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Smith v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 26, 2017


         Circuit Court for Talbot County Case No. 20-K-00-6884

          Meredith, Graeff, Reed, JJ. [*]


          GRAEFF, J.

         On January 5, 1987, 64-year-old Adeline Wilford was stabbed to death in the kitchen of her farmhouse. The investigation stalled for years, but on March 1, 2001, a jury in the Circuit Court for Talbot County convicted Jonathan D. Smith, appellant, of felony murder and daytime housebreaking. The circuit court subsequently sentenced him to life imprisonment.[1]

         Approximately 10 years later, after appellant's effort to reverse his convictions by appeal and post-conviction relief were unsuccessful, the Innocence Project in New York filed Maryland Public Information Act ("MPIA") requests regarding this case. Based on information received from those requests, appellant filed a Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence and a Motion to Reopen Post-Conviction Proceedings.[2] The circuit court denied both the petition and the motion.

         On appeal, appellant presents several questions[3] for this Court's review, which we have consolidated and rephrased, as follows:

1. Did the circuit court abuse its discretion in denying appellant's Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence?
2. Did the circuit court abuse its discretion in denying appellant's Motion to Reopen Post-Conviction Proceedings?

         For the reasons set forth below, we shall vacate the judgments of the circuit court and remand for further proceedings.



         The Murder of Adeline Wilford

         On January 5, 1987, at approximately 3:00 p.m., Jack Ripley, Ms. Wilford's friend, discovered Ms. Wilford's body in her kitchen and called the police. Ms. Wilford had been photographed by her bank's security system driving her car through the bank drive-through that day at 2:10 p.m., and therefore, the murder appeared to have been committed at some point in the 50-minute period of time between when she left the bank and when her body was found.

         Maryland State Police ("MSP") officers responded to the scene shortly after the call. A window on the west side of the house was propped open with a stick. The police believed that entry to the home had been made through that window, which led to a utility room.

         When the police entered the house, they saw that the keys to the house were still in the door lock, and Ms. Wilford was lying face up on the floor. She was wearing a blue coat, and she had a set of glasses on a cord around her neck. There were numerous stab wounds to her hands and face, and a large butcher knife with an eight-inch blade was "shoved right through the side of [her] cheek and head." There were groceries on the kitchen table that had not been taken out of the bag, which suggested that she had surprised someone in the house.

         The officers performed a sweep of the house to ensure that no one else was inside. Items inside the home seemed "out of place, " and dressers were opened with "stuff taken out, " which suggested that "someone had broken into the house and was looking for money or other goods." The police lifted fingerprints and palm prints from various places in the house, including the outside of the utility room window and the washing machine in the utility room.

         A number of items were missing from Ms. Wilford's residence, including the tan pocketbook that Ms. Wilford was seen carrying that day, Ms. Wilford's custom-made diamond and sapphire ring, and her wallet containing credit cards and an undetermined amount of cash. The police did not recover any of these items.


         Subsequent Investigations

         After a number of years passed and the murder investigation had stalled, the victim's son, Charles Curry Wilford, encouraged the police to reopen the investigation. He offered a reward of $10, 000 for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s) and an additional $15, 000 if there was a conviction.

         Sergeant John Bollinger met with Beverly Haddaway on January 14, 2000, and she told him that her nephew, appellant, and two others had committed the crime. Ms. Haddaway stated that, approximately two years after the incident, appellant confessed to her that he had killed Ms. Wilford.

         Ms. Haddaway agreed to wear a "wire" and surreptitiously record appellant. On April 11, 2000, she recorded a conversation with appellant that occurred in a shed behind her house. During that conversation, Ms. Haddaway asked appellant about the day she saw him on "Kingston Road when that old woman got murdered and you told me the dog bit ya and you stabbed it." She asked who killed the woman. After appellant initially stated, while laughing, that he did not know, [4] the following occurred:

