Woodward, Graeff, Sharer, J. Frederick (Retired, Specially
Gabba was shot three times at close range, resulting in her
death, while walking in Germantown, Montgomery County, at
about 7:45 on the morning of October 12, 2013. Her former
husband, Baldeo Taneja, and his wife, Raminder Kaur, were
charged in Gabba's murder. They were tried together and
convicted by a jury of first-degree premeditated murder,
conspiracy to commit first-degree premeditated murder, and
use of a handgun in the commission of a felony.
In his appeal, Taneja raises a single issue:
Whether the trial court violated Taneja's due process
right to present a defense by excluding several defense
witnesses who were present in the court and ready to testify
concerning the defense's theory of the crime[.]
no abuse of discretion in the court's rulings, we shall
affirm the judgments of the circuit court.
State's theory of prosecution was that Taneja and Kaur
conspired to kill Gabba, and that it was Kaur who fired the
fatal shots. The State's case was largely circumstantial
and centered on motive and opportunity. The State produced
evidence that the gun used to kill Gabba was found in the
rear seat of Taneja and Kaur's car 30 hours after the
murder, and that Taneja had purchased the gun five weeks
earlier. The defense argued lack of criminal agency and, more
particularly, that others had motive to kill Gabba.
the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, the
following was adduced at Taneja's trial.
and Taneja were married in India in 2002, and continued to
live there for several years. In 2006, Taneja moved to the
United States; Gabba followed in 2009. They lived in the
Germantown area, but not together. Two years later, Gabba and
Taneja divorced, and soon afterward Taneja married Kaur and
moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Gabba remained in the
Germantown area and moved to a condominium on Crystal Rock
morning of Gabba's murder, she was en route to her job,
walking from her home to the bus stop, as she had done
regularly for the preceding three years. Three eyewitnesses
testified to the events at the murder scene.
Komarova was driving her teenage son to his school in the
19700 block of Crystal Rock Drive, a residential area, when
they heard several gunshots. Komarova slowed her car and saw
two women ahead of her. One of the women, later identified as
Gabba, started crossing the street in the middle of the
block, while the other woman was close behind her. As Gabba
fell into the street in front of Komarova's car, the
second woman ran away. Komarova and her son described the
woman who ran away, in part, as wearing a bright orange
scarf. They initially described both women as
African-American, although, at trial, both were less positive
about their race. Neither saw anyone else in the immediate
area at the time.
living in an apartment about 100 yards from where the
shooting occurred testified that he heard gunshots and looked
out his window. He saw a woman, later identified as Gabba,
lying on the ground, and ten feet away another woman, who
exhibited a slight limp, was running away. The witness
described the woman who was running away as in her late
40's or early 50's with "brownish" skin
color and wearing a bright head scarf. Like the Komarovas, he
initially told the police that the woman was
African-American, but, at trial, was less positive of her
quickly fell on Taneja and Kaur. Several hours after the
murder, around 3:30 p.m., Montgomery County Police Department
homicide detectives called Taneja's cell phone, but it
went directly to voice mail, as did several additional calls.
Warrants were obtained for Taneja and Kaur, who were arrested
in Tennessee around 2:00 p.m. the day following the murder,
as they were driving away from their home. One of the
detectives observed that Kaur walked with a limp.
police searched the car and recovered a backpack containing a
wig, black hair dye, a black hoodie, and a plastic bag. In
the plastic bag was a .357 Ruger LCR revolver, which later
testing and examination determined to be the murder weapon.
The plastic bag also contained a holster for the .357 Ruger,
and a 100 Ruger revolver. Inside Kaur's purse the police
found a note in her handwriting that read: "You calm
down. We are now in Tennessee near my home." A global
positioning system device (GPS) was recovered from the front
console of the car. Inside Taneja's wallet was a piece of
paper on which Kaur had written Gabba's address.
search of Taneja's residence recovered documents with a
note on top in Kaur's handwriting that read, "Dragon
story and other court documents." The police also
recovered a composition notebook with different handwriting
that read, in part, "No brass, no evidence."
medical examiner testified that Gabba had been shot three
times in the upper chest and abdomen. The bullets had entered
from the left side and traveled toward the right; two of the
bullets entered the front part of her body, one entered from
the back. Although two of the wounds were "rapidly
fatal, " the medical examiner testified that Gabba could
have possibly walked several steps before falling.
firearm and tool mark identification experts testified that
the three bullet specimens recovered from Gabba's body
were all fired from the .357 Ruger LCR revolver that was
recovered from Taneja's car. Taneja's DNA was found
on both guns seized from his car.
