Argued: September 12, 2018
Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 115363026
Barbera, C.J. Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty,
case, we consider under what circumstances a defendant has
the right to a hearing upon filing a Maryland Rule 4-331(c)
Motion for New Trial based on newly discovered evidence. More
specifically, we must decide whether the trial judge was
legally correct in denying Petitioner Ronald Cornish
("Mr. Cornish") a hearing under the Rule.
Petitioner was charged and convicted of first degree murder,
use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence,
and other related offenses. Thereafter, Mr. Cornish was
sentenced to life imprisonment plus twenty years.
Approximately two weeks after his sentencing, Mr. Cornish
filed a Motion for a New Trial under Md. Rule 4-331(c)
("Rule 4-331") based on newly discovered evidence.
The Circuit Court for Baltimore City denied the motion for a
new trial without a hearing. Thereafter, Mr. Cornish noted an
appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, which upheld the
Circuit Court's denial of Mr. Cornish's motion. The
Court of Special Appeals held that the evidence being offered
was not "newly discovered" for purposes of Rule
4-331(c). Cornish v. State, No. 2369, 2016 Term
& No. 222, 2017 Term (Md. Ct. Spec. App., January 8,
2018). Before us, Mr. Cornish seeks a reversal of that
judgment on the ground that his motion met the prima
facie pleading requirement and, therefore, a hearing was
required to determine the merits of his motion.
& PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
events underlying Mr. Cornish's conviction of first
degree murder and related offenses involved a drug deal gone
awry. On November 8, 2012, Warren Boone ("Mr.
Boone") was found dead. Through the investigation of his
death, the police discovered that Mr. Boone sold marijuana
and that he was planning a drug transaction with an
individual known as "Black" on November 7, 2012.
Police determined that "Black" was Richard Pope
("Mr. Pope"). Mr. Pope had called Mr. Boone to ask
if he wanted to buy marijuana from Mr. Cornish. Mr. Pope and
Mr. Cornish met Mr. Boone at Bumper to Bumper, an auto body
repair shop on Belvedere Avenue located in Baltimore City.
Mr. Pope and Mr. Cornish got into Mr. Boone's car and Mr.
Cornish directed Mr. Boone to an apartment complex.
to Mr. Pope's testimony at trial, upon arriving at the
complex and getting out of the car, he heard a struggle and
two gunshots that led to Mr. Boone's death. He also
testified to seeing a revolver. At that point, according to
Mr. Pope, he "was more or less in shock. So [he] did
whatever [Mr. Cornish] told [him] to do." Mr. Pope also
testified that after the gunshots he was afraid and felt
obligated to "follow through."
Pope then claimed that Mr. Cornish instructed Mr. Pope to
help drag the body out of the car, which he did. Upon
dragging the body into the woods, Mr. Pope and Mr. Cornish
got into Mr. Boone's car and drove to Bessemer Avenue in
Dundalk. The next day, Mr. Pope and Mr. Cornish drove Mr.
Boone's car to his house which they burglarized. After
leaving the house, Mr. Pope and Mr. Cornish drove by the
crime scene and saw police had used tape to cordon off the
area. They decided to get rid of Mr. Boone's car by
setting it on fire and abandoning it in the woods in West
trial, Mr. Pope acknowledged that, in his discussions with
police, initially, he downplayed his involvement in the
murder of Mr. Boone but that he later implicated himself in
the events. For example, when the police first spoke to him
in November 2012, and on a second occasion, he did not admit
that he had been with Mr. Cornish when Mr. Boone was killed,
when Mr. Boone's home was burglarized, or when Mr.
Boone's car was set on fire. At that time, Mr. Pope told
the police that he had introduced Mr. Boone and Mr. Cornish
and then left. At trial, Mr. Pope contradicted this statement
and admitted to being with Mr. Cornish when Mr. Boone was
killed and during the subsequent crimes. Upon being asked why
he had suddenly decided to admit to being present during the
crime, Mr. Pope said it was the "right thing to
on November 3, 2016, a jury of the Circuit Court for
Baltimore City convicted Mr. Cornish. On January 9, 2017 a
judge sentenced Mr. Cornish to life plus twenty years for
first degree murder and an additional fifteen years
concurrent for possession of a regulated firearm with a
disqualifying conviction. Unknown to Mr. Cornish or his
defense counsel, prior to the crimes that occurred on
November 8, 2012 and during the Cornish trial, Mr. Pope was
under investigation for various crimes. As a result of those
investigations, and unknown to Mr. Cornish and his defense
attorney, Mr. Pope gave certain statements to investigators
that directly contradicted the testimony he gave at Mr.
Cornish's trial with respect to the murder of Mr. Boone.
Once Mr. Cornish learned of Mr. Pope's statements to
investigators, Mr. Cornish filed a motion for new trial in
the Circuit Court. His motion alleged that two statements
made by Mr. Pope, one in May 2013 and another on December 9,
2016, constituted newly discovered evidence.
