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Atkinson v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

July 30, 2015

RONALD L. ATKINSON, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE

Argued April 21, 2015

Page 781

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CF2-17195-12). (Hon. Robert I. Richter, Trial Judge).

Judith L. Wheat, with whom Marlon C. Griffith was on the brief, for appellant.

Katherine M. Kelly, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman, and Suzanne Grealy Curt, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before BECKWITH and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 782

Nebeker, Senior Judge

Following a jury trial, Ronald L. Atkinson appeals his conviction of one count of stalking, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-3133 (a)(3) (2012 Repl.), and six counts of Violating a Civil Protection Order (CPO), in violation of D.C. Code § § 16-1004 (d), -1005 (g) (2012 Repl.).[1] Appellant contends that the trial court erred in three respects, each requiring reversal of his convictions: (1) the trial court committed reversible error when it failed to instruct the jury on the statutory definition for the term " course of conduct" ; (2) the trial court issued instructions that merged alternative theories of liability with respect to the stalking charge; (3) the trial court erred when it denied appellant's request for a mistrial. Having reviewed the record, we conclude that the trial court only committed error when it issued an instruction that merged alternative theories of liability under the stalking statute. However, given the substantial evidence put forward by the government with respect to appellant's objectively alarming behavior, the error was harmless. Accordingly, we affirm appellant's convictions.

I.

This case stems from actions taken by appellant after the demise of his relationship with Ms. Halima Roebuck. Appellant and Roebuck first met in 1998, and began a cordial friendship that became " intimate" after both individuals moved to the District of Columbia in 2002. Sometime around 2003, the relationship began " unraveling." Roebuck last communicated with appellant at the end of February 2004. From 2005 to 2011, appellant sent Roebuck numerous emails from multiple email addresses in an attempt to reconcile their differences and re-establish contact. Roebuck never responded.

At some point, appellant--for reasons not revealed in the record--believed that he and Roebuck had a child together,[2] and in December of 2011 escalated his attempts to try to contact Roebuck. On the morning of December 23, 2011, appellant called Roebuck and left a voicemail. Appellant then called her multiple times throughout the evening, often " back-to-back." The phone calls continued into the early morning hours of December 24, 2011, when appellant called Roebuck's residence at

Page 783

1:48 a.m. At some point, Roebuck's fiancé [3] answered the phone and told appellant that he " need[ed] to stop calling." Appellant told Roebuck's fiancé to " put Halima on the phone, put Halima on the phone." Roebuck's fiancé responded with " Halima doesn't want to talk to you," and that " I don't want you calling this house anymore." Following appellant's phone calls, Roebuck unplugged her phone and eventually obtained an unlisted number.

After calling Roebuck's residence a number of times unsuccessfully, appellant attempted to contact members of Roebuck's family--including her mother and her father--and told each parent that he and Roebuck had a child together. Roebuck's mother refused to speak with appellant and called the police. Roebuck's father " specifically" told appellant not to " communicate with any of [the Roebuck family]" because appellant's behavior " was bordering on harassment." He also " told [appellant] that [Roebuck] does not have a child," that he was " not a grandfather," and that appellant " should try to seek some sort of treatment." [4] On December 27, 2011, appellant appeared at an apartment building where Roebuck had previously lived.[5] Appellant " stood outside for a couple of minutes," and then " came inside" and used the call box to dial the direct number to Roebuck's old apartment. When appellant was approached by the security guard, appellant told the guard that he was " family," and asked if he could " go upstairs and wait by the door." Appellant was rebuffed in his attempts, and left. He returned the following day. Roebuck, however, had obtained a Temporary Protection Order (TPO)[6] against him that had been disseminated to the apartment building's security staff. When appellant arrived, security informed him that he was not permitted in the building. He was called into the property manager's office, and then the police were called. Appellant, however, left the building before police arrived.

On May 6, 2012, appellant's conduct toward Roebuck reached a head. At 1:30 a.m., Roebuck received " back-to-back" phone calls from a number that registered as private on her caller I.D. Roebuck then began to receive calls on her cell phone indicating that someone was ringing the call box outside of her apartment building. Roebuck thought it was appellant contacting her again because of the " pattern" of his behavior, but could not be certain. Roebuck eventually called the police. She testified that she was ...


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