Nazarian, Reed, Zarnoch, Robert A. (Retired, Specially
quadruple-murder case presents, among other things, the
question of whether legislation repealing Maryland's
death penalty in 2013 also created new rights for defendants
facing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Darrell Bellard was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court
for Prince George's County of four counts of first-degree
murder, three counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and
other related offenses. The court (not a jury) sentenced him
to life without parole for the first-degree murders and
consecutive life sentences for the three conspiracy
appeal, Mr. Bellard claims the circuit court erred by failing
to strike the State's notice of intent to seek a sentence
of life without parole, by sentencing him on more than one
count of conspiracy to commit murder, by permitting the State
to offer the testimony of an expert witness who was not
timely disclosed in discovery, by admitting evidence of prior
bad acts, and by denying his motion to suppress evidence. The
State agrees that Mr. Bellard should only have been convicted
and sentenced on one count of conspiracy, and because we
agree as well, we vacate two of Mr. Bellard's three
conspiracy convictions and the corresponding sentences. We
disagree, however, that Mr. Bellard was entitled to have a
jury determine his sentence, and we affirm his convictions
and sentence in all other respects.
August 6, 2010 at 2:42 a.m., Officer Hong Park of the Prince
George's County Police Department responded to an address
in Lanham, where he was flagged down by a witness and
directed to an apartment over a two-car garage. When Officer
Park entered the apartment, he saw a woman lying face-down on
the ground in a pool of blood and three more bloody
bodies-another woman and two children-on a bed in one of the
bedrooms. All had suffered (and died) from gunshot wounds to
the head. After surveying the apartment, which took about
five minutes, Officer Park left and saw a man, later
identified as Mr. Bellard, walking up the steps. Officer Park
stopped him and asked him why he was there. Mr. Bellard
responded that he was coming back to check on his friends.
Park asked Mr. Bellard to "step down." Mr. Bellard
walked down the steps, followed by Officer Park, proceeded to
the yard, and came to rest near a big tree. Officer Park
asked, "Just in case we need to talk again, can you just
stand by for a second?" Mr. Bellard indicated that there
was no problem, and Office Park left Mr. Bellard by himself;
he was not placed under arrest or restrained in any way, and
no one guarded him.
around 3:45 a.m., Officer Stephen Campbell responded to the
scene and, shortly thereafter, saw Mr. Bellard leaning
against a car. Officer Campbell asked Mr. Bellard his name
and why he was there, and "told him that because he was
there, we needed to talk to him and, if he would, I would
like to take him down to our office and speak with him
there." Mr. Bellard agreed to go to the station. Before
being transported to the criminal investigation division
("CID"), Officer Donny Hacker told Mr. Bellard he
needed to "stand by . . . [because they] just needed to
talk to him." Mr. Bellard asked Officer Hacker if he
could get his cigarettes from his car. After getting
permission from a supervisor, Officer Hacker retrieved the
cigarettes. For about the next half an hour, Mr. Bellard
stayed at the scene, unattended and unrestrained. There were
numerous officers present, and several patrol cars at the
scene, but Mr. Bellard only interacted with Officers Park,
Detective Campbell, and Officer Hacker.
approximately 4:00 a.m., Officer Hacker transported Mr.
Bellard to CID. He was patted down for weapons before getting
in the police car, but sat unrestrained in the front
passenger seat, and he seemed calm and cooperative. Upon
arriving at CID, officers escorted Mr. Bellard to an
interview room, leaving the door open at Mr. Bellard's
request after he mentioned that he was claustrophobic.
Mr. Bellard was being interviewed, Detective Ober interviewed
Frank Brooks, a distant relative of Mr. Bellard's by
marriage. At approximately 7:30 a.m., Detective Campbell
learned from Detective Ober that, according to Mr. Brooks,
Mr. Bellard was a drug dealer from Texas and that he was mad
at Mr. Brooks and his wife, Dawn (Mr. Bellard's
brother's sister-in-law), because he had been
"ripped off during a prior visit, and [thought] he was
ripped off again."
Detective Campbell confronted Mr. Bellard with this
statement, Mr. Bellard admitted to bringing marijuana and a
gun with him from Texas. Detective Campbell read Mr. Bellard
his Miranda rights. Mr. Bellard signed a waiver form
and agreed to continue the interview. At no point was Mr.
Bellard told that he was under arrest, and at no point did he
ask to speak to his lawyer or invoke his right to silence.