2013 statement provided the following details. Mr. Pope, in
referring to the Boone murder, said that
"apparently," Mr. Cornish killed Mr. Boone two
weeks after a bank robbery. In this interview, Mr. Pope
maintained that he hooked up Mr. Boone and Mr. Cornish for a
weed deal. He then indicated that he saw Mr. Cornish with Mr.
Boone's car a few days later.
other hand, the December 2016 statement explained in detail
why Mr. Pope decided, on the morning of Mr. Cornish's
trial, to testify against Mr. Cornish. In December of 2016,
William Kanwisher ("Mr. Kanwisher"), a staff
investigator with the Federal Public Defender, interviewed
Mr. Pope at the Roxbury Correctional Institution because he
was a potential witness in the matter of United States v.
Ronald Eaton, JFM 14-0584. Mr. Pope told Mr. Kanwisher
that on the day of Mr. Cornish's trial, Det. Kershaw woke
him up at 4:30 a.m., drove him around for five minutes, then
confronted Mr. Pope with cell phone data that confirmed that
he was at the scene of Mr. Boone's murder. Det. Kershaw
then threatened to charge Mr. Pope with the murder if he did
to Mr. Kanwisher's affidavit, on the morning of trial,
Mr. Pope admitted that he was present at the time of Mr.
Boone's murder and agreed to testify against Mr. Cornish
on the condition that he receive immunity. Det. Kershaw
called the Assistant State's Attorney to discuss
immunity. Mr. Pope had intended not to testify, but upon Det.
Kershaw's discussions with the Assistant State's
Attorney about immunity, Mr. Pope testified at Mr.
Cornish's trial, as detailed in the preceding paragraphs.
January 26, 2017, Mr. Cornish filed a motion entitled
"Motion for a New Trial Pursuant to Maryland Rule
4-331(b); 4-331(c) & Brady v. Maryland"
and, after the State's reply, Mr. Cornish supplemented
his motion. On March 15, 2017, the Circuit Court denied the
motion without a hearing. Mr. Cornish appealed the denial to
the Court of Special Appeals which held, in an unreported
opinion, that the trial court did not err in denying the
motion for new trial. The intermediate appellate court
concluded, without further explanation, that Mr. Cornish did
not establish a prima facie basis for granting a new
trial. The court assessed the merits of Mr. Cornish's
pleading and concluded that "there was no substantial or
significant possibility that the jury's verdict would
have been affected." Finally, the Court of Special
Appeals determined that Mr. Pope's change in his version
of events on the day of trial "did not constitute
'newly discovered evidence[.]'"
Court granted Mr. Cornish's petition for writ of
certiorari on April 9, 2018. We granted certiorari
to answer the following question:
Where a criminal defendant has satisfied all the pleading
requirements entitling him to a hearing on his motion for new
trial pursuant to Md. Rule 4-331 (c) and (f) and the circuit
court summarily denies the motion without a hearing, does an
appellate court err in affirming the circuit court by ruling
on the merits of the motion?
458 Md. 579, 183 A.3d 155 (2018).
Cornish contends that Mr. Pope's May 2013 and December
2016 statements constitute newly discovered evidence.
Pursuant to Rule 4-331(c) and (f), Mr. Cornish suggests that
he fulfilled the Rule's pleading requirements and that
the Circuit Court was required to grant him a hearing on the
merits of his motion. He posits that the statements
established, on a prima facie basis, that the
evidence was newly discovered, could not have been discovered
by due diligence in time for a Rule 4-331(a) motion, and were
material enough to affect the outcome of his trial.
Furthermore, Mr. Cornish argues that the Court of Special
Appeals, in affirming the trial court's decision, ruled
on the merits of the motion as opposed to the sufficiency of
the pleading. It is Mr. Cornish's position that, based on
the pleading requirements, he is entitled to a hearing on his
contrary, the State contends that Mr. Cornish did not fulfill
the pleading requirements and, accordingly, is not entitled
to a hearing on the merits of his motion. The State argues
that the statements offered by Mr. Cornish are not
"newly discovered" or material but are "merely
impeaching and cumulative." If this Court were to hold
that Mr. Cornish is entitled to a hearing on his Rule
4-331(c) motion, according to the State, that holding would
contravene the intent of Rule 4-331(f) and its goal of
4-331 pertains to motions for new trial. Mr. Cornish relied
on subsection (c)(1) as the basis for his motion. A motion
filed pursuant to subsection (c) must meet the requirements
contained in subsection (e). Assuming the requirements of
subsection (e) are met, the motion must also meet
the requirements of subsection (f) in order to entitle
petitioner to a hearing on the motion. In pertinent part,
Rule 4-331 provides:
(c) Newly discovered evidence. The court may
grant a new trial or other appropriate relief on the ground
of newly discovered evidence which could not have been
discovered by due diligence in time to move for a new trial
pursuant to section (a) of this Rule:
(1) on motion filed within one year after the later of (A)
the date the court imposed sentence or (B) the date the court
received a mandate issued by the final appellate court to
consider a direct appeal from the judgment or a belated
appeal permitted as post conviction relief[.]
* * *
(e) Form of motion. A motion filed under
this Rule ...