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Wallace-Bey v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

November 2, 2017


         Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CT072537X

          Nazarian, Arthur, Friedman, JJ.


          Arthur, J.

         In 2009 a Prince George's County jury convicted Tania Wallace-Bey of first-degree premeditated murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence in the shooting death of her boyfriend. The Circuit Court for Prince George's County sentenced her to imprisonment for life plus 20 years.

         Five years later, the circuit court granted post-conviction relief, on the ground that Wallace-Bey had received ineffective assistance of counsel because her defense lawyer had failed to investigate whether she was suffering from battered spouse syndrome at the time of the shooting.

         At a second trial in 2016, Wallace-Bey was convicted again of first-degree premeditated murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. The court again sentenced her to life imprisonment for the murder conviction and to a consecutive term of 20 years for the handgun conviction.

         Wallace-Bey noted a timely appeal and now presents two questions for review:

1. Did the circuit court impermissibly limit the testimony of [Wallace-Bey] and the defense expert?
2. Did the circuit court err in permitting the State to question [Wallace-Bey] about the credibility of another witness?

         The answer to both questions is: Yes. First and foremost, we conclude that the circuit court committed prejudicial error by requiring Wallace-Bey to present the evidence that the victim repeatedly abused her without mentioning any words that he actually said to her. The judgments must be reversed on that basis alone. We shall address the other evidentiary issues to provide guidance for another trial.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         A. The First Trial and the Related Post-Conviction Proceedings

         At around 5:15 p.m. on October 24, 2007, Tania Wallace-Bey called 911. She reported that her boyfriend, Julius Whaley, had raped her and that she had shot him.

         Police officers found Whaley's body on the floor of a bedroom inside his apartment. He had died hours earlier from a single gunshot to the chest.

         Wallace-Bey told paramedics that she had tried to kill herself by ingesting sleeping pills and alcohol. The paramedics took her by ambulance to a hospital for treatment.

         Detective Michael Lanier of the Greenbelt Police Department obtained oral and written statements from Wallace-Bey at the hospital. Later that night, Wallace-Bey gave another statement when she underwent a sexual assault forensic examination. In her statements, Wallace-Bey said that Whaley had raped her early that morning, that afterwards she shot him once, and that later she tried to commit suicide.

         Upon visiting the residence in Philadelphia where Wallace-Bey had been living with her mother before the shooting, Detective Lanier discovered that Wallace-Bey had already been preparing to commit suicide in the days before she killed Whaley.

         In December 2007, a Prince George's County grand jury indicted Wallace-Bey for first-degree premeditated murder of Whaley and the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. Although Wallace-Bey told her private defense counsel that Whaley had repeatedly abused her during the months leading up to the shooting, her counsel did not seek out an evaluation for battered spouse syndrome. Instead, counsel relied on a theory of self-defense, without calling any witnesses. The jury found Wallace-Bey guilty on both counts, and the court sentenced her to life imprisonment plus 20 years.

         After this Court affirmed the convictions on direct appeal, Wallace-Bey petitioned for post-conviction relief on several grounds, including ineffective assistance of counsel. At a post-conviction hearing, Dr. Patricia McGraw expressed her expert opinion that Wallace-Bey was suffering from battered spouse syndrome at the time that she shot Whaley.

         The post-conviction court found that Wallace-Bey's trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to investigate battered spouse syndrome. The court also found that counsel's inadequate performance prejudiced Wallace-Bey's defense. On March 13, 2014, the court vacated Wallace-Bey's convictions and granted her a new trial.

         B. The State's Case Against Wallace-Bey

         The circuit court held a jury trial over six days from March 14, 2016, to March 22, 2016. The trial focused on the events leading up to the shooting and Wallace-Bey's mental state during it. There was no dispute that Wallace-Bey caused Whaley's death by shooting him.

         The State theorized that Wallace-Bey had killed Whaley as the first part of a murder-suicide plan. It contended that Wallace-Bey came to visit Whaley with the intention of killing him along with herself, that she shot him while he was asleep, and that her subsequent suicide attempt failed.

