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Bellard v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 31, 2016

DARRELL BELLARD
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Nazarian, Reed, Zarnoch, Robert A. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Nazarian, J.

         This 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 convictions.

         On 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On 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.

         Officer 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.

         Sometime 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.

         At 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.

         While 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."

         When 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[1] 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.

         Detective 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 cell phone.

         Detectives 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.

         While 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.

         But 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.

         Mr. 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 days.

         The 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 gone.

         This 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.

         He 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 phone call.

         When he 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 her chin.

         Mr. 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.

         Then he shot Ms. Sikyala's two young children and told Ms. Gilmer to photograph them with her phone. She complied.

         The little girl was dead.

          The 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 trigger.

         The gun jammed.

         So Mr. 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 the ground.

         Ms. Gilmer took another photograph.

         The two 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.

         The 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.[2]

         II. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Bellard raises six challenges to his convictions and sentences.[3] 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.

         A. The Trial Court Correctly Struck Mr. Bellard's Attempt To Elect Sentencing By Jury.

         Mr. 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 4-342[4] -the 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."

         This 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).

         The 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 different:

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. ...

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