Conyers v. State

Decision Date17 May 1999
Docket NumberNo. 27,27
Citation354 Md. 132,729 A.2d 910
PartiesClarence CONYERS, Jr. v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Michael R. Braudes, Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Annabelle L. Lisic, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Argued before BELL, C. J., and ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, RAKER, WILNER and CATHELL, JJ. CHASANOW, Judge.

Clarence Conyers, Jr. (Appellant) was convicted in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County of premeditated murder, felony murder, first-degree burglary, robbery with a deadly weapon, attempted robbery with a deadly weapon, robbery, attempted robbery, and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence with respect to Wanda Johnson. In the same proceeding, Appellant was convicted of premeditated murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence as to Lawrence Bradshaw. Appellant was sentenced to death for the murder of Johnson and to life without the possibility of parole for the murder of Bradshaw. On direct appeal, this Court reversed the burglary conviction and set aside the death sentence, remanding the case for a new sentencing proceeding in accordance with Maryland Code (1957, 1996 Repl. Vol., 1998 Supp.), Article 27, § 413.1 We affirmed the other judgments. Conyers v. State, 345 Md. 525, 693 A.2d 781 (1997)(hereinafter "Conyers I").

On January 17 and January 26-28, 1998, the Circuit Court for Wicomico County, the Honorable D. William Simpson presiding with a jury as requested by Appellant, conducted the new capital sentencing proceeding. Appellant was again sentenced to death for the Wanda Johnson murder. This appeal comes to this Court pursuant to Md.Code (1957, 1996 Repl.Vol.), Art. 27, § 414. Appellant presents the following twelve issues for review:

1. Whether Appellant was deprived of a fair hearing because of Detective Philip Marll's testimony regarding prosecution witness Charles Johnson.

2. Whether the trial court erroneously restricted the direct examination of defense witness Arthur Rogers.

3. Whether the trial court erroneously restricted the direct examination of defense witnesses Ventura McLee and Eric Spencer.

4. Whether the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that a mitigating circumstance of sympathy or mercy must be based on evidence.

5. Whether the trial court erroneously refused to admit the proffered testimony of Professor Steven Grossman and erroneously refused to propound the requested jury instruction regarding his testimony.

6. Whether Appellant was deprived of a fair hearing when victim impact witness Victoria Gibson purportedly conveyed to the jury that Appellant had previously been sentenced for the murder of Wanda Johnson.

7. Whether the trial court erroneously admitted "other crimes" evidence, consisting of Monica Wilson's testimony that Appellant engaged in domestic violence.

8. Whether the trial court erroneously denied Appellant's motion to preclude evidence that Appellant had been convicted of the murder of Lawrence Bradshaw.

9. Whether the trial court erroneously admitted photographs of Wanda Johnson and the crime scene.

10. Whether the trial court committed plain error in permitting the State to impeach defense witness Arthur Rogers with prior convictions for first and second-degree sexual assault.

11. Whether the trial court erroneously denied Appellant's motion to prevent introduction of Appellant's statement to Monica Wilson regarding a .38 caliber handgun.

12. Whether Maryland's death penalty statute is unconstitutional.

Following a summary of the pertinent facts, we shall address the above issues seriatim.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts underlying Appellant's conviction for the murder of Wanda Johnson were set forth in our opinion in Conyers I, supra:

"At approximately 9:35 p.m. on Friday, October 21, 1994, Appellant's estranged girlfriend, Monica Wilson, went to visit her mother, Wanda Johnson, at the home Ms. Johnson shared with her husband, Elwood Johnson. Ms. Wilson had just spoken with her mother at 9:00 p.m. that evening, and her mother had agreed to babysit for Ms. Wilson's son. Arriving with Ms. Wilson at the Johnson home was her cousin, Carla Clinton.

As the two women approached the Johnson home, they saw someone looking outside through a second floor bedroom window. The women knocked on the door, and, as they waited for someone to open it, they saw through a window a man walking down the stairs. The women saw this man turn off the lights inside the house and duck down as if to avoid being seen. The two women walked to a back door and knocked on it. The women heard sounds of a struggle, described as `a commotion,' `tussling' and `fighting,' coming from inside the house. Then Ms. Johnson began to scream, and a window on the second floor broke over the women's heads.

