Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (F3672-05) (Hon. Lee F. Satterfield, Trial Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kramer, Associate Judge
Before REID, KRAMER and OBERLY, Associate Judges. Opinion for the court by Associate Judge KRAMER.
Concurring opinion by Associate Judge OBERLY at page 17.
Shortly after 2:00 a.m. on April 24, 2005, appellant Michael Blackson shot and killed Lavelle Jones. This fact was undisputed at trial. The sole issue was whether the shooting was a "revenge killing," as theorized by the government, or a self-defense shooting, as asserted by the defense. The jury convicted Blackson of second-degree murder while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence ("PFCV"), and carrying a pistol without a license ("CPWL").*fn1 Blackson argues on appeal that his convictions should be reversed because the trial court erred by admitting certain statements as adoptive admissions and by erroneously refusing to admit certain statements as proof of state of mind. He also contends that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing a government witness to testify that he was nervous about testifying because "snitches" were "not well liked" and revealing, in the absence of evidence that Blackson was responsible for the threat, that someone had threatened to kill him for "snitching." We disagree and affirm.
In the early morning hours of April 24, 2005, two groups of young people went to a go-go club called the Mad Chef Café in Capitol Heights, Maryland. One group (of which Blackson was a part) came from the Sursum Corda neighborhood in Northwest Washington. The other group (of which Lavelle Jones was a part) came from the Butler Gardens neighborhood in Southeast Washington. The Sursum Corda group traveled in two vehicles - a burgundy Kia and a blue Honda. The Butler Gardens group also traveled in two vehicles - a green van and a black Pontiac. At the club, a fight broke out between the two groups, and both groups were kicked out. The fight continued into the parking lot, where it was broken up by officers from the Prince George's County Police Department. The groups were directed to get into their cars and leave.
The black Pontiac from Butler Gardens was the first to drive away. Lavelle Jones, the decedent, was in the Pontiac's front passenger seat. Next the green van from Butler Gardens pulled out of the lot and pulled off to the side of the road, idling across the street from the club while waiting for the Sursum Corda cars (the burgundy Kia and blue Honda). Meanwhile, the black Pontiac had pulled into a nearby parking lot to wait for the green van.
When the Sursum Corda cars departed, the green van took off after them, and the black Pontiac took off after the green van, trying to catch up. Someone in the green van started shooting at the Sursum Corda cars and someone from Sursum Corda returned fire. The burgundy Kia from Sursum Corda turned onto a side road while the green van continued ahead. At this point, the driver of the black Pontiac from Butler Gardens stopped following the green van and headed toward his grandmother's house. Shortly after that, however, the green van crashed at the intersection of East Capitol Street and 53rd Street Northeast, at which point the van's occupants scattered to avoid the police.
One of the passengers from the green van called the driver of the black Pontiac, asking to be picked up. The driver did so, and the caller got in the backseat of the Pontiac behind the driver. Lavelle Jones was still in the front passenger seat of the Pontiac. The Pontiac continued down East Capitol Street, eventually stopping at a traffic light at the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and B Street, Southeast.
Meanwhile, the burgundy Kia from Sursum Corda came from the side road it had turned down and also ended up on Minnesota Avenue. Derron McGee, the driver of the burgundy Kia, noticed the black Pontiac ahead of them at a stop light and identified it as being one of the cars from Butler Gardens. McGee drove the Kia around the left side of the Pontiac. As he did so, Blackson fired a shot into the black Pontiac. The bullet hit Lavelle Jones in the head, killing him.*fn2
At trial, Blackson testified that as the burgundy Kia approached the black Pontiac, he fired the gun once because he "was scared for [his] life" when he saw the rear driver's side window of the Pontiac roll down and saw someone in the backseat pointing "what looked like a gun at [him]." At the grand jury, however, the driver of the Kia, McGee, had testified that when he asked Blackson why he had fired the shot, Blackson told him that "[he] had to do what [he] had to do because" the boys in the van "had shot at [them]... so [he] had to get them back,"but that McGee shouldn't "worry about nothing" because "if anything happens, then it's all going to come back on him," that is, on Blackson. McGee was impeached with this testimony at trial after he denied that Blackson said anything after firing the shot.
Michael Yeager, Blackson's friend and a passenger in the blue Honda (who did not witness the shooting), also provided trial testimony that differed from his grand jury testimony. Before the grand jury, Yeager had testified that the day after the shooting he had overheard Blackson and three other people (two of whom were passengers in the Kia during the shooting and one of whom had been in the blue Honda) talking about the shooting while standing around behind his house. Yeager testified that Blackson and the individual from the blue Hondawere talking and that in their conversation they described the events leading up to the shooting and the shooting itself. They said that "[t]hey seen... the guy that was shooting out of the green van transfer... cars [and] [t]hey followed the car.... They pulled up at a stop sign, pointed the gun out the window, but didn't fire.... They got right directly behind them, pulled alongside of them. [Blackson] cocked the gun back, [but] a bullet fell in [McGee's] lap" because Blackson didn't know "a bullet was [already] in the chamber" and "so a bullet ejected." Blackson then successfully "fired the gun. After the first fire, the gun -- he tried to, I guess, fire again. It jammed, and [McGee] drove off." Upon questioning at the grand jury, Yeager clarified that it was Blackson who "pointed [the] gun at the Pontiac," and who "knew that someone was shot" because the shot "hit the window, and the dude just fell over," and that during the course of this conversation that Yeager was listening to, Blackson never denied any of these statements. At trial, however, Yeager testified that, although he saw Blackson and the Honda passenger talking, he was unable to hear what they were talking about, and that "everybody" was talking about the shooting, not just those two.*fn3 The trial court admitted Yeager's grand jury testimony as an adoptive admission by Blackson over his objection.
The trial court also permitted the prosecutor to question Yeager on-redirect about his reluctance to testify. Specifically, the prosecutor elicited testimony that Yeager was afraid of being considered a snitch; that he had been called a snitch in regards to this case; that snitches are "disliked" in his community; that his life had been threatened by unfamiliar people;*fn4 and that he "didn't want to come" to testify when subpoenaed. After the prosecution finished this line of questioning, the trial court gave a ...