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Evans v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

June 15, 2017

Shane Tynique Evans and Ebony Ruffin, Appellants,
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Argued November 3, 2016

         Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF2-4016-13 and CF2-458-13) (Hon. Anita Josey-Herring, Trial Judge)

          Benjamin Brooks for appellant Shane Tynique Evans.

          Donald L. Dworsky for appellant Ebony Ruffin.

          Nicholas Coleman, Assistant United States Attorney, for appellee. Channing D. Phillips, United States Attorney, with whom Elizabeth Trosman, Chrisellen R. Kolb, Kara Traster, and Jay Apperson, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Glickman, Associate Judge, and Washington and Nebeker, Senior Judges. [*]

          NEBEKER, SENIOR JUDGE

         After a jury trial, appellants-Ebony Ruffin and Shane Evans-were convicted of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon (hammer and taser), [1] assault with a significant bodily injury, [2] assault with intent to commit robbery while armed, [3] and armed robbery.[4] Additionally, Evans was convicted of obstruction of justice[5] and threatening to injure.[6] Ruffin raises two sufficiency of the evidence arguments pertaining to identification evidence and proof of knowledge for the aiding and abetting charge. Evans raises five arguments including failure to grant trial counsel's motion to sever, a sufficiency of the evidence argument, admission of hearsay statements, prejudicial effect of the use of a video clip as evidence and prosecutorial error regarding the use of prejudicial rhetoric in the government's opening and closing statements. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the appellants' convictions.

         I.

         On September 9, 2012, the victim, Lakesha Bell, was attacked by three women: appellants Evans and Ruffin, and a third women, Nichelle Rogers. At that time, Bell was the girlfriend of an individual named Purnell Hawkins and was seven months pregnant with Hawkins's child. Evans was Hawkins's former girlfriend. Prior to the day of the incident, in the summer of 2012, Bell visited the D.C. Superior Court to observe Hawkins's court appearance on an unrelated matter. Evans also attended the court proceedings and was present in the courtroom. At one point during the proceeding, Hawkins handed a note to his lawyer to pass onto Bell. As Bell started reading the note, Evans attempted to steal it from her hand. Bell pulled the note away and stated, "This is not for you."

         At some point thereafter, from jail, Hawkins called Bell, who informed Hawkins about the courtroom letter interaction with Evans. As a result, Hawkins arranged for a joint phone call including himself, Bell and Evans. At one point during this joint conversation, Evans exclaimed, regarding Bell, "F*** her and that baby."

         A. The Assault Charges

         Weeks after the interaction at the D.C. Superior Court, on September 9, 2012, Bell was walking home to her mother's house at approximately 6:00 PM- while it was still daylight. A woman, later identified as Evans, stepped out of a green van in front of Bell. Bell inquired, "What is this for?" Evans responded, "You know what this is for" and subsequently punched Bell in the stomach. Evans further stated, "You took my dude and you're not having this baby today." For some time thereafter, Evans and Bell fought amongst themselves until appellant Ruffin emerged from the van declaring, "This b**** is really fighting back." Ruffin then proceeded to hit Bell twice with a hammer. A third woman, Rogers, subsequently entered into the fight and tased Bell twice in the stomach. Evans then proceeded to kick Bell in the stomach. Rogers asked Evans if she "got [Bell's] bag" and Evans responded in the affirmative.

         An hour and fifty minutes later, an eyewitness, Melvina Rawlings, testified that around 7:50 PM, Ruffin was driving a green van. Additionally, a few weeks after this initial incident, Evans and Ruffin stopped their car in front of Bell as she was walking down the street. Evans yelled out the window, "You hot as s***. You talking to the feds."

         After the original incident, Bell called 911 at 7:46 PM and met with law enforcement later that same night-specifically Officer Gregory Turner, Detective Joseph Belfiore, and Detective Greggory Pemberton. In the initial 911 call, Bell did not identify any of the women who attacked her by name; however, she stated that one of the female assailants was her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend. Three days after the incident, Bell met with the officers a second time and positively identified all three of the women from photo arrays. Bell also positively identified the three women in court at trial.

         However, at one point during trial, Bell testified that she had received the names of the women from Hawkins. She said that "when [she] [described] Ebony [Ruffin] to him, he told [her] exactly who she was." She admitted that she heard the name from Hawkins, who was not present during the incident. Bell testified that-prior to the incident-she knew Ruffin only from Facebook and "somebody" informed her that Ruffin and Evans were friends. Bell also stated that she was able to see "their faces" on Facebook and "that's how [she] knew exactly what [she] was doing." She further admitted that at the time of the incident-prior to conversing with anyone-she did not know the name or identity of the specific woman (Ruffin) who hit her with the hammer. However, she testified that she found out that it was Ruffin who utilized the hammer because she "got information from people who know her who heard about [how] they just jumped [her] that told [her] who it was." When defense counsel asked Bell if Hawkins provided her with the names after the attack, she said "no" he did not because she "[already] knew the names."

         Thus, it is apparent from the record that, at some point, Bell looked on Facebook to associate appellants' faces with names. At one point during trial, she was impeached regarding the fact that on February 27, 2014, she misidentified, while testifying under oath, a picture of Ruffin as Evans. However, Bell also stated that she "saw all of them" and "all of their faces" at the time of the attack, and she positively identified the three women as her attackers both in photo arrays a few days after the arrest and in court.

         B. The Threats Charge

         Approximately a month after the incident, on October 14, 2012, Evans made a jail call to Hawkins. During their conversation, Hawkins asked Evans, referring to Bell, "What did she do?" Evans responded, "You'll find out when I f*** that b**** up." As a result of the statements made in this phone call, Evans was also charged with threatening to injure in addition to the charges associated with the underlying incident.

         At the beginning of trial, Evans's counsel moved to sever the threats count, asserting that it was "not related" to the underlying assault charge. The court denied Evans's oral motion, concluding that the threats charge was properly included because it was part of the "continuing circumstances." Later in trial, counsel objected to the introduction of the jail call itself, arguing that it was "more prejudicial than probative." However, the court overruled the objection, finding that the jail call "goes directly to one of the charged offenses, " referring to the threats charge.

         II.

         A. Ruffin's Case on Appeal

         Ruffin argues two sufficiency of the evidence claims on appeal: i) Bell's identification of appellant was weak and, accordingly, the trial court erred in not granting the defense's motion for judgment of acquittal, and ii) the government failed to prove ...


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