The two women fled to the home of a relative who lived nearby and called the police. On the way to the relative's house, Ms. Wilson noticed a car parked across the street from her mother's house. The car resembled one that Appellant sometimes borrowed from his former girlfriend and mother of his child, Debra Meyers. Upon returning to the Johnson home, Ms. Wilson was informed by the police that her mother was dead.

There were no signs of forced entry into the Johnson home. Wanda Johnson's body was found in the master bedroom. She had been shot three times in the head, once in the back, and once in the arm. It was Ms. Johnson's custom to keep a small amount of money in her wallet. Furthermore, when Ms. Wilson spoke to Ms. Johnson earlier that evening, at approximately 9:00 p.m., Ms. Johnson said that she had twenty dollars. Ms. Johnson's open wallet was found atop her dresser in the master bedroom; there was no money in the wallet.

In the den, a door to a closet had been forced open, revealing a safe. The closet door had a hasp and a lock on it for security, but the hasp and lock had been pried out of the door jamb to gain access to the closet. Pulling the hasp out of the door jamb had caused splinters to fall on the floor around the closet. The safe inside the closet was closed. Mr. Johnson opened the safe the day after his wife's murder; it contained fifteen dollars.

The next day, Ms. Clinton worked with a police artist on a sketch of the man she had seen on the staircase inside the Johnson home the evening before. Ms. Wilson was asked to look at the sketch that had been made based on Ms. Clinton's description. Appellant, who had come to the police station to keep Ms. Wilson company, took the sketch away before Ms. Wilson had a chance to see it, telling the police that the sketch would upset her. When Ms. Wilson finally had a chance to see the police sketch, she did not immediately identify Lawrence Bradshaw as the man depicted in the sketch. She made a photo identification of another man, who was arrested and incarcerated for a brief time as a result. Ms. Wilson later agreed, however, that the police sketch looked like Lawrence Bradshaw.

Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on October 23, 1994, approximately 27 hours after the murder of Ms. Johnson, Lawrence Bradshaw was shot in the 4300 block of McDowell Lane. This street is located in the Lansdowne area, near Debra Meyers's home. Mr. Bradshaw had been shot three times in the head, once in the back, once in the arm, and once in the finger. Mr. Bradshaw was taken to Shock Trauma, where he died the following day."

Conyers I, 345 Md. at 534-36, 693 A.2d at 785-86.

As to Johnson, Appellant was convicted of premeditated murder, felony murder, first-degree burglary, robbery with a deadly weapon, attempted robbery with a deadly weapon, robbery, attempted robbery, and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and sentenced to death. With respect to Bradshaw, Appellant was found guilty of premeditated murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and sentenced to life without parole.

On appeal, this Court found the evidence was insufficient to sustain Appellant's conviction for the burglary of Johnson's home, but sustained the remaining convictions. Regarding sentencing, we held that certain portions of Appellant's juvenile record that were contained in the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) report should not have been presented to the jury because the material was considered "inflammatory and highly prejudicial." Conyers I, 345 Md. at 563,693 A.2d at 799. Consequently, Appellant was granted a new sentencing hearing.

At the second capital sentencing hearing, during the State's case, Charles Johnson (no relation to the victim, Wanda Johnson, or her husband) testified that while he was Appellant's cellmate at the Baltimore County Detention Center in October-November of 1994, Appellant discussed the robbery at Johnson's home. Charles Johnson stated Appellant told him that he and a person named "Molek" went to Wanda Johnson's house and Appellant went upstairs to rob a safe. Charles Johnson testified:

"During the robbery someone came to the door. At that point, Ms. Johnson yelled out ... her daughter's name or something of that nature. And Clarence panicked because, I guess, they would recognize him is what he said, and as a result he wound up shooting Ms. Johnson."

Charles Johnson went on to state that Appellant told him that while both he and "Molek" were upstairs at first, when they heard noise "Molek" ran downstairs. After Johnson was shot, "Molek" ran but Appellant waited until no one was outside before he left.

Wanda Johnson's husband, Elwood Johnson, testified that Appellant was a frequent visitor to their home. He also described the layout of the home, providing specific details about a spare bedroom that contained a safe in a closet. The safe, which contained personal papers and petty cash, had a combination lock and the closet was secured with a lock and hasp. Mr. Johnson stated that...

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