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Thompson v. Goins-Johnson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 29, 2016



          William M. Nickerson, Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of Petitioner Danny Eugene Thompson's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254. ECF 1. Respondents have filed an Answer opposing the petition (ECF 5) and Thompson has filed a Reply (ECF 6). The Court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts and Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016); see also Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (petitioner not entitled to a hearing under 28 U.S.C. §2254(e)(2)). For the reasons that follow, the Petition shall be denied and a Certificate of Appealability shall not issue.

         Evidence At Trial

         Thompson was convicted of the felony-murder of Carlos Santay in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, following a jury trial. The issue of whether Thompson killed Santay was undisputed; rather, the trial centered around whether Thompson killed Santay during the course of robbing him, supporting a conviction for first-degree felony-murder, or he simply panicked and killed Santay without intent, supporting a conviction for second-degree murder or manslaughter.

         Santay's girlfriend, Claudia Salas, testified that on the day Santay was killed, May 10, 2008, she was pregnant and in labor with their first child. She stated that Santay was planning to drive her to the hospital and left at approximately 4:00 p.m., to put gas in the car at a gas station approximately 2 blocks from their home. She confirmed that Santay had over 500 dollars in his wallet when he left. When he did not return home, she was transported to the hospital via ambulance, gave birth to her child the following morning at 3:39 a.m.; and learned of Santay's death at 5:00 a.m. Salas also identified a wallet and its contents, presented as evidence in court, as belonging to Santay. ECF 5 at Ex. 2, pp. 72 - 83. On cross-examination, Salas confirmed that when Santay's belongings were returned by the police, all of the cash he had in his wallet was also returned. ECF 5 at Ex. 2, pp. 83 - 84.

         Dr. Ripple, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Santay, testified that Santay suffered five stab wounds, two to his chest, two to his arm, and one to the top of his head; and six smaller cutting wounds, five to his left arm and one to his right hand. ECF 5 at Ex. 2, p. 96. She further testified that the wounds were inflicted by a single edged weapon such as a knife and that the two most serious wounds were the stab wounds to his chest. Id. at pp. 100 - 101. One stab wound to the front of Santay's chest hit his heart and the second wound entered his chest cavity and nicked his lung, causing it to collapse. Id. at pp. 101 - 103. Dr. Ripple further testified that there was approximately one liter of blood in Santay's chest and that the wound to his heart filled the sack around his heart with blood, making it progressively difficult for his heart to beat due to the pressure of the blood. Id. at pp. 111 - 19.

         Dr. Ripple described some of the injuries on Santay's arms and hands as “defensive wounds” during her direct testimony, but admitted she could not determine how Santay was positioned in relation to his assailant. Id. at p. 111. On cross-examination, Dr. Ripple admitted that some of the wounds on Santay's hand and face could have been the result of a “terminal collapse” which she described as a fall that occurs when a person is either wounded so badly or so ill that they can no longer stand. Id. at p. 126 - 27. Further, Dr. Ripple admitted under cross-examination that some of her explanations as to how Santay incurred some of the “defensive wounds” could not be derived from her examination of the body. Id. at pp. 123 - 24.

         Rachel Stokes (ECF 5 at Ex. 2, pp. 131 - 153; 155 - 167) and Nicole Harris (ECF 5 at Ex. 2, pp. 169 - 90; Ex. 3, pp. 5 - 37) testified for the State. Stokes and Harris drove into the gas station where Santay and Thompson were. Stokes testified that she got out of her car, leaving the three passengers in it, one of whom was Harris. ECF 5 at Ex. 2, pp. 131 - 33. She stated that upon approaching the cashier's booth she saw a “commotion” between two men, like they were fighting, but at first thought nothing of it. Id. Upon moving within approximately 10 to 15 feet of the affray, Stokes said she saw more of what was going on and heard Thompson saying “give it to me, just give it to me” and Santay replying, “you are not getting this.” Id. at p. 139. Stokes then saw the knife in Thompson's hand and saw that Thompson was stabbing Santay. Id. According to Stokes's testimony, the assault lasted five to six minutes and Thompson was holding onto something Santay was holding in his hand. Id. at p. 143. Thompson then ran across Baltimore National Pike, the road where the Carroll Gas Station was located. Id. at p. 147.

         Under cross-examination, Stokes admitted that she did not include in her written statement to the police that she had heard words exchanged between Santay and Thompson. Id. at pp. 157, 161. Stokes confirmed that the words she heard spoken by Santay were in English. Id. at p. 164.

