State v. Oliveira

Decision Date06 July 2001
Citation774 A.2d 893
PartiesSTATE v. Gahil OLIVEIRA et al.
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court

Present WILLIAMS, C.J., LEDERBERG, BOURCIER, and FLANDERS, JJ.

Annie Goldberg, Jane Mcsoley, Paul F. Daly, Jr., Aaron L. Weisman, Providence, For Plaintiff.

John A. MacFadyen, III, Vincent A. Indeglia, Paula Rosin, Providence, Damon D'Ambrosio, Pawtucket, For Defendant.

OPINION

WILLIAMS, Chief Justice.

This case came before the Court on the appeal of the defendants, Gahil Oliveira (Oliveira), Jason Ferrell (Ferrell), Pedro Sanders (Sanders), and Robert McKinney (McKinney) (collectively referred to as defendants). They were indicted together for first-degree murder, assault with intent to murder, and two counts of conspiracy to commit each crime. They were tried together before two juries in the Superior Court. All four defendants were convicted of the two conspiracies. Oliveira, McKinney, and Sanders also were convicted of first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder. Ferrell was convicted of assault, but acquitted of murder. This appeal followed. We affirm the judgment of the Superior Court. The facts insofar as pertinent to this appeal are as follows.

FACTS AND TRAVEL

On December 15, 1995, Wayne Baptista (Baptista), known among his friends as Pearl, was shot and killed.2 Two days later, three of Baptista's closest friends, Oliveira, Ferrell, and McKinney, had their right arms tattooed with the name "Pearl," a cross, the date "12/15/95," and the acronym, "RIP."

The next day, on the morning of December 18, 1995, between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., Carpenter picked up Evans from his mother's house, in his blue Chevrolet Nova, to run errands. Carpenter and Evans went to John's Restaurant for something to eat. They then proceeded to a pager company on Atwells Avenue. Shortly after 11 a.m., Carpenter drove from Westminster Street onto Dexter Street, while Evans slumped in his seat, speaking to a friend on his cellular telephone. On Dexter Street, as they were passing Division Street, Evans heard what sounded like a gunshot, but paid no attention to it. He heard more gunshots, at which point Evans dropped his telephone, "scooted down" in his seat, and looked behind him. At that time, Evans saw a black Jeep Cherokee turn onto Dexter Street from Division Street at a high rate of speed. The Jeep began chasing Carpenter's automobile. The occupants of the Jeep fired gunshots at Carpenter and Evans. As Carpenter pulled his automobile over to the opposite side of the street, the gear shift stuck. At Carpenter's urging, Evans jumped out of the automobile. Carpenter then jumped out of the automobile as well.

Evans landed in the road, where the Jeep driver tried to run over him. He ran to the nearest sidewalk. Evans then hopped the fence that was in front of him and ran down the side of a nearby house. He came to a higher picket fence, but as he climbed that fence, he caught his jacket and jeanson a picket.3 As he worked to free himself, he looked to see whether he was being followed. He saw McKinney and Oliveira get out of the Jeep, both dressed in black and carrying automatic handguns. They were not wearing hoods and did not have anything covering their heads. Evans also saw Sanders, sitting in the Jeep, looking in Carpenter's direction. McKinney and Oliveira walked toward the sidewalk, where Carpenter had fallen. The gunshots continued and Carpenter was killed.

Evans freed himself from the fence and started running through yards to a nearby house. When he arrived at the house, he banged on the door; when no one answered, he ran to the side of the house and looked out into the street. There, Evans saw a white Ford Taurus with two occupants: Ferrell, who was sitting in the driver's seat, and Jermaine Campbell (Campbell), who was sitting in the front passenger seat. Ferrell was holding a "chrome object" in his hand that looked like a gun, which he moved up and down. Evans ran and ducked back behind the house, after which he heard tires screech.

When Evans came out from behind the house, the Taurus was gone. However, he saw a woman get out of an automobile. He approached her saying, "Someone's shooting at me, can I use your phone?" The man she was with told the woman to get back into the automobile, and they drove off. Evans ran down a side street trying to get to a cousin's house. However, he was stopped by the police. Evans told the police that "[m]e and my cousin were just getting shot at [—] I'm not the oneyou're looking for." He also told the police to look for "East cats" in a white Taurus and a black Jeep. The police arrested Evans and took him to the police station, where he was questioned by the police and detained as a suspect. While at the police station, Evans made a statement to the police in which he said that he could not identify any of the shooters. Evans later was released. The next day, he returned to the police station and identified Sanders, Oliveira, and McKinney as the shooters. He also told the police that he saw Ferrell and Campbell in the Taurus.