         The defense claimed that Wallace-Bey shot Whaley to defend herself just after he had forcibly raped her. The defense claimed further that she was suffering from the effects of repeated abuse by Whaley.

         Throughout defense counsel's opening statement, the prosecutor made dozens of objections, many of which the court sustained. It appears that the court sustained objections to comments about anything that Whaley said to Wallace-Bey during their relationship, but overruled objections to comments about what Whaley did to her. For instance, the court sustained an objection to a comment that Whaley demeaned Wallace-Bey by telling her that she was "sick" and "destined for stagnation and failure, " but overruled an objection to a comment that Whaley once "kicked her while she was on the ground."

         The State established that at about 5:15 p.m. on October 24, 2007, police officers and paramedics responded to a 911 call, in which Wallace-Bey reported that her boyfriend had raped her and that she had shot him. When they arrived at the apartment building, Wallace-Bey came outside and "collapsed" onto the ground. The paramedic who treated her saw no signs of injury.

         Upstairs, police officers found Whaley's body lying face-down in a pool of blood. He had sustained a single gunshot wound on the right side of his chest. The medical examiner determined that the gun's muzzle had been directly against his skin when it was fired. The bullet pierced the blood vessels connecting his right lung to his heart, which caused him to die within minutes.

         On the bottom row of a bookshelf next to the body, investigators found a five-shot revolver. The hammer was pulled back by hand, ready to fire. The revolver had one spent cartridge in its cylinder and four unspent rounds. Three more unspent rounds of ammunition were found on the floor on the other side of the mattress. Records showed that Wallace-Bey had purchased the revolver from a Pennsylvania dealer in April 2007, about six months before the shooting.

         Investigators found an empty pill container on the floor near the body. Surveillance photos and purchase records showed that Wallace-Bey purchased sleeping pills from a nearby drug store at 8:30 a.m. on the morning of the shooting.

         Outside the building, an officer recovered a grain alcohol bottle and a bag filled with personal items belonging to Wallace-Bey: her clothes, wallet, cosmetics, and toiletries. A manila folder inside the bag had phone numbers written on it for Wallace-Bey's parents and for the parents of "Amensa" (a name used by Whaley).

         Also inside the bag was a pad of paper with bloody fingerprints on the front page. Tests later showed that the blood came from Whaley. Wallace-Bey had written a message on it, addressed to "Families (Amensa's and Tania's)." In the message, Wallace-Bey wrote that she was sorry "for hurting" them and asked for their forgiveness. She wrote that, "[o]ver the past year, " her relationship with Whaley "became very unhealthy." In her words, "Amensa, ordinarily a man of good intentions and love, began to abuse [her, ]" and she, "ordinarily a woman of substance and self-respect, began to accept the abuse willingly and frequently." She wrote that she made "numerous attempts to end the relationship, " but that they "managed to find [themselves] in each other's arms - only to begin a new cycle of sickness [and] injury more grotesque than the previous." She said that there "appeared to be no hope in sight for [their] condition, " that she "couldn't see a way out, " and that she "couldn't take it anymore."

         Wallace-Bey was admitted to Doctors Community Hospital at around 6:00 p.m. on October 24, 2007. To treat the reported overdose, doctors administered activated charcoal. Soon thereafter, Detective Michael Lanier, the lead investigator, interviewed Wallace-Bey at the hospital. She signed a Miranda waiver form at 7:40 p.m.

         Detective Lanier testified with the aid of his notes from the interview. According to the detective, Wallace-Bey stated that she had traveled from Pennsylvania to spend three days with Whaley in Maryland. On the previous night, they had gone to bed unclothed and set an alarm to wake up at 6:30 a.m. Before the alarm went off, Whaley woke her up and tried to have sex with her. She remarked to Whaley that that he was "swimming in pussy, " meaning that there were other women with whom he could have sex. Whaley responded by grabbing her hair, pulling her to his side of the bed, and forcing her to have sex. According to Detective Lanier, Wallace-Bey said that, once Whaley fell asleep again, she retrieved her gun from her duffel bag and shot him.