         Harris testified that after leaving the car, Stokes returned “hysterical” and told them “he is stabbing him.” ECF 5 at Ex. 2, pp. 172 - 74. Harris then looked and saw two men, one of whom was wearing a tan hooded sweatshirt and whose arm was moving in a stabbing motion. Id. at p. 175. She further testified that when Thompson, the man she saw in the tan sweatshirt, was running across the road he dropped something, turned to pick it up, appeared to change his mind, left the item there, and continued to run away. Id. at p. 180. Harris told police about the dropped item when they arrived on the scene. Id. at pp. 189 - 90. On cross-examination, Harris confirmed that she saw Santay holding his wallet after Thompson had fled the scene. ECF 5 at Ex. 3, p. 24.

         Nelson Utley testified for the State and explained he was driving down Baltimore National Pike when he saw a man running across the highway, ducking in and out of cars on the road. ECF 5 at Ex. 3, pp. 39 - 45; p. 41. He pulled into the gas station and ran over to Santay, who he described as an Hispanic male standing near the cashier's booth, clutching his chest. Id. at p. 42. Utley testified that he was attempting to render assistance to Santay, but did not know what had occurred or how he was injured. Id. He described the women who were also there, among them Stokes and Harris, as screaming hysterically and not making sense. Id. at p. 43. Utley then noticed there was blood on his hands as he was attempting to keep Santay on his feet and reassuring him that help was on the way. Id. at p. 44. He stated that someone else came over to assist Santay and confirmed on cross-examination that the person who assisted was Congressman Elijah Cummings. Id. at pp. 45 and 54. Utley stated during redirect that Cummings had taken a phone from one of the women, gave their location, and gave the phone back. Id. at pp. 64 - 65. Both Stokes and Harris stated during their testimony that they had been angered by news reports during which Cummings had stated he had been on the scene and tried to render assistance because neither of them recalled he was there. ECF 5 at Ex. 2, pp. 167 - 68; Ex. 3, p. 33.

         Officer Robinson, the first uniformed police officer to respond to the scene, testified for the State. ECF 5 at Ex. 3, pp. 66 - 73. Robinson rendered first aid to Santay and described him as covered in blood, gasping for air, and unable to communicate Id. at pp. 68 - 69. After the paramedics arrived, Robinson spoke with the bystanders at the scene and was directed by Nicole Harris to the area of the sidewalk where Thompson had dropped something. Id. at p. 70. Robinson retrieved the item, later described as a piece of Santay's wallet, and moved it to the hood of the police car in order to preserve it. Id. at pp. 70 - 71; 83.

         Detective Matthew Walsh was the primary homicide detective assigned to investigate Santay's death and also testified for the State. ECF 5 at Ex. 3, pp. 130 - 177; Ex. 4, pp. 4- 5. He testified that Thompson was developed as a suspect following retrieval of surveillance video from a pawn shop located in the shopping center across the street from the gas station and interviews with two people who identified Thompson from still photographs taken from the video. Id. at pp. 138 - 40. Thompson was arrested on May 15, 2008, following a search of his house, located three-quarters of a mile from the crime scene. Id. at pp. 140 - 42. Walsh described Thompson's demeanor as upset and visibly shaken. Id. at p. 143; see also Ex. 4, pp. 7 - 28 (cross-examination). After Thompson was advised of his rights, he confessed to the crime.

         In his confession Thompson explained he went to the gas station to sell music CDs he had made and was standing by the cashier's booth. ECF 5 at Ex. 3, p. 158. When Santay walked to the booth, Thompson asked him if he wanted to buy a CD and Santay declined. Id. Santay then removed his wallet to pre-pay for gas and Thompson stated he saw a lot of twenty-dollar bills inside his wallet. Id. He claimed that this angered him because he was broke and he grabbed the wallet. Id. When Santay would not let go of the wallet a struggle ensued and Thompson stated that he remembered he had a knife so he removed the knife and stabbed Santay several times. Id. Thompson's confession was video recorded and the statements he made when Walsh and his partner drove him to the scene in an effort to locate the knife were audio recorded; the video and audio records were played for the jury. Id. at pp. 167 - 174.

