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Grayton v. United States

February 03, 2000

JAMES O. GRAYTON, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE



Before Terry and Ruiz, Associate Judges, and Newman, Senior Judge.

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

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Robert I. Richter, Trial Judge)

Argued November 10, 1998

In the early morning hours of May 30, 1994, a bed in the apartment of Margaret Jenkins was set ablaze. Jenkins' estranged boy friend, appellant Grayton, was arrested and charged with second-degree burglary, *fn1 arson, *fn2 destruction of property, *fn3 and threats to injure another person. *fn4 After a jury trial, he was convicted on all counts. On appeal, Grayton claims that the trial court committed reversible error by restricting the scope of his cross-examination of Ms. Jenkins about her alleged prior drug use and by refusing to allow him to introduce extrinsic evidence of that drug use. Grayton also contends that the trial court erred in allowing the government to present evidence that he had been seen carrying a gasoline can shortly before the fire occurred and in permitting the government to cross-examine his parents about their knowledge of his whereabouts on the night of the fire. We reject all of these arguments and affirm the judgment of conviction.

I.

A. The Government's Evidence

Early in 1994 James Grayton became romantically involved with Margaret Jenkins. Sometime in February he moved into her two-bedroom basement apartment on Maryland Avenue, N.E., after she gave him a key to the front door. Their relationship, however, was a stormy one, marked by frequent quarreling. In mid-May, after a heated argument, Ms. Jenkins called the police and had Grayton evicted from her apartment.

At about 8:00 p.m. on May 29, Ms. Jenkins was walking home from work when she encountered Grayton on the street near her home. An argument ensued, and Jenkins threatened to call the police if Grayton did not leave her alone. Grayton left, but warned Jenkins that he would return.

Later that night, Ms. Jenkins and William Smith, her former boy friend, were confronted by Grayton when they returned to Jenkins' apartment after a trip to the liquor store. Grayton angrily accused Jenkins of kicking him out of her apartment so that she could get back together with Smith. He then shoved Jenkins and made a motion as if to hit her. Turning to Smith, he threatened to "fuck [Smith] up" and "kill [his] ass" if he did not leave Jenkins alone. When Jenkins walked across the street to a telephone booth in order to call the police, Grayton followed and grabbed the phone out of her hand. He said he would "fuck [them] both up if he [caught them] together again." Smith and Jenkins then went into a restaurant to call the police, but they were asked to leave after Grayton followed them in and acted "like he wanted to fight." Back outside, Grayton said, "I'm going around to get my boys and I'm going to fuck you up." He then departed.

Smith and Jenkins went back to Smith's apartment. They were sitting in the front yard, inside the gate that separated the yard from the sidewalk, having a drink with their friend Robin Anderson when Grayton returned and again confronted them. When Jenkins asked Smith to come inside with her while she changed clothes, Grayton warned, "If you go down there, it's going to be a burning bed. You mother fuckers will not come out of there alive." He also said, "I promised you I was going to give you the burning bed" *fn5 and "I promise you this, neither one of you mother fuckers will sleep in this house tonight, you can bet on that." Ms. Jenkins then went inside alone to change clothes. When she returned after a few minutes, Jenkins, Smith, and Anderson drove away in Smith's car.

Later that evening, at 11:02 p.m., Ms. Jenkins called 911 to complain about Grayton's harassment. During the call, Grayton stood directly behind her, warning her that she had "better not call the police." When half an hour passed with no response from the police, Jenkins called 911 again, at 11:32 p.m. This time she told the dispatcher that Grayton had chased her around the corner and that she wanted him removed from her house. Grayton remained in Jenkins' front yard, angrily shouting that "nobody [was] sleeping in that house that night, nobody." Forty-five minutes later, at 12:15 a.m., Ms. Jenkins called 911 for the third time. Hoping to increase the likelihood that the police would actually respond, she told the dispatcher that Grayton had guns and knives and had threatened to shoot her. Another half-hour passed, and still the police did not come. At 12:43 a.m. Jenkins once again called 911, this time from a phone booth on the corner. She told the dispatcher that Grayton was in her apartment and had locked her out, and that she was going to get a gun and kill him.

Shortly after 1:00 a.m. the police finally arrived. Jenkins told them she wanted Grayton out of her apartment. Before they would act on this request, they told her that she had to pack up the remainder of his belongings in order to prove to them that she was serious. Jenkins proceeded to gather up Grayton's belongings and place them outside. As she did so, Grayton declared, "I'll be back. This ain't going to stop me." The police escorted him outside the fence, warned him that he would be arrested if he re-entered the front yard, and then left.

Grayton proceeded to a nearby liquor store, where he met his friend Jason Postell. Grayton asked Postell whether he had a gasoline can. When Postell replied that he did not, Grayton said he was "going up the street to see if he could get one." Some time later, Ethan King, who lived across the street from Ms. Jenkins, saw Grayton walking through the neighborhood carrying what appeared to be a plastic gasoline can.

In the meantime, Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Smith went to an after-hours club for drinks, where they remained for about forty-five minutes. After they left the club and were walking near 14th and G Streets, N.E., a short distance from Jenkins' apartment, they both saw Grayton across the street, walking in the opposite direction. Jenkins grew nervous and began to run towards her apartment. She opened the door to find the apartment in flames. *fn6 Ms. Jenkins immediately ran across the street to find a phone and report the fire. This fifth and final 911 call was made at 3:30 a.m.

According to Adam Young, Jr., an investigator with the District of Columbia Fire Department, the fire originated in Jenkins' bed and burned for approximately thirty minutes. There was nothing to indicate that an accelerant had been used to start the fire, nor was there any evidence that the fire was the result of either smoking or drug use. Although both Smith and Jenkins were smokers, Smith never entered Jenkins' apartment that night, and Jenkins testified that she did not smoke inside the apartment. Detective Carl Webster, a fire investigator with the Metropolitan Police Arson Strike Team, also testified ...


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