State also presented evidence to support its theory of
Taneja's and Kaur's motive to kill Gabba, including
that, in 2009, when Gabba moved to the United States from
India, Taneja and Gabba were experiencing marital discord.
While Gabba lived in a condominium in Germantown with one of
Taneja's sons, Taneja and Kaur lived nearby and held
themselves out as husband and wife.
2010, Gabba and Taneja began divorce proceedings, which
became "very contentious" even though they had
little property and no children together. The State
introduced evidence that during the divorce proceedings,
Taneja asked his son and Kaur to spy on Gabba, and that
Taneja referred to Gabba as "Dragon Lady, " as did
his son and Kaur. At one point during the divorce
proceedings, Gabba, acceding to Taneja's demand, left the
family home. She later returned, pursuant to a court order,
to find that Taneja had erected walls so she had access only
from the entry door to her bedroom.
State presented evidence that, although the divorce became
final in July 2011, Taneja failed to honor their divorce
agreements, and their interactions continued to be
acrimonious. Indeed, at the time of Gabba's murder,
Taneja still had not transferred their property in India as
required by the divorce settlement, despite several requests
evidence was offered by the State relating to Taneja's
agreement, as part of the divorce settlement, to pay alimony
in the amount of $2, 400 each month for three years. Alimony
was to terminate upon the death of either party. By February
2013, Taneja had fallen three months behind in his alimony
obligation, prompting Gabba to send several demands for
payment, via e-mail. Eventually, her attorney filed a
contempt petition against Taneja who, in response, filed a
counterclaim for $100, 000. The contempt hearing was
scheduled for October 10, 2013, two days before the murder,
but several days before the hearing, their attorneys
negotiated an agreement whereby Taneja agreed to pay the
arrears within 90 days.
State also presented evidence of Taneja's and Kaur's
opportunity to kill Gabba.
five weeks before Gabba's murder, Taneja attended a
day-long gun training class in Tennessee. The class included
four hours of instruction and four hours of shooting range
experience that would allow him to obtain a "handgun
carry permit." In his testimony, the instructor recalled
that, at the first class, Taneja entered the classroom with a
woman and sat in the last row. When the woman was asked to
leave because she had not paid to attend the class, Taneja
moved to the first row. The instructor particularly
remembered Taneja because he took "a ton of" notes.
Among the instructor's recommendations to the class
participants was that they purchase a revolver rather than a
semiautomatic, because the latter requires much more training
for accuracy than a revolver. He further remembered telling
the class that a semiautomatic "spits out" shell
casings that can later be matched to the gun, but a revolver
September 28, 2013, two weeks before the murder, Taneja
purchased two revolvers from a gun store in Tennessee: a .357
Ruger LCR, which was described as a snub- nosed revolver
designed with a "concealed hammer" so it would not
get hung up on clothing, and a 100 Ruger GP. Additionally,
Taneja purchased a holster for the .357 and ammunition for
both guns. Kaur was present in the store when Taneja
purchased those items.
