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Johnson v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 28, 2016

ANTONIO W. JOHNSON
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Kehoe, Arthur, Friedman, JJ.

          OPINION

          Kehoe, J.

         The Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted the State's motion for a mistral in its prosecution of Antonio W. Johnson on charges of first-degree murder and related crimes. Johnson then moved to dismiss the indictment, asserting that another trial would subject him to double jeopardy. The circuit court denied his motion. He filed an interlocutory appeal and presents one issue, which we have reworded:

Did the court abuse its discretion by granting the State's motion for a mistrial on the ground of manifest necessity?

         We will affirm. During opening statement, appellant's trial counsel presented the jury with an extremely detailed exculpatory narrative, but failed to present any evidence whatsoever to support it. The State moved for a mistrial, asserting that its case was irreparably prejudiced. After hearing argument from counsel and reviewing the opening statement, the trial court carefully considered the possible remedies-i.e., an instruction to the jury or allowing latitude to the State in closing argument-and concluded that neither would be effective. The court then granted the State's motion on the basis that doing so was manifestly necessary. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in doing so. Therefore, principles of double jeopardy do not bar a new trial.

         Background

         On November 5, 2012, Gerald Cox became alarmed because his daughter, Deborah Simon, had not returned his recent telephone calls. Mr. Cox went to her residence on Washington Boulevard in Baltimore and found his daughter lying dead in a pool of her own blood on her kitchen floor. The police investigation established that Ms. Simon had been murdered and that the murder took place on the evening of November 3. Appellant was charged with first-degree murder, robbery, and concealing a dangerous weapon in connection with Ms. Simon's death. Appellant was tried before a jury of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the Hon. Kendra Y. Ausby, presiding, in June 2015.[1]After the trial court granted the State's motion for a mistrial, appellant filed a motion to dismiss his indictment, asserting that the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy barred a new trial. The circuit court, the Hon. Evelyn Omega Cannon, presiding, denied the motion.

         Defense Counsel's Opening Statement

         The parties' contentions revolve around defense counsel's opening statement. We will set it out in full:

Ladies and gentlemen, Antonio Johnson is innocent. Mr. Johnson did not kill Deborah Simon. Antonio Johnson had nothing to do with Ms. Simon's death. Somebody else killed Deborah Simon, and Mr. Johnson was later duped into holding the bag.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, the State wants you to believe that its case is open and shut. After all, the police found Antonio Johnson with Ms. Simon's luggage. Forensic testing revealed spots of Ms. Simon's blood on Mr. [Johnson's] right shoe, pant leg, and sleeve. Therefore, the State says Mr. Johnson must have killed Ms. Simon.
But, ladies and gentlemen, if you carefully examine the evidence in this case, you will see that something does not add up. The pieces of the puzzle do not fit together. The evidence you would expect to find, if Mr. Johnson had killed Ms. Simon, is not there. You'll see that Mr. Johnson only came into possession of Ms. Simon's luggage after the homicide.
Ladies and gentlemen, you will see that this is a case where the police rushed to judgment. If you follow the trail of forensic evidence in this case, you will see that that trail leads away from Antonio Johnson and towards somebody else. Ladies and gentlemen, Antonio Johnson had nothing to do with Deborah Simon's murder.
Now, back in November 2012, both Antonio Johnson and Ms. Simon lived on the 1200 block of Washington Boulevard. They only lived about nine houses apart. They were not close friends, but they had the polite, cordial relationship one would expect neighbors to have who live on the same block. There was no history of hostility between them.
Mr. Johnson washed cars for neighbors on the block. He made friends easily. He was somebody who never met a stranger. Now, back in November 2012, Mr. Johnson was also struggling with an addiction to drugs, and Mr. Johnson would perform odd jobs, such as selling cigarettes, to make extra money to support his habit.
Now, on November 3rd, 2012, a Saturday, Mr. Johnson got into the argument with his girlfriend about his drug use. Later in the day, he washed cars. In the late afternoon hours, afterwards, he made his way out to East Baltimore where his mom lived. He saw his mom. He asked his mom for money. His mom gave him some money. He left the house, went to the projects, bought drugs, used the drugs, got high. You'll see that he went back to his mother's house and then eventually made his way back to a bus stop and took both the Orange Line and the Green Line back to the area where he lived.
He got off of the bus around the B&O Railroad Museum on Pratt Street. Now, by this point in time, it was already dark. It was nighttime. On his way back to his house, he walked through the grounds of Baltimore Behavioral Health off of Pratt Street. Mr. Johnson saw a man with the piece of luggage. Now, Mr. Johnson didn't know this man by name, but he recognized him as somebody who he had done drug activity with in the past.
Mr. Johnson and the man greeted each other with a hug. Mr. Johnson noticed that the man had a stem in his hand, a stem used for smoking drugs. Mr. Johnson and the man, in the dark of night, then proceeded to get high again.
Now, Mr. Johnson asked the man about what was in the luggage. The man showed him the contents of the luggage, and in the luggage there was a carton of Marlboro cigarettes. And there was also some gray object, which later turned out to be a printer.
But what caught Mr. Johnson's attention was that carton of Marlboro cigarettes. Mr. Johnson saw this as an opportunity to make some money by selling the cigarettes so he could make some additional cash. So Mr. Johnson and the man walked around trying to sell cigarettes out of this piece of luggage.
You will see that, later on that evening, a police officer stopped Antonio Johnson on Washington Boulevard, and this police officer stopped him and arrested him for misdemeanor warrant that was out for Mr. Johnson. When the officer stopped Mr. Johnson, the officer saw him with this piece of luggage, which contained this carton of Marlboro cigarettes.
Now, you will see that when the officer approached Mr. Johnson and spoke with him, the officer did not notice anything unusual or out of the ordinary about Mr. Johnson's behavior. Antonio Johnson did not appear to be anxious to the police officer. He did not appear to be upset. There was nothing erratic about his behavior. Mr. Johnson did not try to run or flee as the officer approached him. Antonio Johnson made no effort to try to distance himself from the piece of luggage.
Antonio Johnson did not try to run or flee as the officer approached because Antonio Johnson had nothing to hide. He was only trying to sell cigarettes out of this piece of luggage. In fact, Antonio Johnson actually asked the officer at the time he was arrested if the officer could take the piece of luggage to where he lived, to where Mr. Johnson lived with his girlfriend Peggy Cash at 1246 Washington Boulevard. The officer did this and left the luggage at Mr. Johnson's house at Mr. Johnson's request.
Now, the police later determined that piece of luggage to belong to Deborah Simon, who was found deceased in her home on November 5th, 2012. The police arrested and charged Mr. Johnson, already at Central Booking, with the murder of Ms. Simon. But you will see, ladies and gentlemen, the case against him does not add up. The evidence will show that Ms. Simon was cut and stabbed a total of 29 times, in the front, in the back, on the neck. She was cut in the jugular vein and in the aorta. You will see that there was a large volume of blood at the scene. And yet, ladies and gentlemen, on Mr. Johnson's clothing, the blood detected to be Ms. Simon's is barely visible to the naked eye. If you look at the clothing, you can hardly see anything.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Johnson did not kill Ms. Simon. He had nothing to do with her death. Mr. Johnson unwittingly made contact with somebody involved in her homicide after the murder. When Mr. Johnson made physical contact with the man and the luggage in the dark of night, Mr. Johnson did not know that that man had blood on his clothing. Mr. Johnson did not know that blood was transferred from that man to Mr. Johnson's clothing. Mr. Johnson had no idea that that piece of luggage was connected in any way to a homicide. That's why he did not try to run or flee when the officer approached. He had nothing to hide.
Ladies, gentlemen, somebody else killed Deborah Simon, and Mr. Johnson was duped into holding the bag.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, you will see that other property -- a television, a laptop computer, and a cell phone -- were taken from Ms. Simon's residence at the time of the homicide. Yet you will see that none of that property -- a cell phone, a television, and a laptop computer -- were found on Mr. Johnson at the time of his arrest. None of that property was found inside of Mr. Johnson's house. None of that property was found on Mr. Johnson or in his house because somebody else killed Deborah Simon and stole that property.
You will see that, in this case, the police collected two knives into evidence that they suspected were used in the homicide. Yet you will see that there is not one iota of forensic evidence connecting Mr. Johnson to those knives. No fingerprints. No DNA.
Ladies and gentlemen, you will also see that there's not one shred of forensic evidence implicating Antonio Johnson that was found in Ms. Simon's house, the scene of the homicide. Mr. Johnson's DNA was found nowhere in Ms. Simon's house, the scene of the murder. Mr. Johnson's fingerprints were found nowhere in Ms. Simon's house, the scene of the homicide. Ladies and gentlemen, you will see that if you follow the trail of forensic evidence in this case, that trail leads you away from Antonio Johnson and toward somebody else.
You will see that Ms. Simon's house appeared to be ransacked following the homicide, particularly the living room area. Her wallet was found upside down on the floor with the money missing. The evidence will show that the DNA of an unknown male was found on the outside of that wallet. The evidence will show that the fingerprints of an unknown person were found at two critical locations inside of Ms. Simon's home.
Ladies and gentlemen, you will see that the police in this case failed to follow through on important investigative leads, which could have helped resolve what really happened. Because of the police failure to follow those important investigative leads, at the end of this case, you'll be left to guess and to speculate as to what really happened. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a case where the police rushed to judgment. As a result of the police rush to judgment, Mr. Johnson sits here accused of a crime he did not commit.
I ask you to remember throughout these proceedings that the burden is on the State to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. This high standard of proof exists to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction. This high standard exists to protect the innocent from false accusations. Antonio Johnson has been wrongly accused.
I ask you to withhold judgment in this case until the end of the trial, until after you've heard all the evidence. I'm confident that if you do so, you will find Mr. Johnson not guilty on all counts.

