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Walker v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

February 21, 2019

Willie Walker, Jr., Appellant,
United States, Appellee, and Ricky Donaldson, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.

          Argued October 17, 2018

          Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF3-16946-08 and CF3-16948-08 - Walker) (CF1-25684-08 - Donaldson) (Hon. John Ramsey Johnson, Trial Judge)

          Nathaniel S. Wright, with whom Jeffrey T. Green, Lindsey N. Walter, and Robin E. Wright were on the brief, for appellant Willie Walker, Jr.

          Nancy E. Allen for appellant Ricky Donaldson.

          Valinda Jones, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Nicholas P. Coleman, Kimberley C. Nielsen, and Jeffrey Pearlman, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, and Glickman and Fisher, Associate Judges.


         In these consolidated appeals, Willie Walker, Jr. and Ricky Donaldson challenge the trial court's denial of their post-trial motions, which claimed that they were entitled to a new trial because of newly discovered evidence. Walker also asserts that reversible error occurred during the trial. We affirm.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Appellants Willie Walker, Jr. and Ricky Donaldson were tried by a jury between January and March 2014. The charges arose out of three separate events: the February 4, 2008, shooting of Patricia Holmes; the March 31, 2008, shooting of Delois Persha; and the September 13, 2008, murder of Delois Persha. Walker was found guilty of several crimes in connection with the three events and sentenced to 88 years in prison. Donaldson was found guilty of several crimes in connection with the murder of Persha and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

         A. Appellants and Their Victims

         Walker (known as "Wee Wee") and Donaldson (known as "Slick") were members of the LeDroit Park crew. The crew was involved in selling drugs and committing violent crimes, and its members stored communal guns and ammunition in "trap houses" in the neighborhood. The government alleged that the LeDroit Park crew was a criminal street gang, citing evidence of the crimes its members committed and graffiti with messages such as "DBD" or "Death Before Dishonor," "Kill Rats," and "Respect G's or Die," meaning snitching was not tolerated and members of the crew would die before snitching to the government.

         Walker and Donaldson were close friends with Devon Davis[1] (also known as "D Nice") who had a court-imposed curfew while Walker was incarcerated. Patricia Holmes (known as "Trish") grew up in LeDroit Park and bought drugs from many people there, including Walker, whose family she had known since before Walker was born. In the past Holmes had run errands for Walker and they got into physical altercations in which Walker threatened to shoot and kill Holmes. Delois Persha (known as "Peaches") had known Walker "since he was a baby" and had seen him selling drugs. Holmes and another witness from the neighborhood testified that they knew Walker as "Wee Wee."

         B. The Shootings

         Patricia Holmes was shot outside of Jerry's carry-out restaurant at the intersection of Georgia and Florida Avenues, N.W., on February 4, 2008, after getting into an argument with appellant Walker. When the police arrived at the scene, Holmes repeatedly screamed, "Wee Wee shot me." Two days later, Holmes looked at a nine-photo array and identified Walker as the shooter. Before her grand jury testimony in August 2008, Holmes identified Walker as "Wee Wee" from a book containing photographs of approximately 50 different people. (The jury was not told of this identification.) At trial Holmes identified Walker as "Wee Wee" and confirmed that Walker shot her. According to Holmes, Donaldson was with Walker at the time of the shooting.

         On March 31, 2008, Delois Persha was shot outside of an upstairs apartment at 242 W Street, N.W., a block north of LeDroit Park, while waiting for Terrill McCray to come to the door. When Persha entered the apartment building, she had seen Walker holding a gun and arguing with a man in the hallway. While waiting for McCray, Persha told Deandre Swann, who had come out of the apartment, to hurry up because she wasn't "going to let him sit [her] down and shoot [her] like he did that girl Trish [Holmes]." Walker and Swann soon came up the steps while Persha was waiting outside the apartment, and Walker shot her multiple times. Before Walker shot Persha, he said "what you looking at" and "you fuck with me, I'm going to shoot you like I did that bitch Trish. Bitch, I'll kill you." Persha briefly lost consciousness and when she woke up, she was shot two or three more times. In total, Persha was shot six times. While in the hospital in April 2008, Persha identified Walker as the shooter while examining a nine-photo array.

