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United States v. Nelson

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

October 3, 2019

UNITED STATES, APPELLANT,
v.
DERRIE A. NELSON, APPELLEE.

         Argued June 20, 2018

Page 718

         

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (FEL-1057-85). (Hon. Todd E. Edelman, Motions Judge).

         COUNSEL:

          Valinda Jones, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Mark A. Aziz, and Eric Hansford, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellant.

          Alice Wang, Public Defender Service, with whom Samia Fam and Jonathan Anderson, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Judges: Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Chief Judge, and BECKWITH and EASTERLY, Associate Judges.

         OPINION

Page 719

         Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge :

         On May 27, 1986, a jury found appellee Derrie Nelson guilty of felony murder while armed of Robert Nichols, assault with intent to kill while armed (" AWIKWA" ) and armed kidnapping of a second victim, Leonard Kelly, first-degree burglary while armed, and carrying a pistol without a license (" CPWL" ).[1] Nelson was thereafter sentenced to forty-two years to life in prison. On direct appeal, we vacated Nelson's armed burglary conviction as duplicative of the felony murder but affirmed the remainder of his convictions.[2] In 2015, Nelson moved to vacate all of his convictions and for a new trial, pursuant to D.C. Code ยง 23-110 (2012 Repl.) and Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 79 S.Ct. 1173, 3 L.Ed.2d 1217 (1959), claiming that the government presented false and misleading evidence — expert testimony on hair fiber comparison — that prejudiced his trial and violated his constitutional right to due process. The trial court vacated Nelson's convictions, finding that the government violated Nelson's due process rights by presenting false and misleading expert testimony, and ordered a new trial. The government appeals the trial court's order. The government is only appealing the trial court's decision to vacate Nelson's convictions for AWIKWA, armed kidnapping, and CPWL. The government concedes that the hair fiber comparison testimony was false, but maintains that it was not material to Nelson's conviction for the aforementioned charges. We affirm.

          I. Factual and Procedural Background

          A. The Trial

          The underlying facts of this case are recited fully in Nelson, supra note 2, 601 A.2d at 585-91, so we summarize them only in relevant part here. At trial, the government's evidence showed that Nelson shot and killed Robert Nichols and tried to kill Leonard Kelly in the late evening and early morning hours of February 12 and 13, 1985. Nelson's motive for Nichols's murder was unclear. Nelson had lived in Kelly's house for a short time, from ...


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