Government of Virgin Islands v. Harris, No. 90-3532

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore BECKER, SCIRICA and ALITO; SCIRICA
Citation938 F.2d 401
Decision Date03 July 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-3532
Parties33 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 598 GOVERNMENT OF the VIRGIN ISLANDS v. Raphello HARRIS, Sr., Appellant.

Page 401

938 F.2d 401
33 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 598
GOVERNMENT OF the VIRGIN ISLANDS
v.
Raphello HARRIS, Sr., Appellant.
No. 90-3532.
United States Court of Appeals,
Third Circuit.
Argued April 22, 1991.
Decided July 3, 1991.

Page 403

Iver A. Stridiron (argued), Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, for appellant.

Azekah E. Jennings (argued), U.S. Atty.'s Office, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, for appellee.

Before BECKER, SCIRICA and ALITO, Circuit Judges.

SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.

Raphello Harris, Sr. was convicted of murder in the first degree and possession of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence. On appeal he contends that there was insufficient evidence to establish the corpus delicti for the jury's verdict of murder in the first degree, or to support the jury's verdict of possession of a dangerous weapon. He also maintains that this evidence was inadmissible. In addition, he states that the district court erred in admitting evidence of his past acts of violence toward the victim, his ex-wife. We will affirm.

I.

On August 14, 1989, Judith Harris left St. Kitts, West Indies by airplane and arrived at the Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. She has not been seen nor heard from since.

Mrs. Harris often travelled between St. Kitts and the Virgin Islands because her former husband, Raphello Harris, Sr., and her son, Raphello Harris, Jr., age 18, lived in St. Thomas and because occasionally she worked there. Mrs. Harris and the Harris's other three children lived in St. Kitts in a home owned by Mr. Harris. The Harris's marriage ended on March 14, 1989 in an uncontested divorce that had been initiated by Mr. Harris.

Mrs. Harris was scheduled to arrive at St. Thomas on August 15, 1989 and to stay with a family member. Instead, she arrived on August 14, carrying with her a number of packages for several people in St. Thomas from their relatives in St. Kitts. Raphello Harris, Jr. was unaware that his mother was arriving a day earlier than she had told him.

On the morning of August 14, 1989, Mr. Harris, a construction contractor, drove Raphello Harris, Jr., who had recently begun to work with him, to their jobsite in Annas Retreat, St. Thomas. The jobsite was within eyesight and walking distance of an apartment maintained by Mr. Harris on the ground floor of a private home. Mrs. Harris sometimes stayed in this apartment when she visited St. Thomas.

According to Raphello Harris, Jr., Mr. Harris soon left the jobsite with the stated purpose of buying building materials. While driving, Mr. Harris happened to see a friend and offered him a ride to the airport, where the friend worked. The

Page 404

friend testified that Mr. Harris's stated trip into town was to purchase building materials. Mr. Harris drove his friend to the entrance of the airport at approximately 12:15 p.m. and then departed.

At approximately 1:25 p.m., Elita Woods drove to the airport to meet a cousin who was to have been travelling with Mrs. Harris from St. Kitts to St. Thomas. Ms. Woods testified that as she approached the airport terminal she saw Mr. Harris sitting in plain view in a cafe located immediately opposite the entrance of the airport terminal. Upon learning that the airline flight from St. Kitts was delayed, Ms. Woods drove back to her job nearby. She later returned to the airport at approximately 1:50 p.m. and saw Mr. Harris sitting on a bench in the area of the terminal where passengers can be seen disembarking from the flights.

Ms. Woods said that she asked Mr. Harris if Mrs. Harris had arrived but he did not respond. Later she asked if the flight had arrived and he responded that the plane had just landed and was taxiing. After their conversation she moved away from where Mr. Harris was sitting and did not see him again.

