Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (M-15129-00) (Hon. Zoe A. Bush, Trial Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Senior Judge
Before RUIZ and GLICKMAN, Associate Judges, and TERRY, Senior Judge.*fn1
After a non-jury trial, appellant was convicted of malicious destruction of property. His only contention on appeal is that the trial court erroneously admitted evidence of two prior assaults on the complaining witness, who was his former girl friend. We conclude that the trial court erred, but that the error was harmless; accordingly, we affirm the conviction.
Lena Mobley testified that on October 23, 2000, she was in her home on N Street, Northwest, when she heard knocking at the door. When she asked who was knocking, a voice replied, "Oliver." Ms. Mobley looked through the peephole in the door and recognized appellant, with whom she had previously had a romantic relationship.*fn2 She told him to go away, but he continued knocking. Ms. Mobley ignored the knocking and went upstairs to her bedroom.
A few minutes later, Ms. Mobley heard a crashing sound in the basement, and then someone knocked on her bedroom door. It was appellant, who kept saying, "Open the door, open the door." When the knocking continued for "five or ten minutes," Ms. Mobley called the police. Soon thereafter Ms. Mobley heard footsteps retreating down the stairs and out the front door. After appellant left, Ms. Mobley went down to the basement to see what had happened. She discovered that a window had been "pushed out and broken." She estimated the damage at $75 to $100, but that was only her personal guess, since at the time of trial she had not yet had the window repaired.*fn3
Appellant denied being at Ms. Mobley's house on October 23. He said that the house had been abandoned before Ms. Mobley moved back into it in 2000,*fn4 and that "a lot of drug addicts were using [it] to do their thing . . . ."*fn5 He also stated that the house had "gates torn out, steps broken, [and] doors lopsided," though he did not know whether the basement window was broken prior to October 23.
On cross-examination of Ms. Mobley, defense counsel tried to elicit testimony about rent money which Ms. Mobley allegedly owed to appellant and about the couple's eventual eviction from a previous apartment. The defense theory was that Ms. Mobley fabricated the instant charges against appellant as a result of their disagreement over whether she owed him money. However, when counsel sought to show that Ms. Mobley was biased against appellant because of this dispute, which ultimately ended in the couple's separation, Ms. Mobley testified that the relationship had not ended over money, but that they had broken up because appellant was "violent toward [her]." Although defense counsel tried to focus the testimony on whether there was, in fact, a dispute over money, Ms. Mobley repeatedly made references to appellant's prior acts of violence. Defense counsel objected each time to Ms. Mobley's "non-responsive" answers.
On redirect examination, the court allowed the government, over defense objection, to question Ms. Mobley about the prior incidents of violence to which she had referred on cross-examination. The court said:
I will allow the Government some leeway in rebutting the claim that she is biased because of the 1000 dollars and that she's bitter because they broke up over the money, and she says when they broke up, it wasn't because of the money. But the government will be limited in the number of prior incidents and the details of prior incidents that it goes into with the complaining witness.
Ms. Mobley then testified that appellant "beat [her] up at [her] job," "tried to choke [her]" in their apartment when two friends were present, and "came up to [her] girl friend's house and beat [her] up over there."*fn6 She could not recall, however, exactly when these incidents occurred.
The trial court found appellant guilty of malicious destruction of property. The court accepted Ms. Mobley's version of events as credible, noting that Ms. Mobley testified she did not want appellant to go to jail, but simply "wanted her money back for the broken window." By contrast, the court said that appellant had "questionable credibility," given his prior impeachable convictions and the fact that he flatly denied ever having been at Ms. Mobley's house on the night of October 23. After remarking that both parties agreed the relationship between Ms. Mobley and appellant had ended badly, the court rejected the defense theory of ...