Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (M3279-08) (Hon. Erik P. Christian, Trial Judge).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge
Submitted September 21, 2010
Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, and REID andFISHER, Associate Judges.
Eddie Steward appeals from his conviction on one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse of his fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, M.B. On appeal, Steward contends (1) that evidence of alleged prior incidents of sexual contact between Steward and M.B. was improperly admitted at trial, and (2) that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal. We hold that the trial court properly admitted evidence of Steward's prior crimes and also properly denied Steward's motion for a judgment of acquittal, and therefore we affirm the trial court's rulings.
In a bench trial before Judge Erik P. Christian, evidence presented established that Eddie Steward resided with L.H., his fiancée, and her children for approximately thirteen years. Some of these children, including R.B., were L.H.'s children from previous relationships, but they all considered Steward to be their stepfather even though Steward and L.H. were not married.
On the morning of October 26, 2007, R.B. was standing at the top of the staircase of the family's home, and Steward, wearing shorts and no shirt, brushed past her and touched the top of her buttocks with his penis (the "October 26 incident"). At her boyfriend's suggestion, R.B. met with a youth counselor, Margaux Delotte-Bennett, after this incident. R.B. told Delotte-Bennett what happened at the top of the stairs and also told her that Steward had sexually abused her since she was a young child. Delotte-Bennett reported this information to the police, and Detective William Weeks investigated. R.B. told Weeks about the October 26 incident as well as numerous other more serious episodes of sexual contact by Steward throughout her childhood. As a result of this investigation, the government filed an Information charging Steward with three counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse -- one for the October 26 incident, and two for other events that occurred in prior years.
Prior to trial, two of the three counts (the counts alleging incidents other than that of October 26) were dismissed based upon the applicable statute of limitations. In a pretrial hearing, the government sought the trial court's permission to introduce evidence of the sexual contact that formed the basis of the two dismissed counts to show motive, identity, absence of mistake, and common scheme or plan under Drew v. United States, 118 U.S. App. D.C. 11, 331 F.2d 85 (1964), and as evidence of Steward's intent under Johnson v. United States, 683 A.2d 1087 (D.C. 1996) (en banc). The trial court admitted this evidence under both cases.
At trial, R.B. testified as to the October 26 incident as well as incidents of Steward's inappropriate sexual contact from her childhood. She testified that Steward had been brushing against her for years and that, when she was about nine years old, Steward would wake her up at night and touch her inappropriately a few times a week. The touchings ranged from fondling R.B.'s breasts to forcing her to sit on his lap and moving her until he ejaculated. R.B. testified that on one occasion, Steward attempted to put his penis inside of her vagina, stopping when R.B. told him that it was painful. According to R.B., Steward would sometimes pay her in exchange for letting him touch her and told R.B. not to tell her mother about any of this behavior.
Steward denied ever abusing R.B. and testified that he did not remember anything noteworthy about the morning of October 26. He stated that R.B. fabricated her allegations of sexual conduct in retaliation against Steward because he had recently kicked R.B.'s boyfriend out of the Steward/H. home.
The trial court credited R.B.'s testimony, finding her "focused" in the face of tough questions and noting that she did not embellish the incident even when she had the opportunity to do so. The trial court also found that R.B.'s reports to Weeks and the youth counselor corroborated her trial testimony. In contrast, the trial court discredited Steward's testimony about the October 26 incident.
Most shocking to the trial court was that on all other topics besides the October 26 incident, Steward provided "more [information] than was necessary," whereas he merely stated that he could not recall what happened at the top of the stairs on October 26. Indicating that this response "shook" the court, the trial court ultimately found Steward guilty of one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse based upon the October 26 incident.
Steward first argues that evidence of his prior sexual conduct with R.B. was improperly admitted under Drew v. United States, supra, and Johnson v. United States, supra. Because we hold that the evidence was properly admitted under the more stringent analysis of Drew and its progeny, we affirm the trial court's admission of evidence of ...