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Williams v. United States

August 22, 2002


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-195-99) (Hon. Harold L. Cushenberry, Jr., Trial Judge)

Before Terry and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

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

Argued May 23, 2001

Appellant was convicted of malicious destruction of property, second-degree burglary, and first-degree theft. *fn1 His principal contention on appeal is that the trial court improperly precluded his counsel from arguing to the jury that the government had failed to introduce evidence of blood at the scene of the crime. In addition, he argues that the court inappropriately restricted his counsel from fully cross-examining a government witness, and that the court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on the first-degree theft charge. We find no merit in these arguments, and thus we affirm the judgment of conviction.


In late July 1998, Peter and Tina May were out of town on vacation. In their absence they had asked their next-door neighbor, Mark Johnson, to "keep an eye on their house." On Sunday, July 26, Mr. Johnson was in his back yard when he noticed that the Mays' back screen door was open. When he investigated further, he found that the screen door was torn, that the back door to the Mays' house was wide open, and that there was broken glass on the floor just inside the door. Believing that the Mays had been "robbed," Mr. Johnson asked his wife to call the police while he waited outside the Mays' house.

Police responding to Mrs. Johnson's call included Officer Billy Allen and a crime scene search officer. The officers discovered that the screen door had been opened by force and that there was some damage to the door frame. Officer Allen testified that a glass pane in the back door close to the doorknob had been broken, indicating that someone had broken the glass in order to open the door from the inside. An air conditioner had been removed from the window next to the back door. Upon entering the Mays' house, Officer Allen found the living room disheveled and several indications that electronic equipment was missing. In an upstairs bedroom, dresser drawers had been disturbed and emptied. There was also some damage to the area around a bedroom window, which led the officers to conclude that someone had attempted, without success, to remove an air conditioner from that window.

Later that day the Mays returned from their week-long vacation and learned of the burglary. They went through the house and noted that several of their possessions were missing, including a television set, three pieces of stereo equipment, an air conditioner, a microwave oven, a vacuum cleaner, some fans, an alarm clock, some of Mrs. May's jewelry, and a telephone with a built-in answering machine. *fn2

The Mays had several conversations about the burglary with appellant, who lived across the street. The first such conversation took place while Mr. May was unloading his car. Appellant told Mr. May that if he and his wife "ever [found] out who did it, he would take care of them, or something like that." At that point Mr. May had not even discussed the burglary with appellant, and appellant did not reveal how he had learned about it.

That same afternoon Mr. and Mrs. May canvassed the neighborhood to ask if anyone had information about the burglary. When Mrs. May approached appellant on his front steps, he expressed concern about the burglary and offered to help. Mrs. May could not recall whether she had informed appellant of the burglary before he made these comments.

About an hour later, Mr. May had a second conversation with appellant. When appellant asked Mr. May whether he was missing any stereo equipment, "sort of an old fashioned kind with a silver face," Mr. May realized that this matched the description of his missing stereo. Appellant explained to Mr. May that he had been offered such a stereo by an unidentified man and had nearly bought it, but then changed his mind. Mr. May asked appellant to let him know if he learned anything else about the burglary, adding that he was particularly concerned about his wife's missing jewelry, some of which had great sentimental value.

The following evening appellant went to the Mays' house to ask whether they were missing a microwave oven. When Mrs. May said that their microwave had been stolen, appellant returned within ten minutes carrying the Mays' microwave in a suitcase that had also been stolen. Appellant claimed that he had bought these items for fifteen dollars from a woman named Yolanda. Mrs. May believed that appellant expected payment for the returned items, but, suspecting that he might have been involved in the burglary, offered to compensate him at a later date, "once all this was sorted out."

A few more days passed before appellant again approached Mr. May. This time he said he had obtained some jewelry which, he thought, might have been stolen from Mrs. May. All of the items presented by appellant belonged to Mrs. May, although numerous other pieces of jewelry still remained missing. Once again, appellant claimed that he had bought the jewelry from Yolanda, who lived in a nearby apartment.

Appellant's uncle, Vernon Lawson, a long-time neighbor and friend to Mr. and Mrs. May, approached the Mays about a week after they returned from their vacation. He asked whether their stereo equipment had been stolen. When Mrs. May said that it had, he replied that appellant had recently sold him some stereo equipment and that he would bring it to the Mays' house. Later that day Mr. Lawson delivered to Mr. May his missing stereo receiver and cassette player. *fn3

The government's final witness was Hazel Williams, appellant's mother. Mrs. Williams, who was living with her son at the time of the burglary, recalled seeing him carrying a stereo into the house. When she asked him where he had obtained it, he replied that it was a gift from a friend. However, after Mrs. Williams heard about the burglary, she confronted her son, and he confessed to her that he had stolen it. He told her that an accomplice had broken into the Mays' house and then passed him items from inside the house while he stood outside. When he saw the stereo equipment, however, he decided to retrieve it himself. Finally, Mrs. Williams said that appellant told her that he had sold the microwave to a woman, but that he was trying to retrieve it from her so that he could return it to Mrs. May. *fn4

Appellant presented two witnesses, both of whom testified about injuries that appellant suffered on the morning of Saturday, July 25, the day before the burglary. Mrs. Williams stated that she sent her son to the hospital with cuts on his hand and leg. Dr. Keith Sanders, a trauma surgeon at District of Columbia General Hospital, testified that he treated appellant for lacerations to his hand and leg, which appellant said were stab wounds. The doctor acknowledged, however, that such lacerations could have been caused by broken glass. Dr. Sanders stated that appellant's injuries, whatever their cause, were "relatively superficial" and must have occurred "shortly" before appellant came to the hospital.


Appellant's principal contention on appeal is that the trial court improperly denied his counsel the right to argue to the jury that the government had failed to show, despite injuries suffered by appellant at around the same time as the burglary, that there was blood at the scene of the crime. This contention not only misperceives the court's ruling, but also fails to distinguish the facts of this case from those in Greer v. United States, 697 A.2d 1207 (D.C. 1997), upon which ...

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