Cook v. State

Decision Date01 September 1993
Docket NumberNo. 1465,1465
Citation642 A.2d 290,100 Md.App. 616
PartiesHarold Thomas COOK v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Victor J. D'Avella, Bel Air, for appellant.

Rachel Marblestone, Staff Atty. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., Gary E. Bair, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, and Joseph I. Cassily, State's Atty. for Harford County, Bel Air, on the brief), for appellee.

Argued before BLOOM, FISCHER and HARRELL, JJ.

HARRELL, Judge.

Harold Thomas Cook, appellant, was charged with various offenses stemming from his alleged sexual abuse of the eldest of his two adopted stepdaughters. 1 A jury in the Circuit Court for Harford County convicted him of child abuse sexual offense in the second degree, assault with the intent to commit second degree sexual offense, a third degree sexual offense, battery, and unnatural and perverted sexual practice. Following the circuit court's denial of his motion for a new trial and sentencing on 15 September 1993, appellant filed a timely notice of appeal to this court, alleging that:

I. The trial court committed reversible error when it dismissed a seated juror for cause.

II. The trial court committed reversible error when it permitted the State to elicit allegations of other sexual misconduct by appellant that were unrelated to the victim in the instant case.

III. The indictment was subject to dismissal because the State failed to ascertain with any certainty the time of commission of the offenses charged.

IV. The trial court erred when it instructed the jury that a witness is presumed to speak the truth.

V. The separate convictions for second degree sexual offense, third degree sexual offense, perverted sexual practice, and child abuse were improper.

Based on the record before us, we reverse on Issue I. Our reversal eliminates the necessity to decide the remaining issues presented, save Issue III, the nature of which compels a response. We hold that the State's indictment (Issue III) was valid.

FACTS

This case arose following a child sexual abuse complaint lodged by the victim in 1992, now an adult, approximately eighteen years after commencement of the alleged abuse. The victim recalled that she did not tell anyone about the alleged abuse during the early years because appellant frightened her. As she got older, the victim stated that she did not alert anyone because Cook told her that her mother would wind up in a mental institution if she found out. In 1978, the Cooks moved to Baltimore County. That same year, at age thirteen, the victim told a peer and guidance counselor at school about the alleged abuse. Apparently despite a complaint by the victim to the Harford County police and a subsequent investigation, appellant remained in the household. According to the victim, the abuse continued until 1982 when the victim informed her aunt of the problem. The victim's mother was informed immediately and Cook left the residence.

Following another futile complaint, this time to Baltimore County Police in 1982, and an unsuccessful attempt to get private counsel involved in 1988, the victim complained to the State's Attorney's Office for Harford County in 1992. An indictment was served on Cook in September 1992. The original indictment charged appellant, inter alia, with abusing the victim "continually on and between January, 1971 through and including December, 1977." At the request of appellant, the State later issued a bill of particulars that narrowed the time frame of the alleged offenses to abusing the victim "continually from the summer of 1974 up through the time alleged in the indictment in Harford County, Maryland. The abuse continued after the family moved to Baltimore County as well."

The trial was held on 14-15 July 1993. According to the victim's testimony, Cook, her stepfather, continuously sexually abused her from 1974 until he left in 1982. The alleged abuse taking place in Harford County occurred between 1974 and 1977. The victim alleged, inter alia, that during this period, appellant showed her pornographic materials, fondled her genitals, performed cunnilingus, and attempted to force the victim to perform fellatio. When she refused to perform fellatio, the victim alleged that Cook would call her obscene names and strike her with his penis.

The victim testified that the abuse occurred on a nightly basis. She stated that whenever her mother was away from the family home, "he was in my room." The victim's bedroom was situated adjacent to her parents'. The victim testified that the abuse occurred even when her mother was home in bed.

Appellant only admitted that he intentionally touched the victim's breasts on three or four occasions in a "non-sexual way, playfully." He stated that he admitted to this conduct in 1978 when the victim filed her initial complaint with the Baltimore County Police. Cook could not recall whether he had received the counseling recommended by the police in 1978. He otherwise generally denied the accusations brought by the victim.