[BH:] Why were you in that field with blood all over ya? And they take, I seen ya goin' up the road that day, you know it? And you had a blue coat on and Ray [Andrews] and you both had huntin' hats on. And then when I come back by there and you were in that cornfield and you said that blood come off a dog, but I think that you held her and David [Faulkner] killed her or one of you three done it.
[JS:] They never found out yet have they?
[BH:] I know, that's why I want to know 'fore I die. I seen ya, did I ever tell anybody? You know I ain't gonna tell on ya, goddamn, you're my blood. I just wanted to know if you done it. I didn't really think you did. I think crazy David did.
[JS:] It's a secret. It's a secret when one person knows[.] It aint [sic] a secret when two people know.
[BH:] Well, the three of you know.
[JS:] Right, there's only two left.
[BH:] It was you and Ray and David.
[JS:] Ray wasn't there until after it was over.
[BH:] Where was he?
[JS:] Down the road.
[BH:] Ray was right with you in the goddamn field.
[JS:] Yeah. That was after it was all done with.

         Ms. Haddaway asked again who killed the victim. When appellant responded that he could not remember, Ms. Haddaway stated: "Jonathan, you're lying 'cause you're laughing." The conversation continued, as follows:

[BH:] Well why do you think I would tell anybody. I ain't told nobody in 12 goddamn years. I just wanted to know.
[JS:] (Inaudible) she had money.
[BH:] Huh?
[JS:] She had money.
[BH:] She had money?
[JS:] Uh huh.
[BH:] [Dick] said that he'd heard three or four times that you had tried to get somebody to . . . . But, ah . . . .
[JS:] It's been a long time. I don't even remember it no more.
[BH:] Oh. You know whether you done it or David done it if Ray weren't there. I'll tell ya reason I ask. . . . [T]his lady that lived over Ridgley . . . . told me that David's foster mother had something and . . . the old woman said that they had bought David out of a murder. And I was wondering, you know, if she knew anything or did she tell you, I just wondered if he did it or you. Tell me. I ain't gonna tell nobody, I just want to know (inaudible).
[JS:] He didn't do it.
[BH:] You done it.
[JS:] Uh huh.
[BH:] You said you did it before. Why did you kill her? I thought she let you in there when you went fishin'[.] . . . What, you didn't know her?
[JS:] I knew she had money.
[BH:] You knew she had money.
[JS:] She had money.
[BH:] But you didn't get none?
[JS:] Uh huh.
[BH:] You did get it.
[JS:] Uh huh.

         Appellant then stated that the men got $60, 000, and they split it three ways.

         In response to Ms. Haddaway's question regarding why Mr. Faulkner had appellant's coat, appellant said that Mr. Faulkner "got cut" and had too much blood on his coat, so he got rid of it. Appellant then stated that both he and Mr. Faulkner had stabbed the victim, and the conversation continued as follows:

[BH:] [T]hat day you told me I thought no, he ain't done it, that stupid David if he, anybody done it.
[JS:] If there's enough money I'll do it.
[BH:] Enough money. Well, it's alright if you don't get caught.
[JS:] I won't get caught.

         On April 25, 2000, the police brought appellant, Mr. Faulkner, and Mr. Andrews to the Easton MSP barrack for questioning. Appellant was advised of his rights, and although he initially "almost seemed happy to be answering [their] questions, " his demeanor changed when Sergeant Jack McCauley asked if appellant and Mr. Faulkner had been involved in any criminal activity together. At that point, appellant "became somewhat withdrawn, dropped his head . . . . [a]nd he became very evasive, fidgety in his seat." Appellant denied any involvement with the murder of a woman. He acknowledged his conversation with Ms. Haddaway, but he claimed that he admitted involvement in the murder because he wanted Ms. Haddaway to think that he was a tough person.[5]

         Sergeant Bollinger and another officer interviewed appellant again later that day. Sergeant Bollinger advised appellant of his Miranda rights, giving him a copy of the form to "follow along as [Sergeant Bollinger] was reading it to him." Before Sergeant Bollinger asked any questions, appellant volunteered his narrative of what had happened, and Sergeant Bollinger listened for several minutes without interrupting. Appellant stated that "he, David Faulkner, [and] Ray Andrews, had gone to the residence, " and "he and David Faulkner broke into the residence, " but Mr. Andrews stayed outside. While appellant and Mr. Faulkner were in the house, Ms. Wilford returned, and when appellant "noticed her she was standing in front of him screaming and . . . David Faulkner was stabbing her." Appellant stated that Ms. Wilford was wearing a blue coat and had glasses on a chain around her neck, and "she was fighting and moving her arms about." As Mr. Faulkner was stabbing Ms. Wilford, she fell back on appellant, getting blood on his shirt. Sergeant Bollinger then asked appellant if he had stabbed Ms. Wilford, and at that point, appellant asked for an attorney.