Campbell continued the interview, and at approximately 8:55
a.m., asked Mr. Bellard about the car he had driven to
Maryland, then told Mr. Bellard that he would like to get a
DNA sample and look in the vehicle. Detective Campbell read
consent forms to Mr. Bellard and advised him that he did not
have to sign them, that it was "strictly
voluntary." Mr. Bellard signed a written consent for
both the DNA sample as well as for the search of his car. An
officer then searched Mr. Bellard's car and recovered a
continued to interview Mr. Bellard for the next several
hours. At approximately 1:00 p.m., as Detective Kerry
Jernigan began interviewing Mr. Bellard, it became apparent
that Mr. Bellard's colostomy bag was leaking. They made
several attempts to obtain a new colostomy bag, but none were
successful until a detective obtained one from a hospital at
approximately 3:30 p.m.
Mr. Bellard was being questioned, detectives were
simultaneously tracking down other potential witnesses,
including Mr. Bellard's girlfriend, T'Keisha Gilmer,
who implicated Mr. Bellard in the quadruple homicide.
Detective Jernigan confronted Mr. Bellard with this
accusation and told him that he needed to "think through
what he needs to say" and "to think about where
this is going." Mr. Bellard became agitated and began
yelling for "T'Keisha to tell the whole truth."
Mr. Bellard later told the detectives that he and Ms. Gilmer
had observed the homicides, and that a hit man from Texas had
come to kill Dawn. Detective Anthony Schartner read Mr.
Bellard his Miranda rights again, and again Mr.
Bellard waived his rights. He then made a statement, which
was recorded, that he and Ms. Gilmer had observed the hit man
commit the murders, after which they cleaned up the crime
scene and disposed of their clothes and some shell casings.
Detective Schartner responded that the clothes they were
wearing while cleaning up the crime scene could possibly
"assist him with proving that he was innocent." So
Mr. Bellard agreed to leave CID to show the detectives where
he had disposed of the clothes and the shell casings.
when the trip to the alleged location of the clothes and
shell casings revealed nothing, Mr. Bellard admitted to
committing the murders. They returned to CID where Mr.
Bellard was questioned again, and again admitted that he had
shot the four people, and acknowledged that he had given the
statement voluntarily. This interview was recorded as well.
Bellard was charged with four counts of first-degree murder,
four counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and four counts
of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of
violence. On August 28, 2012, the trial court held a motions
hearing during which, among other things, the court quashed
Mr. Bellard's subpoenas for internal Prince George's
County Police records relating to the case and a group of
named officers. A hearing on a motion to suppress evidence
was held on December 2 and 3, 2013, and the court denied that
motion. A jury trial began on April 8, 2014, and lasted eight
testimony at trial revealed that Mr. Bellard had traveled to
Maryland from Texas in June 2010 with a large quantity of
marijuana to sell, but the marijuana had been stolen from his
hotel room. He made a second trip in August 2010, this time
with Ms. Gilmer, with approximately sixty pounds of
marijuana. On August 6, Mr. Bellard met Ms. Brooks and her
children, broke up the marijuana in Ms. Brooks's
apartment above the garage, and stored it in a cooler before
the group left to go to a store. When they returned to the
apartment, they encountered Mwasiti Sikyala, who lived in the
main part of the house. Ms. Sikyala told them that three
armed men had just come from the apartment. Everyone except
Ms. Sikyala went upstairs to check on the drugs, which were
discovery enraged Mr. Bellard, who went back downstairs to
his vehicle with Ms. Gilmer and retrieved and loaded two .45
caliber handguns. He ushered Ms. Sikyala back upstairs, with
Ms. Gilmer following behind, then shot Ms. Brooks in the leg.
demanded that Ms. Brooks tell him where the marijuana was and
accused her of stealing the marijuana and setting him up,
which she denied. So he ordered Ms. Brooks, Ms. Sikyala, and
Ms. Sikyala's two children into a bedroom where Ms.
Gilmer held them there at gunpoint while Mr. Bellard made a
finished his call, Mr. Bellard summoned Ms. Brooks to the
kitchen and continued interrogating her. He grabbed a pillow
and shot Ms. Sikyala twice, first in the stomach, then under
Bellard tried to get Ms. Brooks into the bedroom, but she
resisted, and he shot her-in the stomach and, while she was
on the ground, in the ear.
shot Ms. Sikyala's two young children and told Ms. Gilmer
to photograph them with her phone. She complied.
little girl was dead.
little boy was not, though, and he asked if he could use the
bathroom. Mr. Bellard told Ms. Gilmer to take him, and she
did. When the two returned, Mr. Bellard told the boy to stand
on the bed. He pointed his gun at the boy and pulled the
Bellard took the other gun from Ms. Gilmer, shot the boy in
the head, then shot him in the head again after he fell to
Gilmer took another photograph.
attempted to clean up the scene and dumped the evidence,
including the guns, in a trash bag. They went to a hotel,
showered, gathered their clothes, and Mr. Bellard threw them
and the trash bag into a dumpster. A while later, Mr. Bellard
returned to the scene (not wearing shoes), and encountered
the officers investigating the crimes.
jury found Mr. Bellard guilty of four counts of first-degree
murder, three counts of conspiracy to commit murder, and four
counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. At
a sentencing hearing on June 27, 2014, the court sentenced
Mr. Bellard to four consecutive sentences of life without the
possibility of parole for the first-degree murder
convictions, and three consecutive life sentences for
conspiracy to commit murder.
