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Correll v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 19, 2013


Eyler, Deborah S., Berger, Salmon, James P. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


Eyler, Deborah S., J.

A jury in the Circuit Court for Charles County convicted Matthew Derek Correll, the appellant, of first-degree murder (both premeditated and felony murder), second-degree murder, attempted robbery with a dangerous and deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous and deadly weapon, and two counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. The court sentenced the appellant to life in prison without parole and three consecutive sentences of twenty years each.

The appellant poses five questions for review, which we have reworded as follows:[1]

I. Was the evidence legally sufficient to support any of the convictions?
II. Did the trial court err by limiting the scope of impeachment of three State's witnesses?
III. Did the trial court err by denying the appellant's motion to preclude the testimony of Adrian Smith?
IV. Did the trial court err by allowing allegedly improper statements by the prosecutor during opening statement and closing argument?
V. Did the trial court err by failing to give certain jury instructions?

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm the judgments of the circuit court.


In the early morning hours of November 25, 2004, Christopher Mader was found dead in the driver's seat of his silver 2001 Dodge Stratus, with a gunshot wound to the head. The Stratus had come to rest on the side of Smallwood Drive, in Waldorf, after crashing into electrical boxes. It was still running, was in drive, and its back windshield was shattered. Mader had been driving home from his job as a bartender at Bennigan's.

Police were called to the scene. They recovered from the Stratus a .40 caliber bullet on the floorboard, a coin bag with $59.46, and Mader's wallet, containing $1, 080. The initial investigation into the shooting did not turn up any leads.

In March 2007, Kevin Smith, an inmate at the Brockbridge Correctional Institution and a self-described "jailhouse attorney, " wrote a letter to the Charles County Sheriff's Office in which he claimed to know the identity of the person who had shot and killed Mader. In April 2007, Smith was questioned by Detective Keith Moody, and stated that the appellant, a fellow inmate at Brockbridge, had confessed to the murder. The police undertook an investigation, which included interviews of Shawn Myers and James Chaney, friends of the appellant. On October 22, 2010, the appellant was arrested and charged in connection with Mader's murder.

At trial, Kevin Smith testified for the State. He recounted that when they were inmates the appellant had come to him for advice because he was concerned that "a guy that he had committed murder with whom he referred to as James . . . was weak and . . . might go to the police." Over the course of four or five days, the appellant told Smith the details of the murder. According to Smith, the appellant explained that he and "James" had become aware of a "guy" who worked at Bennigan's who carried large amounts of money at the end of the night. They went to "the spot, " watched the "guy" get into his car alone, and followed his car. James was driving and the appellant, who had a gun, was in the front passenger seat. They had planned to stage an accident -- to tap the back of the "guy's" car so he would get out. Smith was unsure if that is what happened. As the appellant told him, the "guy's" car did come to a stop somewhere and James and the appellant pulled up alongside it. The appellant approached the "guy, " and when the "guy" saw the gun, he sped off in his car. The appellant told Smith that he then "like panicked . . . and lost it and he shot the guy." The "guy's" car crashed into something, and the appellant "approached the car to go see if the guy had the money on him."

As the appellant further recounted to Smith, at that point, James panicked and drove off, leaving the appellant at the scene. The appellant ran behind him, but James would not stop. The appellant then ran behind a building. From there he could see people stopping where Mader's car had crashed. A few minutes later, police officers arrived. The appellant "started panicking" and buried the gun behind the building. He then walked along a "wooded type area" and eventually caught a ride from a man to whom he gave "a couple of dollars." They went to a trailer park and the appellant got out.

Smith further testified that the appellant told him the victim's name was Chris Mader; that Mader's car was a silver or gray sports car; and that the events took place around Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The appellant mentioned to Smith that "a reward was out." That prompted Smith to write the letter to the Charles County Sheriff's Office. Smith testified that he came forward with information because he was interested in the reward, wanted help with the Parole Commission, and did not like the way the appellant had spoken about Mader's parents. Smith further testified that he had not received the reward and had not been promised anything for his testimony. He acknowledged that he had testified as a State's witness on one prior occasion – during a 2001 homicide case – and that afterward, a detective had written a letter to the Parole Commission on his behalf.

James Chaney also testified as a State's witness. He stated that on the afternoon of November 24, 2004, he went to a tattoo shop in Bel Alton that was run by his friend Shawn Myers, who also was friends with the appellant. The appellant was at the store. Chaney overheard Myers and the appellant planning a robbery to get money for the tattoo shop. He did not hear the details because he walked "right back out" of the shop. Chaney waited outside the shop for a couple of hours while Myers finished some tattoos. At some point the appellant left. When Myers was finished, he and Chaney drove to Bennigan's. Chaney did not remember whose car they took.

At Bennigan's, Myers talked to Mader, who was bartending. Chaney did not overhear the full conversation, but "heard something about money." Chaney had seen Mader at Bennigan's before. About two hours later, around 1:00 a.m. on November 25, Chaney went outside to smoke a cigarette. Myers joined him, and they both sat in the car smoking. While Chaney and Myers were waiting in the parking lot, someone driving a pickup truck dropped the appellant off at Bennigan's. Chaney and Myers saw the appellant enter Bennigan's. About thirty minutes later, the appellant emerged and joined Chaney and Myers in the car. Five or ten minutes after that, Mader emerged, got in his car, and drove off.

