United States District Court, D. Maryland
ELLIS LEE HICKMAN, JR. #333-443 Petitioner
BOBBY SHEARIN, WARDEN, et al., Respondents
Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge
response to the petition for writ of habeas corpus with
exhibits, as supplemented, was filed in the above-captioned
case. The matter is now ready for review. The court finds no
need for an evidentiary hearing. See Rule 8(a),
Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United
States District Courts; Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.
2014). For the reasons to follow, the petition will be
and Procedural History
Ellis Lee Hickman was charged with first- and second-degree
murder, stalking, harassment, robbery, first-degree burglary,
and arson in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. (ECF No.
7, Ex. 1 at 3-5.) After a jury trial, petitioner was
convicted of first-degree murder, arson, and harassment
(which merged into the first-degree murder conviction).
(Id. At 3-56.) The Court of Special Appeals of
Maryland summarized the facts adduced at trial as follows:
At trial, the State’s theory of the case was that
Hickman became "obsessed" with [Rakiyya] States,
who lived in the apartment directly above the one Hickman
shared with his fiancée. The prosecution presented
evidence that, on a Sunday morning when his fiancée
and other tenants were away, Hickman murdered States in her
apartment, then summoned help from his brother, Torrance
Davis. That evening, when Davis arrived with his friend,
Shaheed Armstrong, and the gasoline that Hickman asked him to
bring, Hickman used the gas to set a fire in an effort to
cover up his crime. The defense theory was that someone else
committed the murder and that Davis and Armstrong set the
In the weeks before her murder, States reported to friends
that she was being harassed by an unknown person who left
several anonymous religious greeting cards on her car while
it was parked at her apartment at 15 Mopec Circle in
Baltimore. Terrynce Dandridge testified that he met States
through work and they dated for a while and then became
friends. Shortly before her death, States told Dandridge that
she was "worried" about cards she had received from
someone who did not sign a name, leaving only an email
address. She reported that the cards were being left on her
car at various times of the day. States told Dandridge that
she planned to send an email telling the sender to stop
leaving the cards "because they made her feel
She later forwarded Dandridge a copy of her September 8,
2005, email to "email@example.com" and a
September 9th reply from that email address signed
"ty.de." These emails were admitted into evidence.
The message from "Rakiyya States" at
"rakiyyastates @yahoo.com" identifies the subject
as "The Cards" and states: "When you leave
cards and not sign them, or say who you are it can come off a
little creepy. Who are you?" The reply states:
I truly apologize for seeming creepy, I was only following
the guidance of the Holy Spirit and being obediant [sic]. I
hope the cards lift your spirits and made you smile, it
really was uncomfortable for me leaving them there but again
I say, I was following the leading of the Spirit.
After receiving that reply, States told Dandridge that she
"thought this person was crazy, " so she changed
her email address.
Dandridge testified that he saw States at a church choir
rehearsal on the evening of Friday, September 23. He expected
to see her again on Sunday evening at a farewell party that
the group was having for him, but States did not show up for
the party. Shervon Bailey was States’s best friend. The
two spoke "every day" and attended church together
on the Saturday before she was murdered. Bailey left
States’s apartment just before midnight on Saturday.
She also expected to see her at Dandridge’s farewell
party on Sunday.
Bailey testified that States expressed concern about a male
neighbor in the apartment below hers. States also showed
Bailey the anonymous cards she had received and shared her
worries about them. Bailey confirmed that States changed her
email address "because she was scared." On Sunday,
September 25, 200, Matthew Hyle visited his daughter and
ex-wife in their apartment, which was next door to
States’s.1 Hyle arrived between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m.
After finishing dinner, his daughter went to take a bath.
Hyle watched football while his ex-wife was bathing their
daughter. During that time, Hyle heard the door of the
adjacent apartment slam shut "two to three" times.
