Burch v. State

Citation346 Md. 253,696 A.2d 443
Decision Date01 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 38,38
PartiesHeath William BURCH, v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Page 253

346 Md. 253
696 A.2d 443
Heath William BURCH,
STATE of Maryland.
No. 38, Sept. Term, 1996.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
July 3, 1997.

[696 A.2d 446]

Page 258

Mark Colvin, Assistant Public Defender, John L. Kopolow, Assistant Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), Baltimore, for Appellant.

Thomas K. Clancy, Assistant Attorney General (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General, on brief), Baltimore, for Appellee.

Page 259


WILNER, Judge.

In the early morning hours of March 19, 1995, appellant broke into the home of Robert and Cleo Davis, an elderly couple in their 70's, for the purpose of stealing property that he could eventually sell in order to buy cocaine. When confronted by the Davises, he savagely attacked them and then stole some guns, some money, and Mr. Davis's truck. Mr. and Mrs. Davis died as a result of the injuries inflicted by appellant.

A jury in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County found appellant guilty of multiple offenses, including, as to each of the victims, premeditated first degree murder and three counts of felony murder, based, respectively, on the underlying felonies of burglary, robbery, and robbery with a deadly weapon. The same jury then decided that his sentence should be death, whereupon the court imposed two death sentences--one with respect to each victim. Appellant does not deny that he broke into the Davis home and killed Mr. and Mrs. Davis. He does, however, present 12 reasons why we should reverse his convictions and sentence. We find partial merit in one of his complaints and, as a result, shall vacate one of the two death sentences he received. Otherwise, we shall affirm.


The crimes were discovered by Franklin Weaver, a family friend of the Davises, who went to their home around noon on March 20 and found the front door ajar. Upon entering, he saw Mrs. Davis lying on the living room couch, with blood spattered all over her and on the floor. On the couch also was a bloody telephone receiver. Mrs. Davis was alive and asked for water. Weaver got some water from the refrigerator, noticing blood on the kitchen walls as well. He discovered

Page 260

Mr. Davis in the bedroom, lying dead on his back by the side of the bed. Weaver said that it appeared as if someone had thrown "a whole bucket of blood on him, ... and blood splattered all over." He promptly called 911 and waited for the police to arrive.

Mr. Weaver testified that Mr. Davis had a collection of rifles that he stored in two closets,[696 A.2d 447] one in the living room and one in the bedroom, and a handgun that he kept on his bedroom night table. He also had a 1989 Chevrolet Blazer, which Weaver said was not at the house when he arrived.

Mr. Weaver's description of the scene was confirmed by police officer Sophia Sheppard, who responded to the 911 call. Photographs of the scene taken by police technician William Greene and diagrams prepared by another police technician were placed into evidence. Based on what he observed and his knowledge of low and high velocity blood spatter, Greene concluded that a struggle involving Mr. Davis began in the hallway outside the bedroom and continued into the bedroom. Mr. Davis was initially upright but, succumbing to his injuries as the struggle continued, he assumed a kneeling or prone position. He continued to flail about in the bedroom prior to his death.

Mr. Greene also described a trail of blood leading from the kitchen to the couch where Mrs. Davis was found. A large amount of blood was found beneath the kitchen telephone. The point of entry was a bathroom window, off the hallway.

Mrs. Davis was taken to the hospital, where she died on March 27. An autopsy of Mr. Davis revealed 33 wounds, of which 11 were stab wounds. The medical examiner opined that the stab wounds were caused by the blade of a scissor. Two stab wounds were in the upper chest, two in the middle chest, one in the neck, two in the back, one in the right shoulder, and one on a finger. Three of the chest wounds were potentially fatal--one that severed the aorta, one that penetrated three-and-a-half inches into both sides of the heart, and one that penetrated the right lung.

Page 261

Mrs. Davis was 78 years old. She was five feet one inch tall and weighed 97 pounds. She had suffered both blunt and sharp force injuries; there were 10 impact sites on her body and 13 of her ribs, one ulnar bone, and one pubic bone were broken. The medical examiner testified that she died of blunt force injuries and complications resulting from them. He was aware that she had osteoporosis, emphysema, bronchitis, and other medical problems, and his conclusion took that into account.