         At Detective Lanier's request, Wallace-Bey provided a handwritten statement, which she completed at 8:55 p.m. She wrote:

After spending three blessed days together, things went awry. As we layed [sic] in Bed side-by-side, Amensa decided to have sex. I did not want to do it. Amensa grabbed me by the hair and began to assault me. He knew that it was excruciatingly painful, but he didn't care. With my right and left hands I tried to push him away. He said, "We're not having that! You need to learn to take the dick." He then constrained me and began to violently pound me. When he finished I was in such pain that I couldn't move. I rolled off of the bed, crawled to my bag, removed the pistol and shot him. . . .

         Later that night, Wallace-Bey was transferred to Prince George's Hospital for a sexual assault forensic examination. At trial, the forensic nurse testified that she examined Wallace-Bey at around 3:00 a.m. on October 25, 2007. Wallace-Bey disclosed to the nurse that she had had two previous pregnancies, which ended in one miscarriage and one abortion. She also disclosed that her most recent consensual sexual contact occurred two days before the reported sexual assault by Whaley. The nurse transcribed Wallace-Bey's description of the assault and shooting, which we quote verbatim:

The attack happen on 10/24/07 early morning hours at Amensa Whaley (assailant) house. We were both asleep in bed or at least I thought he was asleep. He wanted to make love. I said no. He asked again and I said something that I should not have, I said that he was drowning in pussy. My hair was in a ponytail. He grabbed me by my ponytail and dragged me toward the left side of the bed and I fell off of the bed. He dragged me around the room by my hair. There was no one else in the house. When he dragged me around the bed, he pulled me back on the bed by my hair. He grabbed both my ankles and put my legs over my head. Then he enter me, pounding me really, really hard. I started screaming really loud, hoping that the neighbors would hear. I used both of my hands to push him so that he would stop from going inside me. I was pushing in his groin area. At that point he told me that I needed to learn how to take the dick. Somehow, after that I manage to roll off the bed and crawl across the floor where my bag was. That is where I had a gun. I shot him one time. Then he pushed me out of the bedroom into the hallway. As he was pushing me he said what are you doing, and then he collapsed to the floor. . . .

         The forensic nurse observed no external injuries, but found "left and right side abrasions" inside the vaginal cavity, which Wallace-Bey said were "painful to the touch." The nurse testified that it was "possible" for a person to sustain those kinds of abrasions during sexual intercourse. During cross-examination, defense counsel established that the nurse had observed "similar" abrasions during other forensic examinations. Vaginal and cervical swabs collected during the examination tested positive for semen but negative for blood.

         A few days after the shooting, Detective Lanier visited the house in Philadelphia where Wallace-Bey had been living with her mother. He later returned, with a search warrant, to take photographs and to collect items that Wallace-Bey's mother had showed him. The items included a small adhesive note that Wallace-Bey had left for her mother before she traveled to visit Whaley on October 21, 2007; the note said, "I am at Amensa's" and provided Whaley's address and cell phone number. The items also included a large envelope with the words "Tania's Last Will and Testament" written on it. The envelope contained the last four pages of a five-page, typewritten document, which included Wallace-Bey's requests for her memorial service and instructions for disposing of her property. As mentioned in the document, Wallace-Bey left a set of gift bags in the basement with labels for specific people.

         On October 23, 2007, the day before the shooting, Wallace-Bey had mailed items to her mother's address from a post office in Hyattsville, Maryland. She sent a small envelope containing her birth certificate and bank deposit slips. Separately, she sent a package containing various personal effects (her purse, shoes, jewelry, and an iPod). Inside the box, Wallace-Bey also placed the first page of the five-page document expressing her last wishes. Wallace-Bey asked her friends and family to "forgive [her] choice to leave this earthly place." She wrote: "There have been some things that I have struggled with for a while and I just want to surrender it all now."

         C. The State's Motions in Limine

         Before the defense called its first witness, the State made two motions in limine, which the court ultimately granted.

         In the first motion, the State asked the court to "exclude any testimony as to any prior abuse by anybody other than the victim, " Whaley. Defense counsel argued[1] that the evidence of past abuse would help the jury to evaluate Wallace-Bey's overall mental state and to assess her perception of a threat "through her eyes and in light of her experiences." The State argued that evidence of abuse of Wallace-Bey by anyone other than Whaley was irrelevant and inadmissible under the battered spouse syndrome statute: Md. Code (1974, 2013 Repl. Vol.), § 10-916 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJP").