         Less than six months later, while Walker was in jail, the police found Persha lying on the sidewalk bleeding. A medical examiner found that Persha died as a result of gunshot wounds to the head and torso. At trial the government introduced letters between Walker and Donaldson that police found while executing search warrants for Walker's jail cell and the homes of Donaldson's parents. The government argued that these letters were coded messages which showed that Walker and Donaldson conspired to shoot Holmes and Persha before they could testify at Walker's trial. The government also introduced calls Walker made while in jail that referred to Donaldson.

         C. Jolanta Little

         On September 27, 2008, Jolanta[2] Little was arrested for an unrelated carjacking and interviewed by detectives. Little confessed to the carjacking and subsequently told other detectives that he saw Donaldson shoot and kill Persha. During that videotaped interview, Little identified a photograph of Donaldson and a photograph of the type of gun used by Donaldson, described characteristics of the gun used by Donaldson, and marked on maps to show where the shooting took place. The detectives also spoke to Little about the theory that Walker arranged Persha's murder and Little responded with information about the friendship of Walker and Donaldson.

         Little entered into a plea deal and signed a cooperation agreement with the government. When he testified before a grand jury on November 26, 2008, Little confirmed that he had reviewed the videotape of the September 27 interview and wanted to incorporate that recording into his grand jury testimony.[3] However, when the grand jury reconvened on December 11, 2008, Little testified that what he told the detectives in September was not the truth but was based on rumors he had heard. Little said that he lied to the detectives to get out of jail, and put Donaldson in jail instead, because he had heard a rumor that Donaldson was trying to rob him.[4]

         At a pretrial deposition over which the trial court presided on January 14-15, 2014, Little testified that he was the person who killed Persha. At the time of this deposition, Little also stated that he had been granted immunity and believed he could not be prosecuted for Persha's murder. At trial Little testified again that he had killed Persha and asserted that he did not know where Donaldson was when he did so. A large portion of the videotape of Little's interview with detectives in September 2008 was played before the jury at trial.

         D. This Court's Decision in Little

         After appellants' trial was over, this court reversed Little's convictions, holding that his confession to the carjacking should have been suppressed. Little v. United States, 125 A.3d 1119, 1122 (D.C. 2015). Looking at the totality of the circumstances and focusing on the detectives' statements to Little about possible sexual assault in jail and the police pursuing other charges against Little for crimes they did not truly suspect him of committing, we concluded that Little's ultimate confession to the carjacking on September 27, 2008, was coerced. Id. at 1127-28. This court commented that a negotiation was taking place during the interrogation and that one of the detectives was trying to get Little to confess and "work out a deal" once he put "some meat . . . on the table." Id. at 1129. The court remanded the case for a new trial from which Little's confession to the carjacking would be excluded because "the combination of the timing and the nature and intensity" of the detectives' tactics led to the conclusion that the confession was not voluntary. Id. at 1133.

         Soon after Little confessed to the carjacking, he spoke to homicide detectives. This court did not address whether Little's subsequent statements implicating Donaldson in the 2008 murder were involuntary, but merely referred to these later statements in a footnote. Id. at 1130 n.10 (referring to the police "questioning [Little] about other crimes he witnessed or knew about").

         E. The Issues On Appeal

         Appellants timely appealed their convictions and also filed motions for a new trial, which the trial court denied. Portions of the videotape of Little's interviews with the carjacking and homicide detectives were played for the jury at the trial in 2014, prior to our ruling in Little. Appellants now assert that their constitutional rights were violated because Little's statements implicating Donaldson and Walker are the tainted fruit of Little's coerced confession to the carjacking. As a result, they contend, the government has the burden to show that Little's statements about the murder were free of taint. The government responds that it is appellants' burden to show that Little's later statements about the murder were coerced and unreliable.

         Appellant Walker has also presented other issues, such as the trial court's denial of a pretrial hearing to determine the reliability of identification testimony by Holmes, the trial court's decision not to determine prior to trial whether the government had sufficient evidence that he was a member of a criminal street gang, and the trial court's admission of evidence as statements of co-conspirators. Appellant Donaldson ...

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