155 A.3d 331 (Del. 2017), 52, 2016, State v. Reyes

Docket Nº:52, 2016
Citation:155 A.3d 331
Opinion Judge:VAUGHN, Justice.
Party Name:STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below-Appellant, v. LUIS E. REYES, Defendant Below-Appellee
Attorney:Elizabeth R. McFarlan, Esquire (Argued), Maria T. Knoll, Esquire, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware for Appellant. Patrick J. Collins, Esquire, Collins & Associates, Wilmington, Delaware for Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before STRINE, Chief Justice; HOLLAND, VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices, constituting the Court en Banc.
Case Date:January 19, 2017
Court:Supreme Court of Delaware

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155 A.3d 331 (Del. 2017)

STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below-Appellant,


LUIS E. REYES, Defendant Below-Appellee

No. 52, 2016

Supreme Court of Delaware

January 19, 2017

Submitted: November 16, 2016.

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Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware. ID No. 9904019329.

Elizabeth R. McFarlan, Esquire (Argued), Maria T. Knoll, Esquire, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware for Appellant.

Patrick J. Collins, Esquire, Collins & Associates, Wilmington, Delaware for Appellee.

Before STRINE, Chief Justice; HOLLAND, VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices, constituting the Court en Banc.


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VAUGHN, Justice.


In 2001, Luis E. Reyes was convicted of two counts of Murder in the First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, and two counts of Conspiracy in the First Degree in what came to be known as the Rockford Park Murders. After a penalty hearing, he was sentenced to death. This Court affirmed Reyes' convictions and sentences on direct appeal.[1]

On March 25, 2004, Reyes filed a timely motion for postconviction relief. On January 27, 2016, after a lengthy procedural process, during which the trial judge retired and the postconviction proceeding was assigned to his successor, the Superior Court issued an opinion granting Reyes' motion and vacating his convictions and sentences.2 The Superior Court found that several errors occurred during the guilt phase of Reyes' trial. It found that Reyes' election not to testify was not a knowing and intelligent decision; that testimony which Reyes had given in a previous case, admitted in the State's case in chief in this case, included inadmissible character evidence and undermined Reyes' decision not to testify; that the trial court's deferral of co-defendant Luis Cabrera's sentencing until after Reyes' trial deprived Reyes of important exculpatory testimony from Cabrera; that the testimony of a State's witness, Roderick Sterling, was unreliable, inadmissible hearsay; and that the State violated Brady v. Maryland

3 by failing to disclose Sterling impeachment evidence. The Superior Court further broadly found that none of the procedural bars of Superior Court Criminal Rule 61(i)(1-4) applied to any of these findings because " there was a miscarriage of justice pursuant to Rule 61(i)(5), [and] . . . reconsideration of otherwise procedurally barred claims is warranted in the interest of justice pursuant to Rule 61(i)(4)." 4

The Superior Court also found that Reyes' trial attorneys were ineffective for failing to establish that Sterling's testimony was based on hearsay; by failing to call Ivan Galindez as a witness; by failing to request a missing evidence instruction regarding a document called the Sterling Letter; and by failing to offer into evidence statements Cabrera made in an interview with one of Reyes' trial attorneys.

In addition, Reyes contends that his trial attorneys were ineffective in ways not ruled upon by the Superior Court: in not moving in limine to obtain a ruling that a

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prior murder conviction on Reyes' record was not admissible for impeachment under Delaware Rule of Evidence (" DRE" ) 609(a)(1) if Reyes testified; in not presenting a thorough and accurate objection to a portion of the above-mentioned Reyes' prior testimony in which Reyes admitted to lying to his girlfriend; in failing to request Brady material regarding Sterling; and in appellate counsel's failing to raise the Sterling hearsay issue on direct appeal.

The State claims that the Superior Court committed error in all of its rulings. The State also contends that the other ineffective assistance of counsel claims asserted by Reyes are without merit. We have carefully reviewed each of the issues and concluded that the State is correct. For the reasons which follow, the Superior Court's grant of Reyes' postconviction motion is reversed.


The facts as they appear in this Court's 2003 opinion on direct appeal, with footnotes omitted, are as follows: Reyes, and his co-defendant, Luis Cabrera, were charged with the murders of Vaughn Rowe and Brandon Saunders. The murders occurred on January 20, 1996. The defendants were not arrested until 1999. The cases were severed and the defendants were tried separately. Cabrera went to trial first and was convicted, as charged, and sentenced to death.

