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Hickman v. Shearin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 6, 2016

ELLIS LEE HICKMAN, JR. #333-443 Petitioner
BOBBY SHEARIN, WARDEN, et al., Respondents


          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         A 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 denied.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Petitioner 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 fire.
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 uncomfortable."
She later forwarded Dandridge a copy of her September 8, 2005, email to "" and a September 9th reply from that email address signed "" These emails were admitted into evidence. The message from "Rakiyya States" at "rakiyyastates" 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[5], 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 them.
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 ""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 "" 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 contacted Aldrich.
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.

         The defense called no witnesses but introduced various documents into evidence.

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. Wilkins.
2 Redd’s apartment was not served by the same exterior staircase as Hickman’s and Webb’s apartment.
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 ...

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