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Muhammad v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

May 29, 2015


Eyler, Deborah S., Arthur, Friedman, JJ.


Eyler, Deborah S., J.

In this appeal we hold that the Circuit Court for Baltimore City erred by admitting into evidence, as a prompt complaint of sexual assault, a factually detailed prior consistent statement of a sexual assault victim; and that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Melvin Caldwell, a/k/a Kamal Muhammad, the appellant, was charged with numerous crimes arising out of the stabbing of L.M. in a vacant row house in Baltimore City. A jury convicted him of attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, possession of a deadly weapon with intent to injure, and fourth-degree sex offense.[1]He was sentenced to imprisonment for 30 years for attempted second-degree murder, three years for possession of a deadly weapon, and one year for fourth-degree sex offense, with all terms to run consecutively. The assault convictions merged for sentencing. The appellant noted a timely appeal.


At trial, the State presented evidence showing the following. On July 21, 2012, at around 8:00 p.m., Detective Willie Craft of the Baltimore City Police Department ("BPD") was patrolling in the "Lafayette corridor" in central Baltimore when he received a call to respond to 637 West Lafayette Street, a vacant end-unit row house at the corner of Lafayette Street and Argyle Avenue ("the row house"). It only took Detective Craft a little over a minute to get to the row house. There he saw two women standing across the street. They motioned to him and reported that they had heard "screaming" coming from inside the row house. Detective Craft walked to the front of the row house and heard "a loud cry for help" and "moaning." The voice sounded like a woman. The doors and windows of the row house were boarded up. Detective Craft tried to pull the plywood off the front door, but was unable to gain entry.

Within minutes, two more police officers arrived at the scene. Detective Craft directed them to stand by the front door while he went around to the back. He ran through an empty lot next to the row house. As he approached the rear of the row house, he saw a "naked black male, " later identified as the appellant, walking in a crouched position just outside a wall that surrounded the backyard of the row house. He appeared to be carrying clothing. Detective Craft loudly identified himself as a police officer and yelled for the appellant to stop. The appellant took off running into a wooded area in the empty lot.

Detective Craft pursued the appellant on foot. The appellant dropped the items he was carrying and continued to run. Detective Craft caught up with him, forced him to the ground, and placed him in handcuffs. Detective Craft noticed scratch marks on the appellant's face.

Detective Craft asked the appellant if anybody was inside the row house. The appellant replied, "No, Officer, nobody's in there." Detective Craft then asked whether there was a "woman injured inside the dwelling." The appellant said, "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know."

By then, more police officers had arrived. They took custody of the appellant. Detective Craft and another officer entered the row house through the back door. The plywood covering that door had been partially pried off, permitting ingress and egress. Inside, they found L.M. lying naked in a pool of blood next to a blood-soaked mattress. She had multiple stab wounds to the side of her neck and one stab wound to the back of her head. On the mattress was a black-handled knife, covered with blood. L.M. was moaning softly and her eyes were "flicker[ing]." She did not speak to the officers. She was transported to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit ("Shock Trauma").

Detective Craft recovered the items the appellant had dropped as he fled. They included men's clothing; a woman's pocketbook that contained an identification card for L.M., a syringe, and a bottlecap; and a wallet with numerous identification cards for the appellant.

Early the next morning, Detective Robert Bell, who was assigned to the BPD's Sex Crimes Unit, transported a sexual assault forensic examination ("SAFE") nurse, Ben Lebovitz, to Shock Trauma.[2] Nurse Lebovitz performed a SAFE examination on L.M., who was intubated and sedated at the time. He observed bruising on her forehead, pooling of blood around her right eye, swelling on her right cheek, and multiple abrasions around her tongue. Two of L.M.'s front teeth were missing, one on the top and one on the bottom, and another bottom tooth was loose. There were numerous internal and external abrasions around L.M.'s vagina. Nurse Lebovitz took oral, vaginal, anal, and fingernail swabs and a blood sample from L.M.

Detective Bell obtained a warrant to collect forensic evidence from the appellant. Around 10:00 a.m., he and Nurse Lebovitz met with the appellant at the police station. Nurse Lebovitz "took facial swabs from [the appellant's] face, oral swabs from the inside of his mouth, blood from his fourth finger on his right hand[, ] . . . fingernail scrapings[, ] head hair pullings, pubic hair co[mbings], and pubic hair pullings." Detective Bell photographed the appellant's face. The samples all were submitted for DNA analysis.

L.M. underwent surgery for her injuries. On July 25, 2012, four days after she was stabbed, her breathing tube was removed and she was brought out of sedation, which enabled her to speak. Detective Bell interviewed her at Shock Trauma that day. We shall discuss that interview infra.

L.M. testified that she was 52 years old and had been a heroin addict for over 20 years, including at the time of the events at issue. (She claimed to have stopped using heroin about five months before the trial.) On July 21, 2012, she spent the morning helping a friend set up his booth at Artscape. That afternoon, her sister called and invited her to a crab feast for her brother-in-law's birthday. Around 3:00 p.m., she walked to Argyle Avenue to purchase heroin to bring with her to the crab feast. She noticed the appellant walking behind her, "stalking" her. As she walked past a "gully, " he grabbed her from behind, placing a choke hold around her neck. He told her he was "BGF" and that she wasn't "paying [her] dues in the neighborhood." She began having difficulty breathing because the appellant's forearm was pressed against her throat. He told her she would be "kicking out some pussy, " which she understood to mean he was going to rape her.

After that, L.M. "blacked out." When she awoke she was lying on a mattress inside a vacant house with her pants off. The appellant was naked and was straddling her with his penis in her face. He told her to "[s]uck [his] dick." He also told her she would not be "leaving anytime soon" and that she should "take the rest of [her] stuff off, " including her jewelry, so as not to scratch him. After L.M. removed her clothing and jewelry as directed, the appellant put his penis in her mouth.

Thinking the appellant was going to kill her, L.M. decided to bite his penis and try to escape. As the appellant put his hand on her forehead and began to push her away from him, she "bit as hard as [she] could." In response, he punched her in the face repeatedly, knocking out some of her teeth. At that point, his penis fell out of her mouth and she jumped up and ran to a boarded up window. She screamed, "Help me, help me." The appellant grabbed her and said, "You're going to die." She was "fighting and grabbing his face and scratching him." He pushed her to the ground and pressed his "thumbs in [her] neck, " ...

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