         Mr. Andrews also talked to the police. He told Sergeant Joseph Gamble that appellant and Mr. Faulkner discussed burglarizing Ms. Wilford's house, but he did not want to, so they told him to stay in the wooded area. Approximately 20 minutes after appellant and Mr. Faulkner approached the house, Mr. Andrews saw a vehicle pull up the Wilford driveway. A few minutes later, appellant and Mr. Faulkner ran from the house. Appellant had blood on his shirt. The three men then ran through woods and fields until they reached Black Dog Alley, where they saw Ms. Haddaway driving down the road. Ms. Haddaway asked appellant why he had blood on his shirt, and appellant replied that he had been attacked by a dog. The three men then went to appellant's house, where appellant changed his clothes.[6] Appellant and Mr. Faulkner removed money from their pockets and divided it up. The next day, appellant told him that the woman at the house was dead, and Mr. Andrews should never tell anybody about it.


         Appellant's Trial

         Appellant's four-day trial began on February 26, 2001. In addition to the evidence discussed, supra, Alexander Mankevich, a fingerprint expert for the Maryland State Police Crime Laboratory, testified that he did not match any fingerprints left at the scene to any known suspects. He further explained how a fingerprint typically is left on a surface, why fingerprints might not be located, and the inability to determine the length of time a fingerprint has been on any surface. Sergeant Bollinger testified that, although fingerprint, DNA, and hair samples were taken from appellant, those samples did not match any of the evidence the police had collected from the crime scene.

         Ms. Haddaway testified that, on January 5, 1987, she was driving on Black Dog Alley and saw her nephew, appellant, emerge from a cornfield with Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Andrews.[7] She pulled over to the side of the road, and appellant approached her truck. His glasses were broken and repaired with tape or a bandaid, and he was wearing a white t-shirt that had "red dots" around the collar. Ms. Haddaway asked him what he was doing there.[8] Appellant stated that he was waiting for somebody, and he thought that person was in the truck Ms. Haddaway was driving. When asked again what the men were doing, appellant said that he had just killed a dog. Ms. Haddaway called appellant a liar. Appellant started laughing and stated: "Yes I did. I killed him cause [sic] it bit me." He told her that he had stabbed the dog. Another truck then pulled up behind Ms. Haddaway, and the three men got into the truck. As Ms. Haddaway drove away, she saw a number of police vehicles and an ambulance driving fast on Black Dog Alley and then turning left onto Kingston Road.

         Mr. Andrews testified, consistent with his statement to the police, that he waited in a wooded area while appellant and Mr. Faulkner went to Ms. Wilford's house, and after they came running back, the three men ran until they arrived at Black Dog Alley and saw Ms. Haddaway in her vehicle.[9] Ms. Haddaway asked appellant what happened to him, and appellant responded that he had been attacked by a dog. Mr. Andrews believed that someone was with Ms. Haddaway that day, but he was "not sure if it was a man or not." The three then went to appellant's house.[10] Appellant and Mr. Faulkner did not talk about what happened, but they pulled out of their pockets a large quantity of cash, approximately $300 to $400. Mr. Andrews did not get any of the money. Appellant and Mr. Faulkner never talked to him about what occurred that afternoon. When Mr. Andrews saw a report in a newspaper the next day, appellant and Mr. Faulkner told him "to keep quiet."

         On cross-examination, Mr. Andrews acknowledged that, in exchange for his testimony against appellant and his agreement to enter an Alford plea to the crime of involuntary manslaughter for his role in Ms. Wilford's murder, the prosecutor would recommend that he be sentenced to five years.[11] Mr. Andrews testified, however, that he had not been promised any financial reward or incentive to testify.

