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Mason v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

September 28, 2017

Darnell Mason, Appellant,
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Argued March 28, 2017

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia CF3-17659-13, Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge

          Matthew B. Kaplan for appellant.

          Karen P. Seifert, Trial Attorney, Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, with whom Channing D. Phillips, United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, and Elizabeth Trosman and John P. Mannarino, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Glickman and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Ruiz, Senior Judge.

          McLeese, Associate Judge

         Appellant Darnell Mason challenges his convictions for tampering with evidence, destruction of property, obstruction of justice, and unlawful entry. We hold that the trial court committed reversible error by disqualifying a potential juror. We therefore reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings. We also hold that the evidence was sufficient to support Mr. Mason's tampering convictions, so that Mr. Mason may be retried on those charges. We do not address Mr. Mason's other challenges to his convictions, because the circumstances giving rise to those challenges may well not arise on remand.

         I.

         The evidence at trial indicated the following. At around 2:45 a.m. on October 3, 2013, Mikiyas Getachew was entering his home on Blaine Street NE when several men wearing black ski masks approached him. One of the men was armed with a pistol, and the men forced Mr. Getachew to open the door to his home. The man with the pistol kept it pointed at Mr. Getachew, his wife, Nava Wasihun, and his mother, Eleni Wodaje, while the other men searched for and removed valuable items including watches, cell phones, televisions, computers, an engagement ring, the keys to Ms. Wasihun's Nissan Altima, and the keys to Ms. Wodaje's Honda CRV.

         About forty-five minutes after the robbery began, the men drove off in the Altima and the CRV, taking the other stolen property with them. After dividing some of the stolen property among themselves, they took the rest to a house at 308 Raleigh Street SE. That house was unoccupied and for sale, and none of the men had permission to enter it.

         Two of the men, Greg Gantt and Shareem Hall, drove the stolen cars to Brothers Place SE to avoid "leav[ing] any traces." While walking away from the vehicles, they ran into Ricardo Blakeney, who joined them. Ultimately, Mr. Gantt, Mr. Hall, Andre Townsend, and Mr. Mason decided to destroy any physical evidence left in the cars by setting the cars on fire. At a gas station, Mr. Hall filled a bottle with gasoline, and the men drove the cars toward a field at MLK Jr. Elementary School, arriving at about 5:05 a.m. They parked the cars next to each other, and Mr. Hall doused both cars with gasoline. Mr. Gantt and Mr. Townsend each set one of the cars on fire, and both cars were severely damaged as a result.

         After stopping to sell two stolen cell phones, the group returned to 308 Raleigh. The group then used some drugs and fell asleep. The police tracked the group through a court-ordered GPS ankle monitor that Mr. Gantt was wearing. Officers went to 308 Raleigh and knocked on the front and back doors of the house. The group woke up, scattered the larger stolen items around the house, and brought the smaller stolen items into the attic, where they hid. After several hours, all five men eventually left the house. Mr. Mason tried to flee by jumping over a fence to an alley behind the house, but he was tackled by an officer. After the men were arrested, the police recovered four black face masks and much of the stolen property from 308 Raleigh.

         The police did not recover the gun. Mr. Hall last saw the gun in Mr. Townsend's possession as they left Blaine Street and Mr. Townsend got into the Nissan with Mr. Mason. Mr. Hall believed that the gun must have been left in the attic at 308 Raleigh. After his arrest, Mr. Mason made two phone calls from jail in which he apparently asked his friend to find and remove the gun from the attic.

         II.

         Mr. Mason argues that the trial court committed reversible error by ...


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