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Charles A. Hood v. United States

September 15, 2011


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (FEL-5686-89) (Hon. Lynn Leibovitz, Motion Judge)

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

Argued December 17, 2010

Before GLICKMAN, Associate Judge, RUIZ, Associate Judge, Retired,*fn1 and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

Appellant Charles A. Hood was tried by a jury and found guilty of first-degree felony murder and related offenses stemming from an attack on an elderly woman in her home on the morning of May 18, 1989. This court affirmed his convictions on direct appeal in an unpublished opinion. Appellant was sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment and remains incarcerated.

In September 2002, appellant filed a pro se motion to set aside his convictions pursuant to D.C. Code § 23-110 (2001). The trial court construed the motion as raising a claim for relief under the then recently enacted Innocence Protection Act of 2001 ("IPA"), D.C. Code § 22-4133 et. seq. (2010 Supp.). In the ensuing litigation over that claim, the government and appellant eventually agreed to DNA testing of physical evidence in the case -- a knife and appellant's clothing -- on which human blood had been found. This testing was inconclusive. Appellant then moved to have other items that had been recovered from the scene of the crime tested for the presence of DNA in any trace skin cells that might have been deposited on the items. In November 2008, the motion judge rejected this request and denied appellant's motion for a new trial. From those rulings, appellant noted this appeal. We conclude that appellant has not demonstrated his entitlement under the IPA to the additional DNA testing he seeks. Accordingly, we affirm the denial of relief.


Appellant was convicted for attacking Ms. Helen Chappelle in her home shortly after midnight on May 18, 1989. Ms. Chappelle died from her injuries eleven days later. The 78-year-old victim lived on Decatur Street with her nephew, Edward Simms. Mr. Simms was not home at the time of the attack, but the incident was witnessed by two neighbors who happened to be sitting on a stoop across the street.

As they sat there talking, the neighbors -- Ms. Arrington and Mr. Johnson -- noticed Ms. Chappelle standing on her front porch. She was hollering that she was being robbed. This was not as disturbing as might be supposed, because it was something Ms. Chappelle, who suffered from dementia, did almost every night. Knowing this, and seeing that she appeared to be unharmed, Ms. Arrington and Mr. Johnson were not alarmed by her cries for help. After a while, they saw appellant and a female companion walking up the sidewalk in their direction. They overheard the woman tell appellant that people took Ms. Chappelle's hollering as a joke.*fn2 Then something unusual happened: Appellant suddenly took off running across the street to Ms. Chappelle's house. Ms. Arrington and Mr. Johnson saw him run onto Ms. Chappelle's front porch, pass by Ms. Chappelle to enter the front door of her house, and run up the interior staircase to the second floor. After a few moments, Ms. Chappelle followed appellant inside. From across the street, Ms. Arrington and Mr. Johnson heard sounds of a struggle and Ms. Chappelle yelling. Her yells turned to what sounded like screams of pain, which continued for several minutes. Then there was silence.

Ms. Arrington called the police. Mr. Johnson kept watch on Ms. Chappelle's home until the police arrived a few minutes later. By then, appellant had been inside the house for a total of about fifteen or twenty minutes. During that time, Mr. Johnson saw no one else enter or leave the premises.

As Officers Presley and Hester approached Ms. Chappelle's house, they saw appellant inside, coming down the stairs from the second floor. They lost sight of him briefly as he appeared to duck to one side at the foot of the stairs, and then he walked out the front door and approached them. In response to the officers' questions, appellant falsely said that he was Ms. Chappelle's nephew "Tyrone Jefferson," and that she was out wandering the neighborhood, drunk. The officers asked appellant for some identification. In response, he led them inside the house to the kitchen. On the way, appellant passed momentarily out of the officers' sight as he walked by a refrigerator. In the kitchen, appellant began searching the cabinets but could not produce any identification papers. The officers noticed that appellant's pockets were bulging and asked him what was in them. Appellant removed four cans of "potted" meat. One of the officers opened the refrigerator and saw identical cans inside.*fn3

Officer Hester then left the kitchen to search the house for Ms. Chappelle. He found her lying semi-conscious in the hallway at the top of the stairs to the second floor. The medical examiner testified at trial that she had sustained blunt force injuries to her head and face (which led to her death eleven days later from a pulmonary embolism). Officer Hester observed that Ms. Chappelle's left ring finger had been severed and that there was a pool of blood around her hand. On the floor nearby were a pair of scissors and a purse with a torn shoulder strap. Ms. Chappelle's bedroom appeared to have been ransacked.

The officers placed appellant under arrest, handcuffed him, and took him upstairs while they continued to search the house. They found no one else present and no signs of forced entry. Other than the front door, there were no other means of ingress to or egress from the house.*fn4

Later that morning, the police found a bloody butcher knife sitting on a chair near the front door, at the foot of the interior staircase where Officers Presley and Hester had seen appellant duck down. Both the knife and the scissors were collected as evidence. After the police left, Mr. Simms's wife found two rings sitting on top of the refrigerator that appellant had passed when he led the police into the kitchen. According to her family, Ms. Chappelle normally wore these rings on her hand. A crime scene search officer retrieved the rings twelve days later, on May 30, and returned in July to collect Ms. Chappelle's torn purse. During that visit, he also received a pipe wrench from Mr. Simms, who explained that it normally was kept in a drawer in the kitchen, but was found in the dining room the day after the assault on his aunt.

The knife, scissors, rings, and appellant's clothing were submitted to the FBI for serologic, hair, and fiber analysis.*fn5 (DNA testing apparently was unavailable at the time.) The FBI laboratory examination revealed the presence of human blood on the knife and on appellant's shorts, sweat pants, and right shoe. The blood could not be typed, nor could the examination identify its source or determine when it had been deposited on appellant's clothing. No blood (or hair or fibers) were found on the scissors or rings.*fn6

Appellant was charged with armed first-degree murder, armed mayhem, armed robbery of a senior citizen, and first-degree burglary. The prosecution theory at trial was that appellant entered Ms. Chappelle's house to rob her, and that he bludgeoned her and severed her left ring finger with the butcher knife in order to steal her rings. The theory of appellant's defense was innocent presence. Although appellant did not testify or present any other material evidence in his defense, his counsel contended that he had entered Ms. Chappelle's home to defend her after hearing her call out for help, and that she had been attacked and robbed by an unidentified assailant who was already inside. Counsel argued that appellant's clothing became blood-stained because the ...

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