         Michael Snow, a former Baltimore City police officer who had been convicted of bank robbery, testified that he was housed with appellant in the same protective custody ward at the Talbot County Detention Center. At one point during their detention, he asked appellant if he really killed "that lady."[12] Appellant "just looked at [him] and said uh-hum." When Mr. Snow asked how appellant killed her, appellant "had his hand kind of just folded like if he was holding something, " and he made stabbing motions. When Mr. Snow asked appellant why he killed the woman, appellant stated that "she was an old lady" who "startled him when she came in." Appellant explained that "he was fighting with her trying to get away" when "she bit him, " and he then "went crazy."

         Mr. Snow testified that he did not receive a plea deal or anything else in exchange for his testimony. He stated that he testified against the advice of his attorney because he found what appellant said to him "appalling."

         After the State concluded its case-in-chief, the defense recalled Ms. Haddaway. Defense counsel questioned her about inconsistencies between her testimony and the police report of her conversation with Sergeant Bollinger on January 17, 2000. Ms. Haddaway stated that a "lot of things that they wrote down [were] wrong."[13]

         Ms. Haddaway acknowledged that she had visited Mr. Andrews in jail. There were occasions that Mr. Andrews' lawyer was present when she went to visit him.

         Ms. Haddaway also testified that she received a $10, 000 deposit on a $25, 000 reward for providing information that led to an arrest. The police told her that, to get the $25, 000 reward, all she had to do was testify, which she agreed to do "as long as [she could] tell the truth and only the truth."

         On the last day of trial, appellant testified. He recalled his April 11, 2000, recorded conversation with Ms. Haddaway, but he stated that the "whole time [he] did not ever know what she was saying, referring to or what she was talking about or nothing." He denied admitting to Ms. Haddaway that he killed Ms. Wilford. Although he did tell her that "all three got the money, " and they "all split $20, 000 apiece, " that statement was not true. He testified that he lied to Ms. Haddaway because she kept asking him questions "about something that happened that I had no knowledge [of]" and "that was the only way [he] could think of to get her to leave [him] alone."

         Appellant also testified about his interview with Sergeant Bollinger. He stated that he could not hear the recording Sergeant Bollinger tried to play for him. Sergeant Bollinger then advised that if he did not "come clean you'll never, ever see your wife or your kids again." At that point, and because Sergeant McCauley told him that he would see appellant "strapped down and [given] lethal injection, " he told Sergeant Bollinger that he "did it, David did it. Ray was there. I didn't know what else to do."

         Appellant acknowledged that he was placed in protective custody with Mr. Snow. He denied, however, that he told Mr. Snow that he killed Ms. Wilford or that he made "stabbing motions" with his hand.

         Appellant denied taking part in Ms. Wilford's murder. He testified that he was not with Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Andrews at the time because he "did not know neither of the (inaudible) at all, neither one." He also denied seeing Ms. Haddaway on Black Dog Alley that day.

         Sergeant McCauley was recalled as a rebuttal witness for the State. He testified that he had reviewed various newspaper articles from 1987 through 1999, and none of the articles that he reviewed contained a description of what Ms. Wilford was wearing when she was killed.

         As indicated, on March 1, 2001, a jury found appellant guilty of felony murder and daytime house breaking.


         Subsequent Procedural History

         On March 13, 2001, appellant filed a motion for new trial, arguing that "exculpatory DNA evidence was withheld from the defense, " specifically that DNA analysis of debris taken from under the victim's fingernails was not a match for appellant or Mr. Faulkner. The circuit court denied the motion.

         On appeal, this Court rejected appellant's claims of error during the trial, but we concluded that the circuit court erred in denying appellant's motion for a new trial without a hearing, and therefore, we remanded for a hearing on the motion. Smith v. State, No. 688, Sept. Term, 2001 (filed Jan. 17, 2002). The Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed. Smith v. State, 371 Md. 496 (2002).

