Conyers v. State

Decision Date05 February 2002
Docket NumberNo. 26,26
Citation367 Md. 571,790 A.2d 15
PartiesClarence CONYERS, Jr., v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Robert W. Biddle (Bennett & Nathans, LLP, Baltimore; Nancy M. Cohen, Towson), on brief, for appellant.

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


This is an appeal by Clarence Conyers, Jr. (Petitioner) from the denial by the Circuit Court for Wicomico County of post conviction relief in his capital case.1 See Maryland Code (1957, 1996 Repl.Vol., 2000 Supp.), Article 27, §§ 645A-J (Maryland's Uniform Post Conviction Procedure Act),2 and Maryland Rules 4-401 through 4-408,3 and 8-306.4 This is the third time Petitioner has sought this Court's review regarding the convictions and sentences in this matter.

In January 1996, following a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County, Petitioner was convicted, with respect to the victim, Wanda Johnson, 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. In the same proceeding, Petitioner was convicted of premeditated murder of, and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony against Lawrence Bradshaw, his alleged accomplice in the crimes against Ms. Johnson. The same jury sentenced Petitioner to death for the murder of Ms. Johnson.5 Petitioner received life without possibility of parole for the murder of Lawrence Bradshaw.6

In the initial direct appeal, this Court reversed the burglary conviction, affirmed the murder and other convictions, and vacated the death sentence, finding with regard to the latter that the trial court committed reversible error in admitting a portion of the pre-sentence investigation report referring to Petitioner's prior juvenile charges that had not resulted in a finding of delinquency. See Conyers v. State, 345 Md. 525, 575, 693 A.2d 781, 805 (1997) ("Conyers I"). The case was remanded to the Circuit Court for Wicomico County for a new sentencing proceeding relating solely to the murder of Ms. Johnson.

In January 1998, a new capital sentencing proceeding was conducted before a jury in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County.7 Petitioner, represented by different trial counsel, was sentenced again to death for the murder of Wanda Johnson.8 On the second direct appeal, this Court affirmed. See Conyers v. State, 354 Md. 132, 200, 729 A.2d 910, 946, cert. denied, 528 U.S. 910, 120 S.Ct. 258, 145 L.Ed.2d 216 (1999) ("Conyers II"). The U.S. Supreme Court denied further review. See Conyers v. Maryland, 528 U.S. 910, 120 S.Ct. 258, 145 L.Ed.2d 216 (1999).

On 7 March 2000, pursuant with the provisions of Maryland's Uniform Post Conviction Procedure Act, Md.Code (1957, 1996 Repl.Vol., 2000 Supp.), Art. 27, §§ 645 A-J and Md. Rules 4-401 through 4-408, and 8-306, Petitioner, through yet different trial counsel, filed a petition for post conviction relief9 in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County, alleging, among other things, due process violations, ineffective assistance of counsel, and various trial court errors. After an evidentiary hearing, the Circuit Court10 denied Petitioner post conviction relief by an Order dated 30 January 2001. The court found Petitioner's allegations of due process violations unsupported by the evidence. As to the ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the court concluded Petitioner's assertions were without merit. The court dismissed Petitioner's contentions of trial and sentencing court errors, finding the actions to be proper. Finally, the court rejected Petitioner's challenges to Maryland's death penalty procedure and method of execution.

On 28 February 2001, pursuant to the provisions of Md.Code (1957, 1996 Repl.Vol.), Art. 27, § 645-I and Md. Rule 8-306, Petitioner filed with this Court an application for leave to appeal denial of post conviction relief. The application was granted on 11 May 2001. We shall reverse the Circuit Court's denial of Petitioner's petition for post conviction relief and remand this case to the Circuit Court for Wicomico County for a new trial.

Factual Background

Prior to the recitation of the issues presented for our consideration here, we set out the underlying facts regarding Petitioner's convictions, as recounted by the post conviction hearing judge.11

At approximately 9:35 p.m., on Friday, October 21, 1994, Petitioner'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 Petitioner 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. Petitioner, 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, Petitioner 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, Petitioner 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, the Court of Appeals found the evidence was insufficient to sustain Petitioner's conviction for the burglary of Johnson's home, but sustained the remaining convictions. Regarding sentencing, the Court of Appeals held that certain portions of Petitioner'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, Petitioner was granted a new sentencing hearing.

At the second capital sentencing hearing,12 during the State's case, Charles Johnson (no relation to the victim, Wanda Johnson, or her husband) testified that while he was Petitioner's cellmate 13 at the Baltimore County Detention Center in October-November of 1994, Petitioner discussed the robbery at [Wanda] Johnson's home. Charles Johnson stated Petitioner told him that he and a person named "Molek"14 went to Wanda Johnson's house and Petitioner 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

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