Klauenberg v. State

Decision Date25 August 1999
Docket NumberNo. 7,7
PartiesJohn T. KLAUENBERG v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Robert Philip Thompson (Andrea K. Sugar, Thompson & Sugar, P.A., on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner.

Mary Ann Ince, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. of Maryland, on brief), Baltimore, for respondent.

Argued before BELL, C.J., and ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, RAKER, WILNER, CATHELL and ROBERT L. KARWACKI (retired, specially assigned), JJ. CATHELL, Judge.

In this case we are called upon to consider the admission of "bad acts" evidence and the applicability of Maryland Code (1982, 1994 Repl.Vol., 1998 Cum.Supp.), section 12-106 of the Health-General Article, in the context of a defendant's conviction for solicitation to commit the murder of the Honorable Joseph F. Murphy, Jr. We shall affirm the circuit court.

I. Facts

Appellant John T. Klauenberg was found guilty by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City of solicitation to commit the murder of the Honorable Joseph F. Murphy, Jr. In bifurcated proceedings and pursuant to a stipulation between the defense and the State, the court entered a finding of Not Criminally Responsible.

The instant appeal is related to a prolonged civil estate matter between appellant and his sister, Elizabeth Francis. In 1984, Francis filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County against her brother with regard to what would be their father's estate,1 worth approximately $1,700,000. The litigation lasted for approximately eight years, until 1992. The matter was presided over primarily by Judge Murphy, then a circuit court judge and now the Chief Judge of the Court of Special Appeals. Judge Murphy, in his ultimate ruling, set aside as invalid various documents showing that appellant should receive all of his father's assets. Judge Murphy ordered, inter alia, that appellant and his sister would share equally in their father's assets. In addition, appellant was sanctioned and ordered to pay the expenses associated with the litigation so that instead of receiving approximately $600,000, he received, after the sanction and costs, between approximately $170,000 and $200,000.

On April 28, 1992, appellant approached Reginald Palmer, who worked at Whiz Car Wash in Baltimore, and asked Palmer if he could "do murders and stuff." Palmer later testified that appellant discussed paying "three or five thousand dollars" for someone to kill "this lawyer ... for killing a dog or a cat or something." Palmer initially did not take appellant seriously, but appellant approached Palmer again at the car wash the next day. On this occasion, Palmer told appellant that he "wasn't into that" and didn't know anybody who was. Palmer informed his boss, David Merrill, about this conversation and Merrill followed appellant to appellant's parked car, obtaining the tag number. Mr. Merrill then contacted the police with this information.

The police told Palmer to play along with appellant if he came back. On May 6, 1992, appellant approached Palmer for a third time, disclosing the name of the intended victim as Joseph Murphy, whom he wanted murdered near the University of Baltimore Law School by two shots in the head. After this conversation, appellant never approached Palmer again and did not pay him any money. At some point after contacting the police, Palmer positively identified appellant from a police photographic array. Appellant was arrested subsequent to a search of his vehicle and home on May 12,1992.

To the charge of solicitation of murder, appellant entered a plea of not competent to stand trial, not guilty, and not criminally responsible. An evaluation was ordered and appellant was found incompetent to stand trial on December 11, 1992, by Judge Clifton J. Gordy. He was committed to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for inpatient care and treatment and thereafter admitted to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital until he could be declared competent to stand trial.

On July 10, 1997, a hearing was held regarding appellant's competence. The next day, Judge Gordy signed an order finding appellant competent to stand trial. Bifurcated proceedings were held to determine appellant's guilt or innocence and criminal responsibility. A jury found him guilty of solicitation to commit murder. In the second proceeding, pursuant to a stipulation between the State and the defense, the court entered a finding of Not Criminally Responsible.

Appellant filed an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals and a Petition for Writ of Certiorari before this Court. We issued a Writ of Certiorari before the intermediate appellate court heard arguments. Appellant presents the following questions for review:

I. Did the trial court err in denying appellant's motion in limine seeking exclusion of prior bad acts of the appellant and in denying appellant's motion for mistrial?