With Myers driving, Chaney in the back seat, and the appellant in the front passenger seat, the three followed Mader's car. Once on Smallwood Drive, Myers cut Mader off and forced him to stop by pulling in front of him. The appellant got out of the car and Chaney and Myers remained inside. Thirty or forty seconds later, Chaney heard a gunshot. Myers and Chaney immediately drove off, leaving the appellant behind. Chaney did not see the appellant with a gun, and did not realize that a robbery was going to take place until he heard the gunshot.

Chaney admitted that he told the police "several" lies when he first spoke to them in 2010. The lies included that he had left Bennigan's before Myers did; that Myers had confessed to killing Mader; and that the appellant was not at Bennigan's on the night of the murder. Chaney explained that he had lied because Myers had threatened to kill him and his family, and he was afraid of retaliation. Chaney was not charged in connection with Mader's murder. The investigating officers told him they were not interested in him. Chaney understood that to mean he would not be charged if he cooperated with the State.

Shawn Myers testified for the State as well, offering a different account of the night of the murder.[2] According to Myers, he went to Bennigan's between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. on November 24, 2004, after having Thanksgiving dinner with his family. He frequented Bennigan's about once a week and knew Mader as a bartender there. Myers did not recall speaking with Mader about money that evening. Around 2:00 a.m. (on November 25), Myers called Chaney, who was not at the bar, to ask for a ride home. After Chaney arrived, the appellant approached Myers in the parking lot and asked for a ride. Myers had never met the appellant before, and told him he would have to ask Chaney, because it was Chaney's car. Chaney agreed, and the three left Bennigan's. Myers was driving, the appellant was in the front passenger seat, and Chaney was seated in the back. Myers testified that he did not think they were following anyone.

After they had been driving on Smallwood Drive for a few minutes, the appellant asked Myers to pull the car to the side of the road. Myers testified that the appellant seemed "agitated" and "irate." After Myers pulled the car over, the appellant got out and Chaney moved from the back seat to the front passenger seat. Thirty to forty-five seconds later, Myers "heard a sound like glass breaking" and Chaney said "let's get out of here." Myers then drove off.

Other witnesses for the State testified about the events of the night in question. Jason Lormore, a friend of Mader and a former bartender at Bennigan's, was at Bennigan's that night. In 2010, he was shown a photograph of the appellant and identified him as someone he frequently saw at Bennigan's and who was sitting at the bar on the night of the murder. Jamie Hyfantis, also a friend of Mader, was working as a cocktail waitress at Bennigan's that night. In 2011, she was shown a photograph of the appellant and identified him as a regular customer at Bennigan's who was there on the night of the murder. Two other bartenders who shared a shift with Mader that night testified that they saw Mader leave in his car around 2:30 a.m., and that there were other cars in the parking lot at the time.

Caesar Casiano, an off-duty detective who lived close to the scene of the crime testified that he was driving home around 2:50 a.m. on November 25, 2004, when he heard a gunshot followed by a crash. He drove around his neighborhood for a few minutes and spotted a car crashed on Smallwood Drive. Others, including one Jessica Scheyder, already had stopped at the scene. Casiano and Scheyder each testified that they observed Mader slumped over the steering wheel of his car with a gunshot wound to the head.

Michael Cassidy was the appellant's friend and former neighbor in a trailer park in Waldorf. Cassidy testified that at 3:00 a.m. on November 25, 2004, he received a telephone call from the appellant, who said he was stranded and needed a ride. About a half hour later, Cassidy and his then girlfriend, Sharon Sams, picked up the appellant at a Mobil gas station on St. Patrick's Drive, and took him back to their house.[3] Sams also testified, corroborating Cassidy's story. According to Sams, the appellant was upset when they picked him up. He was complaining that he and his girlfriend had fought, and that she had kicked him out of their house.

Adrian Smith, Michael Cassidy's stepfather, also testified for the State. Adrian Smith and the appellant were housed in neighboring cells at the Charles County Detention Center. The two would speak through an air vent. According to Smith, the appellant told him he shot someone during an attempted robbery. The appellant gave him two different versions of the events. In the first, the appellant and "his girl" were "looking for some pills." He dropped her off somewhere, picked up someone else, and then went somewhere and "a[n] altercation happened, " after which "the people that he was with left him." In the second, the appellant and some others "went to rob somebody, " and an "altercation happened and they left him at the spot and he had to call [Cassidy] to come and pick him up." Smith testified that, in both versions of the story, three people were involved in the robbery; the appellant "was the person that got out of the car and went to the person"; the appellant was the one who"shot" the person; and the appellant called Cassidy to pick him up. Smith testified that, at some point, the appellant also "mentioned Bennigan's" and asked him to urge Cassidy "not to come to court" to testify, or to limit his testimony. Smith also testified that the appellant said: "[S]hot I did, two in the head, brain matter in the left. . . . I beat the charge, got a stet dock."[4]On July 12, 2011, Smith informed the Charles County Sheriff's Office about what the appellant had told him.

After Adrian Smith's testimony, the State played a recording of a jailhouse telephone call placed by the appellant to an unidentified female on May 15, 2011. In the call, the appellant mentions speaking with Adrian Smith through the vent and says that Smith told him that Cassidy was "running around" telling people he was "State's evidence, " and "would talk to the lawyer or investigator."

When the State rested its case-in-chief, the appellant moved for judgment of acquittal on all counts. The court denied the motion. The appellant did not call any witnesses or produce any evidence. He renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal, which was again denied.

The jury deliberated for approximately an hour and a half and returned verdicts of guilty on all counts.

We shall include additional facts as necessary to our discussion.



Sufficiency of the Evidence

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