On May 1, 1996, Oliveira, Ferrell, McKinney, Sanders, and Campbell were indicted together for the first-degree murder of Carpenter; the assault with intent to murder Evans; and two counts of conspiracy to commit each crime. They were tried together in the Superior Court in March and April 1997.4

Besides Evans, who testified to the facts as stated above, Elizabeth Laposata, M.D. (Dr. Laposata), the chief medical examiner for the State of Rhode Island, testified for the state. Doctor Laposata performed an autopsy on Carpenter the day after the murder. She testified that Carpenter died at 11:27 a.m. of multiple gunshot wounds to his head and body, three of them fatal, all suffered at approximately the same time. She also testified that the shots to Carpenter's head had not been inflicted until he was on the ground. Doctor Laposata described the damage inflicted by two of the three bullets, which had been fired to the left side of Carpenter's head. She testified that Carpenter's head was down on the pavement at the time the bullets entered his head, that the bullets went through the left side of his brain, crossed the midline, went into the right hemisphere of his brain, and exited via the right side of his head. As a result, the right side of his face was severely damaged and the right bones on the right sideof his face and skull were fractured multiple times. Doctor Laposata also testified that she had examined Carpenter's stomach and intestines and concluded that he had not eaten during the last several hours before his death.5

Robert Hathaway (Hathaway), a forensic firearms expert, testified about the bullets used to kill Carpenter, as did Det. George Pearson (Det. Pearson) of the Providence police department. Detective Pearson noted that at least five spent 9-millimeter shells were found in the street around Carpenter. Moreover, a spent magazine was found, along with a magazine containing fifteen 9-millimeter cartridges. Hathaway testified that the bullets used to kill Carpenter had been fired from three different firearms.

Scott White (White) also testified for the state. White had been walking on his driveway at 108 Dexter Street to the bus stop when he heard tires screeching and saw a man in dark clothing get out of a black Jeep holding a gun. White testified that he had seen the man's face and body clearly. He heard gunshots and got down on the ground. From there, White saw the man cross the street and heard more gunshots. White also saw two other men cross the street, but he did not see their faces. At that point, he got up and ran toward the bus stop and heard more gunfire. When White looked back, he saw a light-colored car on the curb. White called the police from a pay telephone and said that he had witnessed a shooting. He left his name and telephone number with the police. White also testified that several days after the shooting he read a newspaper article that included photos of the suspects. He recognized the photograph of Sanders as being one of the men that had fired a gun at the crime scene.

The defense put forth a number of witnesses to counter the state's evidence, as well as to secure alibis for the various defendants. Leslie Papp (Papp) testified that on December 18, 1995, he had heard gunshots and the screeching of wheels. Papp testified that he had seen a black male get out of a sports utility vehicle (SUV) wearing a nightcap. He also testified that he had observed a single set of footprints running diagonally in the snow toward the back of his property, ending at a chain link fence. These prints were widely spaced, as if made by someone running. The defendants offered this testimony to show that Evans was indeed caught on a chain link fence rather than the picket fence, and that, consequently, he could not have seen any of the defendants.

Bernadette Waters (Waters) testified that as she was driving on Dexter Street toward Westminster Street the morning of the shooting she heard "popping sounds." Waters then saw a blue vehicle coming toward her vehicle with two men running behind it. She testified that she saw a man with a gun who she was "absolutely positive" was wearing a hood with fur around it. As she continued driving down Dexter Street, she saw a black SUV in her rear view mirror traveling in the same direction behind her. Waters then saw the SUV do a U-turn on Dexter Street and head back toward Cranston Street.

James Opella (Opella) also testified. Opella testified that on December 18, 1995, he heard tires screeching and gunfire coming from a black automobile, which was racing down Dexter Street toward Westminster Street. He also had seen a blue automobile and two men. Opella testified that he saw the Jeep make a right-hand turn onto Division Street and then do a U-turn back onto Dexter Street proceeding south. He then heard more gunshots and saw a single man being struck by gunfire and falling to...

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