Smith v. State

Decision Date26 July 2017
Docket NumberNo. 1069, 1879, Sept. Term, 2016,1069, 1879, Sept. Term, 2016
Citation233 Md.App. 372,165 A.3d 561
Parties Jonathan D. SMITH v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by: Bryce E. Benjet (Barry C. Scheck, The Innocence Project of New York, NY, Donald P. Salzman, Joshua K. Goldman, Daniele M. Schiffman, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP, Washington, D.C.), on the brief, for Appellant.

Argued by: Cathleen C. Brockmeyer (Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: Meredith, Graeff, Reed, JJ.

Graeff, J.

On January 5, 1987, 64–year-old Adeline Wilford was stabbed to death in the kitchen of her farmhouse. The investigation stalled for years, but on March 1, 2001, a jury in the Circuit Court for Talbot County convicted Jonathan D. Smith, appellant, of felony murder and daytime housebreaking. The circuit court subsequently sentenced him to life imprisonment.1

Approximately 10 years later, after appellant's effort to reverse his convictions by appeal and post-conviction relief were unsuccessful, the Innocence Project in New York filed Maryland Public Information Act ("MPIA") requests regarding this case. Based on information received from those requests, appellant filed a Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence and a Motion to Reopen Post–Conviction Proceedings.2 The circuit court denied both the petition and the motion.

On appeal, appellant presents several questions3 for this Court's review, which we have consolidated and rephrased, as follows:

1. Did the circuit court abuse its discretion in denying appellant's Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence?
2. Did the circuit court abuse its discretion in denying appellant's Motion to Reopen Post–Conviction Proceedings?

For the reasons set forth below, we shall vacate the judgments of the circuit court and remand for further proceedings.

I.The Murder of Adeline Wilford

On January 5, 1987, at approximately 3:00 p.m., Jack Ripley, Ms. Wilford's friend, discovered Ms. Wilford's body in her kitchen and called the police. Ms. Wilford had been photographed by her bank's security system driving her car through the bank drive-through that day at 2:10 p.m., and therefore, the murder appeared to have been committed at some point in the 50–minute period of time between when she left the bank and when her body was found.

Maryland State Police ("MSP") officers responded to the scene shortly after the call. A window on the west side of the house was propped open with a stick. The police believed that entry to the home had been made through that window, which led to a utility room.

When the police entered the house, they saw that the keys to the house were still in the door lock, and Ms. Wilford was lying face up on the floor. She was wearing a blue coat, and she had a set of glasses on a cord around her neck. There were numerous stab wounds to her hands and face, and a large butcher knife with an eight-inch blade was "shoved right through the side of [her] cheek and head." There were groceries on the kitchen table that had not been taken out of the bag, which suggested that she had surprised someone in the house.

The officers performed a sweep of the house to ensure that no one else was inside. Items inside the home seemed "out of place," and dressers were opened with "stuff taken out," which suggested that "someone had broken into the house and was looking for money or other goods." The police lifted fingerprints and palm prints from various places in the house, including the outside of the utility room window and the washing machine in the utility room.

A number of items were missing from Ms. Wilford's residence, including the tan pocketbook that Ms. Wilford was seen carrying that day, Ms. Wilford's custom-made diamond and sapphire ring, and her wallet containing credit cards and an undetermined amount of cash. The police did not recover any of these items.

II.Subsequent Investigations

After a number of years passed and the murder investigation had stalled, the victim's son, Charles Curry Wilford, encouraged the police to reopen the investigation. He offered a reward of $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s) and an additional $15,000 if there was a conviction.

Sergeant John Bollinger met with Beverly Haddaway on January 14, 2000, and she told him that her nephew, appellant, and two others had committed the crime. Ms. Haddaway stated that, approximately two years after the incident, appellant confessed to her that he had killed Ms. Wilford.

Ms. Haddaway agreed to wear a "wire" and surreptitiously record appellant. On April 11, 2000, she recorded a conversation with appellant that occurred in a shed behind her house. During that conversation, Ms. Haddaway asked appellant about the day she saw him on "Kingston Road when that old woman got murdered and you told me the dog bit ya and you stabbed it." She asked who killed the woman. After appellant initially stated, while laughing, that he did not know,4 the following occurred:

[BH:] Why were you in that field with blood all over ya? And they take, I seen ya goin' up the road that day, you know it? And you had a blue coat on and Ray [Andrews] and you both had huntin' hats on. And then when I come back by there and you were in that cornfield and you said that blood come off a dog, but I think that you held her and David [Faulkner] killed her or one of you three done it.
[JS:] They never found out yet have they?
[BH:] I know, that's why I want to know 'fore I die. I seen ya, did I ever tell anybody? You know I ain't gonna tell on ya, goddamn, you're my blood. I just wanted to know if you done it. I didn't really think you did. I think crazy David did.
[JS:] It's a secret. It's a secret when one person knows[.] It aint [sic] a secret when two people know.
[BH:] Well, the three of you know.
[JS:] Right, there's only two left.
[BH:] It was you and Ray and David.
[JS:] Ray wasn't there until after it was over.
[BH:] Where was he?
[JS:] Down the road.
[BH:] Ray was right with you in the goddamn field.
[JS:] Yeah. That was after it was all done with.

Ms. Haddaway asked again who killed the victim. When appellant responded that he could not remember, Ms. Haddaway stated: "Jonathan, you're lying 'cause you're laughing." The conversation continued, as follows:

[BH:] Well why do you think I would tell anybody. I ain't told nobody in 12 goddamn years. I just wanted to know.
[JS:] (Inaudible) she had money.
[BH:] Huh?
[JS:] She had money.
[BH:] She had money?
[JS:] Uh huh.
* * *
[BH:] [Dick] said that he'd heard three or four times that you had tried to get somebody to .... But, ah ....
[JS:] It's been a long time. I don't even remember it no more.
[BH:] Oh. You know whether you done it or David done it if Ray weren't there. I'll tell ya reason I ask. ... [T]his lady that lived over Ridgley .... told me that David's foster mother had something and ... the old woman said that they had bought David out of a murder. And I was wondering, you know, if she knew anything or did she tell you, I just wondered if he did it or you. Tell me. I ain't gonna tell nobody, I just want to know (inaudible).
[JS:] He didn't do it.
[BH:] You done it.
[JS:] Uh huh.
[BH:] You said you did it before. Why did you kill her? I thought she let you in there when you went fishin'[.] ... What, you didn't know her?
[JS:] I knew she had money.
[BH:] You knew she had money.
[JS:] She had money.
[BH:] But you didn't get none?
[JS:] Uh huh.
[BH:] You did get it.
[JS:] Uh huh.

Appellant then stated that the men got $60,000, and they split it three ways.

In response to Ms. Haddaway's question regarding why Mr. Faulkner had appellant's coat, appellant said that Mr. Faulkner "got cut" and had too much blood on his coat, so he got rid of it. Appellant then stated that both he and Mr. Faulkner had stabbed the victim, and the conversation continued as follows:

[BH:] [T]hat day you told me I thought no, he ain't done it, that stupid David if he, anybody done it.
[JS:] If there's enough money I'll do it.
[BH:] Enough money. Well, it's alright if you don't get caught.
[JS:] I won't get caught.

On April 25, 2000, the police brought appellant, Mr. Faulkner, and Mr. Andrews to the Easton MSP barrack for questioning. Appellant was advised of his rights, and although he initially "almost seemed happy to be answering [their] questions," his demeanor changed when Sergeant Jack McCauley asked if appellant and Mr. Faulkner had been involved in any criminal activity together. At that point, appellant "became somewhat withdrawn, dropped his head .... [a]nd he became very evasive, fidgety in his seat." Appellant denied any involvement with the murder of a woman. He acknowledged his conversation with Ms. Haddaway, but he claimed that he admitted involvement in the murder because he wanted Ms. Haddaway to think that he was a tough person.5

Sergeant Bollinger and another officer interviewed appellant again later that day. Sergeant Bollinger advised appellant of his Miranda rights, giving him a copy of the form to "follow along as [Sergeant Bollinger] was reading it to him." Before Sergeant Bollinger asked any questions, appellant volunteered his narrative of what had happened, and Sergeant Bollinger listened for several minutes without interrupting. Appellant stated that "he, David Faulkner, [and] Ray Andrews, had gone to the residence," and "he and David Faulkner broke into the residence," but Mr. Andrews stayed outside. While appellant and Mr. Faulkner were in the house, Ms. Wilford returned, and when appellant "noticed her she was standing in front of him screaming and ... David Faulkner was stabbing her." Appellant stated that Ms. Wilford was wearing a blue coat and had glasses on a chain around her neck, and "she was fighting and moving her arms about." As Mr. Faulkner was stabbing Ms. Wilford, she fell back on appellant, getting blood on his shirt. Sergeant Bollinger then asked appellant if he had stabbed Ms. Wilford, and at that point, appellant asked for an...

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