         In the second motion, the State asked the court to exclude, "as hearsay, " "any statements that [the] defendant would say that the victim in this matter said to her." The prosecutor did not specify the content of any of the "statements." Defense counsel responded that the defense would offer "any statements" made by Whaley to Wallace-Bey not "for the truth of the statements but for the statements['] effect on Ms. Wallace-Bey." Specifically, defense counsel asserted that the testimony would be offered "to show how those statements affected her mental state and her decision-making process[.]"

         The prosecutor insisted that testimony about anything Whaley said to Wallace-Bey was "clearly hearsay." At the same time, the prosecutor admitted that Whaley's words were "being offered by the defendant to show that in her mind she was the victim and was a battered cohabitant[.]" In a contradictory fashion, however, the prosecutor then claimed that Whaley's words were "not being offered for the effect on Tania Wallace- Bey." The prosecutor concluded by saying: "They are being offered to show that he was saying these things to her. They are being offered for the truth to - to show for the truth of the matter asserted [sic]."

         Without announcing its rationale, the court granted both motions. Defense counsel reiterated the objection for the record. At the court's direction, the clerk made a docket entry stating that the court granted the State's motion in limine to exclude "any Testimony to any Prior Abuse Other than the Alleged Abuse of the Victim" and the State's motion "that any Statements of [the] Victim are Hearsay[.]"

         D. Testimony by Wallace-Bey

         During the defense case, Wallace-Bey testified about two main topics: abuse that she suffered during her relationship with Whaley, and the events of October 24, 2007. In compliance with the court's ruling, defense counsel did not inquire about abuse by anyone other than Whaley.

         Wallace-Bey testified that she first met Whaley in 1993, and within a year they began a romantic relationship. Whaley, who was studying to be a priest with the Ausar Auset Society, a Pan-African religious organization, rented a house in Philadelphia. Wallace-Bey moved in with him and joined the society. Wallace-Bey testified that, as a female member, she was expected to be "submissive" and "very receptive to the guidance and directions and the leadership of males in [their] family, or in [their] relationship." She testified that she ended the relationship after a few years because of what she called "[p]sychological abuse, emotional abuse and even spiritual abuse." She explained that, through Whaley's use of a "meditation and an oracle system, " he dictated "what [she] could do[, ] [n]ot just in the relationship but in [her] life as a whole[, ]" including what she could wear, what she could eat, and what friendships she could have.

         In 1997, after their initial relationship ended, both Wallace-Bey and Whaley married other people. Wallace-Bey was divorced in 2002. Whaley remained married, but separated from his wife after a few years.

         Whaley reconnected with Wallace-Bey in 2005. Over time, they resumed a romantic relationship. Whaley had changed his religious affiliation and had become a practitioner in the Yoruba tradition. He and Wallace-Bey sought premarital counseling from a Babalowo, whom Wallace-Bey described as a high priest in that tradition. Wallace-Bey decided to move in with Whaley because she believed that she needed to "[o]bey the counsel" that she received from the Babalowo.

         On Valentine's Day of 2006, which was also Wallace-Bey's birthday, Whaley surprised her by renting an apartment for the two of them in Greenbelt. Wallace-Bey testified, however, that within a month Whaley assaulted her for the first time. She said that she had approached him to speak about something that she had found on a computer in the apartment. He reacted by grabbing her, holding her down so that she could not move, and forcibly penetrating her.[2]

         Wallace-Bey testified that a second instance of abuse occurred at a hotel when Whaley dragged her along the floor to the bed and sexually assaulted her.

         According to Wallace-Bey, the next incident occurred at their apartment in Greenbelt. Whaley blamed Wallace-Bey after he missed a flight. He shut her out of the bedroom, and she slept on the living room floor. In the middle of the night, he woke her up by kicking her in the side and back. He demanded that she take him back to the airport, and she obeyed. Afterwards, she changed the locks to the apartment and moved Whaley's belongings into his van. Thinking that he was "going to kill" her when he returned, she fled the apartment and went to stay with her mother in Philadelphia.

