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Donaldson v. United States

July 22, 2004

DUANE DONALDSON, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-1683-99). (Hon. Eugene N. Hamilton, Trial Judge).

Before Steadman, Farrell, and Washington, Associate Judges.

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

Argued May 27, 2004

Appellant, Duane Donaldson, appeals from his conviction for voluntary manslaughter, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-2405 (1981) (recodified as D.C. Code § 22-2105 (2001)).*fn1 He argues that the trial court committed two instructional errors by: (1) refusing to provide the jury a "criminal negligence" involuntary manslaughter instruction and (2) instructing the jury to consider involuntary manslaughter only after making "reasonable efforts" in its consideration of voluntary manslaughter.*fn2 We affirm.

I. Facts

A. The Altercation

Appellant spent the early evening of Friday, November 13, 1998, at his home, socializing and drinking with James Tenor and Lamont Reynolds, the decedent. After Mr. Tenor had departed, Mr. Reynolds made sexual advances toward appellant. Appellant rejected such advances, but Mr. Reynolds "touched [appellant's] crotch area several times." Appellant informed Mr. Reynolds that he was not gay, retrieved Mr. Reynolds' coat and began to walk him toward the door.

Later Mr. Tenor heard screaming outside his home, which was located on a street that intersected the street where appellant lived, about ten houses away from appellant's house. Once outside, Mr. Tenor saw Mr. Reynolds, covered with blood, slumped in a chair on the front porch. Mr. Tenor contacted emergency personnel. When the police arrived, Mr. Reynolds stated that "Wayne" had tried to kill him. Mr. Reynolds told officers that he had made sexual passes toward appellant because he believed appellant was gay, but appellant refused those advances and "punched him about the face and kicked him several times."

Police proceeded to appellant's residence and inquired whether he had been involved in an altercation. Appellant admitted to "striking [Mr. Reynolds] once and possibly pushing him to the ground" following Mr. Reynolds' sexual advances. Officer Juan Burford informed appellant that Mr. Reynolds' injuries appeared too severe to have resulted from a single punch. Appellant responded that the other injuries "probably happened from when he fell."*fn3

Neither appellant nor Mr. Reynolds indicated the precise location of the altercation. Officer Burford testified that he got the impression the altercation happened in appellant's basement as appellant was attempting to get Mr. Reynolds out of the house.*fn4 In contrast, Officer Robert Ingram, who interviewed appellant at the police precinct, testified, "it was [his] understanding [that the altercation] happened outside." Appellant told Officer Ingram that after several advances by Mr. Reynolds he "finally got Mr. Reynolds' coat and walked him out to the front, upstairs, out to the front of the house." Appellant then admitted to Ingram that he "punched [Mr. Reynolds] and he fell. . . [h]e punched him and he went to the ground."

B. The Medical Evidence

In the meantime, Mr. Reynolds was taken to the hospital. Dr. Mark Buchly testified that Mr. Reynolds presented evidence of "blunt injury to the face. . . [and] left side of the chest and back." He further noted that "his blood pressure was stable, he had an odor of alcohol on his breath,*fn5 he was complaining of severe pain and difficulty breathing." Mr. Reynolds told Dr. Buchly that he had been "punched several times in the face and kicked multiple times in the chest and back." Dr. Buchly testified that examinations including x-rays and CAT scans revealed swelling on the left side of the head and multiple rib fractures and an abrasion over his knee. He confirmed that the swelling was consistent with being punched in the head. During his examination Dr. Buchly discovered a hole in Mr. Reynolds' lung resulting from his fractured ribs, which required surgery. Over the next few days, Mr. Reynolds' ability to breathe deteriorated, and he was placed on a ventilator system. Mr. Reynolds then contracted a variety of infections, and after three weeks, his heart stopped. Despite resuscitation, he had no brain function and his family chose to discontinue treatment, resulting in his death.

Dr. Marie-Lydie Pierre-Louis opined that Mr. Reynolds' rib fractures could not have been inflicted with one punch. She doubted that a person's fists could cause such injuries, but indicated that even if Mr. Reynolds' injuries could result from a punch "you [would] need more than one anyhow to cause that." She opined that a kick or a stomp could cause such injury. On cross-examination, after being shown photographs of the concrete stairs leading to appellant's door, Dr. Pierre-Louis testified that if Mr. Reynolds had been "pushed with some force against the steps and he [had] fall[en], yes, that [could] cause the injury."

Dr. John Adams testified that Mr. Reynolds' rib injuries were consistent with being kicked. However, he acknowledged that, "[f]alling over an object could produce the same effect." In response to questioning regarding the stairs at appellant's home, Dr. Adams testified, "Especially a person who's intoxicated and therefore doesn't have normal protective reflexes I think it's entirely possible that if ...


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