         On remand, defense counsel abandoned the argument regarding the withheld DNA evidence, and instead argued that appellant had been "set up" by Ms. Haddaway and Mr. Andrews. Defense counsel argued that, Mr. Andrews' attorney, Grayson Eckel, had a conflict of interest because he represented: (1) Mr. Andrews in the criminal case regarding Ms. Wilford's murder; (2) Lacy Janda, Ms. Haddaway's daughter, in an estate matter addressing whether appellant or Ms. Janda would inherit appellant's father's property; and (3) Ms. Haddaway in a civil suit against Ms. Wilford's son, regarding the reward money. The circuit court denied the motion, stating that the argument that the dual representation suggested that Mr. Eckel exercised any influence against Mr. Andrews on behalf of Ms. Haddaway was "conjecture." This Court affirmed. Smith v. State, No. 1184, Sept. Term, 2003, slip op. at 7-8 (filed Nov. 4, 2004).

         On September 28, 2005, appellant, an unrepresented litigant, filed a Petition for Post Conviction Relief. On April 13, 2009, the circuit court denied his petition, and this Court subsequently denied his application for leave to appeal. Smith v. State, No. 850, Sept. Term, 2009 (filed June 9, 2010). On December 27, 2011, appellant, again unrepresented, filed a motion to reopen post-conviction proceedings, which the court subsequently denied.


         Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence and Motion to Reopen

         In 2011, the New York Innocence Project filed MPIA requests on behalf of appellant.[14] A paralegal with the Innocence Project visited MSP, and she observed a number of "tape cassettes" in the boxes of evidence. Upon request, and after other legal maneuvers, MSP produced copies of the tapes, which contained several recorded conversations between Sergeant Bollinger and Ms. Haddaway ("the Bollinger-Haddaway tapes").

         On August 2, 2013, appellant filed a Motion to Reopen Postconviction Proceeding, arguing that, "based on newly-discovered and otherwise-suppressed evidence, " "the State violated his Due Process rights by withholding exculpatory evidence and affirmatively misleading both [appellant's] prior counsel and the jury on material issues in the case." Specifically, he pointed to his discovery of the Bollinger-Haddaway tapes, and the State's alleged wrongful withholding of "DNA test results showing a foreign profile on the victim's fingernails from which all defendants were excluded." He asserted that these violations, in addition to ineffective assistance of counsel, warranted reopening his case.

         As explained in more detail, infra, Mr. Mankevich subsequently entered the unidentified palm prints from Ms. Wilford's residence into the Maryland Automated Fingerprint Identification System ("MAFIS" or "AFIS"). He determined that Tyrone Anthony Brooks ("Ty Brooks") was the source of the palm prints found on Ms. Wilford's washing machine and on the outside of the utility room window.[15]

         On June 11, 2015, appellant filed a petition for writ of actual innocence. In his petition, and at the subsequent hearing, he asserted three claims of newly discovered evidence: (1) the identification of Ty Brooks as the source of the palm prints; (2) the recorded conversations between Ms. Haddaway and Sergeant Bollinger; and (3) statements by an eyewitness that he saw a vehicle at Ms. Wilford's house at approximately 2:00 p.m. on the day of the murder.

         The circuit court consolidated the hearings on appellant's and Mr. Faulkner's petitions and motions. The court issued an order detailing the order of presentation, which stated as follows:

I. Opening Statements limited to the Petitions for Writs of Actual Innocence;
II. Presentation of evidence in support and rebuttal of Petitions for Writs of Actual Innocence;
III. Closing Arguments limited to the Petitions for Writs of Actual Innocence;
IV. Ruling by the Court on the Petitions for Writs of Actual Innocence (or announcement that decision will be taken under advisement);
V. If the Court does not grant or defers ruling on the Petitions for Writs of Actual Innocence and provided there is time remaining, the Court will entertain proceedings regarding Petitioners' Motions to Reopen their prospective Post-Conviction Petitions starting with opening statements;
VI. Presentation of evidence/information in support of rebuttal of Motion to Reopen Post Conviction Proceedings[; and]
VII. Closing Arguments limited to the Motion to Reopen Post Conviction Proceedings.

         A seven-day evidentiary hearing began on April 11, 2016. We will discuss the evidence as it relates to the ...

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