         Wallace-Bey testified that Whaley eventually persuaded her to return to Greenbelt. A few days after her return, however, Whaley brought another woman to the apartment and had sex with her in the master bedroom, with the door open, while Wallace-Bey was in another room. Because Wallace-Bey needed clothes from the bedroom, she did not leave the apartment. After Whaley sent the other woman away, he returned to confront Wallace-Bey. He put her "in a headlock, " dragged her down to the floor, and threatened to harm her if she moved.

         At another point in 2006, Wallace-Bey went to the apartment to retrieve an item that she kept there. She changed her clothes in the apartment. While her shirt was over her head, Whaley grabbed it from behind so that her arms were immobilized. He tried to penetrate her, but she managed to escape before he was entirely successful. She then drove to what she thought was a secluded area and tried to commit suicide by stuffing items into the tailpipe of her car. A passerby interrupted her, and she drove away.

         After staying at a friend's house for a period of time, Wallace-Bey started a new job as part of a music ensemble in the fall of 2006. She went on tour for a month, which led to another job touring with another company. While she was on tour, Whaley sent her many text messages and voicemails. By conveying a message that he had received from the Babalowo, Whaley convinced her to meet him. They had dinner together in Delaware, reconciled, and had consensual sex at a hotel.

         Wallace-Bey, who was 41 years old at the time, soon discovered that she was pregnant with Whaley's child. She informed Whaley of the pregnancy in February 2007 and returned with him to the Greenbelt apartment. On her first night back, after some guests left the apartment, Whaley immediately took her into a portable sauna to have sex. He did not physically force himself on her at that time, but she described her involvement as passive, saying that she "kind of just sat there."

         A week later, Wallace-Bey began to experience cramping and severe bleeding. She went to a hospital and learned that she was having a miscarriage. She returned to the apartment, wearing padding under her clothes to absorb the blood. While she was lying face down on the couch, Whaley began to "smash[] the padding." He removed her clothes and penetrated her from behind. Later that night, Whaley "stopped [her] in the living room, picked [her] up, put [her] against the wall and sexually assaulted [her]" again. When she took a shower to clean herself up, "the remains came out."

         In April 2007, Wallace-Bey and Whaley were trying to reconcile with one another. Wallace-Bey testified that she purchased a gun at that time after Whaley suggested that she carry one for her protection while she was on tour. She said that she kept the gun in a box at the bottom of her travel bag and took it with her whenever she was on the road.

         Wallace-Bey became pregnant again by Whaley, but decided to terminate the pregnancy. In August 2007, she induced a miscarriage by undergoing an acupuncture treatment that is unsafe for pregnant women. She did not tell Whaley about her abortion, which made her feel "[g]uilty, " "[a]shamed, " and "[d]eceptive" towards Whaley.[3]

         Around the same time, Wallace-Bey decided to commit suicide. She did not want to use the gun and contemplated drinking poison instead. She sold her car, donated many of her belongings, and visited some old friends. She updated a document that she had written a few years earlier to express her last wishes. She also prepared gift bags to leave behind for some of her loved ones. Wallace-Bey testified that she did not want her mother to find her body.

         On October 21, 2007, Wallace-Bey went by train from Philadelphia to visit Whaley, bringing her travel bag with her. She left a note with Whaley's phone number so that her mother "would be able to call [him] and find out what happened" to her. On October 23, 2007, she gathered her remaining possessions from the apartment and mailed them, along with her suicide note, from a post office to her mother's house. She selected the shipping method so that the package would arrive on October 26, 2007.

         Wallace-Bey testified that early in the morning of October 24, 2007, Whaley woke her up by "yanking" and "tugging" her. Wallace-Bey recalled that she "kind of kicked him a little bit to the side." She remarked to him that he was "swimming in pussy" and that he did not need to have sex with her. She testified that Whaley responded by grabbing her by the hair and pulling down her underwear. She said that, while she tried to push him away, Whaley grabbed her ankles and arms and held them together over her head. Then he "forcefully penetrated" her.