He also heard "someone or people" run up and down
the steps. Sometime "probably" between 7:00 and
7:30 p.m. he smelled fumes. When he opened the front door to
investigate, he saw black smoke coming from the apartment
next door. He got his family out of the apartment and his
ex-wife called 911.
On September 25, 2005, between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m., Janet Ruth
Wilkins returned from an overnight visit with her son and
boyfriend at her mother’s home. Her apartment was next
door to the apartment shared by Hickman and his
fiancée. While unloading groceries from her car,
Wilkins saw a black male jump into the passenger’s seat
of a light "champagne silver" colored car. The
driver almost backed into her, then quickly pulled out,
"peeling wheels." When Wilkins entered the
building, she immediately smelled gas and heard a smoke
detector. The fire department arrived soon after.
Isaac Redd, another resident of the 15 Mopec Circle apartment
building, arrived home from work at approximately 8:10 p.m.
He lived in the apartment next door to Hickman and Webb, with
his wife and son.2 There was a car parked in his designated
parking space with two men he had never seen before standing
behind the vehicle. Redd saw a gas can behind the car. Redd
rolled down his window, prompting one of the men to offer to
move the car. The men put the gas can in the open trunk, got
in the car, then "took off’ in a "rush."
Redd went into his apartment and showered. His wife
complained about "the noise that she heard overhead. . .
since she had been home[.]" When a neighbor alerted him
to the fire, Redd got his family out of the apartment. Redd
then went upstairs to States’s apartment to see if
anyone needed help. The apartment door "was black"
and too hot for him to enter the apartment safely. Redd
waited outside with the other tenants, including Hickman and
his fiancée, Sherri Webb, while firefighters and
police officers responded.
Firefighters from Baltimore County Fire Department’s
Parkville Station Number 10 were dispatched at approximately
8:10 p.m. Captain Timothy Berkeridge was in the first fire
truck on the scene. Lieutenant Thomas Brown, who was
responsible for search and rescue, was with the first team of
firefighters who entered the apartment. Although there was
considerable smoke in States’s apartment, they did not
find an active fire.
When the firefighters searched the apartment for occupants,
Lt. Brown discovered States’s body in the bathtub lying
face down in several inches of water, blood, and gasoline.
Frederick Hudnett, a fire investigator, testified that the
fire was intentionally set, with gasoline used as an
accelerant. Photographs of the apartment, showing where the
fire burned in the living room, hallway, bedroom, and bath,
were admitted into evidence.
Officers Sean Beckman and John Tollen were the first police
officers to enter the apartment. Beckman was dispatched at
8:14 p.m. Corporal Mark Goralski arrived later. Between 9:00
and 9:30 p.m., Hickman and Webb approached Goralski to ask
what was going on and how long they were going to be there.
Hickman said that Ms. Webb could help identify who lived in
the apartment building.
On the day of the fire, Ms. Webb testified that she went to
work about 7:15 a.m., leaving her ex-fiancé Hickman at
home alone. According to Webb, he planned to go to the store
and cook dinner for her that evening. When Webb arrived home
between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m., Hickman was cooking in the
kitchen. He had picked up food and some beauty products that
she had requested. Hickman looked normal, with no bruises or
scratches, and she did not smell gas on him. Approximately an
hour later, the two left to pick up Ms. Webb’s
daughter, who had been staying with her father. When they
arrived back at the apartment, they saw fire trucks and
police officers around the complex.
