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Murphy-Bey v. United States

October 8, 2009

MATTHEW L. MURPHY-BEY, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F1681-05), (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Motions Judge), (Hon. Rhonda Winston-Reid, Trial Judge).

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

Argued February 3, 2009

Before REID, KRAMER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges.

Appellant Matthew L. Murphy-Bey was indicted for assault with intent to kill while armed (D.C. Code §§ 22-401, 22-4502); one count of aggravated assault while armed (D.C. Code §§ 22-404.01, 22-4502); two counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence (D.C. Code § 22-4504 (b)), each relating to one of the aforementioned offenses; and two counts of carrying a pistol without a license (D.C. Code § 22-4504 (a)). At the conclusion of a jury trial, appellant was found guilty of aggravated assault while armed, the related possession of a firearm during a crime of violence charge, and the two counts of carrying a pistol without a license, but acquitted of the other charges.

Appellant argues that the trial court erred in excluding his expert witness' testimony and in denying his request for an instruction regarding the law of the "initial aggressor" in self-defense cases. While we sustain the trial court's ruling regarding the expert witness, we still reverse and remand for a new trial because the trial court erred in declining to give the instruction on "initial aggressor."

I. Facts

A. The Government's Version

William "Pete" Armstead, the complainant in this case, testified that appellant, a barbershop owner, was not only a barber but also a drug dealer. Three days before the shooting at issue appellant had asked Armstead to test some crack cocaine for him. After doing so, Armstead had determined that the crack was "good,"*fn1 and he asked to have some on credit. Appellant gave Armstead some crack in exchange for a promise to pay him $45, which they agreed would be paid that coming Friday.

Without disclosing the reason why he needed money, Amstead arranged to borrow the $45 from a neighbor, Paul Davis, who lived in the same apartment building as Armstead. Davis was to pay appellant directly, instead of giving the money to Armstead, because Armstead was worried that if he kept possession of the money, he might spend it elsewhere.

Armstead lived in an apartment on the second floor of his building, but around noon on Friday, the day he was required to pay appellant for the drugs, Armstead went up to an apartment on the third floor to visit with friends, play cards, drink malt liquor and smoke crack and marijuana. Armstead left another neighbor, James Sanford, in his second floor apartment, telling Sanford that he was expecting appellant and to send him up to the third floor if he saw him.

Late that night someone knocked on the door of the third floor apartment. Armstead looked through the peephole, identified appellant, and went out into the hall, closing the apartment door behind him. Appellant asked, "Man, where my money at [?]" Armstead told appellant that he had to get the money from Davis. Appellant then "sucker punched" Armstead and caused him to suffer a "busted lip."

Armstead hit appellant hard several times in return, "beat[ing] the shit out of him." Appellant then took one step backward and said, "You bad mother fucker, I'mma shoot you." While Armstead was standing at arm's length from him, appellant put his hand in his pocket and shot through his coat at Armstead.*fn2 Armstead ran to the stairwell, with appellant following and firing at his head. Armstead put his arm up for protection, and was shot in the arm. After this second shot, appellant fled down the stairs, while Armstead ran up the stairs to the fourth floor and went door-to-door, knocking, for five or ten minutes before going back down to the third floor and re-entering Davis's apartment. There he waited for emergency medical personnel to arrive.

In the course of Armstead's trial testimony, he admitted that on the day he was shot he had been drinking and smoking crack and marijuana. He testified, however, that he was not under the influence of any illegal drugs at the time of his in-court testimony. Armstead also admitted that he had been previously diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He described the symptoms of his paranoid schizophrenia as follows: "Sometimes I can see shadows. Sometimes I see things that's not even there. I hear voices that don't even be there. Sometimes I be scared of something that I shouldn't be scared of." When he hears voices they say "evil things . . . like somebody is after me and I know it's not nobody after me." He disclosed that ...


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