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Barnes v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

March 5, 2014

DELFORD MITCHELL BARNES
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Argued December 9, 2013

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for Prince George's County. Case No. CT 09-0699X), Melanie M. Shaw-Geter, JUDGE.

ARGUED BY Julie M. Reamy, Assigned Public Defender (Bledsoe, Reamy & Ramirez, P.A. of Baltimore, MND) on brief FOR PETITIONER/CROSS-RESPONDENT.

ARGUED BY Carrie J. Williams, Assistant Attorney General (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland, of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENT/CROSS-PETITIONER.

ARGUED BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, and Watts, JJ.

OPINION

Page 1249

[437 Md. 381] Barbera, C.J.

The present appeal has its genesis in the commission of a double murder. Petitioner Delford Mitchell Barnes was indicted in connection with those crimes, tried before a jury in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, and found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and related

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offenses. Among the evidence the State used against Petitioner at trial was a candle the police found in a storage locker belonging to him. The candle was inscribed with death threats, apparently against one of the two murder victims.

Petitioner filed a pre-trial motion seeking suppression of the contents of the storage locker, including the candle, as the tainted fruit of the consent he had given the police to search the locker. He argued that the police had obtained his consent to conduct the search while he was unlawfully detained at the police station. The suppression court denied the motion, evidently reasoning that the police had obtained Petitioner's consent during their lawful detention of him. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with that ruling and affirmed the judgments of conviction. We too agree with the decision of the suppression court and therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.

I.

The murders generating this criminal case came to light on January 14, 2009, when the Prince George's County Police Department received a 911 phone call from a friend of Seth Aidoo reporting his concern that he had not seen Mr. Aidoo or his girlfriend, Eunice Baah, in a few days. The police responded to Mr. Aidoo's home, which was located within a gated community in Upper Marlboro, Prince George's County. Upon entering the home, the police discovered the bodies of Mr. Aidoo and Ms. Baah in the basement and, shortly thereafter, pronounced both victims dead. Later autopsies revealed that Mr. Aidoo died from multiple stab wounds and Ms. Baah died from a gunshot to her head. The doctor who performed the autopsies ruled both deaths homicides.

[437 Md. 382] At some point on the night of the 911 call, the Police Department's Homicide and Forensic Services Units responded to the crime scene. The police processed the home for evidence and a murder investigation ensued. It was determined that Mr. Aidoo and Ms. Baah likely had been killed on the evening of January 12, 2009.

Detectives Anthony Schartner and William Watts and Corporal Benjamin Brown were assigned to investigate the murders. They learned during their investigation that Mr. Aidoo at one time lived at the Upper Marlboro residence with his wife, Sheila Aidoo, and her brother, Samuel Culley, Jr.[1] Ms. Aidoo moved from the home when the Aidoos separated and, shortly thereafter, Mr. Aidoo forced Culley to leave the home because of several confrontations between the two men. At the time of the murders, Ms. Aidoo, Culley, and Petitioner lived together in Ms. Aidoo's home in Springdale, Prince George's County.

The access gates to Mr. Aidoo's community were controlled by transponders. The police learned that Culley had obtained a transponder in March 2008, evidently while residing with his sister and Mr. Aidoo. Video surveillance of the entrance to the community revealed that, approximately two weeks before the murders, a Mercedes Benz registered to Petitioner entered the community using the transponder issued to Culley. On the evening of the murders, a mini-van entered the community at 6:00 p.m. using the same transponder.[2] Detectives learned that Petitioner's

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cell phone had been powered off that evening from 5:00 p.m. until 2:15 a.m., which was inconsistent with Petitioner's " normal" cell phone usage.

On February 18, 2009, Detective Schartner applied for and obtained warrants to collect Petitioner's DNA and fingerprints [437 Md. 383] and to search Ms. Aidoo's Springdale residence and Petitioner's Mercedes. Shortly after 6:00 p.m. on February 19, Corporal Brown, along with two other officers, conducted surveillance outside Ms. Aidoo's Springdale residence in preparing to execute the warrants. At approximately 6:40 p.m., Petitioner and two other individuals left the Springdale residence in Petitioner's Mercedes. The police stopped the vehicle one block from the residence. Corporal Brown identified himself as a detective with the Prince George's County Police Department, explained that he was investigating the murders of Mr. Aidoo and Ms. Baah, and advised Petitioner of the warrant to collect his DNA and fingerprints. Petitioner was asked, and he agreed, to go to the police station for the purpose of executing that warrant.[3]

Detective John Piazza transported Petitioner to the police station. Petitioner sat in the front passenger seat of the detective's vehicle and was handcuffed during the ride to the station. At the station, the police removed the handcuffs and placed Petitioner in a five-by-five-foot interview room. Petitioner was not restrained while in the room and the door to the room remained unlocked while he was inside. At some point, Petitioner asked to leave the interview room to use the restroom and was permitted to do so. During the next several hours, Petitioner made no other request to leave the room.

Meanwhile, other aspects of the investigation were ongoing. About the same time as Detective Piazza transported Petitioner to the police station, Detective Watts transported to the station the two passengers who had been riding with Petitioner when he was stopped. Other officers, including Detective Schartner and Corporal Brown, entered the Springdale residence to execute the search warrant. Corporal Brown left at 7:25 p.m., before the search concluded, in order to transport [437 Md. 384] Ms. Aidoo to the police station for questioning. Upon arrival shortly before 8:00 p.m., Corporal Brown questioned Ms. Aidoo for approximately four hours. During the course of the interview, Corporal Brown left the interview room several times in order to check on Petitioner.

Sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m., Detective Schartner and the other officers concluded the search of the Springdale residence. Detective Schartner drove from the residence directly to the police station. Corporal Brown testified at the suppression hearing that " there was no one available" to recover Petitioner's DNA and fingerprints until after the police had completed the search of the Springdale residence.

At approximately 10:15 p.m., Detectives Schartner and Watts entered the interview room in which Petitioner was waiting, took a DNA swab from his mouth, then left. The detectives returned at 10:47 p.m., took Petitioner's fingerprints, then escorted him to the restroom so he could wash his hands.

At 10:53 p.m., Detectives Schartner and Watts returned Petitioner to the interview room, where they immediately questioned him about a storage locker, a rent-payment receipt for which the police discovered during the search of the Springdale

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residence.[4] After Petitioner confirmed that the storage locker belonged to him, the detectives asked for his consent to search it, and Petitioner said " yes." At 11:00 p.m., he signed a form consenting to the search of the locker.[5]

[437 Md. 385] During the search of the storage locker, the police recovered a candle containing a hand-etched message, apparently about Mr. Aidoo. The message included several references to " Seth's" suffering injury or death, such as " I wish you would burn in a house fire," " I wish you will drown in water," " I want you to take a knife & kill yourself," " Seth please die," and " I just want you to die die die die die die die die die." The message also included ...


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