Simpson v. State

Decision Date25 September 2013
Docket NumberSept. Term, 2011.,No. 2833,2833
Citation214 Md.App. 336,76 A.3d 458
PartiesWilliam Siam SIMPSON, III v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


John C. Belcher, Oxon Hill, MD, for appellant.

Ryan R. Dietrich (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen., on the brief) Baltimore, MD, for appellee.



On June 30, 2010, William Siam Simpson, III, appellant, was indicted in connection with three incidents of arson occurring on November 15, 2009, April 4, 2010, and May 16, 2010. Specifically, those offenses included the following counts: (a) two counts of first-degree arson; 1 (b) one count of second degree arson; 2 (c) one count of first-degree burglary; 3 (d) one count of third-degree burglary; 4 (E) ONE COUNT OF FOurth-degree burglary; 5 AND (F) FOUR counts of reckless endangerment.6 After a three-day trial concluding on January 13, 2011, and one day of deliberation, the circuit court accepted a partial verdict, finding appellant not guilty of one count of reckless endangerment. Thereafter, the court declared a mistrial on the remaining nine counts.

A new trial was held on the remaining counts from July 12, 2011, until July 14, 2011. On July 15, 2011, the court accepted a partial verdict—finding appellant guilty of attempted second degree arson—and declared a mistrial on the remaining counts. Appellant subsequently filed a motion for new trial on the basis of what appellant considered prosecutorial misconduct, in violation of appellant's rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which the circuit court denied on January 27, 2012. Appellant was sentenced to ten years of incarceration, with all but two years suspended, followed by a period of probation.

Appellant noted a timely appeal on February 6, 2012. Appellant presents two questions for our review:

I. Did the prosecutor violate Simpson's rights under the Fifth Amendment [of the United States Constitution] and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights by repeatedly assuring the jury during opening statement that Simpson “will tell you” that he committed the alleged offenses[?]

II. Did the trial court err by permitting the State to offer opinion testimony from a fire investigator concerning his canine partner's alleged detection of an accelerant on and in Simpson's car and on his shoes?

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm.


On November 15, 2009, Jeffrey Byers (“Mr. Byers”), his wife, Yolanda Byers (“Ms. Byers”), and their daughter, Jenaigh Byers (“Jenaigh”), returned to their home on Sandy Bar Drive, Fort Washington, Prince George's County, Maryland, at approximately 1:00 a.m. Mr. Byers noticed flickering lights shining through his window blinds and thought it was “like a fire engine, a police truck, or something.” He walked over to his bedroom window to determine the source of the lights, and “saw fire coming out of the front of [his detached, two-car] garage” and its three-bedroom loft. He yelled to his family, alerting them of the fire, and proceeded to telephone the fire department.

Thereafter, Mr. Byers ran outdoors, grabbed his garden hose, and attempted to contain the fire by “spraying it down.” Unfortunately, the garage was engulfed by the blaze, and he soon realized that “the fire[,] at that point[,] was too much for the water hose.” Nonetheless, Mr. Byers attempted to prevent the fire from spreading to his family's home. The firemen arrived and asked him to move to a more secure location. Following their advisement, the firemen began spraying down the Byers' residence. Confused, Mr. Byers' asked, “why, and [one fireman] said because the garage was pretty much already a loss,” and the firemen “wanted to cool down the main house ... to keep the fire from spreading.”

By the time the fire was extinguished, there was little left of the garage's structure. All of the family's personal property stored within the garage was a total loss. Because the cause of the fire appeared suspicious, the police were called for further investigation. Mr. and Ms. Byers provided the police a list of potential suspects. In addition, Investigator William Murray of the Prince George's County Fire Department's Office of the Fire Marshal, an active member of the International Association of Arson Investigators, conducted an investigation of the charred structure in the fire's aftermath. After assessing the damage to the property and determining the fire's origin, he concluded within a reasonable degree of certainty that the fire “was set by human hand.” As a result, the Fire Department installed surveillance cameras in the area around the Byers' home, but subsequently removed them on April 3, 2010.

On April 4, 2010, Mr. Byers awoke around 3:00 a.m., and discovered the home was filled with smoke. Concerned for the safety of his family, he proceeded to determine the origin of the smoke, then exited the home to inspect its perimeter. Upon reaching the backside of the home, he “saw the roof above [the] dining room on fire in two places.” Mr. Byers “yelled back” to Ms. Byers, informing her of the fire, and they “started calling 911.” Mr. Byers then “ran to get the water hose, and ran ... to the back of the house,” and attempted to extinguish the fire. Fortunately, he was able to contain the fire until the Fire Department arrived to extinguish the flames. Lieutenant Brandon Goff of the Office of the Fire Marshal responded to the scene, and detected the strong smell of accelerant in the air. Mr. and Ms. Byers provided law enforcement officers and the fire investigator with an additional list of possible suspects.