         The State's Case

         The evidence presented by the State was that Ms. Simon returned to her row home on Washington Boulevard just before 8 p.m. on November 3, 2012. Two days later-November 5, 2012-Ms. Simon was found, dead, lying in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor, wearing the same clothes she had worn two days earlier. Ms. Simon had been stabbed and beaten to death. There were no signs of forced entry, but the front room of her house appeared to have been ransacked.

         The State also presented evidence that, just after midnight on November 4, 2012-that is, several hours after Ms. Simon returned home-appellant was stopped on Washington Boulevard by Baltimore City Police Officer Dien Pham, [2] and arrested after Officer Pham discovered that there was a warrant for his arrest. At the time, appellant was in possession of a rolling suitcase. Officer Pham searched the suitcase and found a printer, a pack of cigarettes, and a lighter. Because the contents were not dangerous, Officer Pham inquired as to how he should dispose of the suitcase. At appellant's request, Officer Pham asked Peggy Graves, [3] appellant's girlfriend with whom he had resided on Washington Boulevard, whether she would be willing to keep the suitcase until he could retrieve it. She agreed and Officer Pham left the suitcase at her residence.

         On November 6, 2012, Ms. Graves found a knife in her backyard and called the police. Ms. Graves knew that a woman down the street had been murdered, and suspected that the knife might be related. One of the officers assigned to the Simon investigation was Baltimore City Police Detective Chris Brockdorff. He responded to Ms. Graves's call and learned from her that a suitcase had been left at her residence two days earlier.

         The significance of the suitcase became apparent to Detective Brockdorff a few hours later, when he spoke to Ms. Simon's parents. Ms. Simon's parents inquired as to whether Detective Brockdorff had seen a Samsonite rolling-suitcase that they had recently given to Ms. Simon, and they reported that certain electronics, including a printer, a laptop, a television, and a cell phone, were missing from Ms. Simon's home. Detective Brockdorff executed a search and seizure warrant at Ms. Graves's home, and recovered the suitcase. The suitcase contained a printer, pack of cigarettes, and lighter.

         At this point, police identified appellant as a suspect, and executed a search and seizure warrant at the Central Booking and Intake Facility. The police recovered the clothes that appellant was wearing at the time they executed the warrant, a blue jersey, black sneakers, and black jeans, as well as the clothes he was wearing when he was arrested, a black hooded sweatshirt and a black hat. The police also swabbed appellant for DNA.

         The police recovered a fingerprint on the pack of cigarettes, which was ultimately identified as belonging to Ms. Simon. Laboratory test results revealed that stains on appellant's sweatshirt, jeans, and right shoe tested positive for the presence of blood. Ms. Simon was determined to be the major female DNA contributor to stains on all three items.

         Aside from the fact that Ms. Simon and appellant resided on Washington Boulevard in November 2012, the only evidence that they knew each other came from Ms. Graves. She testified that appellant washed cars to earn money, and that appellant had said that Ms. Simon owed him five dollars for washing her car.

         The State's ...


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