About ten minutes later, Mrs. Harris deplaned and, in the midst of a conversation with Ms. Woods, asked if she had seen Mr. Harris. Ms. Woods responded that Mr. Harris was in the airport. Ms. Woods testified, however, that she never saw Mr. and Mrs. Harris together and informed Mr. Harris of this when he stopped by her house on September 3, 1989 and asked her if she had seen him take Mrs. Harris from the airport. In response to his questions she also stated that although she had heard a "rumor" that his ex-wife was missing, she had not heard that he was implicated. Mr. Harris ended the conversation on September 3 by saying that his ex-wife had caused him "a lot of problems" and "he didn't care" whether or not they found her.

Raphello Harris, Jr., testified that on August 14, 1989, he left his jobsite and arrived at his father's apartment at around 3:30 p.m. in order to change his clothes before going to his part-time job at a local restaurant. Mr. Harris said that he and his son had arranged beforehand to meet at the apartment so that he could drive his son to work.

Raphello Harris, Jr. gave varying testimony on direct and cross examination that when he arrived at the apartment, Mr. Harris, who never returned to the construction jobsite that day, was either in the midst of mopping the bedroom floor, had just completed mopping the floor, or was taking a mop to the front door. He also observed that Mr. Harris was sweating heavily and "looked like he was crying." He stated further that Mr. Harris remained seated on a homemade bed while he was dressing, which at the time he thought unusual. Raphello Harris, Jr. testified that his father's pant's leg either appeared to have bloodstains, be wet, or have a whitish stain. However, his father showed no scratches, marks, cuts, or any other signs of injury, nor did he complain of any injury.

Raphello Harris, Jr. testified that he never saw his mother in the family apartment on August 14, 1989 or thereafter. When he did not see his mother return to St. Thomas as scheduled on August 15, 1989, he waited a few days before he called his older sister, Marcia Harris, age 20, in St. Kitts to inquire. He learned then, for the first time, that Mrs. Harris had left St. Kitts on August 14, 1989.

On August 19, 1989, Raphello Harris, Jr. returned to his father's apartment and, upon entering, detected a strong scent of blood. He also observed what appeared to be blood spots on the bathroom wall, on the shower curtain, and on the floor around the bed. Upon removing the mattress from the wood box frame of the bed that was also used as a storage chest, he observed that the interior of the chest was filled with blood. Furthermore, two sheets that usually covered the bed were missing.

Raphello Harris, Jr. returned to the apartment on August 22, 1989 and found in a bag a pair of Hawaiian pants and underwear that he thought belonged to his mother. When he spoke to his sister in St. Kitts, she informed him that she had packed the Hawaiian pants and underwear

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in her mother's luggage before her mother left St. Kitts on August 14, 1989. She also said that her mother left with several packages to deliver to friends in St. Thomas, including one package for Althea Richards that contained some medicine from her relatives in St. Kitts. Mrs. Richards testified that on August 18, 1989, Mr. Harris delivered the package containing medicine to her home.

On August 25, 1989, according to Raphello Harris, Jr. or on September 1, 1989, according to his friend, Raphello Harris, Jr. and his friend returned to the apartment and took pictures of what they believed were bloodstains on the bed (although the friend added that the photographed substance also appeared to be either red stains or mahogany paint). They delivered the film to the Virgin Islands Police Department whereupon a search warrant was executed for Mr. Harris's house on September 5, 1989. Several items that were seized and sent to the F.B.I. for analysis contained human blood. Neither the pants nor underwear (which were gone when Raphello Harris, Jr. returned to the apartment), nor blood matching, nor any knife or other dangerous weapon was offered into evidence. 1

According to Detective Reynold Fraser, on September 4, 1989, Mr. Harris called him at the Virgin Islands Police Department's Investigation Bureau and asked to meet him alone in a parking lot. When they met, Mr. Harris said that he had killed Mrs. Harris by accident after picking her up at the airport and confronting her at his home about her relationship with another man in St. Kitts. Mr. Harris said that he held a knife to Mrs. Harris's throat in order to force her to tell the truth. When she told him that she could have any man she wanted, he said that he then realized that he had just killed her with the knife. Mr. Harris stated that the police would never find Mrs. Harris's remains. However, Mr. Harris did not sign a statement and Detective Fraser did not arrest him. On September 10, 1989, Detective Fraser wrote a report documenting Mr. Harris's statement.

