Freeman v. Commonwealth, 0582-21-1

Citation0582-21-1
Case DateMarch 15, 2022
CourtCourt of Appeals of Virginia

ORAS PAUL FREEMAN
v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

No. 0582-21-1

Court of Appeals of Virginia

March 15, 2022


FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF NORFOLK Everett A. Martin, Jr., Judge

(J. Barry McCracken, Assistant Public Defender, on brief), for appellant. Appellant submitting on brief.

Justin B. Hill, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, [1] Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Russell, Athey and Senior Judge Frank Argued at Hampton, Virginia

MEMORANDUM OPINION [*]

WESLEY G. RUSSELL, JR. JUDGE

Oras Paul Freeman challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction of unlawful wounding in violation of Code § 18.2-51. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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 reviewing the record, we discard any of Freeman's conflicting evidence, and we regard as true all credible evidence favorable to the Commonwealth and all inferences that may reasonably be drawn from that evidence. Id. at 473.

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In the fall of 2019, Jarrett Fuller and his girlfriend, Kisha Murphy, were subletting part of a duplex apartment from Freeman. On September 12, 2019, while Fuller and Murphy were in their bedroom, Freeman approached the doorway and accused Fuller of borrowing tools and not returning them. Freeman threatened to "lay [Fuller] out" if he did not "put [the] tools back." After Freeman left the bedroom, Murphy took a shower while Fuller napped on his bed.

Fuller awoke when he felt an "object" hit his head. He opened his eyes and saw Freeman straddling him while holding a "jackhammer pipe." Freeman repeatedly struck Fuller with the pipe as Fuller blocked the blows with his arms. Murphy exited the bathroom because she heard a loud, abnormal sound while in the shower, "like somebody jumped on the bed or hit the floor." Freeman was on top of Fuller, striking him with the pipe.

Fuller grabbed the pipe and struggled with Freeman as the scuffle moved from the bedroom and into the hallway. Once in the hallway, Freeman wrenched the pipe from Fuller's grasp and struck him with it until Fuller again seized the pipe. The scuffle ended after the men grew tired; Freeman then walked outside and returned the pipe to his vehicle. Fuller sat on the couch, and Murphy called the police. Fuller and Murphy testified that Fuller never struck Freeman during the affray.

When Officer Phillips arrived at the house, he found Fuller outside, "bleeding from the top of his head." Fuller told Phillips that he and Freeman had an "argument over tools and [Freeman] hit him." Murphy told Phillips that the fight occurred "in the hallway." Phillips found Freeman inside the residence and detained him. Phillips noticed Freeman had a "small laceration on his lip" and was holding his chest while complaining that he "was having trouble breathing," but Freeman sustained no further injuries.

After paramedics arrived, an ambulance transported Fuller to the hospital. Fuller sustained lacerations to three spots on his head, a broken arm, and a broken nose. Fuller's

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lacerations were treated with numerous stitches, and his arm was immobilized in a sling. Later that day, Detective Llosa executed search warrants for the apartment and Freeman's vehicle. In the apartment, Llosa photographed blood that was splattered and smeared on the floor, doorframe, and wall outside of Fuller's and Murphy's bedroom. In contrast to the scope of the blood he observed in the hallway, Llosa did not notice any "large bloodstains" in the bedroom but could not remember whether he "check[ed]" the bedroom for blood. From the vehicle, Llosa recovered a jack and a twenty-inch-long metal pipe. The pipe had a red stain on it that Llosa suspected was blood.

Dwaine Roberts, the landlord, testified that Freeman had lived in the residence for seven or eight years and that Fuller was a "periodic visitor." Roberts claimed that, about a week before the incident, he had seen Fuller, who appeared to have numerous injuries on his head, leg, and arm. The day after the incident, Roberts talked to Murphy and Fuller at the residence about rent. Roberts testified that Fuller was not wearing a cast, had no observable injuries, and "seemed fine" during the conversation.

Freeman testified that he had been trying to evict Fuller and Murphy for a couple of weeks before the incident because they were not paying rent. Freeman had served Fuller with an unlawful detainer action, which caused Fuller to become "agitated." Freeman acknowledged that, on September 12, 2019, he asked Fuller about tools that he claimed Fuller had borrowed. Fuller denied borrowing the tools, and Freeman went outside to work on his truck, using his car jack's pipe handle to prop open the hood. Freeman reported that he returned to the apartment to retrieve his inhaler because he suffered from COPD and came inside while carrying the pipe.

After a few minutes, he approached Fuller's bedroom door to ask about the tools again; when he did, Fuller "kicked [him] back into the hallway." Freeman claimed that he retreated to the living room to retrieve his inhaler, but Fuller pursued him, so Freeman "grabbed the pipe . . .

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to stop [Fuller] from attacking." Freeman explained, "The only reason I did what I did, he was coming towards me so I didn't know what his intentions were." Freeman asserted, "I didn't know exactly whether I hit him or not. I swung the pipe just to keep him off of me." They "wrestled" over the pipe and had moved back into the hallway when Freeman fell to the floor. Freeman testified that he "reached[ed] up" and "punched [Fuller], . . . grabbed the back of his head and pulled him down[, ]" at which point Fuller's head "hit the corner of the door," causing Fuller to bleed.

Freeman moved to strike the evidence at the close of the Commonwealth's case-in-chief and at the close of all the evidence; the trial court denied both motions. After closing argument, the trial court convicted Freeman of unlawful wounding. The trial court found that the physical evidence was not consistent with Freeman's testimony and "more consistent" with Fuller's and Murphy's accounts. The trial court specifically concluded that "it's far more likely that this blood splatter on the wall outside the door came from the blow, being hit with a pipe, near that location" and that it "[did not] think the evidence shows there is any justification for the battery with the pipe." This appeal follows.

ANALYSIS

On appeal, Freeman contends that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he "either acted with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable, or kill Fuller or that his act in striking Fuller was not the exercise of reasonable force to prevent a further attack by Fuller."

"When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, '[t]he judgment of the trial court is presumed correct and will not be disturbed unless it is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it.'" Smith v. Commonwealth, 296 Va. 450, 460 (2018) (alteration in original) (quoting Commonwealth v. Perkins, 295 Va. 323, 327 (2018)). "In such cases, '[t]he Court does not ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable

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doubt.'" Secret v. Commonwealth, 296 Va. 204, 228 (2018) (alteration in original) (quoting Pijor v. Commonwealth, 294 Va. 502, 512 (2017)). "Rather, the relevant question is whether 'any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Vasquez v. Commonwealth, 291 Va. 232, 248 (2016) (quoting Williams v. Commonwealth, 278 Va. 190, 193 (2009)). "If there is...

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