Early in the morning of January 21, 1996, the bodies of two teenagers were discovered by a passerby in a wooded section of Rockford Park in Wilmington. The bodies of Vaughn Rowe and Brandon Saunders were in a shallow grave that was covered by a maroon bed sheet. Rowe and Saunders had, according to expert testimony, been killed about twelve to eighteen hours before their bodies were discovered.

Both teens had been shot in the back of the head. Rowe also had internal injuries to his spleen, liver and left kidney as well as facial lacerations. The additional injuries suffered by Rowe were consistent with the repeated use of blunt force. Some of the injuries were inflicted by a belt buckle.

The police recovered several pieces of evidence at the scene including bullets, four small bags of marijuana found in the victim Rowe's clothes, and a watch Rowe was wearing that had a memory bank of telephone numbers. The memory bank listed a telephone number that corresponded with the residence of Luis Cabrera's father.

At the victim Saunders' home, the police also recovered a business card for " ISS Servicesystem, Inc." Handwritten on the card was " 434-6154 Big Lou." Both Cabrera and Reyes worked at ISS and some people referred to Cabrera as " Big Louie" and Reyes as " Little Louie."

In March 1996, the police learned that the bullet, which killed Vaughn Rowe, came from a 38-caliber gun. The bullet had certain identifiable markings on it. A year later, in March 1997, police were investigating the unrelated murder of a man named Fundador Otero, who was killed in January 1995. As part of that investigation, the police conducted two searches at Luis Cabrera's father's house. During that search, they found a 38-caliber pistol and a single maroon fitted bed sheet. When the 38-caliber pistol was test fired, the test bullet had markings almost identical to the bullet found in Vaughn Rowe's head.

On or about January 20, 1998, the police interviewed Roderick Sterling, an inmate at Gander Hill prison. Sterling

Page 338 advised the police that he had overheard Reyes having conversations with Ivan Galindez, who was Sterling's cellmate. At the time of those conversations, Reyes was also incarcerated at the Gander Hill prison, serving a twelve-year sentence for the Otero murder.

Sterling heard Reyes admit to Galindez his involvement in the Saunders-Rowe double murder, along with a man named Luis Cabrera. Sterling testified that he had overheard Reyes tell Galindez that Rowe and Saunders had " shorted" Cabrera on a marijuana deal. Sterling also stated that Reyes said he beat someone with a belt in the basement of a house at " 601 something." He also heard Reyes say that a neighbor came down during the beating because there was so much noise coming from the basement.

Sterling heard Reyes recount to Galindez how he and Cabrera decided to take the person they were beating from the basement to a park. The victim was transported in the trunk of a black BMW. Reyes and Cabrera then picked up the second victim so that they could kill both of them at the same time. Sterling heard Reyes say that once he and Cabrera picked up the second victim, they went to Canby Park. Arriving there, they made both of the victims lie on the softball field and shot them. The bodies were then taken to Rockford Park and left there.

At the time of the murders, Cabrera and Reyes lived together at 610 W. 20th Street in a three-story house. Cabrera and Reyes lived on the second floor. The tenant on the first floor was Donna Ashwell. Clavel Clamamont and Maribel Skjefte lived on the third floor.

Following Sterling's interview, the police located the female tenants of Reyes' former apartment building, Donna Ashwell and Maribel Skjefte. Although they were interviewed two and a half years after the murders, the women remembered a fight in the basement. Donna Ashwell remembered that the fight occurred just a day or two before the two bodies were found in Rockford Park. The women recalled hearing the voices of Luis Cabrera and Luis Reyes during the fight. They also heard the voice of a third person, which they did not recognize.

At trial, both Ashwell and Skjefte testified. Ashwell recalled that on a Saturday night in January 1996, she heard what she described as a fight in the basement of her building. Ashwell also heard an argument. One voice, which sounded like that of Cabrera, asked another person a question. After a negative response to the question, Ashwell heard a metal crashing noise. Ashwell then went to the basement and banged on the door. Reyes came to the door and Ashwell said to him, " Take the fight elsewhere or I'll call the police." Reyes asked her not to do that and told her they would take the fight elsewhere.

Skjefte testified that she went down to the basement shortly after Ashwell did. She stated that Cabrera answered the door and told her they were taking care of some business. Skjefte also heard Reyes' voice. Shortly thereafter, Cabrera came into the first floor foyer. He apologized to the women and said they were leaving.

Several items of physical evidence linked Rowe and Saunders to Cabrera, albeit indirectly. The...

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