The police also made efforts to determine if Mrs. Harris had left St. Thomas after confirming through airline records that Mrs. Harris had arrived and deplaned in St. Thomas and had not made a reservation elsewhere on the same airline. Their investigation included developing a missing person flyer with a photograph of Mrs. Harris that they took to "numerous" airlines at the St. Thomas airport and also sent to the Virgin Islands Daily News. They also learned that Mrs. Harris's mother in St. Croix had not seen nor heard from her daughter. Similarly, a police investigation in St. Kitts in May 1990 turned up no evidence that she had been sighted. Nor was there evidence that her St. Kitts home had been damaged or that she had been injured by Hurricane Hugo in September, 1989.

On September 8, 1989, Detective Fraser encountered Mr. Harris at a laundromat, where Mr. Harris informed him that the police had found some of his ex-wife's blood and had also taken a knife during the execution of their search warrant of his residence....

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63 practice notes
  • U.S. v. McGlory, Nos. 90-3604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • 19 Junio 1992
    ...other acts evidence must also be evaluated against the unfair prejudice standard of Rule 403. 20 Government of Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 419 (3d Cir.1991). We review the district court's admission of other acts evidence for abuse of discretion. Id. at Cotton relies on United S......
  • State v. Hafford, (SC 16089)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 7 Marzo 2000
    ...fortifies the truth of the confession without independently establishing the crime charged"); Government of Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 409-10 (3d Cir. 1991) (trustworthiness doctrine is best rule); United States v. Kerley, 838 F.2d 932, 940 (7th Cir. 1988) ("corpus delicti rule......
  • U.S. v. Ray, No. 92-3261
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 22 Abril 1994
    ...infer that there has been a murder when the murderer confesses but no body has been found, see Government of the Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 404, 411-15 & n. 12 (3d Cir.1991), then surely a jury can rationally infer that when a robber indicated he had a gun, he in fact had a 12 ......
  • US v. Palma-Ruedas, No. 95-5554
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • 30 Julio 1997
    ...engaged in Rule 403 balancing, it did not articulate on the record a rational explanation. See Government of Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 420 (1991). Thus, we need not defer to the district court and can conduct the requisite balancing analysis ourselves. Himelwright, 42 F.3d at ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
63 cases
  • U.S. v. McGlory, Nos. 90-3604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • 19 Junio 1992
    ...other acts evidence must also be evaluated against the unfair prejudice standard of Rule 403. 20 Government of Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 419 (3d Cir.1991). We review the district court's admission of other acts evidence for abuse of discretion. Id. at Cotton relies on United S......
  • State v. Hafford, (SC 16089)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 7 Marzo 2000
    ...fortifies the truth of the confession without independently establishing the crime charged"); Government of Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 409-10 (3d Cir. 1991) (trustworthiness doctrine is best rule); United States v. Kerley, 838 F.2d 932, 940 (7th Cir. 1988) ("corpus delicti rule......
  • U.S. v. Ray, No. 92-3261
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 22 Abril 1994
    ...infer that there has been a murder when the murderer confesses but no body has been found, see Government of the Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 404, 411-15 & n. 12 (3d Cir.1991), then surely a jury can rationally infer that when a robber indicated he had a gun, he in fact had a 12 ......
  • US v. Palma-Ruedas, No. 95-5554
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • 30 Julio 1997
    ...engaged in Rule 403 balancing, it did not articulate on the record a rational explanation. See Government of Virgin Islands v. Harris, 938 F.2d 401, 420 (1991). Thus, we need not defer to the district court and can conduct the requisite balancing analysis ourselves. Himelwright, 42 F.3d at ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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