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Travers v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

October 8, 2015


Argued May 28, 2015


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CF2-17439-12). (Hon. Stuart G. Nash, Trial Judge).

Justin Murray, Public Defender Service, with whom James Klein, and Samia Fam, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant.

Sharon A. Sprague, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman, John P. Mannarino, and Andrea Hertzfeld, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before GLICKMAN and BECKWITH, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.


Page 635

King, Senior Judge.

Appellant, David Travers, appeals several felony assault and mayhem convictions arising out of an incident occurring on October 6, 2012. He contends that the trial court erred in not allowing him to testify about certain matters involving the complaining witness which he maintains would have bolstered his claim of self-defense. We agree and reverse the convictions.


In October 2012, Travers resided with the complaining witness: his older sister, Rosaline Bethel, in her Southeast apartment. At that time, she was in her early sixties and he was in his early fifties. Bethel, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, had raised Travers and the two shared a good relationship. He assisted Bethel with cooking, cleaning, and taking her medication. On October 5, Bethel, accompanied by her boyfriend, Joseph Scott, returned home from the grocery store and found that Travers had a female companion in his room. Having seen the same woman in his room the night before, Bethel reminded her brother that " no woman spends the night in my house" and that the woman could not stay.[1]

Later that night, Bethel called the police and reported that Travers had hit her.

Page 636

When questioned by Officer Berrita Willis, Bethel stated that she and Travers " had gotten into a verbal altercation about him having women in the house." [2] Travers was not arrested, but volunteered to leave the apartment. Around 2:30 a.m. the next morning (October 6), he returned to the apartment, and hearing a noise, he went into Bethel's room to check on her.[3] Travers approached the side of the bed where Bethel was lying, which was on the " far side of the room towards the window." Scott was also in the bed on the side closest to the door. The room was dark when Travers entered and he did not turn on the lights. Travers asked Bethel if she was okay, and she sat up in the bed and " started fussing, cussing, [and] saying things like I know that you have a bitch with you . . . get the bitch out." Travers responded, " go back to sleep[,] I will talk to you in the morning." As he proceeded to leave the room, Bethel yelled, " get him" and Scott arose from the bed and moved towards Travers. Travers then grabbed a golf club, which was near the foot of the bed, and started swinging. Soon afterwards, Bethel screamed that she had been hit.

Upon hearing Bethel's statement that she had been hit, Travers stopped swinging the golf club and called 911. Officers Denton and Bauer responded to the call and were met by Travers at the front of the building. Travers directed the officers into the apartment building, where Bethel was lying at the entrance of her apartment, screaming hysterically. According to Officer Denton's testimony, Bethel was bleeding profusely and her head had " been flattened and you could actually see what looked to . . . be a part of bone." When asked who hit her, Bethel pointed at Travers, who then turned around, placed his hands behind his back, and stated, " she understands . . . [w]e're family . . . I'm the guy that you're looking for . . . [s]he understands because we are family." Scott was also struck by the golf club swung by Travers and he suffered a laceration to his left ear. Travers was arrested and later indicted for charges related to Bethel's and Scott's injuries.[4]

At trial, Bethel's testimony regarding the time the events in this case occurred conflicted with the time of Travers's 911 call.[5] According to Bethel, the assault

Page 637

with the golf club happened on October 5, after she returned from the store. She testified that the last thing that she remembered was Travers hitting her with the golf club and the female guest telling Travers that he was wrong. Bethel testified that she didn't remember anything after that point except waking up at Washington Hospital Center five days later.

Travers testified that he and Bethel had a good relationship, but would sometimes argue over her alcohol consumption. He stated that Scott would provide alcohol for Bethel and as a result the two men had a strained relationship and frequently argued. Travers described a previous altercation with Scott, during which Scott entered the bathroom while Travers was using it and demanded that he get out. The day after the incident, Scott approached Travers at a bus stop and stated, " I'll deal with you later." Travers described Scott's demeanor at that time as " [h]ostile, with scary eyes . . . just a mean person." Scott had previously threatened Travers by stating that he had undergone military training, which could be used " to hurt, kill, maim, [and] destroy." Travers also testified that Scott owned and carried a knife, which he had seen in Scott's " right back pocket" and under the bed Scott shared with Bethel. Travers further testified that on the night of the assault, while Scott was moving towards him, he felt that he was in danger from Scott. He stated that he accidentally struck Bethel with the golf club while defending himself against Scott, who did not testify at trial.

During the cross-examination of Bethel, defense counsel sought to question her about prior, specific acts, in which she assertively induced friends to attack family members and whether just before she was struck by Travers, she directed Scott to " get him," referring to Travers. Defense counsel's theory was that Travers reasonably believed that Bethel intended to have him harmed, based on having heard her instruct Scott to " get him," coupled with the knowledge that she previously had instigated similar attacks on other relatives. The court denied defense counsel's motion in part, finding that it was proper for defense counsel to cross-examine Bethel about stating the words, " get him," but prevented counsel from asking questions about prior incidents regarding ...

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