Law enforcement officers collected several samples of burned wood, soil, and debris as well as partially burned tar paper and pieces of roofing for testing. They also collected an unburned sample of roofing as a control sample for testing. Forensic Chemist Andrew Hawkins of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives analyzed the samples for ignitable fluids, and determined that all provided samples, but for the control, contained gasoline.

Following the fire of April 4, 2010, the Byers family replaced the two-camera surveillance system they originally used at their residence with an “eight-camera system that ha[d] a built-in DVR.” Mr. Byers purchased an additional four cameras for the system, resulting in a twelve-camera surveillance system that monitored the entire perimeter of the Byers' residence. The system was equipped with infrared motion detection and recording capabilities that enabled the Byers to remotely survey the home. Additionally, Mr. and Ms. Byers began sleeping in shifts to monitor the security of their home.

During Ms. Byers' shift on May 16, 2010, at approximately 1:00 a.m., she noted on the surveillance cameras' footage, that “all of a sudden, someone started walking down the street, alongside [the Byers'] yard, and then ... [she] watched [that person] take a left turn into [their] driveway.” The individual was wearing a mask, hood, jacket, jeans, a pair of tennis shoes, and carried a container. Ms. Byers then witnessed the individual approach her Nissan Altima vehicle and begin “dous[ing] it with an unknown liquid. She then alerted her husband.

Jenaigh Byers also maintained a monitor of the surveillance system in her bedroom. After witnessing the same events as her mother, Jenaigh exclaimed, “It's a man, there's a man!” Jasmine Byers, Mr. and Ms. Byers' other daughter was awakened by the family's commotion. The entire family proceeded to the living room, which maintained a picture window facing the driveway, and Ms. Byers began pounding on the window, shouting to the man, “Get away from the car, get away from my car[!] In response, the man stepped into the Byers' yard and gestured to Ms. Byers with a middle-finger. As the family dialed the police, the man retreated, initially dropping a bag and the container with which he was pouring liquid onto Ms. Byers' vehicle. He subsequently picked up the articles and fled from the Byers' property, running “back off up the street.”

As the family waited, Mr. Byers, Ms. Byers, and Jasmine realized that the man who had attempted to ignite Ms. Byers' vehicle was appellant, Jasmine's former boyfriend from high school, based on the man's posture, walk, and body frame. When the police arrived, the family provided the officers with appellant's name, indicated that he lived within a five to ten minute drive of the Byers' residence, and provided the officers with appellant's address.

Captain Brian Radinsky (“Captain Radinsky”) of the Prince George's County Fire Department and EMS, spoke to police officers at the Byers' residence and observed that Ms. Byers' vehicle had, in fact, been doused with gasoline. He subsequently viewed the surveillance footage and was provided with appellant's address. Thereafter, he, along with his partner Robert Kaleda (“Investigator Kaleda”), drove to appellant's address located on Surrey Circle Drive, Fort Washington, Prince George's County, Maryland. Captain Radinsky spoke to police officers already there and observed Investigator Kaleda perform an exterior canine scan of the appellant's vehicle. Investigator Kaleda's canine partner, Joy, had two positive alerts to the presence of accelerants: (1) at the driver's door handle, and (2) at the trunk's keyhole.7

After witnessing Joy's alert, Captain Radinsky, along with two police officers, knocked on appellant's door. Appellant answered, “and he asked what was going on.” As Captain Radinsky and the two officers walked inside, they smelled a strong odor of gasoline. Captain Radinsky placed appellant under arrest. Appellant subsequently consented to a canine search of his person, and a canine and physical search of his vehicle. Although no inculpatory evidence was found on the appellant's person, Joy alerted to the presence of accelerants in...

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7 cases
  • Walls v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 27, 2016
    ...other problem is, if you look at the statement, it is so vague that it does not have the ring of truth.Simpson v. State, 214 Md.App. 336, 355–56, 76 A.3d 458 (2013). Defense counsel went on to assert that Simpson's statement to the police was a false confession.Upon concluding his opening s......
  • Sinclair v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 25, 2013
  • Simpson v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 7, 2015
    ...“CJP”). The Court of Special Appeals concluded that there was no such violation and affirmed the judgment of conviction. 214 Md.App. 336, 381, 76 A.3d 458 (2013). Petitioner sought, and we issued, a writ of certiorari to review that decision, 436 Md. 501, 83 A.3d 779 (2014), and we now reve......
  • Walls v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • July 27, 2016
    .... . . .The other problem is, if you look at the statement, it is so vague that it does not have the ring of truth.Simpson v. State, 214 Md. App. 336, 355-56 (2013). Defense counsel went on to assert that Simpson's statement to the police was a false confession. Upon concluding his opening s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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