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Simpson v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 25, 2013

WILLIAM SIAM SIMPSON, III
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Krauser, C.J., Graeff, Hotten, JJ.

OPINION

Hotten, J.

On June 30, 2010, William Siam Simpson, III, appellant, was indicted in connection with three incidents of arson occurring on November 15, 2009, April 4, 2010, and May 16, 2010. Specifically, those offenses included the following counts: (a) two counts of first-degree arson;[1] (b) one count of second degree arson;[2] (c) one count of first-degree burglary;[3] (d) one count of third-degree burglary;[4] (e) one count of fourth-degree burglary;[5] and (f) four counts of reckless endangerment.[6] After a three-day trial concluding on January 13, 2011, and one day of deliberation, the circuit court accepted a partial verdict, finding appellant not guilty of one count of reckless endangerment. Thereafter, the court declared a mistrial on the remaining nine counts.

A new trial was held on the remaining counts from July 12, 2011, until July 14, 2011. On July 15, 2011, the court accepted a partial verdict – finding appellant guilty of attempted second degree arson – and declared a mistrial on the remaining counts. Appellant subsequently filed a motion for new trial on the basis of what appellant considered prosecutorial misconduct, in violation of appellant's rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which the circuit court denied on January 27, 2012. Appellant was sentenced to ten years of incarceration, with all but two years suspended, followed by a period of probation.

Appellant noted a timely appeal on February 6, 2012. Appellant presents two questions for our review:

I. Did the prosecutor violate Simpson's rights under the Fifth Amendment [of the United States Constitution] and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights by repeatedly assuring the jury during opening statement that Simpson "will tell you" that he committed the alleged offenses[?]
II. Did the trial court err by permitting the State to offer opinion testimony from a fire investigator concerning his canine partner's alleged detection of an accelerant on and in Simpson's car and on his shoes?

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 15, 2009, Jeffrey Byers ("Mr. Byers"), his wife, Yolanda Byers ("Ms. Byers"), and their daughter, Jenaigh Byers ("Jenaigh"), returned to their home on Sandy Bar Drive, Fort Washington, Prince George's County, Maryland, at approximately 1:00 a.m. Mr. Byers noticed flickering lights shining through his window blinds and thought it was "like a fire engine, a police truck, or something." He walked over to his bedroom window to determine the source of the lights, and "saw fire coming out of the front of [his detached, two-car] garage" and its three-bedroom loft. He yelled to his family, alerting them of the fire, and proceeded to telephone the fire department.

Thereafter, Mr. Byers ran outdoors, grabbed his garden hose, and attempted to contain the fire by "spraying it down." Unfortunately, the garage was engulfed by the blaze, and he soon realized that "the fire[, ] at that point[, ] was too much for the water hose." Nonetheless, Mr. Byers attempted to prevent the fire from spreading to his family's home. The firemen arrived and asked him to move to a more secure location. Following their advisement, the firemen began spraying down the Byers' residence. Confused, Mr. Byers' asked, "why, and [one fireman] said because the garage was pretty much already a loss, " and the firemen "wanted to cool down the main house . . . to keep the fire from spreading."

By the time the fire was extinguished, there was little left of the garage's structure. All of the family's personal property stored within the garage was a total loss. Because the cause of the fire appeared suspicious, the police were called for further investigation. Mr. and Ms. Byers provided the police a list of potential suspects. In addition, Investigator William Murray of the Prince George's County Fire Department's Office of the Fire Marshal, an active member of the International Association of Arson Investigators, conducted an investigation of the charred structure in the fire's aftermath. After assessing the damage to the property and determining the fire's origin, he concluded within a reasonable degree of certainty that the fire "was set by human hand." As a result, the Fire Department installed surveillance cameras in the area around the Byers' home, but subsequently removed them on April 3, 2010.

On April 4, 2010, Mr. Byers awoke around 3:00 a.m., and discovered the home was filled with smoke. Concerned for the safety of his family, he proceeded to determine the origin of the smoke, then exited the home to inspect its perimeter. Upon reaching the backside of the home, he "saw the roof above [the] dining room on fire in two places." Mr. Byers "yelled back" to Ms. Byers, informing her of the fire, and they "started calling 911." Mr. Byers then "ran to get the water hose, and ran . . . to the back of the house, " and attempted to extinguish the fire. Fortunately, he was able to contain the fire until the Fire Department arrived to extinguish the flames. Lieutenant Brandon Goff of the Office of the Fire Marshal responded to the scene, and detected the strong smell of accelerant in the air. Mr. and Ms. Byers provided law enforcement officers and the fire investigator with an additional list of possible suspects.

Law enforcement officers collected several samples of burned wood, soil, and debris as well as partially burned tar paper and pieces of roofing for testing. They also collected an unburned sample of roofing as a control sample for testing. Forensic Chemist Andrew Hawkins of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives analyzed the samples for ignitable fluids, and determined that all provided samples, but for the control, contained gasoline.