Except in the context of some of the particular issues discussed later, it is not necessary to recite in detail the evidence linking appellant to these killings. It was substantial. Through counsel at trial and in a statement given to the police, he admitted being the person who entered the Davis home and killed the occupants. A boot found in his home matched a bloody footprint in the Davis home, and traces of Mr. and Mrs. Davis's blood were found on clothing taken from appellant's home. Appellant's brother, Travis, testified that on March 19, he, appellant, and their parents lived within sight of the Davis home. In the early morning hours, appellant came to the door of their home and was admitted by Travis. Appellant said that he had killed two people. He had blood on his neck and on his hands and was in possession of a handgun, which he offered to Travis. He also gave his brother $80, keeping about $25 for himself.

As we indicated, appellant has raised 12 issues in this appeal, one relating to his motion to suppress certain statements made by him, several dealing with matters occurring during the trial of guilt or innocence, and others concerning the sentencing proceeding. We shall address his complaints in a somewhat different order than presented.


Seven hours after his arrest, appellant made a number of incriminating statements to Detective Steven Ricker. He moved to suppress those statements on the ground that they

Page 262

were induced by violence or the threat of violence. The court denied the motion, and the statements were admitted into evidence.

Appellant was arrested at his home at about 7:00 on the morning of March 24, 1995, pursuant to a warrant issued in connection with another case--a burglary. Although he was then a suspect in the Davis killings, the arrest was solely by virtue of the unrelated burglary.

[696 A.2d 448] Entry into the home and the arrest were effected by a special squad of police officers--an emergency services response team. They quickly secured the home, following which Detective Ricker, who was waiting outside, entered and took charge. The challenge to appellant's statements is based entirely on what allegedly occurred during that brief period, estimated by Detective Ricker as being between two and five minutes, prior to Ricker's entry into the house.

Appellant claimed that he was asleep when the police entered, that he awoke to the sound of a conversation in the hallway to find flashlights shining on him and a gun in his face. An officer "yanked" him off the bed, handcuffed him, and asked his name, which he gave. At that point, one of the officers kicked him "a couple of times" in the shoulder and hip and "stomped" on his feet. He then picked appellant up to take him out of the bedroom and, in the process, tried to ram appellant's head into the frame of the doorway. Appellant was able to swerve his head the first time but, on a second try, the officer succeeded. Appellant was taken to the kitchen where another officer, he said, kicked him in the chest twice. He was then turned over to Detective Ricker and taken to the police station.

Appellant's mother testified that the police came into her bedroom, pulled her husband out of bed, and hit him in the eye. She then saw police officers bringing appellant, handcuffed, out of his room. One of them pushed appellant's head into the wall and then took him away. She gave no testimony regarding any incident in the kitchen.

None of the officers from the emergency services response team testified. Detective Ricker said, however, that he entered

Page 263

the house as soon as he was informed that it was secure, that he saw appellant handcuffed on the floor of the bedroom, that he did not appear to be hurt or fighting, and that, when being led out of the bedroom, he was not "manhandled" and was not banged into the wall. Ricker testified that he saw no one strike or kick appellant, push him into the wall, or grab his neck, and that appellant never made any complaint to him about any abuse suffered at the hands of the arresting officers. He said that the response team took appellant swiftly outside where Ricker and another officer put him into a police car and took him to the station. He was never seated in the kitchen.

Appellant arrived at the station at about 7:30 and was put in an interview room. Ricker got some background information from him, then left to speak with appellant's brother, Travis, and another detective. At 9:15, he reentered the interview room and gave appellant the standard Miranda warnings. Appellant initialed responses to the questions and signed the written form at the bottom. In doing so, he acknowledged that he had not been offered any reward or been threatened in order to get him to make a statement, that he was not then under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, and that he was willing to make a statement without consulting a lawyer. At 9:25, Detective Ricker brought appellant a soda, which appellant had requested, and then left him alone in the room to write a statement. The focus of the statement was not on the Davis case,...

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