The jury found appellant guilty on all counts. On 15 September 1993, Cook was sentenced to fifteen years for the child abuse and second degree sexual offense charges with all but five years suspended, ten years concurrent for the third degree sexual offense charge with all but five years suspended, and five years concurrent for the unnatural and perverted sexual practice charge. The assault with intent to commit a sexual offense in the second degree and battery convictions were merged into the other convictions by the trial court for sentencing purposes.

Additional facts relevant to appellant's issues on appeal are set forth according to the issues presented below.

I.

Appellant asserts that the trial court committed prejudicial error when it dismissed a juror for cause at the close of all of the evidence. Shortly after the commencement of trial on the second day, the trial court held an in-chambers meeting to advise the parties' attorneys that Juror Number 6 had sent the following note to the bench:

Your Onor [sic],

[The victim] stated her stepfather came into her bedroom every night. The mother and stepfather's bedroom right next door. The mother was home in bed sometimes before he got home from work. If he left there [sic] bedroom and went into the step-daughter's bedroom[,] did the Mother know it?

Why not right next door?

"If so!" What for?

If the daughter was raped every night[,] was the Mother having sex with him? How often? Working a full time job and 2 nights on a part time job. "Had to be a good Man! " Strike that! Remark. (Emphasis in original).

The prosecutor requested that the juror be stricken because the statements in the note reflected an unyielding bias in favor of appellant. Appellant's counsel maintained that the note did not reveal any opinion regarding guilt or innocence, but merely requested clarification of testimony previously heard during the trial. The trial court declined to rule on the issue at that juncture.

The issue was revisited on the record in the trial judge's chambers following presentation of all of the evidence. The parties adhered to their respective positions regarding the meaning of the note. The trial judge gave the attorneys the opportunity to question Juror Number 6 in an attempt to interpret what his note meant. Relevant portions of the discussion among the court, the parties' attorneys, and the juror are set forth below:

COURT: Why did you send me a note?

JUROR: That is what the bailiff told me to do.

COURT: Only if you had questions that you wanted to ask of the witness, is that right?

JUROR: That's right.

COURT: The witnesses were gone. This note came to me this morning. That witness finished testifying yesterday.

JUROR: I didn't understand that they were dismissed of the hearing either.

COURT: ... I don't understand your remark. What was the purpose of that remark in the second paragraph? They aren't questions; they are comments aren't they?

JUROR: It's not meant as a comment. Maybe one part wound up to be comment. I didn't mean it to be but it is, but what was really on my mind, I could not see, I mean, I'm a parent also, what went on in the household really; the daughter answered the questions that when was asked about the household, different things but it was not followed up with the same thing with the mother so that the mother could answer them. With them being in the next room with one partition between them, that's what I couldn't understand.

. . . . .

STATE: You made a statement in there that he is a good man or you're a good man, do you remember that is one of the last things you said, sir; and it's underlined.

COURT: Had to be a good man.

STATE: Had to be a good man. What was that intended for?

. . . . .

JUROR: It wasn't any definite remark or like a remark about that. What it was, the man had to be in good health to be in this kind of shape, well-being, in good shape to be in that kind of health. If a man is going to have sex with his daughter or adopted daughter, he has got to be in good shape to provide his wife with what she needs too.

* * * * * * The juror then compared the alleged frequency of appellant's sexual conduct to his own past sexual experiences to support his conclusion that appellant had to have been in good shape to work so many hours and engage in sexual relations with both his wife and his stepdaughter.

The State still advocated dismissal of the juror. Cook's counsel maintained that the juror should remain a part of the panel. He suggested that the bulk of the note only reflected the juror's desire to hear from a witness again that had already testified, while the "had to be a good man" comment at the note's conclusion only reflected the juror's relationship of his own experience with that of the factual circumstances presented by the case before him.

The trial judge discharged the juror, stating, inter alia,:

Perhaps there was some confusion on his [the juror's] part, but...

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  • Thompson v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 3, 2008
    ...alleging sexual abuse of a minor from "1980 through July of 1988" was not impermissibly vague); see also, e.g., Cook v. State, 100 Md.App. 616, 630-32, 642 A.2d 290 (1994), rev'd on other grounds, 338 Md. 598, 659 A.2d 1313 (1995); Bonds v. State, 51 Md.App. 102, 105-08, 442 A.2d 572 Appell......
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