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Reams v. United States

April 6, 2006

WARNELL REAMS, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-4041-01) Hon. Rufus G. King, III, Trial Judge.

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

Argued February 1, 2006

Before FARRELL and GLICKMAN, Associate Judges, and KERN, Senior Judge.

A jury convicted appellant (hereafter "Reams") of first degree murder while armed, assault with intent to kill while armed, aggravated assault while armed, and related firearms offenses. The charges all arose from the June 11, 2001, shooting death of Shaun Williams and the shooting of Donte Jenkins, who survived. The government's theory was that Reams fired the shots at a group of young men from the Ivy City neighborhood who had fought with him some weeks earlier. One eyewitness saw Reams fire the shots over the top of a car while "sitting up" in the front passenger-side window. Three other witnesses, after hearing the shots, saw Reams seconds later likewise hanging out of the passenger window of the car; two of them saw him leaning over the top with a gun in his hand.

Reams's principal claim of error on appeal concerns the trial judge's exclusion of parts of a hearsay statement he had made to the police a couple of weeks after the shooting. The judge had permitted the government, through a police witness, to summarize a portion of the statement in which Reams denied having returned to Ivy City after the fight - the relevance of this, to the prosecution, being that Reams, a regular habitué of Ivy City in the past, had "exiled" himself from the neighborhood in anger over the fight until he in fact returned to exact revenge against his assailants. Reams argues, for two reasons, that the judge's refusal to admit other parts of his statement reasonably could have misled the jury into giving his remarks to the police inculpatory significance that, viewed in their entirety, they would not have had.

We conclude that, although the trial judge erred in not permitting Reams to introduce - under the doctrine of completeness - other relevant portions of his police statement, the error was not prejudicial enough to warrant reversal of his convictions, particularly in light of the strong eyewitness evidence of his guilt. As we reject his other assigned ground for reversal as well, we affirm.

I. The Evidence

Although Reams did not live in Ivy City, he regularly spent time there in the company of young men who lived there and with whom he was more or less friendly.

Some weeks before June 11, 2001, however, a fight broke out in the neighborhood between Reams and Vernon Gilchrist over some words used by Reams. After Reams knocked Gilchrist down, several others came to Gilchrist's aid, including Donte Jenkins, and punches were exchanged. After Reams was chased up the street, Shaun Williams broke up the fight and Reams left in his car, a white Crown Victoria. None of the three participants who testified - Jenkins, Gilchrist, and Michael Overby - saw Reams hang around Ivy City after the fight, although Overby saw him drive through a couple of times.

On June 11, 2001, Jenkins, Overby and others were playing dice on Capitol Avenue in the Ivy City neighborhood when they were joined by Williams. A car approached, and as it turned onto Capitol Avenue, Overby saw a "gun come out" and heard "bullets . . . flying past [his] head." Jenkins was shot several times, but recovered from the wounds; Williams was shot twice in the back and died from the injuries.

Westley Ashe, a fifty-year old neighborhood car mechanic, saw the shooting from his nearby car lot. Earlier that day he had seen a greenish or bluish Ford Taurus station wagon turn onto Capitol Avenue; Reams got out of the car momentarily and talked to someone, after which the car pulled down the street. A short time later, Ashe heard ten or more gunshots and saw someone "sitting up in [the station wagon] in the window[,] shooting" at others who were running. The gunfire came "from on top of the car, on the passenger side," and he recognized Reams as the shooter. Although Ashe could not see Reams's face, he "could see his whole back down through where his butt was like sitting in the window." He had known Reams for more than ten years,*fn1 and recognized him because "being around a person so long . . . you can look at them and you can tell it from, it's just from years of experience, of knowing him." Moreover, from where Ashe was standing he could see Reams from "the back and the full side . . . a little bit on the side because [Ashe] was on an angle." He recognized Reams as the shooter "due to the fact of [his] back[,] looking at him and knowing him so many years and the average person do[esn't] have a back that long."

Three other eyewitnesses corroborated Ashe's testimony. Aiesha Jackson, Tanosha Harris, and Dawn Blake were good friends who lived or spent time in Ivy City. They were all friends with Overby, Jenkins, Gilchrist, and Williams. Harris and Blake were also each friendly with or a "buddy" of Reams, and would see him in Ivy City nearly every day. Jackson testified that on June 11, after walking together to a nearby store, she and the other women were walking back up the street when they heard gunshots fired. After they paused and then resumed walking, she saw a blue Taurus station wagon drive by; Reams was hanging out and over the top of the car on the passenger side holding a gun. He was wearing a bandanna on his head (something Ashe had also noticed) and was looking back up the street as the car drove past. Jackson then saw Jenkins lying in the street and Williams lying in the bushes.

Tanosha Harris testified that for about a year before the shooting Reams would appear "like every other day" in Ivy City in a blue Ford Taurus station wagon. Earlier on the day of the shooting, she had seen him seated in the passenger side of that car. Later in the evening as the three women were returning from the store, she heard gunshots, and as the three "made a U-turn back in[to] Ivy City," she saw the blue Ford Taurus station wagon drive past with Reams hanging out of the passenger side holding a gun with two hands, wearing a bandanna and looking straight over the top of the car.

Dawn Blake too had known Reams from his frequent presence in Ivy City. He drove a blue Taurus station wagon that he told her he had bought at an auction. As she and the other two women were walking up the street from the store on June 11, she heard gunshots and saw the blue Ford Taurus come down the street. Reams was leaning "[h]alfway out" of the car on the passenger side, "trying to get back in the window," "scooting ...


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