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Earl v. United States

September 20, 2007; as amended October 3, 2007


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (F-4939-03) (Hon. Susan R. Winfield, Trial Judge).

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

Argued December 20, 2006

Before FARRELL, RUIZ, and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.

Following a jury trial, Reginald Earl was convicted of two counts of aggravated assault, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-404.04 (2001). On appeal, he argues that: (1) the trial court erroneously admitted expert testimony on the subject of battered woman's syndrome; (2) the trial court improperly excluded an audio-tape recording that he claims exposed the complainant's bias; and (3) there was insufficient evidence of serious injury to convict him of one of the counts of aggravated assault. We agree on the latter point, and reverse one of the convictions for aggravated assault with instructions to enter a judgment of conviction of the lesser-included offense of simple assault. We disagree that the trial court's challenged evidentiary rulings, viewed singly or cumulatively, merit reversal and, therefore, we affirm the other conviction of aggravated assault.

Factual Summary

Appellant met the complainant, Barbara Hawkins (then Barbara Wells), in the Spring of 1997, and the two began dating soon thereafter. After they had been seeing each other for approximately one year, she became romantically involved with one of her ex-boyfriends, Steven Hawkins. She ended her relationship with appellant and eventually married Mr. Hawkins in February of 1999. Ms. Hawkins, however, continued to have contact with appellant, and ultimately left her husband in late 1999 and resumed her relationship with appellant. Two separate incidents in the Summer of 2003 formed the bases of the assault charges against appellant.

July 9, 2003 Assault

On July 9, 2003, at approximately 11:30 p.m. Ms. Hawkins returned to her apartment from her job as a supervisor at a half-way house. She went to sleep but awoke when she heard appellant attempting to enter her apartment.*fn1 Ms. Hawkins went to the front door, removed the safety chain lock, and permitted appellant to enter the apartment. Appellant watched television in Ms. Hawkins's bedroom while drinking alcohol until approximately 2:00 a.m.

Appellant then confronted Ms. Hawkins, saying he believed that some of her co-workers wanted to have sex with her. Appellant pushed Ms. Hawkins onto the bed, straddled her, and hit her with a closed fist on her stomach, face, and her "lower body part and [her] upper body part." He picked up his drink from the nightstand, poured it on her, and told her that if she informed anyone about the beating, he would claim that she was drunk and had attacked him. Appellant also kicked Ms. Hawkins in the stomach. During the assault, Ms. Hawkins told appellant she needed to use the bathroom, and appellant "got up off [of her]." As she was walking toward the bathroom, however, appellant punched her in the back, threw her back on the bed, and continued to punch her with his fists.

When appellant stopped hitting her, he went to the kitchen to get a glass of milk and cookies, and then he returned to the bedroom and climbed in bed with Ms. Hawkins. Once appellant fell asleep, Ms. Hawkins got out of bed, put on a dress, and ran out of her apartment barefoot.

Unable to find any neighbors, she walked three blocks to a payphone and called the police. She did not tell the 911 operator that appellant had assaulted her, and instead, she told the operator that she "had been beaten up by a friend . . . [named] Jermaine Wilson."*fn2 When the police and paramedics arrived, Ms. Hawkins told them that she was "beaten by a friend" but would not disclose his name.*fn3

Ms. Hawkins was taken to Greater Southeast Community Hospital, where she was examined by Julius Omole, a physician's assistant. Ms. Hawkins told Omole that "she was hit by her boyfriend,"*fn4 and that she was experiencing pain in her face, wrist, back, and abdomen. She was diagnosed with a sprained wrist, which was put in a soft cast. At trial, Ms. Hawkins testified that as a result of the assault, she had a "swollen lip, black eye . . . [and] bruised kidney," and described the level of pain in her arm as "severe."*fn5 She also testified that, despite these injuries, she continued her relationship with appellant because she "was still in love with Mr. Earl and . . . [she] was also in fear of Mr. Earl."

August 9, 2003 Assault

A month later, on August 9, 2003, appellant called Ms. Hawkins at work to tell her that he wanted to return the keys to her apartment. Appellant drove to her workplace and waited for her to finish her shift. When he saw Ms. Hawkins, he opened his car door and offered her a ride, which she accepted because she "was scared and . . . didn't want him ...

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