II. Did the trial court err in denying appellant's motion to dismiss the indictment?

II. Discussion and Analysis

A. Motion in Limine

Appellant's first question relates to the trial court's denial of his motion in limine. Prior to the selection of the jury, appellant made an oral motion in limine to limit the scope of certain evidence to be presented by the State. He argued the State intended to question several witnesses about the civil case and that the evidence was not only irrelevant to the pending charge, but would highlight several bad acts by appellant that would serve only to prejudice the jury's perception of his character. The State, in turn, argued the testimony would not be evidence of bad acts, but would illuminate for the jury the context of the crime for which appellant was charged and his motive to commit the crime.

In support of his claim that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion in limine, appellant refers in his brief to several instances in which he says the trial court allowed the admission of bad acts evidence through the testimony of three witnesses: Daniel Twomey, the lawyer who represented Elizabeth Francis in the estate case; Elizabeth Francis; and Gerald Ruter, the lawyer appointed by Judge Murphy in the civil case as a special auditor. Before discussing the pertinent rules for the admission of bad acts, we shall set forth the evidence appellant deems was improperly admitted.

1. Testimony of Daniel Twomey

We shall restate verbatim appellant's arguments to this Court and then rephrase those issues to ensure clarity:

The [S]tate initially had Twomey testify as to the nature of the civil case between [a]ppellant and his sister. Witness Twomey also testified that Judge Joseph Murphy was the presiding judge at the civil trial. The prosecution then inquired from Mr. Twomey as to the [a]ppellant's conduct toward Judge Murphy during [the civil estate] trial from 1985 to 1992. Appellant's trial counsel objected but said objection was overruled. Twomey informed the jury that his observation of [appellant] in the court room was one of a very angry person which was consistent with the way he had been acting in his presence before the trial. Twomey further testified that [appellant] was not only angry but was also physically intimidating in the sense of body posture, glaring, tone of voice, and comments from the counsel table where he was sitting. He also stated that at one part in the proceedings, the Judge had to admonish [a]ppellant, extremely sternly, to control himself, stop his outbursts and to remain in his chair. Twomey went on to describe [appellant] as confrontational. He also made reference to having been in [appellant]'s house with a police officer with [appellant] being very close in his face, pounding on his chest, poking on his chest with his index finger, and being informed by the police officer to back-off. Twomey was also asked about any weapons the [a]ppellant had in his house. Over the objection of defense counsel, Twomey was allowed to testify that he found two (2) pistols in [appellant]'s house, one being a .38 revolver. Twomey also told the jury that [a]ppellant stood without moving in one place in his house and then informed the jury that fortunately, the police were literally right next to him, surrounding [a]ppellant as he went through this exercise. Twomey then testified that on a subsequent occasion, he went into [appellant]'s house and a .22 semi-automatic pistol was found along with 600 rounds of ammunition.
The prosecutor also had Twomey describe the interior of [a]ppellant's home. Twomey responded by indicating that he couldn't walk on the floor in [a]ppellant's house since it was piled waist-high with paper. Twomey described the interior of [appellant]'s home as being similar to a yard that's overgrown and animals run through their pathway with people walking.

We rephrase the testimony by Twomey that appellant perceives as objectionable into related topics or the single question from which the testimony arose, as it appeared in the trial transcript:

a. Appellant objected to the State's question about the nature of the civil estate case. The court overruled this objection.

b. Appellant argues in his brief that "[w]itness Twomey also testified that Judge Joseph Murphy was the presiding judge at the civil trial." Appellant did not object to the State's question or Twomey's answer at trial.

c. Appellant objected at trial to the question, "How was his conduct toward Judge Murphy during his trial from 1985 to 1992?" The grounds stated were, "It's too broad, Your Honor." The court overruled this objection and the witness proceeded to describe appellant's conduct in the courtroom.

d. While describing appellant's courtroom conduct, the witness stated that appellant was "confrontational," to which appellant objected. The court overruled this objection and the witness went on to describe the state of disarray in appellant's home.

e. Twomey began describing appellant's aggressive conduct toward him, and appellant o...

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