         On cross-examination of Walsh it was established that Thompson had told police that Santay would not let him go during the struggle. ECF 5 at Ex. 4, pp. 5 - 6. It was further developed that Thompson was in tenth grade, enrolled in special education classes, and had never been arrested prior to this incident. Id. at pp. 7 - 8. Walsh also agreed that Thompson was at times during his interview crying so hard his speech could not be understood and that he had told Walsh he had prayed for Santay following the incident. Id. at pp. 13; 16 - 18; 23. Walsh also related that Thompson found out that Santay died from his injuries the day before his arrest. Id. at p. 24. Defense counsel established through cross-examination of Walsh that Thompson was cooperative with police and that he had never been identified by witnesses at the scene as the person who committed the crime. Id. at pp. 5 - 28.

         Following Walsh's testimony the State rested its case.[1] ECF 5 at Ex. 4, p. 37. Defense counsel moved for judgment of acquittal on the charges of first degree murder and felony murder. Id. at pp. 40 - 51. With respect to the felony-murder count, counsel argued that the evidence, viewed in a light most favorable to the State, did not legally support robbery with a deadly weapon. Id. at pp. 43 - 50. Rather, she argued that there was no specific intent to commit robbery in this case because Thompson did not use the knife to threaten Santay prior to grabbing his wallet, making the case more akin to a “snatching” case. Id. at p. 45 - 46. Had Thompson intended to rob Santay, in defense counsel's view, he would have brandished the knife he had with him first or in concert with the course of conduct to obtain the property. Id. at pp. 47 - 48. She further argued that this case was a snatching that only escalated due to Thompson's desire to get away from Santay because he would not let Thompson go. Id. at p. 49. Counsel offered her view that the evidence provided at trial showed that Santay not only resisted Thompson's effort to take his wallet, but also held onto Thompson because he wanted “this person caught.” Id. at p. 46. Counsel relied on West v. State, 312 Md. 197, 539 A.2d 231 (1988) for the proposition that snatching property where there is asportation of the property without force or threat of force, is not robbery. Id. at p. 45.

         In rebuttal, the State agreed that the crime began as a snatching of Santay's wallet, but it did not end that way. Id. at pp. 51 - 53. The State relied on Thompson's statement to the police that he thought about the knife and “as soon as [he] remembered [he] had it . . . [he] went for it and used it” to support a finding of premeditation in support of first degree murder. Id. at p. 52. The State also agreed that the West decision was instructive as it held that where a victim of a snatching resists, no matter how slight, the offense is robbery. Id. The asportation element of robbery, according to the State, was supported in this case by the evidence that Santay's wallet was torn into two pieces. Id. at p. 53.

         In denying the motion for judgment of acquittal the trial court noted that the evidence was sufficient for all counts to go to the jury and that the issues raised by defense counsel were questions of fact for the jury. ECF 5 at Ex. 4, p. 53. Upon renewal of the motion, the trial court observed that defense counsel's theory of the case would require the jury “to disregard the testimony of the witnesses who indicated that there was a discussion between Santay and Thompson.” Id. at p. 58. The trial court again indicated that it was for the jury to decide whether the witness who said she heard the two men exchanging words actually heard those statements. Id.

         Thompson waived his right to testify in his own defense. Id. at p. 56. The defense presented no further evidence. Id. at pp. 57 and 60.

         The jury was instructed as follows regarding attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and robbery with a deadly weapon:

In order to convict the Defendant of attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, the State must prove all of the elements of robbery and must also prove that the Defendant committed the robbery by using a dangerous weapon.
Robbery is the taking and carrying away of the property from someone else by force or threat of force with the intent to deprive the victim of the property. In order to convict the Defendant of robbery, the State must prove theft, that is, that the Defendant took the property by force or threat of force, and that the Defendant intended to deprive the victim of the property.
If there is any injury to the person of the owner in the taking of the property or if he resists the attempt to rob him and his resistance is overcome, there is sufficient violence to make the taking robbery however slight the resistance. In other words, sufficient force must be used to overcome resistance and the mere force that is required to take possession when there is no resistance is not enough.
Attempt. Attempt is a substantial step beyond mere preparation toward the commission of a crime. In order to convict the Defendant of attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, the State must prove that the Defendant took a substantial step beyond mere preparation toward the commission of the crime of robbery with a dangerous weapon and that the Defendant intended to commit the crime of robbery with a dangerous weapon.
In order to convict the Defendant of robbery with a dangerous weapon the State must prove all of the elements of robbery and must also prove that the Defendant committed the robbery by using a dangerous weapon.
In order to convict the Defendant of first degree felony murder the State must prove that the Defendant attempted to commit the felony of robbery with a dangerous weapon, that the Defendant killed the victim and that the act resulting in the death of the victim occurred during the attempted ...

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