Following the fire of April 4, 2010, the Byers family replaced the two-camera surveillance system they originally used at their residence with an "eight-camera system that ha[d] a built-in DVR." Mr. Byers purchased an additional four cameras for the system, resulting in a twelve-camera surveillance system that monitored the entire perimeter of the Byers' residence. The system was equipped with infrared motion detection and recording capabilities that enabled the Byers to remotely survey the home. Additionally, Mr. and Ms. Byers began sleeping in shifts to monitor the security of their home.

During Ms. Byers' shift on May 16, 2010, at approximately 1:00 a.m., she noted on the surveillance cameras' footage, that "all of a sudden, someone started walking down the street, alongside [the Byers'] yard, and then . . . [she] watched [that person] take a left turn into [their] driveway." The individual was wearing a mask, hood, jacket, jeans, a pair of tennis shoes, and carried a container. Ms. Byers then witnessed the individual approach her Nissan Altima vehicle and begin "dous[ing]" it with an unknown liquid. She then alerted her husband.

Jenaigh Byers also maintained a monitor of the surveillance system in her bedroom. After witnessing the same events as her mother, Jenaigh exclaimed, "It's a man, there's a man!" Jasmine Byers, Mr. and Ms. Byers' other daughter was awakened by the family's commotion. The entire family proceeded to the living room, which maintained a picture window facing the driveway, and Ms. Byers began pounding on the window, shouting to the man, "Get away from the car, get away from my car[!]" In response, the man stepped into the Byers' yard and gestured to Ms. Byers with a middle-finger. As the family dialed the police, the man retreated, initially dropping a bag and the container with which he was pouring liquid onto Ms. Byers' vehicle. He subsequently picked up the articles and fled from the Byers' property, running "back off up the street."

As the family waited, Mr. Byers, Ms. Byers, and Jasmine realized that the man who had attempted to ignite Ms. Byers' vehicle was appellant, Jasmine's former boyfriend from high school, based on the man's posture, walk, and body frame. When the police arrived, the family provided the officers with appellant's name, indicated that he lived within a five to ten minute drive of the Byers' residence, and provided the officers with appellant's address.

Captain Brian Radinsky ("Captain Radinsky") of the Prince George's County Fire Department and EMS, spoke to police officers at the Byers' residence and observed that Ms. Byers' vehicle had, in fact, been doused with gasoline. He subsequently viewed the surveillance footage and was provided with appellant's address. Thereafter, he, along with his partner Robert Kaleda ("Investigator Kaleda"), drove to appellant's address located on Surrey Circle Drive, Fort Washington, Prince George's County, Maryland. Captain Radinsky spoke to police officers already there and observed Investigator Kaleda perform an exterior canine scan of the appellant's vehicle. Investigator Kaleda's canine partner, Joy, had two positive alerts to the presence of accelerants: (1) at the driver's door handle, and (2) at the trunk's keyhole.[7]

After witnessing Joy's alert, Captain Radinsky, along with two police officers, knocked on appellant's door. Appellant answered, "and he asked what was going on." As Captain Radinsky and the two officers walked inside, they smelled a strong odor of gasoline. Captain Radinsky placed appellant under arrest. Appellant subsequently consented to a canine search of his person, and a canine and physical search of his vehicle. Although no inculpatory evidence was found on the appellant's person, Joy alerted to the presence of accelerants in appellant's trunk and underneath the driver's seat of appellant's vehicle.

Appellant and his father, William Siam Simpson, Jr., also consented to a canine search of his bedroom and the laundry room. During the canine search of appellant's bedroom, Joy alerted to a pair of black and gray Nike brand athletic shoes located in the appellant's closet. Inspector Kaleda collected the shoes, placing them each individually in one-gallon cans for forensic laboratory analysis.[8]

En route to transporting appellant to the District IV Oxon Hill police station, appellant blurted out to Captain Radinsky that he did not understand what was going on and that "he had been out earlier that night on a date." Appellant then asked Captain Radinsky "if [he] wanted to see text messages to who[m]ever he was on a date with, to prove it." Captain Radinsky advised appellant that they could discuss it after their arrival at the station.

At the police station, appellant was placed in an interview room and advised of his Miranda[9] rights. He subsequently executed an advice of rights and waiver form, and was instructed before answering any questions that the Byers' had a video surveillance system. Appellant admitted that he had poured gasoline on Ms. Byers' vehicle and was going to ignite it with a lighter in his front right pocket. He also admitted to burning down the Byers' garage and setting fire to the roof of the Byers' home, as reflected in the following colloquy with the captain:

[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: What did you use to ignite the fire in the garage?
[APPELLANT]: Lighter.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: On the roof?
[APPELLANT]: Lighter.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: Did you have a lighter with you tonight?
[APPELLANT]: Yes. In my right pocket.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: Why did you set fire to the garage, house, and attempt to burn the car?
[APPELLANT]: Grudge against the family, always treated me like shit.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: How did you know the family (Byers)?
[APPELLANT]: Dated Jasmine Byers for 17 months.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: When did you set the fire in the garage?
[APPELLANT]: Around Nov[.] 2009, about 2am.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: What did you put the gasoline in when you burned the garage?
[APPELLANT]: A big water bottle.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: When did you set the roof on fire?
[APPELLANT]: A couple of months ago, middle of the night.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: What did you put the gasoline in when you burned the roof?
[APPELLANT]: A big water bottle.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: What did you put the gasoline in when you tried to burn the Nissan?
[APPELLANT]: Metal canteen kept at house, in garage.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: Did you know that the Byer's [sic] were home when you burned the roof?
[APPELLANT]: I assumed everyone was in the main house, I didn't want to kill anybody.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: Where are the clothes you wore tonight when you attempted to set the Nissan on fire?
[APPELLANT]: In my room, coat is in closet.
[CAPTAIN RADINSKY]: What shoes were you wearing tonight when you attempted to set the Nissan on fire?
[APPELLANT]: Grey and black Nike shoes.

The dialogue, supra, was transcribed, initialed and signed by appellant.

Following this dialogue, appellant was provided with a pen and paper to write a statement. After Captain Radinsky exited the room, appellant wrote the following statement:

I[, ] William Siam Simpson[, ] III[, ] burned the garage down of the [B]yers house. I set the fire inside the garage. I ran away and let the fire burned [sic]. I just poured gasoline all over the garage and let it burn. The second attempt was the roof that I set on fire. I just climbed up the tree pour[ed] gasoline and just left. Let the house burned [sic]. My third attempt was tonight. I wore a mask, gloves, leather jacket, [and] poured gasoline all over the [N]issan [A]ltima and tried to burn it. I'm crazy[, ] and I need help. I have anger management issues[.] I cannot control myself. Put me in the chair for lethal injection. I'm ashamed of what I [have] become[.] I [have] failed my family, friends, and myself. God help me!

Appellant subsequently signed the statement, confirming that it was "true and correct to the best of [his] knowledge."

On June 30, 2010, appellant was indicted by grand jury with ten offenses in connection with the three incidents of arson, supra. The State presented its case against appellant during the course of a three-day trial that concluded on January 13, 2011. After one day of deliberation, the circuit court accepted a partial verdict, finding appellant not guilty of one count of reckless endangerment. Thereafter, the court declared a mistrial on the remaining nine counts. A new trial was held on those counts from July 12, 2011, until July 14, 2011.

On July 15, 2011, the court accepted a partial verdict–finding appellant guilty of attempted second degree arson– and declared a mistrial on the remaining counts. Appellant subsequently filed a motion for new trial on the basis of alleged prosecutorial misconduct in violation of appellant's rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which the circuit court denied on January 27, 2012. On that same date, appellant was sentenced to ten years incarceration, with all but two years suspended, followed by a period of probation. Appellant noted a timely appeal on February 6, 2012.

Additional facts will be presented infra to the extent they are material to the discussion below.

II.

DISCUSSION (A) The State's Opening Statement.

The trial began with the prosecutor presenting her opening statement as follows: On November the 15th, 2009, the [appellant] came onto the Byers' property, came to their home, and set their detached garage on fire. It burned down to the ground, along with all of their personal and sentimental property inside.

And on April the 4th, 2010, the [appellant] came back to the Byers' home and set the roof of their home on fire. There were four family members home at the time. They woke up in the middle of the night, or in the early morning hours, to a smoke-filled house and flames.
On May 16th, 2010, yet again, the [appellant] returned back to the Byers' home, and while on video surveillance poured gasoline on Mrs. Byers' car and attempted to set it on fire.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to tell you up front that this is not a who-done-it case, and this is not [a] trial where the facts of how the crime was committed [are] missing, and this is not a case where motive is a mystery.
Ladies and gentlemen . . ., the [appellant] himself will tell you, number one, that he burned down that garage –

At this point, appellant's counsel noted an objection, which was overruled. The State continued by indicating to the jury that appellant would tell them how he committed the acts of arson.

Appellant's counsel presented an additional objection to this argument, which the court overruled. The prosecutor then concluded her opening statement, stating:

And further, he'll tell you why he did it.

But even with the [appellant]'s own words, the State – I will bring members of the Prince George's County's Fire Marshal's [O]ffice, and members of the Prince George's County Police Department, here to testify before you.
And they're going to sit right there in that jury box and they're going to corroborate everything that the [appellant] has said; along with the fire investigators, a forensic chemist, who is going to come in and tell you all about his analysis of the State's evidence that was collected in this case.
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask that you give this case your undivided attention, I ask that you pay close attention to what comes from that witness stand, because at the end of this trial[, ] I'm going to ask you to listen to what the [appellant] has said, to listen to how his words are corroborated; and when you go back into that deliberation ...

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