Bowers v. State, 031419 MDSCA, 2072-2017

Docket Nº:2072-2017
Opinion Judge:THIEME, J.
Party Name:RAMECE BOWERS v. STATE OF MARYLAND
Judge Panel:Nazarian, Arthur, Thieme, Raymond G., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.
Case Date:March 14, 2019
Court:Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
 
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RAMECE BOWERS

v.

STATE OF MARYLAND

No. 2072-2017

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 14, 2019

Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case Nos. 131877C & 132607C

Nazarian, Arthur, Thieme, Raymond G., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION [*]

THIEME, J.

Ramece Bowers, appellant, was convicted by a jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County of 12 charges related to human trafficking. He was subsequently sentenced by the court to a total of 55 years of imprisonment, ten years suspended in favor of five years of supervised probation.[1] Appellant raises three questions on appeal, which we have slightly rephrased: I. Did the trial court err by not merging appellant's various convictions under Maryland's three theories of merger?

II. Did the trial court err when it admitted appellant's accomplice's testimony because the testimony was not sufficiently corroborated?

III. Did the trial court err when it admitted into evidence certain bad acts?

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm the convictions, vacate the sentences and remand for re-sentencing.

FACTS

The State's theory of prosecution was that between January 1 and April 10, 2017, appellant and his then girlfriend, E.K., sexually trafficked S.M., an 18-year-old woman with significant developmental delays and mental health issues. E.K. and her grandfather, two police officers with the Montgomery County Police Department, and both of S.M.'s parents testified for the State. The State also introduced evidence of electronic communications between appellant, E.K., and S.M. from several social media accounts, email accounts, and texts, as well as telephone calls appellant made from jail following his arrest. The theory of defense was E.K., not appellant, trafficked S.M., and S.M. was a willing participant in consensual sexual conduct. The defense produced no witnesses. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, the following was elicited at appellant's trial.

E.K. testified that she met appellant when she was around 17 years old. She explained that she and her friend Monet had just been "kicked out" of her godmother's house, and Monet took her to live with appellant, who was Monet's friend. While the three lived together, both E.K. and Monet worked as prostitutes for appellant -- he advertised them on websites and they gave him the money they earned. Shortly thereafter, E.K. and appellant began an intimate relationship, and she and appellant moved into her grandfather's house. She became pregnant with his child. E.K. testified that appellant taught her how to find "dates" and recruit other women from websites on which appellant had several online accounts. Appellant also found dates for her, and he set the prices for different sex acts. At some point, appellant wanted her to get a large tattoo with his name across her chest because "I belong to him," so E.K. did. Although neither one of them had jobs, she sometimes made enough money prostituting to support herself and appellant, and they received money from other young women they recruited to work for them.

At the end of December 2016, she and appellant found S.M. on Facebook and invited her to E.K.'s grandfather's house where they smoked marijuana and asked if she wanted to work for them. She agreed. A couple of days later, they set her up on a date, and E.K. testified about the first time S.M. had sex with a customer for money.

E.K. described how she and appellant found men for S.M. to have sex with, how appellant took naked pictures of E.K. and S.M. so he could post them on websites to find customers, and the process by which she brought customers to the house. Specifically, appellant told her to give the dates an address of a house a few down from her grandfather's house where she met them and then brought them to the house. She testified that appellant said "he wouldn't go get them because he wasn't supposed to be at the house and he didn't want to see my grandfather see him come out of the house." She further testified that once in the basement she would collect money from the men, after which S.M. would have sex with the men while E.K. was in another room of the basement. Sometimes appellant was present in the basement too. E.K. testified that appellant gave S.M. drugs, specifically cocaine and ecstasy, before the sexual encounters because he said "it will make her more willing." After the sexual encounters, E.K. gave the money to appellant.

During the time S.M. worked for E.K. and appellant, E.K. noticed that S.M. was really "all over the place" and "that made both of us mad because we couldn't figure out what was wrong with her." E.K. testified that appellant coerced her and S.M. to stay in the prostitution business by taking their shoes so they could not leave the house. Appellant also hit and threatened E.K., sometimes in S.M.'s presence, if she did not make money or find a customer. S.M. told E.K. that she was afraid of appellant, and at one point she wanted to go home. E.K. testified: "[Appellant] didn't want her to leave. He was like she needs to work. . . . She needs to make money to stay here[.]" E.K. testified that at some point, she stole S.M.'s cell phone and gave it to appellant, explaining: "Because [appellant] said if we don't have her then you just have to make money. . . . So I was like I have her phone and he was like all right. Give it to me. So I did." E.K. testified that many nights she had sex with S.M. because appellant said, "we need to get her ready . . . for her dates[.]" At one point, they had two other young women who she and appellant wanted to work for them, Diamond and Aisha, but according to E.K., that arrangement did not work out because the two women wanted to "manage" S.M. for themselves.

Phillip K., E.K.'s grandfather, confirmed that E.K. moved into the basement of his house shortly after she met appellant. The basement had its own entrance through a sliding glass door. E.K. and appellant stayed at his house on and off throughout 2016. Between February and April of 2017, E.K. returned to her grandfather's house but appellant was not allowed to stay. Phillip K. testified that from late March until early April 2017, E.K. charged several hundred dollars-worth of pornographic movies to his credit card without his knowledge. On April 10, 2017, the police came to his house and retrieved a young woman named S.M. from his basement.

S.M.'s mother testified that she and her husband adopted S.M. from Guatemala when she was around seven years old. S.M. did not initially speak English and was placed in special education classes because of learning and emotional disabilities. S.M. took several prescribed medications and had been hospitalized ten times in the four years preceding appellant's trial. At the time of appellant's trial, S.M. was in a drug rehabilitation facility out of state.

From 2015 until 2017, S.M. lived at a residential educational facility for children with learning and emotional disabilities. Around March 17, 2017, when S.M. was 18 years old, she was placed in an independent living facility but failed to follow the rules and after a few days ran away. S.M.'s mother testified that sometime thereafter, S.M. returned home to live for several days, but on April 3rd, S.M. and two other young women (Diamond and Aisha) left the house together. S.M. was hospitalized on an emergency petition a few days later, and when S.M.'s mother visited her, S.M. was dirty, disheveled, not wearing any shoes, very angry, and disoriented. S.M.'s mother testified that S.M. was not taking her prescribed medication when she was not living at the independent living facility or at home. S.M. returned home again but after a few days ran away. S.M.'s parents identified several email addresses and cell phone numbers belonging to S.M. Using a cell phone tracking app, S.M.'s father determined that during the relevant time period she was generally at two locations: either E.K.'s grandfather's house or a motel by the Laurel racetrack.

Deputy Robert Balser testified that on April 10, 2017, he executed an emergency petition order for S.M. that her parents obtained. He and other officers arrived at E.K.'s grandfather's house and found her and E.K. hiding in the basement, barely clothed and wearing no shoes. Appellant was discovered hiding in another room of the basement. S.M. was taken to a hospital. The police did not arrest appellant or E.K. that day.

Detective Robert Johnson testified as an expert in the field of human trafficking and detection. He interviewed S.M. at the hospital where she told him what had happened at E.K.'s grandfather's house. The detective noted that S.M. "jumped around a lot in her conversation" and had "a very hard time recalling specifics[.]" He set up an...

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