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Robinson v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

September 25, 2014


Argued: November 26, 2013 [*]

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Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CF1-20856-09, CF1-18732-09). (Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge).

Phillip C. Zane for appellant Leon Robinson.

Justin Murray, Public Defender Service, with whom James Klein and Alice Wang, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant Shanika Robinson.

John P. Gidez, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Suzanne Grealy Curt, Michelle D. Jackson, and Jocelyn S. Ballantine, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before GLICKMAN and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.


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Glickman, Associate Judge.

Appellants Shanika Robinson and Leon Robinson were convicted of a number of offenses committed in connection with the armed robbery and murder of Shahabuddin Rana on August 18, 2009.[1] The principal issue before us, raised by Shanika Robinson, concerns the mens rea required for an aider and abettor to be subject to the additional punishment that is authorized by D.C. Code § 22-4502 (2012 Repl.) when a violent or dangerous crime was committed while armed. We hold that in order to be subject to the " while armed" enhancement of § 22-4502, an unarmed aider and abettor must have known that the principal offender (or, if appropriate, another accomplice) was armed. Where direct evidence of actual knowledge is lacking, the government must present sufficient circumstantial evidence for the trier of fact to infer that the aider and abettor knew the principal was armed. Because the trial court in the present case erroneously instructed the jury that the aider and abettor need only have reason to know that the principal offender was armed, and not necessarily actual knowledge of that fact, we must reverse Shanika Robinson's convictions for committing four offenses--first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder, second-degree burglary, and robbery--" while armed." On remand, the trial court will have discretion, on the government's request, to enter judgments of conviction against Shanika Robinson on the lesser included offenses of (unarmed) second-degree burglary and (unarmed) robbery, in lieu of retrying her for the commission of those two offenses while armed. However, for reasons we shall explain, a similar option will not be available with respect to Shanika Robinson's

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convictions for felony murder and second-degree murder while armed.

Ms. Robinson does not challenge her other convictions, which are not affected by the error, and which we therefore affirm. We also affirm Leon Robinson's convictions, as none of them are affected by the erroneous instruction on aiding and abetting liability and his claims of other error are not meritorious.

I. The Trial

A. The Government's Evidence

According to the evidence presented by the government, Shahabuddin Rana, the decedent, owned and operated a convenience store called Pizza Mart in Northeast Washington, D.C. He was assisted in running the store by his brother Allauddin Rana, who had come to this country from Pakistan in 2006. To enable his brother to remain in the United States after his initial visa expired, Shahabuddin arranged a sham marriage between Allauddin and appellant Shanika Robinson in October 2008. Shahabuddin agreed to pay Shanika $500 a week for her continuing cooperation in the sham.[2]

In the summer of 2009, however, the imposture began to unravel. Shanika Robinson had a miscarriage, and Allauddin, angered that she had been carrying another man's child, asked his brother for help in obtaining a divorce. Shahabuddin told Shanika the sham marriage arrangement was over and stopped paying her. Allauddin testified at trial that Shanika pressed for a resumption of the weekly payments. On July 22, 2009, she and Allauddin attended an interview with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in furtherance of Allauddin's application to become a permanent resident. The interview did not go well and Shahabuddin's payments to Shanika did not resume. Nonetheless, Shanika continued to urge the Ranas to restart the payments. They refused.

How Shanika reacted to Shahabuddin's cessation of payments was a central point of contention at trial. The government's main witness was Isaiah Genus, a man with whom Shanika had maintained an intimate relationship while she was married to Allauddin. Genus testified pursuant to a cooperation agreement that allowed him to plead guilty to conspiracy and second-degree murder for his complicity in Shahabuddin's murder.

Genus testified that Shanika was distressed by Shahabuddin's cessation of payments because she needed the Ranas. money to pay her rent and was afraid she and the family members who lived with her would be evicted. According to Genus, Shanika " came up with the scheme" to " get the money" by robbing Shahabuddin with the help of Genus and her brother, appellant Leon Robinson. The three discussed this plan in Shanika's kitchen. Shanika stated that they " need[ed] to get a gun."

A few weeks after this discussion, on Saturday, August 15, 2009 (three days before the date on which Shahabuddin was murdered), Shanika told Genus, " [w]e need to get the money." Genus said he had not gotten a gun. Nonetheless, Shanika took a car belonging to the father of Shanika's landlord (" Cap" ), picked up Leon, and drove him and Genus to the vicinity of the Pizza Mart. As they approached the store, Leon displayed a kitchen knife and asked Genus if he had " ever use[d] one of these before." Nothing happened on this expedition, however. Upon seeing people outside

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the Pizza Mart, the trio abandoned their plan and departed because they were " concerned about witnesses."

Early on Tuesday morning, Genus testified, they embarked again: Shanika drove him and Leon to the Pizza Mart in Cap's car. Genus testified that he was not armed and that he did not know Leon was carrying a weapon. On the way, Shanika gave the men latex gloves to wear so that they would not leave fingerprints. Shanika went to the door of the store and induced Shahabuddin to open it for her. When he did, Leon and Genus emerged suddenly from behind Shanika and barged in. According to Genus, Shanika entered the Pizza Mart last and closed the door behind her. Immediately upon entering, Leon started stabbing Shahabuddin with a knife he had brought. (Genus said that this was not the same knife as the one Leon had displayed three days earlier.) Genus and Leon pulled Shahabuddin into a storage room in the back of the Pizza Mart to prevent him from escaping. Once the three men reached the back room, Shahabuddin tried to wrest the knife from Leon's hand. Leon lost control of the weapon and it fell to the floor. He then grabbed a hammer that happened to be lying within reach and struck Shahabuddin in the head with it, repeatedly. Meanwhile, Genus, who had joined in the attack by punching and kicking Shahabuddin, picked up the knife and began stabbing him with it.

Genus's description of this murder was corroborated by the subsequent autopsy; the medical examiner found that Shahabuddin had been stabbed twelve times and had suffered multiple blunt force injuries. The cause of death was determined to be stab wounds to Shahabuddin's torso and blunt force trauma to his head. The medical examiner also reported that Shahabuddin's body was severely burned. Genus explained at trial that Shanika entered the storage room after the attack was over and helped him and Leon set fire to the body.

Before they fled the Pizza Mart (taking, Genus said, " all of the evidence with them" ), Shanika took cigarettes, cigars, bleach, peroxide, and cash from the store. These same items were found to be missing when the murder was discovered, according to Allauddin.

Returning to Shanika's house, appellants and Genus burned their bloody clothing on a backyard grill and cleaned the hammer and knife used in the attack with the peroxide and bleach stolen from the Pizza Mart. They then disposed of the weapons by throwing them in a dumpster. Shanika told Genus she had cleaned the car with bleach to remove any blood stains; however, after the police seized the vehicle a few weeks later, they found what proved to be traces of Shahabuddin's blood inside.

Although Genus was the only prosecution witness who could provide a first-hand account of Shahabuddin's murder, his narrative was corroborated by Charlene Taylor, appellants' cousin, who was living with Shanika at the time. Ten days after the murder, Taylor met with a detective and, in a taped interview, implicated the three in the murder.[3]

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Based on the information provided to the police by Taylor, Shanika was arrested and her home was searched on August 28, 2009. During the search, the police recovered a notebook in which Shanika had written, " Take Cap car of the early morning[,] go to the Pizza Mart bout four in the morning[,] face stand a few feet away from the ...

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