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Coleman v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

September 24, 2013

OGDEN E. COLEMAN, II
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Barbera, C.J. Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald [*] Bell, JJ.

OPINION

Greene, J.

Ogden Coleman, II, ("Petitioner") was tried by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County in July 2005 and convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder in the death of Quatrina Johnson. The court sentenced him to life without parole for first degree murder and to life imprisonment for conspiracy, to be served consecutively. On August 27, 2009, Coleman filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to Md. Code (2001, 2005 Cum. Supp.), § 7-102 of the Criminal Procedure Article, in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The Circuit Court denied the petition without reaching the merits of the specific claim at issue in the present case. Coleman filed an Application for Leave to Appeal, which the Court of Special Appeals denied. Thereafter, Coleman filed a motion for reconsideration of the denial of his Application for Leave to Appeal, and the intermediate appellate court issued an Order granting the motion and recalling their earlier opinion. On reconsideration of Coleman's Application for Leave to Appeal, the intermediate appellate court determined that the Application lacked merit because Coleman was not prejudiced by the alleged errors of his trial counsel. The court then denied Coleman's Application. On November 16, 2012, we granted certiorari, Coleman v. State, 429 Md. 303, 55 A.3d 906 (2012), to answer the following question:

Whether the Petitioner was prejudiced, in the Strickland v. Washington context, when trial counsel failed to object to the roughly 30 instances during trial where the State admitted evidence that Petitioner had remained silent in the face of police questioning/accusation while Petitioner was in custody and after he had been issued Miranda warnings?

We shall hold that Coleman received ineffective assistance of counsel and that he is therefore entitled to a new trial. This holding is based on trial counsel's failure to object to the State's numerous references to Coleman's post-Miranda silence, which constituted deficient performance, and the substantial possibility that Coleman suffered prejudice as a result of the deficiency.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The State charged Petitioner in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County with (1) first degree murder, and (2) conspiracy to commit first degree murder, in the death of Quatrina Johnson. Quatrina Johnson was the foster sister of Shaday McKinnon.

McKinnon was involved in a sexual relationship with Jason Richards when she was 13 years old and he was 24. After McKinnon and Johnson's foster mother, Sheila Porter, found out about the relationship, Porter contacted the police, and Richards was charged with rape. Richards apparently decided that if someone were to kill McKinnon, he could avoid prosecution for the crime, so he enlisted Coleman, as well as Eric Watkins and Michael Shelton, to help him.

On July 19, 2004, Richards went to McKinnon's house and persuaded her to run away with him to California; McKinnon asked Johnson to come along, and they both left with Richards and Watkins. The group was eventually joined by Shelton, Coleman, and Coleman's girlfriend, Sandra Atueyi. On the evening of July 20, 2004, the group drove two cars to Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Baltimore City, where Johnson was attacked by one of the men.[1] During the attack, Johnson, apparently, was hit on the head with a board, and then choked; the State and the defense theories differ as to who actually choked Johnson. Neither McKinnon nor Atueyi witnessed the attack. Johnson's body was then placed in the trunk of Watkins's car, and subsequently moved to another vehicle after discovering Watkins's car had a flat tire. The body was transported to Gwynnvale Park in Baltimore County, where Coleman and Shelton poured gasoline on the body and set it on fire. According to the autopsy, Johnson likely died from asphyxiation, although it was inconclusive as to the cause of the asphyxiation.[2] There was also a possibility that blunt force trauma to the head was the cause of death.

The issue before this Court specifically concerns the circumstances surrounding Coleman's arrest and subsequent questioning by police on July 29, 2004. Coleman was advised of his Miranda[3] rights twice before Detective Gary Childs of the Baltimore County Police Department interrogated him. Coleman initially denied having any knowledge of the crime during his interview, but subsequently revealed that he was present and assisted in the cover up. Detective Childs, during his testimony at Coleman's trial in July 2005, read the interrogation statement into the record, and there were numerous instances where Coleman's decision to remain silent was noted. Excerpts from Detective Childs's testimony are reproduced below (emphasis added):

State of Maryland: What did [Petitioner] tell you, Detective?
Detective Childs: He was asked several times about the individual and when he knew she was dead. He denied at first any knowledge of seeing a dead girl or that he did anything for anybody.
He stated the first time that, [t]he only thing I know is one of the girls hopped in my car.
Coleman – we then asked him to talk to us about the other girl, the victim. Coleman said either she was – I said to Coleman, [e]ither she was dead when you first saw her ...

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