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Terrell D. Hargraves v. United States

January 17, 2013; vacated and opinion filed March 7, 2013


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF1-4544-06, CF1-4545-06, & CF1-4546-06) (Hon. Wendell P. Gardner, Jr., Trial Judge)

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

Argued June 27, 2012

Before GLICKMAN and FISHER, Associate Judges, and NEWMAN, Senior Judge.

Opinion for the court by Associate Judge GLICKMAN.

Concurring opinion by Senior Judge NEWMAN at page 34.

On December 1, 2006, appellants Terrell Hargraves, Brian Gilliam, and Ronald English were jointly charged by indictment with multiple offenses arising from a shooting and homicide on March 7, 2006, in the vicinity of 30th and P Streets, S.E. The charges included conspiracy to commit first-degree murder while armed; the premeditated first-degree murder while armed of Michael Beckham; assault with intent to kill while armed ("AWIKWA") on Dennis Austin; AWIKWA on Tia Davis, which was reduced at trial to the lesser-included charge of assault with a dangerous weapon ("ADW"); three counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence ("PFCV") (correlated with the murder and assault counts); carrying a pistol without a license ("CPWL"); and fleeing from a law enforcement officer in a motor vehicle.

Appellants‟ joint trial commenced on November 14, 2007. On December 19, 2007, the jury rendered its verdict. The jury found Hargraves guilty of fleeing from a law enforcement officer*fn1 and acquitted him of the other charges. The jury found Gilliam and English guilty of voluntary manslaughter (as a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder), ADW (Davis), the two associated PFCV counts, carrying a pistol without a license, and fleeing. Gilliam and English were acquitted of conspiracy, murder, and the other charged offenses.

Appellants challenge their convictions on diverse grounds. Gilliam contends the trial judge erred in finding him competent to stand trial. Both he and Hargraves argue that the judge abused his discretion in denying their motions for severance. English argues that a ruling by the judge on the order of proof at trial unreasonably impaired his defense presentation and violated his constitutional rights.

We conclude that the judge did not commit any error entitling Hargraves, Gilliam, or English to relief.

I. Factual Background

A brief overview of the trial will suffice to set the stage for our discussion of appellants‟ claims of error. The charges arose from an encounter between the occupants of two vehicles-a Chevy Tahoe sport-utility vehicle ("SUV") carrying appellants Hargraves, Gilliam, and English and a Ford Thunderbird carrying Beckham, Austin, and Davis-that left Beckham dead and Austin injured. Appellants and Davis escaped unhurt.

The government presented evidence that appellants conspired to kill Beckham, whom they blamed for the murder of their friend. In furtherance of their plan, appellants allegedly followed the Thunderbird on the morning of March 7, 2006, to 30th and P Streets, S.E., where English and Gilliam started shooting into the vehicle from their SUV. Austin was wounded in the fusillade. According to the government‟s witnesses, English and Gilliam then chased Beckham on foot, while Hargraves remained in the SUV. English caught up to him in the yard of a nearby house and shot him multiple times. Beckham was unarmed. Meanwhile, Gilliam allegedly shot at Austin as Austin drove away. Gilliam and English then jumped back into the SUV, which immediately sped off. Appellants led police on a prolonged high-speed chase, which ended when the SUV crashed and appellants were arrested.

The defense, spearheaded by appellant English, presented a different account of what happened. According to English (the only defendant who testified at trial), there was no plan to kill Beckham and they did not attack him or his car. Rather, Beckham, who previously had threatened to kill appellants and was reputed in the neighborhood to have committed more than one murder and other acts of violence, followed appellants in the Thunderbird and fired shots at them without provocation. English, who admitted being armed himself, was taken by surprise and fired back. English claimed he then left the SUV and ran towards P Street. As he did, he saw Beckham shooting at him from behind the Thunderbird and shot back. Beckham fell to the ground but then got up and chased English onto Q Street. When Beckham had nearly caught up with him, English, fearing for his life, shot Beckham multiple times in self-defense until his gun was empty.

The jury evidently rejected the government‟s theory of the case and credited English‟s testimony when it acquitted appellants of conspiracy, murder, and assault with intent to kill while armed. But the jury showed it was not convinced that appellants acted properly in self-defense by convicting Gilliam and English of voluntary manslaughter, ADW, and PFCV. In settling on that particular verdict, it seems the jury must have found that appellants acted in "imperfect" self-defense, i.e., that they subjectively believed themselves in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm and believed they needed to use deadly force to repel the danger but that one or both of those beliefs was objectively unreasonable.*fn2 It is undisputed that the evidence at trial permitted such a determination.

II. Appellant Gilliam's Competence to Stand Trial

The Due Process Clause of the Fifth (and Fourteenth) Amendment prohibits the criminal prosecution of a defendant who is incompetent to stand trial.*fn3 In this jurisdiction, procedures for evaluating a defendant‟s competence are spelled out in the Incompetent Defendants Criminal Commitment Act of 2004 (hereinafter, the "Act" or the "IDCCA").*fn4 The Act provides that ""[c]ompetence‟ means that a defendant has sufficient present ability to consult with his or her lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and has a rational, as well as a factual, understanding of the proceedings against him or her."*fn5 When a question is raised as to a defendant‟s competence, the trial court shall order a preliminary screening examination and, if appropriate, a full competence examination.*fn6 The examination is to be performed, in each instance, by a psychiatrist or psychologist affiliated with the Department of Mental Health.*fn7 A hearing to determine whether the defendant is competent to stand trial shall be scheduled promptly after the written report of the full competence examination is received.*fn8 At that hearing, the defendant is presumed to be competent; the party asserting his incompetence has the burden of proving it by a preponderance of the evidence.*fn9 If the court finds that the defendant is incompetent but may attain competence in the foreseeable future, it may order treatment for the restoration of competence.*fn10 After the treatment provider reports back to the court in writing on whether the defendant‟s condition has improved or is likely to do so, the court "shall hold a prompt hearing . . . and make a new finding" as to whether the defendant has become competent to stand trial.*fn11 Appellate review of a competency finding is deferential because the determination is "primarily factual in nature."*fn12

Questions were raised about appellant Gilliam‟s competence almost immediately following his arrest in March 2006. In addressing those questions, the trial court substantially followed the procedures mandated by the IDCCA.

Ultimately, the trial judge was satisfied that Gilliam was competent to stand trial. Gilliam contends the judge abused his discretion in so finding.

On March 10, 2006, three days after appellants were arrested, Dr. Elizabeth Teegarden, a psychologist, conducted a preliminary competency screening examination of Gilliam pursuant to court order. According to her report, Gilliam had been diagnosed in 2001 with Polysubstance Dependence and Substance-Induced Psychotic Disorder "due to the symptoms that surfaced around his periods of substance abuse." When Dr. Teegarden interviewed him on March 10, Gilliam initially was alert and cooperative, but when she asked him about his "legal issues," he stopped responding to her questions and proceeded to stare at her in silence for several minutes. As a result ...

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