Copeland v. Commonwealth, 0825-20-1

Citation0825-20-1
Case DateOctober 05, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeals of Virginia

DARRIUS DONTA COPELAND
v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

No. 0825-20-1

Court of Appeals of Virginia

October 5, 2021


FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF CHESAPEAKE Timothy S. Wright, Judge

Andrew M. Sacks (Sacks & Sacks, P.C., on brief), for appellant.

Rachel L. Yates, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Huff, AtLee and Malveaux

MEMORANDUM OPINION [*]

MARY BENNETT MALVEAUX JUDGE

Darrius Donta Copeland ("appellant") was convicted of first-degree murder, in violation of Code § 18.2-32, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, in violation of Code § 18.2-53.1. On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred in denying his motions to strike and to set aside the verdict because the evidence was insufficient in establishing that he was the criminal agent in the shooting of the victim. He also argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the finding of premeditation necessary for a conviction of first-degree murder. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

"In accordance with familiar principles of appellate review, the facts will be stated in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party at trial." Gerald v. Commonwealth, 295 Va. 469, 472 (2018) (quoting Scott v. Commonwealth, 292 Va. 380, 381 (2016)).

In August 2016, Timothy Croskey ("the victim") was living with his mother, Tracy Croskey. The victim and Dequashia Copeland ("Dequashia")[1] had a daughter, T.C., who was six years old at the time. Darrius Copeland ("appellant") is Dequashia's brother.

The victim and Dequashia had been in a relationship, but that relationship had ended when T.C. was four or five years old. T.C. lived with Dequashia. At first, the victim and Dequashia had an informal custody arrangement, but they later went to court to determine custody arrangements. Dequashia and the victim had a custody agreement where the victim would get the child at certain periods, including a two-week visitation in both July and August. According to Croskey, the court further ordered that T.C. be exchanged in neutral locations because the victim and Dequashia had "a terrible relationship." Croskey observed the victim and Dequashia argue during one exchange.

In July 2016, the victim did not have T.C. for his two-week July visitation because Dequashia would not allow the child to go for her visitation. T.C. started her two-week August visitation with the victim on August 12, 2016. During this visitation, and while at Croskey's house, T.C. often spoke with Dequashia via cell phone.

On August 18, 2016, the victim and Dequashia had a scheduled court date on the victim's motion to reduce his child support obligation to her. The day prior to this scheduled court date, August 17, 2016, the victim came home from work around 4:00 or 4:30 p.m. and was going to go pick up his other daughter. T.C. called Dequashia and told her that she did not want to accompany the victim on this trip. With the cell phone on speaker phone, Croskey heard Dequashia tell T.C. that she did not have to go with the victim. The victim also heard this conversation, and stated, "She's my daughter, too, and if I want to take her with me, I can do that." In response, Dequashia, while on speaker phone, told him, "I'm going to have somebody kill you."[2] The victim then took the cell phone from T.C., took it off speaker phone, and "really started arguing" with Dequashia.

About twenty minutes later, around 5:00 p.m., Officer Brian Justice of the Chesapeake Police Department arrived at Croskey's home to conduct a "wellness check" on T.C. Dequashia had called police and reported that T.C. had called her, "hysterical and crying," to say that the victim had been "threatening to beat her up." During the wellness check, which lasted about ten minutes, Justice did not observe any injuries on T.C. and decided not to take any action in relation to Dequashia's call. Dequashia "seemed agitated and unsatisfied with [Justice's] handling of the situation" when the officer reported his findings to her. Dequashia told Justice that she wanted him to remove T.C. from Croskey's home and return the child to her. The officer responded that he could not do that because Dequashia had to abide by the terms of the custody agreement.

After Officer Justice left Croskey's residence, the victim left to pick up his other daughter and told Croskey that he would be right back. Croskey then heard gunshots, opened the front door, and found the victim lying on the doorstep. When police arrived, they found the victim in this location and saw that he was suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Police also found .45 caliber cartridge casings near the front doorway of the house. Testing revealed that the casings were all fired from the same firearm. The victim died while being transported to the hospital.

At around 5:30 p.m. that evening, a neighbor of Croskey's heard three gunshots. The neighbor had a security camera at his home and provided the video from that evening to police. The video was played for the jury.

The security video shows a silver vehicle stopping a few blocks from the victim's home at 5:27 p.m. A person dressed all in black got out of the car, which then made a U turn. Another neighbor of Croskey's testified that the car stopped again after driving a short distance. The security video then shows the person in black walking down the street for about a block before turning onto another street in the direction of Croskey's house. A few minutes later, the security video shows the person running away from Croskey's house and retracing the path they had taken just minutes before.

Shawn Marshall, who lived a few houses down from Croskey, is visible on the security video when he arrives home in his car. In the video, Marshall arrives after the person in black has walked toward Croskey's house but before that person has run back. Marshall testified that before he got out of his car, he heard gunshots. Immediately after hearing the gunshots, Marshall saw a "[s]lender guy with all black on, black hat, black shirt with braids" running away down the street. At trial, Marshall stated that the individual seen running in the video was "consistent with" the person he saw immediately after he heard the gunshots.

Croskey testified that the person wearing all black in the security video was appellant. Croskey had "[n]o doubt" it was appellant because he "ha[d] a distinctive walk . . . like a gallop in a sense." She also identified the silver vehicle as belonging to Devin Copeland, the brother of appellant and Dequashia.

That same evening, at about 5:30 p.m., John Allen saw a vehicle stopped near his home, which was "off to the left" several streets over from the shooting. Allen thought that the car had "broke[n] down." Two men got out of the car and "jogged off."

Around 7:30 p.m. the evening of the shooting, a police officer saw a silver Dodge Stratus stopped near Allen's house which appeared to have the same hubcap and rim as the vehicle shown in the security video. Police determined that the car was registered to Devin Copeland, who...

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