edwards stated that Long directed him to sit next to Jackson, and that upon rubbing the soap between his fingers, Long got a "frown" on his face, called for Jackson, and closed the door to the room. As Jackson placed his hand on Edwards's shoulder to push himself up and Edwards down, Edwards shot Jackson in the head. Edwards then saw Long lunge down from his seat and grab Edwards around his legs. Edwards shot almost straight down at Long, twice, before fleeing the room.
Edwards also stated in his confession that he was remembering Long's "tales of violence," which he took as a threat, at the time of the shooting. He explained that while he had never seen Jackson or Long with a gun, he understood that Jackson was "like Show-time's [Long's] bodyguard," and said that he had seen Long that night with a knife stuck between his pants and underwear. Edwards concluded the confession by stating that he "just felt like my life was in jeopardy," that he couldn't "wait and see," and that he "just reacted."
In his trial testimony, Edwards testified in greater detail about his relationship with Long and Jackson and the shootings. Edwards testified that he understood that Jackson carried a .357 magnum gun for protection. Edwards also testified that he and Martin had purchased a .380 magnum gun together. Edwards explained that just before the shootings, when Long frowned after touching the soap, Jackson first started to get up from the bed with both hands near his stomach, but then used his right hand to push off Edwards. Edwards said that at that moment, he realized for the first time that Long did not know that the bags contained soap — that Long "wasn't with the [721 A2d Page 941]
plan" to sell fake drugs to the West Virginian.
Edwards testified that he believed that Jackson was "reaching for a weapon," and that he thought he would have to "shoot [his] way out" of the room. Just before Edwards shot Jackson, he was struggling with Edwards, using both hands. Edwards explained that, at the moment he pulled the trigger, Jackson was no longer touching him at all, had no weapon in his hands, and was falling backwards onto the bed.
As to Long, Edwards testified that when he arrived at Long's building, he saw no knife in Long's waistband or anywhere else on Long's person. Edwards stated that after he shot Jackson, Long came towards him with both hands empty and extended. In Edwards's words, "[t]o be honest, I think I just turned and shot at him." When he fired a second shot at Long, Edwards said that he was standing directly above Long, who was "on his knees on the floor."
Edwards contends that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that it could consider Edwards's claim of self-defense only as to his actions against Jackson, and not regarding his shooting of Long. We must review the evidence in the light most favorable to Edwards to determine whether, as a matter of law, the record supports his theory of self-defense in the shooting of Long. See Brown v. United States, 619 A.2d 1180, 1182 (D.C. 1992).
An accused is entitled to a requested instruction on the defense theory of the case if there is any evidence fairly tending to bear upon the issue . . . however weak. But the trial judge may not give a self-defense instruction where the defendant, as a matter of law, has used excessive force.
Harper v. United States, 608 A.2d 152, 155 (D.C. 1992) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
In Harper, supra, this court laid out the requirements for entitlement to a self-defense instruction as a matter of law:
The right of self-defense is a law of necessity, arising only when the necessity begins, and equally ends with the necessity; and never must the necessity be greater than when the force employed defensively is deadly. There must have been a threat, actual or apparent, of the use of deadly force against the defender. The threat must have been unlawful and immediate. The defender must have believed that he [ ] was in imminent peril of death or serious bodily harm, and that his [ ] response was necessary to save himself [ ] therefrom. These beliefs must not only have been honestly entertained but also objectively reasonable in light of the surrounding circumstances. It is clear that no less than a concurrence of these elements will suffice.
Id. at 154-55 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Moreover, as was explained three-quarters of a century ago,
It is a well-settled rule that, before a person can avail himself of the plea of self-defense against the charge of homicide, he must do everything in his power, consistent with his safety, to avoid the danger and avoid the necessity of taking life. . . . In other words, no necessity for killing an ...