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Gilchrist v. United States

August 14, 2008


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (FEL2158-01) (Hon. Henry F. Greene, Trial Judge).

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

Argued December 14, 2007

Before REID, KRAMER and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.

Appellant, Latrel L. Gilchrist, appeals his multiple convictions pertaining to the murder of Bernard Davis, and his single conviction relating to the murder of a witness who saw the fatal shooting of Mr. Davis.*fn1 He claims that the trial court's application of our decision in Laumer v. United States,*fn2 concerning a declaration against penal interest, constituted reversible error because the first prong of the test articulated in Laumer violated his constitutional rights under the Sixth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution, and because the trial court incorrectly applied the third prong of the Laumer test. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


The government presented testimony from several witnesses, which recounted the circumstances of Mr. Davis' murder in February 1997. Nevel Butler testified that she and Mr. Gilchrist lived together in one unit of a four unit apartment house on Mellon Street in the Southeast quadrant of the District of Columbia. At the time, Ms. Butler had what she called "a heavy addiction" to crack cocaine,*fn3 and she sold crack cocaine. On February 21, 1997, Ms. Butler's best friend, Yvonne Gooding, saw and spoke with Ms. Butler, and then went in search of drugs so that the two women could get high. Subsequently, Ms. Gooding returned to Ms. Butler's apartment with a male friend, later identified as Mr. Davis, and eventually gave Ms. Butler "two dimes" of rock ($20.00 worth of crack cocaine). When Mr. Gilchrist returned to the apartment, he insisted that Ms. Gooding and Mr. Davis leave, and they complied. Mr. Gilchrist also left the apartment.

Approximately forty-five minutes later, Ms. Gooding and Mr. Davis went back to Ms. Butler's residence, where they talked and smoked cocaine. When Mr. Gilchrist returned to Ms. Butler's apartment house, he sat outside on the steps with Ms. Butler. Soon, Mr. Gilchrist overheard Ms. Gooding and Mr. Davis arguing, inside the apartment, about money Mr. Davis owed her. Mr. Gilchrist again directed Ms. Gooding and Mr. Davis to leave, but Ms. Gooding refused to do so until she received the money Mr. Davis owed her. Mr. Davis declined to give the money to her until she did something he expected her to do. According to Ms. Butler, Mr. Gilchrist "pulled out a gun and put it to [Mr. Davis'] chest and told him to give up his money. Mr. Davis said, "I'm not giving up nothing." Mr. Gilchrist repeated, "Give me your money;" and Mr. Davis replied, "Man, I'm not giving up nothing. I work too hard for this." Mr. Gilchrist switched the gun to Mr. Davis' head and the gun "accidentally went off." Ms. Butler added, "I guess it -- I don't know. I know it went off." Ms. Butler described the gun that Mr. Gilchrist used as a black 9 millimeter weapon that Mr. Gilchrist "carried all the time."

Mr. Davis fell to the floor. Mr. Gilchrist demanded a towel, but Ms. Butler "was just frozen," and Ms. Gooding found a towel. Mr. Gilchrist wrapped the towel around Mr. Davis' head, and then pulled him out of the back door by his leg.*fn4 Mr. Gilchrist sought the assistance of a neighborhood friend, Johnnie Love, who was sitting outside on a nearby street, smoking marijuana and waiting for Mr. Gilchrist's brother. According to Mr. Love's testimony at trial, Mr. Gilchrist took Mr. Love to an alley, showed him a body, and asked Mr. Love to help him get rid of it in the neighboring woods. Mr. Love noticed that the person on the ground was still alive, and as he turned to leave, Mr. Gilchrist "started stomping" the person on the ground. Mr. Love looked around in time to witness the last stomp, and he heard Mr. Gilchrist say: "The dude is dead now." The men covered the body "with some boards and stuff that was laying around the area." The next day Mr. Gilchrist informed Mr. Love that he had shot Mr. Davis, and he had taken from Mr. Davis $350.00 and a pair of tennis shoes. Mr. Love saw Mr. Gilchrist every day around this time, and had previously seen him with a 9 millimeter gun.*fn5

The government also presented the testimony of Vicki Lewis, a friend of Ms. Butler. She knew Mr. Gilchrist and had seen him with a gun that required a clip. In February 1997, Ms. Lewis was selling cocaine at a Mellon Street address located near Ms. Butler's apartment. She watched Mr. Davis pull out $400-$500 before purchasing $50 worth of crack cocaine. After the purchase he left, met Ms. Butler and Ms. Gooding, and the three headed toward Ms. Butler's apartment. Later that night, Ms. Lewis heard a gunshot, which came from the back of the alley. The next morning, Ms. Lewis arrived at Ms. Butler's apartment between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. As she entered the back door to Ms. Butler's apartment, which faced the alley, she noticed that Reginald Ross was behind her, and Ms. Gooding was in the apartment. Subsequently, Ms. Butler, Ms. Gooding, Ms. Lewis, and Mr. Ross smoked drugs together. Then, Mr. Ross started to depart by the back door, but ran back saying, "The police are outside. The police are outside." He left through the front door. At the time of these events, Ms. Lewis' sister, Cynthia Lewis, was in a romantic relationship with Mr. Ross, and the defense theory at trial appeared to be that Mr. Ross, not Mr. Gilchrist, killed Mr. Davis.

Five days after Mr. Davis was killed, Mr. Ross shot Vicki Lewis with a revolver that she had seen him carry on a regular basis.

The defense also presented witnesses, including Cynthia Lewis, the sister of Vicki Lewis.*fn6 On the day Mr. Davis was killed, Ms. C. Lewis had been in Ms. Butler's apartment "getting high." She did not remember what time she arrived, but she saw Ms. Butler, Mr. Ross, and Mr. Gilchrist. She left around 11:30 p.m. or midnight by the front door, and saw Ms. Gooding and a male approaching Ms. Butler's apartment house. Ms. C. Lewis proceeded to her nearby home and slept until she was awakened by Mr. Ross, her boyfriend. He was "[a] little excited and anxious." He informed her that "something [had] happened" at Ms. Butler's residence. On cross-examination, Ms. C. Lewis acknowledged that she had testified before the Grand Jury in September 2001, and at that time had indicated that the person she saw going into Ms. Butler's apartment with Ms. Gooding was Mr. Davis. Furthermore, she had said before the Grand Jury that she left Ms. Butler's house around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., that the house was "getting crowded," and that while she was there, she saw Ms. Butler, Mr. Gilchrist, and "Buddy, some little kid" whose name she could not remember. Apparently she did not mention Mr. Ross' name before the Grand Jury. On redirect, Ms. C. Lewis said she thought Mr. Gilchrist was in the back room, that she did not have a watch that night, and she also denied that a child was at Ms. Butler's residence, since it was "a crack house."

The trial court and counsel for the government and the defense engaged in extensive discussions concerning whether to permit the testimony of a proposed defense witness, Willie Hamilton. His testimony would focus on a statement against penal interest allegedly made by Mr. Ross, prior to his death -- that he (not Mr. Gilchrist) killed Mr. Davis. The judge decided to listen to Mr. Hamilton's testimony without the jury before deciding whether to permit the defense to call him as a witness. After listening to his testimony and making certain determinations, the trial court denied the defense request to present Mr. Hamilton as a witness.


Background for the Statement Against Penal ...

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