Webb testified that, during the course of their relationship,
Hickman made various comments about States. Specifically, he
told her that States did not have a male friend and that he
thought she might be "gay." He also mentioned that
States would not talk to him when he spoke to her and that he
called her a "bitch" for not responding. On several
occasions, Hickman complained about the sounds States made
while walking around her apartment above their bedroom. On
one occasion, while Ms. Webb and Hickman were having sex,
Hickman told her that he wanted States to be able to hear
Hickman’s brother, Torrance Davis, testified at trial.3
On September 25, 2005, Hickman called him "early"
in the morning to ask that he drive from his home on the
Eastern Shore of Virginia, more than three hours away, to
Hickman’s apartment in Baltimore. Hickman "never
told [Davis] why" he wanted Davis to come, saying only
that he "needed" his brother. Although Davis
ignored many of his brother’s subsequent calls, he took
other calls and lied to Hickman, saying he was on his way to
Baltimore. Eventually, Davis thought that it sounded like
something was "really wrong" with his brother. At
approximately 3:00 p.m., he left in a beige Dodge Stratus
with his friend, Shaheed Armstrong. During the drive, Hickman
called Davis to say that he had run out of gas and ask Davis
to bring some with him. Davis bought a gas container and gas
to take to his brother.
At sunset, Davis and Armstrong arrived at the apartment and
parked beside Hickman’s car where Hickman and an
unknown man were waiting. Davis described the other
man’s behavior toward them as "rude." This
man told Davis and Armstrong that he wanted them to set fire
to the apartment complex. When they refused, the man asked
for their driver’s licenses, recorded their
information, and told them that if they said anything, he
would come after them. Davis gave the gas to this individual,
then left with Armstrong. The entire exchange took about 10
minutes. Davis spoke with police officers about this case on
several occasions. The officers repeatedly told Davis that
they were investigating his brother.
Shaheed Armstrong also testified at trial. Armstrong
testified that Davis gave the gas container to Hickman while
they were in the parking lot, that he and Davis went inside
Hickman’s apartment to meet the unidentified man, and
that it was Hickman who asked them to set the apartment on
fire . . . Armstrong also testified that Hickman emptied the
gas into a plastic water jug before he and Davis left, and
that the stranger pulled a gun on them before taking and
recording their names and addresses.
The State introduced evidence that Hickman called his brother
multiple times on the day of the murder. Andrew Scott Arnold,
a Sprint Nextel representative, and Philip Smeak, Jr., a
Verizon Wireless representative, testified and authenticated
call records showing that on Sunday, September 25, 2005,
Hickman’s cell phone made 63 calls to the cell phone
used by Davis. These calls began around 11:45 a.m. Arnold
explained how Davis’s cell phone records showed which
towers were used to facilitate his calls. The prosecution
offered this evidence to corroborate Davis’s testimony
that he did not leave his home near Pocomoke City until
mid-afternoon and that he had conversations with Hickman
while driving to Baltimore.
According to Dr. Carol Allen, the medical examiner who
performed the September 26, 2005, autopsy, States died before
the fire. All ten of her fingertips were cut off perimortem,
just below the fingernails.4 Dr. Allen determined that States
died from asphyxia, blunt force injury, and sharp force
injury. Her body had 22 points of sharp force trauma,
including several to her face and neck, caused by
"scissor like implements." Kathy Michael, a crime
lab technician, collected evidence from States’s
apartment. Photographs taken at the scene were authenticated
by Michael and entered into evidence. There were no signs of
forced entry into the apartment. In the master bedroom she
found blood spatter on the door, on the closet door, which
was lying on the floor, on a mattress propped in front of the
window, and on a lock box, which was open with its contents
scattered on the floor.
Michael seized various items from the apartment, including
States’s computer and four greeting cards. The undated
cards were of a religious nature and three of them were
Dated:ly with the email address
"firstname.lastname@example.org."5 Although the fire prevented
recovery of fingerprints at the scene, lab analysis later
determined that Hickman’s fingerprint was on the inside
of one of the greeting cards.6 Christopher Kollman, a
computer forensic examiner for the Baltimore City Police
Department, examined computers seized from both
States’s apartment and Hickman’s apartment. In
connection with that examination, Kollman also interpreted
records subpoenaed from Yahoo and AOL pertaining to email
accounts accessed from those computers. States’s
computer revealed evidence of numerous "instant
message" and email communications between States and the
user of the email address "email@example.com."
