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Beaman v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

June 21, 2017


          Argued: May 5, 2017

         Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CT900270B

          Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Rodowsky, Lawrence F., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.


          Greene, J.

         This case involves a direct appeal under the Post-conviction DNA Testing Statute, Md. Code (2001, 2008 Repl. Vol., 2016 Supp.), § 8-201 of the Criminal Procedure Article ("Crim. Proc."). James Patrick Beaman ("Appellant") seeks review of the denial by the Circuit Court for Prince George's County of his Petition for Post-conviction DNA Testing.


         Procedural History

         On February 2, 1990, Appellant was charged in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County with four counts of first-degree murder, four counts of using a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. After a jury trial between April 18, 1990 and April 21, 1990, the jury convicted Appellant of all counts. On September 13, 1990, Appellant was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole, and four concurrent terms of twenty years. Appellant noted an appeal on September 19, 1991, and the intermediate appellate court affirmed the convictions and sentences.

         Appellant subsequently filed several post-conviction petitions. Appellant filed the instant pro se Petition for DNA Testing of Scientific Evidence in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County on August 30, 2012. A hearing on the Petition was held on March 17, 2016. On October 20, 2016, the Circuit Court issued an order denying Appellant's Petition. On November 2, 2016, Appellant filed a notice of direct appeal to this Court pursuant to § 8-201(k)(6).[1]


         In the early morning hours of November 7, 1989, police responded to the scene of 6439 Hil-Mar Drive, an apartment residence in Prince George's County, after receiving a call for shots fired. Police found four men-Terrance Stephenson, Edmond Stephenson, Robert Morton, and Abraham Williams-murdered as a result of gunshot wounds. The body of Abraham Williams was found inside the fourth-floor apartment unit in front of the door. Police discovered a broken window in one of the bedrooms, through which it appeared someone had jumped. Officers found a second body in the hallway of the living room, and a third body in the den area of the apartment. The three men in the apartment each had a gunshot wound to the head. Police found a fourth body, that of Edmond Stephenson, at the side of the apartment building.

         The State's theory of the case was that the victims, who were living in the apartment together, were killed by Appellant and Ervin Holton in retaliation for a dispute over turf for narcotic sales. The dispute between Appellant, Holton, and the Stephenson brothers had occurred one week prior to the murders.[2] Investigators recovered blood evidence from the ground-level patio, directly below the fourth-floor apartment's window, from which, the State believed, the fourth victim had jumped. The State's theory regarding the murder of the fourth victim, Edmond Stephenson, was that he jumped through the bedroom window to escape and was shot in the buttocks as he did so. The State believed that Edmond Stephenson landed on a balcony where he tried to get into that apartment to evade the shooters. Edmond Stephenson left blood on the ground of the balcony's patio as well as on a table that was on the balcony's patio. The State argued that Edmond Stephenson was then "chased, pursued like an injured animal" and ultimately shot to death by either of the two shooters as he ran around the back of the building.[3]

         At trial, Doria Rogers testified as an eyewitness. Ms. Rogers and her mother lived in the same apartment complex where the murders took place. Ms. Rogers knew the deceased residents of the apartment. Ms. Rogers testified that loud noises "like people was fighting or something" awoke her on the morning of the November 7. She testified that she got up and ran to the balcony and saw "two boys running past." One was light-skinned and wore a white jacket with blue windbreaker pants and was carrying a gun. The other was dark-skinned and wore a black coat. Ms. Rogers described the men as being "together." Ms. Rogers testified that the light-skinned man was in front and the dark-skinned man was behind him.[4] Both men were about the same height and the dark-skinned man had a "big nose and a little bit of hair on his mustache." Ms. Rogers testified that she watched until the men disappeared from her sight. Once she returned inside the apartment, she heard gunshots.

         On the day following the murders, Ms. Rogers saw the same two men walking by the apartment building. She testified that the dark-skinned man was wearing the same pants he wore the previous night and the light-skinned man was wearing the same coat he wore the previous night. The police showed Ms. Rogers photographic arrays and she identified Appellant and Ervin Holton as the two men she saw running from the scene the morning of the murders.

         At trial, the State conceded that it could not ascertain which of the two suspects shot which victim, but the State argued that Appellant at least bore accomplice liability in all four shootings. Defense counsel explained to the jury during closing arguments Appellant's theory of misidentification:

[Mr. Ferguson[5] was specifically inquired of as to whether there were one person or two persons who ran behind that building. He said there was one person. This evidence was established primarily through the direct examination of the [S]tate, but the [S]tate doesn't mention this evidence to you, and why not? Because if you consider this evidence and you consider the credibility, and you are the judges of the credibility of the witnesses, if you consider the credibility of Mr. Ferguson, who is a middle-aged gentleman who is living across the court who knows none of the people involved here who testified to you directly, looked right at you, told you that that is what he saw, that there were no obstructions, and you consider that evidence together with what Doria Rogers tells you that she saw, you must reach the inescapable conclusion that the second person that she saw from inside of her apartment looking out across the balcony and her limited field of vision, and there is an exhibit which demonstrates that where she was asked to make some marks …the conclusion is that the dark-skinned person that she saw ahead of the light[-]skinned person was a person who ended up dead at the corner of 6437, Edmond Stephenson.
What she saw in those two seconds was Edmond Stephenson running for his life and a gentleman in a white coat and white hood with a gun she said she saw that individual with a gun chasing after him.

         As previously stated, the jury found Appellant guilty of all counts.[6]

         Post-conviction Proceedings

         In Appellant's pro se Petition, he sought DNA testing of the blood-evidence found on the first-floor patio. The Circuit Court held a hearing on March 17, 2016 regarding

         Appellant's post-conviction petition. At the hearing, Appellant, representing himself, stated in a colloquy with the hearing judge why he believed that DNA testing of the blood was appropriate:

THE COURT: Because there was some confusion by Ms. Rogers with respect to this dark-skinned man versus light-skinned man, right?
[APPELLANT]: Exactly.
THE COURT: And the order they were ...

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