7:00 p.m. on October 11, the night before the murder, Taneja
and Kaur checked into the Red Roof Inn in Germantown, about
eight miles from where Gabba was shot. From the GPS recovered
from Taneja's car, the police learned that at 9:58 a.m.
the next morning - October 12 - the GPS device traveled
toward the District of Columbia.
evidence disclosed that both Taneja and Kaur were involved in
Amway distribution and sales, Taneja since the early
1990's. On the weekend of October 11-13, 2013, Amway held
a "Free Enterprise" weekend conference at the
Washington Hilton, involving thousands of Amway members. The
event started Friday night at 6:00 p.m. and lasted until
Sunday at 3:45 p.m. Taneja's Amway sponsor testified that
Taneja was aware of the importance of attending the
10:44 a.m. on the morning of the murder, Taneja purchased two
tickets for the conference. About 30 minutes later, the GPS
revealed a stop near the Washington Hilton, a distance of
about 19 miles from the Red Roof Inn. At 11:37 a.m., Taneja
and Kaur entered the conference, where they were seen by
Taneja's Amway sponsor and his wife shortly after they
arrived. A short time later the sponsor texted Taneja,
inviting him and Kaur to join their group for lunch. Taneja
texted back that he could not make it because Kaur was not
feeling well. The sponsor's wife testified that Kaur had
not appeared unwell when she had seen her earlier. From the
GPS device, the police determined that Taneja and Kaur
attended the three day event for less than an hour, leaving
the D.C. area shortly after noon. Their car continued
westward, stopping in Farragut, Tennessee around midnight.
Their travel resumed the following morning around 9:30 and
concluded at their home about noon.
the State rested, Taneja called nine witnesses who testified
as to his character trait for peacefulness.
also called several witnesses to support his theory that
another person was the shooter. Specifically, he called: (1)
Ms. Komarova to suggest that the woman who ran away did so
out of fear of being shot; (2) two witnesses who testified
that Taneja's current annual income was $150, 000 to
$175, 000, to suggest that he had no financial motive to
commit the crime; (3) Taneja's divorce attorney, who
testified that Taneja was not displeased with the outcome of
the divorce; (4) a gunshot residue expert to suggest that the
woman near Gabba just before her death was not the shooter;
and (5) a witness who testified that an indoor shooting range
near the defendant's home in Tennessee was open on
Sunday, to suggest that Taneja and Kaur were on their way to
the shooting range with their guns when they were arrested
leaving their house.
argues that the trial court violated his right to present a
defense when it excluded three witnesses, whom he had
subpoenaed, were in court, and prepared to testify -
Deepinder Singh, Dan Wright, and Utsav Taneja. Singh is
Kaur's son; Wright was Gabba's attorney in a lawsuit
against Singh; and Utsav is Taneja's son.
argues that the witnesses' testimony would have suggested
that Singh shot and killed Gabba. He relies heavily on
Kelly v. State, 392 Md. 511 (2006), to support his
argument. The State responds that Kelly is
distinguishable and that the trial court's ruling to
exclude the witnesses was not reversible error because the
proffered testimony was inadmissible hearsay and irrelevant.
Supreme Court discussed the Compulsory Process Clause of the
Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and its
applicability to the State through the Fourteenth Amendment
nearly 50 years ago in Washington v. Texas:
The right to offer the testimony of witnesses, and to compel
their attendance, if necessary, is in plain terms the right
to present a defense, the right to present the
defendant's version of the facts as well as the
prosecution's to the jury so it may decide where the
truth lies. Just as an accused has the right to confront the
prosecution's witnesses for the purpose of challenging
their testimony, he has the right to present his own
witnesses to establish a defense. This right is a fundamental
element of due process of law.
388 U.S. 14, 19 (1967). In Maryland, the right of a criminal
defendant to produce witnesses on his own behalf is
guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution and by Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of
Rights. Redditt v. State, 337 Md. 621, 634-35
(1995); McCray v. State, 305 Md. 126, 133 (1985).
the right of a defendant in a criminal trial to present
witnesses in his defense is a critical right, it is not
absolute. Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400, 407-10
(1988). See also McCray, 305 Md. at 133-35.
"[T]he accused does not have an unfettered right to
offer testimony that is incompetent, privileged, or otherwise
inadmissible under standard rules of evidence. The Compulsory
Process Clause provides him with an effective weapon, but it
is a weapon that cannot be used irresponsibly."
Taylor, 484 U.S. at 410. The proffered evidence must
be sufficiently relevant, rather than "cast[ing] a bare
suspicion upon another." H ...