Bellard raises six challenges to his convictions and
First and foremost, he contends that the sentencing
procedure statute for first-degree murder, as amended by
legislation repealing Maryland's death penalty, entitled
him to elect a jury, rather than the court, to determine his
sentence. Second, he argues, and the State agrees,
that he should only have been convicted of and sentenced for
one count of conspiracy to commit murder. His third
through sixth questions relate to evidentiary
decisions the court made before or during trial.
The Trial Court Correctly Struck Mr. Bellard's Attempt To
Elect Sentencing By Jury.
Bellard argues first that he was entitled to elect
to be sentenced by a jury, and that the circuit court erred
when it struck his notice to that effect and imposed life
sentences without the possibility of parole. He recognizes,
as he must, that non-capital murder defendants in Maryland
had not historically been entitled to sentencing by jury, as
capital murder defendants were. And he does not contend that
the United States or Maryland Constitutions compel sentencing
by jury in cases involving life without parole. His argument
is a purely statutory one: that the language the General
Assembly left behind in Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol., 2015
Supp.) § 2-304(b) of the Criminal Law Article
("CR"), after removing the parts relating to the
death penalty, extended to defendants facing life without
parole the sentencing by jury procedures previously reserved
for capital defendants. As a result, he argues, Maryland Rule
Rule that governs sentencing procedure in non-capital
cases-conflicts with the statute and must give way to the
greater procedural protections. He argues as well that the
"sentencing scheme for first-degree murder is void for
vagueness as it lacks guidelines for the circuit court or a
jury in deciding whether to impose a sentence of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole."
argument requires us to take a close look at CR § 2-304,
both historically and in the form it assumed after the
General Assembly amended the Criminal Law Article to repeal
Maryland's death penalty. We review de novo
questions of statutory interpretation. Harrison-Solomon
v. State, 216 Md.App. 138, 146 (2014),
aff'd 442 Md. 254 (2015), and our role "is
to ascertain and effectuate that intent of the
Legislature." Stoddard v. State, 395 Md. 653,
661 (2006) (quoting Mayor of Oakland v. Mayor and of
Mountain Lake Park, 392 Md. 301, 316 (2006)). We begin
with the plain language of the statute, and "[i]f the
words of the statute, construed according to their common and
everyday meaning, are clear and unambiguous and express a
plain meaning, we will give effect to the statute as it is
written." Id. (quoting Jones v. State,
336 Md. 255, 261 (1994)). We don't, however,
read statutory language in a vacuum, nor do we confine
strictly our interpretation of a statute's plain language
to the isolated section alone. Rather, the plain language
must be viewed within the context of the statutory scheme to
which it belongs, considering the purpose, aim, or policy of
the Legislature in enacting the statute.
Gardner v. State, 420 Md. 1, 9 (2011) (internal
quotations and citations omitted).
life of this case straddles major developments in the death
penalty in Maryland. When Mr. Bellard was first indicted in
September 2010, the authorized punishments for first-degree
murder were death, life in prison without parole, and life in
prison. See CR §2-201(b) (repealed by 2013 Md.
Laws 2298. (S.B. 276). The State decided in this case to file
a Notice of Intent to Seek Death Penalty. Id.,
§ 2-202(a). That filing sent the proceedings down a
distinct procedural path because, as the United States
Supreme Court and our courts have long recognized, death is
Death is a unique punishment in the United States. In a
society that so strongly affirms the sanctity of life, not
surprisingly the common view is that death is the ultimate
sanction. This natural human feeling appears all about us.
There has been no national debate about punishment, in
general or by imprisonment, comparable to the debate about
the punishment of death. No other punishment has been so
continuously restricted, . . . nor has any State yet
abolished prisons, as some have abolished this punishment.
And those States that still inflict death reserve it for the
most heinous crimes. Juries, of course, have always treated
death cases differently, as have governors exercising their
commutation powers. Criminal defendants are of the same view.
"As all practicing lawyers know, who have defended
persons charged with capital offenses, often the only goal
possible is to avoid the death penalty." Griffin v.
Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 28 (1956) (Burton and Minton,
JJ., dissenting). Some legislatures have required particular
procedures, such as two-stage trials and automatic appeals,
applicable only in death cases. "It is the universal
experience in the administration of criminal justice that
those charged with capital offenses are granted special
considerations." Ibid. See Williams v.