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SAMS v. U.S.

December 10, 1998



Before Terry, Steadman, and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge:

[721 A2d Page 947]

Appellants Sams and Reid, along with two other defendants, were jointly charged with first-degree murder while armed *fn1 and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (PFCV). *fn1 Reid was charged in addition with three counts of obstruction of justice, *fn1 based on threats he made to a government witness. After a three-week trial, the jury found both appellants guilty of the lesser included offense of second-degree murder while armed, *fn1 and found Reid guilty of obstruction of justice as charged. Sams was found guilty of PFCV, but Reid was acquitted of that charge. *fn1

Both appellants contend on appeal that the trial court erred in the way in which it conducted the voir dire of the jury, particularly in not allowing them (or any of the [721 A2d Page 948]

other defendants) to exercise a peremptory challenge to the last juror placed in the jury box after the government had made its final peremptory strike. Reid claims in addition that certain language in the court's self-defense instruction was erroneous and prejudicial. Sams maintains that the obstruction of justice counts against Reid were improperly joined with the other counts, and that the joinder, even if it was permissible under Rule 8 of the Superior Court Criminal Rules, was so prejudicial to him as to require the court to grant a severance under Rule 14. We reject all of these arguments and affirm the convictions of both appellants.


A. The Government's Evidence

On August 18, 1992, appellant Reid was involved in an argument with the decedent, Arthur Ward, a resident of Fort Davis Street, Southeast. Michael Brown, who witnessed the incident, testified that the two men argued in the street near Ward's home, and that although Ward threatened Reid with a knife, neither man was injured.

The following day, August 19, Reid and Ward resumed their quarrel. Richard Hearne, who also lived in the neighborhood, saw Reid approach Ward and heard him demand an apology. Frances McCalop, who at the time was Reid's girl friend, heard Ward call Reid a "white boy" and tell him, "Don't be coming around here, this isn't your territory"; she too heard Reid demand an apology. Both Hearne and McCalop then saw Ward produce a knife and start to swing it at Reid. *fn2 In response, Reid threw a large bottle of soda at Ward and then ran across the street. As Reid fled, McCalop heard him tell Ward, "Stay right there. I'll be right back."

Reid ran around the corner to an area where a group of his friends, including appellant Sams, had gathered to wash their cars. Tracy Lee, a member of that group, testified that Reid said he had been stabbed by "a dude around the corner" (although in fact he had not been stabbed). Reid asked Marcus Boykin to take him back around the corner so that he could "get" his assailant. The men all piled into two cars and drove to Fort Davis Street. Along the way, they encountered Ms. McCalop. She testified that Reid invited her to come along and see what he was about to do, but she declined because she had to go home.

The two cars pulled up in front of Mr. Ward, and all the men got out and approached him. Four witnesses testified that Reid went over to Ward and hit him in the face; three stated that Ward did not have a weapon in his hand at the time (the fourth was not asked about a weapon). Two bystanders, Jeffrey Wiggins and Julia Davis, testified that they did not see Ward holding a knife at any point during the confrontation.

Sams and the rest of the group began to circle around Ward after Reid had struck him. Michael Brown said that Reid and Ward began to fight, and that Sams joined in by punching Ward. Richard Hearne and Tracy Lee testified that Ward responded by pulling a knife and attempting to cut Reid with it. Lee said that Reid grabbed Ward's arm and stabbed him in the neck while both were holding the knife. Reid then wrested the knife from Ward and began stabbing him repeatedly with it as he forced Ward to the ground.

According to Lee, Sams then pointed a gun at Ward and tried to shoot him, *fn3 but the gun would not fire. Tracy Lee and Michael Brown both testified that Sams then struck Ward once or twice in the head with the gun. Richard Hearne also said that he saw Sams strike Ward in the head once or twice, but with a black object that looked like a tire iron.

Wiggins, Brown, and Lee each testified that Reid stabbed Ward repeatedly as he lay on the ground. Richard Hearne said that several men in the group, including Sams, took turns stabbing Ward, but he could not [721 A2d Page 949]

be certain whether Reid was one of them. Julia Davis also saw Ward being stabbed while he was on the ground, but she could not say who did the stabbing. According to Hearne, the attack ended when Sams said "Let's go" to the rest of the group. After the men got into their cars, Jeffrey Wiggins saw Reid holding a bloody knife in his lap. *fn4

Later that day, Reid called Frances McCalop at her home and said that he thought he had killed Arthur Ward. Reid told McCalop that he had tried to speak to Ward, but that Ward had begun swinging a knife, which Reid took away from him. McCalop testified that Reid called her several times after that and instructed her not to talk to the police about his involvement in Ward's death. According to McCalop, Reid told her a day or two after the murder that if she said anything to the police about his involvement, "his boys [were] gonna fuck me up." She construed this as a threat that Reid's friends "would try to beat me up or something" and took it seriously. McCalop said that in another conversation with Reid in September, about a month later, "he said, if he got locked up, ...

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