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Bennett v. United States

May 16, 2002


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-8546-94) (Hon. Lee F. Satterfield, Trial Judge)

Before Schwelb, Ruiz, and Washington, Associate Judges.

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

Argued January 29, 2002

On December 6, 1995, a jury convicted Jerry J. Bennett of first-degree murder while armed, D.C. Code §§ 22-2401 and -3202 (1996), *fn1 possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (PFCV), D.C. Code § 22-3204 (b) (1996), *fn2 and carrying a pistol without a license (CPWOL), D.C. Code § 22-3204 (a) (1996). *fn3 On March 5, 1999, Bennett filed a post-trial motion to vacate his conviction pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-110, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge denied Bennett's motion in a four-page written order.

Bennett filed timely appeals from his convictions and from the order denying his post-trial motion. These appeals were consolidated by order of this court. Bennett contends, inter alia, that the trial judge erred by permitting the redaction, from a principal prosecution witness' grand jury testimony which was provided to the defense pursuant to the Jencks Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3500, *fn4 of material tending to show that she had lied either to the police or to the grand jury with respect to another murder that she had allegedly observed. We agree and reverse.



A. Factual Background.

These appeals arise out of the murder of Garland Denney in the dark of the night on October 18, 1993. Denney was shot nine times in the head and once in the torso on the front steps of an apartment building in southeast Washington, D.C.

At trial, the government reconstructed the events leading to Denney's murder primarily through the testimony of three women who had purchased drugs from the men involved, and who had used drugs on the evening in question. The women were Delores Smith, Delores' daughter Bnyonka Nabinette, and Delores' niece Donna Smith. All three women considered themselves part of Denney's extended family. None of these witnesses provided any information to the police about the crime until months after the murder. In addition, the prosecution presented no physical evidence identifying the killer; the pistol used to shoot Denney was not recovered.

The prosecution's theory of the case was that Bennett murdered Denney in cold blood in retaliation for Denney's alleged role in an altercation between Bennett and Delores Smith, to whom Denney referred as his aunt. There was testimony that Bennett, Denney, and several other men spent the night of the murder talking and selling drugs in the area where police found Denney's body. Delores Smith, who lived nearby, testified that she had purchased crack cocaine from Denney earlier in the evening. When Ms. Smith approached Denney to make a second purchase, Bennett kicked her, knocking her money from her hand and causing her to fall. Bnyonka Nabinette testified that she subsequently heard Denney say to Bennett, "Don't put [your] feet on [my] aunt no goddamn more."

Ms. Nabinette also testified that, after this altercation, she overheard a conversation between Bennett and someone she called "Little Jay." Little Jay allegedly told Bennett to "leave that shit alone," and he warned Bennett that "you know if you do something to one of them, you're going to have to do something to all of them[.]" According to Ms. Nabinette, Bennett replied: "Fuck them niggers. I'll go down the whole soul train line and I'll kill all them bitch ass niggers." Ms. Nabinette understood Bennett's uncomplimentary characterization as a reference to her extended family.

Delores Smith testified that some time later that evening, while she was standing on the porch of her own building, she looked across to the neighboring porch and saw Bennett point a pistol at Denney. *fn5 She reported that she ducked inside her building for cover, and that she then heard a series of gun shots. A short time later, she looked out and saw Denney's dead body on the steps and Bennett "bending the curve" as he ran from the scene. Ms. Nabinette and Donna Smith also reported hearing gun shots. Donna Smith testified that she saw Bennett with a black handgun near the door of the apartment building after she heard the shots. All three witnesses were impeached with prior convictions and drug-related activities.

On December 6, 1995, the jury convicted Bennett of all three counts in the indictment. The judge sentenced Bennett to consecutive prison terms of from thirty years to life for first-degree murder and five to fifteen years for PFCV. Bennett also received a concurrent one-year sentence for CPWOL. Four and one-half years later, on May 5, 2000, Bennett's ยง 23-110 motion was denied. In ...

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