That address was created using the name Ellis Hickman and
someone repeatedly logged into the account using Webb’s
computer. In addition to the message and reply that States
forwarded to Dandridge, Kollman recovered a September 8th
instant message from States saying: "I would appreciate
you not leaving any more cards. It’s uncomfortable for
me and my boyfriend. I wish you wel[l]." A reply email
came from Hickman’s account just after midnight on
September 9th stating "just remember, if you ever need
prayer, you can call my prayer line at 410-913-6816, "
the number of Hickman’s cell phone. After September
9th, States used a different email address and screen name.
States signed onto her computer at 10:43 a.m. on September 9;
she signed off at 11:35 a.m.
Homicide detectives Kurt Wilhelm and Gerald D’Angelo
investigated States’s murder. Both testified similarly
about the details of their investigation. On September 30,
2005, the detectives met with Hickman and Webb. Hickman
denied any knowledge of the murder or the fire. On October 3,
2005, the detectives talked to Hickman and Webb a second
time, while they were in the process of moving out of their
apartment. Hickman continued to deny any knowledge of what
occurred on the day of the fire. Although officers verified
that Hickman went to the grocery store and a beauty supply
store on the afternoon of September 25th, as he claimed, the
forensic evidence described above established a link between
Hickman and the victim. The detectives returned again on
October 31 to talk to Hickman and Webb. This time, they
informed Hickman that they had more information about his
"contacts" with States. When they told Hickman they
knew about the cards, he replied that he left them for her
because of his ministry. When they told him they had
discovered email contacts and fingerprints on a card, Hickman
admitted that he may have" emailed her and left his
phone number. The detectives then arranged for wire taps to
be placed on Hickman’s phones starting on October 31,
2005, and they followed him for approximately five days.
During this surveillance, they heard Hickman say that he knew
the police were following him.
Russell Aldrich, Hickman’s former boss, testified that
on the morning of November 8, 2005, Hickman reported to work,
picked up his dump truck, and left to drive his assigned
route. That afternoon, the detectives obtained a warrant for
Hickman’s arrest. During the course of the day, Hickman
abandoned the dump truck and left before his shift was done.
The truck was later found parked on the shoulder of the Jones
Falls Expressway. Hickman never came back to work or
Quinn Cokley, who runs Quickly Bail Bonds, knew Hickman, who
had asked about becoming a bounty hunter. A few days before
November 10, 2005, Hickman called him to ask whether a
warrant for his arrest had been issued. Cokley was not able
to provide that information.
At 9:00 p.m. on November 10, 2005, Tanzanerria Allen, a
police officer in southern Florida, went to the home of
Hickman’s sister, Yolonda Cook. Officer Allen’s
brother has a child with Hickman’s sister. Officer
Allen planned to talk to Cook about convincing her brother to
turn himself in. When Allen arrived at Cook’s house, in
uniform and in a marked police car, she saw Hickman outside.
Hickman called out to her, "I need to talk to you."
Officer Allen responded that she needed a minute. She had
Cook get into her police car, then called dispatch to report
that she had Hickman in sight. When other officers arrived,
Hickman ran. After a helicopter search of the area, he was
discovered hiding in a dumpster.
defense called no witnesses but introduced various documents
1 Photographs of the apartment building show two
adjacent apartments on each of two floors, with a common
exterior concrete and metal staircase. Tenants and visitors
to the other three apartments testified at trial. States
lived on the top floor, next door to Matthew Hyle’s
ex-wife. Mr. Hickman lived with Sherri Webb on the floor
below, directly underneath States and next door to Ms.
2 Redd’s apartment was not served by the
same exterior staircase as Hickman’s and Webb’s
3 When Davis invoked his Fifth Amendment rights,
the State moved to compel his testimony. After giving Davis
testimonial immunity, the trial court granted the motion. On
cross-examination Davis admitted that, in 2003, he was
convicted of giving a false statement to officers.
4 This was presumably done in order to prevent DNA
samples from being recovered from skin under States’s