         Wallace-Bey testified that, after Whaley had finished raping her, she "curled up in a ball" for a few minutes. He "tried to curl up behind [her] like spooning, but more like a tighter curl." She pushed back against him with her elbow and then rolled off the bed. She said that she threw some light objects towards him, and then she saw that her travel bag was open. She reached inside it, grabbed her gun, closed her eyes, and fired one shot. She said that she felt Whaley push against her arm as she was firing and that she heard him cry out, "[W]hat you doing?"

         When asked why she shot him, Wallace-Bey said that she "had to stop him" because she "knew he was going to do it again." She said that she "knew what to expect[, ]" because "[i]t had gone on previous times." She said that just before closing her eyes she saw Whaley leaning back and stroking his penis in order to obtain an erection, as she had seen him do other times. She said that she "knew that he could do it repeatedly like he did when [she] was miscarrying[.]"

         Wallace-Bey said that she lay down on the floor with Whaley as he died. She pulled the hammer back on the gun to shoot herself, but put it down. She stayed with him for a long time, praying over his body. Then, she left to buy sleeping pills and alcohol, ingested them, and fell asleep. She could not remember exactly when she wrote the note addressed to her family and to Whaley's family. Eventually, she woke up and called 911.

         E. The Restrictions on Wallace-Bey's Testimony

         Throughout Wallace-Bey's testimony about the abuse allegedly perpetrated by Whaley, the court sustained objections and granted motions to strike whenever Wallace-Bey testified about things that Whaley allegedly said to her during their relationship.

         In the first such ruling, Wallace-Bey was describing her first meeting with Whaley. She started to say, "he told me that . . .[, ]" but the prosecutor objected and the court sustained the objection before she finished the sentence. A moment later, the court reminded the jurors to disregard any stricken testimony.

         In light of the court's rulings, defense counsel began to narrow the scope of questions whenever the response might involve words spoken by Whaley. For instance, defense counsel asked Wallace-Bey to describe the controlling behavior that Whaley exhibited during the early phase of their relationship "without telling" the people in the courtroom "about anything that [Whaley] may have said" to her.

         Defense counsel asked Wallace-Bey to describe the first rape, which occurred after she confronted Whaley about something she found on his computer, without mentioning anything Whaley said. She answered: "He gripped me up. Gosh. He sexually assaulted me. He said something while he was doing it."

         The court sustained the State's objection when Wallace-Bey began to speak about text messages and emails that Whaley sent, expressing his desire for her to come home after she fled the apartment. Defense counsel instructed her to describe her understanding of what he communicated to her without mentioning what he actually said.

         Defense counsel asked Wallace-Bey to describe, without mentioning anything that Whaley said, the incident where Whaley physically assaulted her after having sex with another woman in their apartment. Moments later, Wallace-Bey started to testify: "He put me in a headlock and slowly took me down to the floor. When we got down to the floor he said . . . ." At that point, the State's attorney made another objection, and Wallace-Bey promptly apologized before the court ruled on the objection.

         The court struck portions of Wallace-Bey's testimony about the incident in February 2007, on the first night that she returned to the Greenbelt apartment while she was pregnant. She testified that, immediately after their guests left, Whaley ordered her to "get naked." She also testified that Whaley held her and told her "you are not leaving" in order to keep her in the house that night. The court granted motions to strike her testimony about both of those utterances.

         The court sustained another objection during Wallace-Bey's testimony about being raped on the morning of the shooting. She testified that, after Whaley pulled her hair and removed her underwear, "[h]e said 'you need to learn to take the dick.'" The prosecutor objected and moved to strike the testimony. Defense counsel pointed out that the State had already put the same words into evidence during its case-in-chief. Nevertheless, the court sustained the objection.[4]

         After the direct examination of Wallace-Bey, defense counsel moved for a mistrial. Counsel contended that the court's restrictions on Wallace-Bey's testimony impaired her constitutional right to present evidence in her defense. Counsel argued that the exclusion of anything that Whaley had said to Wallace-Bey prevented her from presenting evidence of psychological abuse that was relevant to the issue of battered spouse syndrome. Thus, according to defense counsel, the jury would "not be able to adequately evaluate" whether and how the abuse actually occurred. Defense counsel also argued that the court should have ...

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