Wiggins v. State

Decision Date01 September 1989
Docket NumberNo. 139,139
Citation597 A.2d 1359,324 Md. 551
PartiesKevin WIGGINS v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Melissa M. Moore, Asst. Public Defender and Julia Doyle Bernhardt, Asst. Public Defender, Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender, Baltimore, on brief, for appellant.

Richard B. Rosenblatt, Asst. Atty. Gen., J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on brief, for appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., and ELDRIDGE, COLE *, RODOWSKY, McAULIFFE, CHASANOW and MARVIN H. SMITH, Judge of the Court of Appeals (retired, specially assigned), JJ.

MURPHY, Chief Judge.

Kevin Wiggins was convicted at a nonjury trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County (Hinkel, J.) of willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder, robbery, and two counts of theft. On October 18, 1989, following a jury sentencing hearing, Wiggins was determined to be a principal in the first degree on the murder count. He was sentenced to death in pursuance of the State's notice that it sought that penalty, as authorized by Maryland Code (1987 Repl.Vol.), Art. 27, § 412(b).

On appeal from these judgments, Wiggins maintains that he is entitled to a new trial as to his guilt of these offenses because (1) the evidence was insufficient to establish that he was the perpetrator of the crimes and (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a new trial. Wiggins also urges, for twelve separate reasons, that the imposition of the death penalty was improper and a new sentencing hearing is therefore required.

I. The Trial

Florence Lacs, the seventy-seven-year-old murder victim, resided at the Clark Manor Apartments in Woodlawn, Maryland. On Saturday afternoon, September 17, 1988, at approximately 3:50 p.m., her dead body was found in the bathtub of her apartment. She was lying on her side, half-covered by cloudy water of a slightly greenish hue. She was fully clothed in a blue skirt, a white blouse, and white beads. She was not wearing underpants and her skirt was pulled up to her waist in the back. No shoes were on the body, but one bedroom slipper was floating in the bathtub (its mate was lying in the hallway of her apartment).

The evidence at trial showed that on Thursday, September 15, the victim drove Mary Elgert to a luncheon. Elgert testified that the victim was then wearing a light blue skirt, white blouse, and white shoes. She said that the victim drove her home from the luncheon at 4 p.m. that day.

Edith Vassar was also in attendance at the luncheon. She testified that on the day after the luncheon, Friday, September 16, at approximately 10 a.m., the victim phoned her and they discussed an event that occurred at the luncheon the previous day.

Elizabeth Lane was present at the luncheon on September 15. She recalled driving by the victim's apartment complex the following day at 4 p.m. and noted that her car was not in the parking lot. When the victim failed to attend a scheduled card game at Lane's house on Saturday, September 17, the police were contacted at 2 p.m. and Ms. Lacs was reported missing. Lane told the police that she had last seen the victim on September 15 and that she was wearing a red dress at that time.

In the afternoon of Saturday, September 17, the apartment manager, Joseph Thiel, was alerted by the police and he entered the victim's apartment. He testified that the deadbolt lock on the door was unlocked, but that the knob lock was locked. He discovered the victim lying dead in the bathtub. The police arrived shortly thereafter. They found no evidence of forced entry into the apartment, but it had been partially ransacked. Several drawers had been removed from various locations within the living and dining rooms and were found on the floor. The night stand drawer was pulled out and its contents were in disarray. The headboard of the bed had two built-in enclosures; they stood open and their contents were likewise in disarray. A drawer from the buffet was on the bed with items strewn all around it. The bed was mussed, with the mattress sitting askew on the box spring; the pillow cases were missing. A damp cloth was lying on the dining room table and a damp towel was lying on the victim's bed. In the kitchen, the window was slightly open but the screen was intact. The cabinets were open and some bottles of household cleaner were lying on the floor. The tap was running in the kitchen sink. In the bathroom on the sink were a spray can of insecticide, a bottle of household cleaner and a bottle of dishwashing liquid.

On the floor inside the front door of the apartment was a baseball cap which displayed a Ryder Rental Truck logo on its bill. On the coffee table in front of the sofa were two T.V. Guides, one of which was dated from September 10 to 16; the evening programs had been marked by pen through September 15; and a bookmark had been inserted at the page delineating the September 15 programs. The other T.V. Guide was for programs from September 17 to 23; it was unopened.

Seven latent fingerprints were recovered from inside the entrance door of the victim's apartment, the archway wall of the kitchen, and the doorjamb leading into the bathroom. The police also processed what appeared to be wet wipe marks on the front face of an end-table drawer found on the living room sofa. These marks, however, had no comparison value. Similar markings were observed on a cleaning bottle in the bathroom. The seven latent prints were compared to Wiggins's prints and found not to match. Two of the prints were identified as being made by one of the police officers on the scene. The other five prints were not identified.

Paramedics arrived on the scene and pronounced the victim dead at 3:50 p.m. At that time, the paramedic noted that there was expiratory cyanosis about the victim's lips and face, that her pupils were dilated, and that her arm and jaw were rigid. She was removed from the bathtub during the evening of Saturday, September 17, in the presence of Dr. Stanley Felsenberg, the Deputy State Medical Examiner, who arrived on the scene at 9 p.m. The body was transported to the Medical Examiner's office in Baltimore, and tagged and refrigerated at approximately midnight.

Dr. Margarita Korell, Assistant State Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy on the body on the morning of September 18. She concluded that the cause of death was drowning and that the manner of death was homicide. She found a contusion on the dorsal surface of the left hand and a tiny hemorrhage in the neck area. She testified that these injuries were produced by "some external force" and were consistent with a struggle prior to the victim's death. Asked whether she could state "the minimum amount of time Ms. Lacs had been deceased," Dr. Korell responded that there was no way that she could say for certain when the victim died. She "guessed" that it could have been more or less than forty-eight hours, depending upon a number of factors. Upon objection, the court struck Dr. Korell's testimony "with respect to the time of death." It permitted in evidence, however, that Dr. Korell was unable to state, with a reasonable degree of medical certainty or probability, "what the maximum period of time was."

Chianti Thomas, age twelve at the time of trial, testified that on September 15, at approximately 4:30 or 5 p.m., she was visiting with Chantell Greenwood and Shanita Patterson at an apartment next to the victim's apartment. When they were leaving the apartment, Shanita had difficulty in locking her apartment door and sought assistance from the victim. While the victim was attempting to help lock the door, a man, later identified as Wiggins, volunteered his assistance. When the telephone rang inside Shanita's apartment, she and Chantell went to answer it. While they were gone, Chianti heard Wiggins thank the victim for watching some sheetrock for him and heard the victim converse briefly with Wiggins. The evidence disclosed that this conversation occurred at approximately 5 or 5:30 p.m. Thereafter, the girls left the apartment building. Several weeks later, Chianti was shown photographs of six men. She selected Wiggins's photograph as the person that "looked the closest to the man that was in the building." Chianti was unable to identify Wiggins at the trial.

Robert Weinberg, a contractor, testified that he was performing work at the Clark Manor Apartments at the time of the victim's death. He said that he had employed Wiggins on September 14 and that on September 15, while Wiggins was carrying equipment from the apartment to a truck, the victim called out of her apartment window and expressed concern to Wiggins that the truck might block her car. Weinberg remembered assuring the victim that the truck did not block her car. Weinberg released Wiggins from work on September 15, sometime between 4 and 4:45 p.m. He said that approximately twenty-five to thirty-five minutes thereafter, Wiggins told him that he had moved some sheetrock from one side of the building to another, a task that Weinberg had not asked him to perform. Weinberg testified that it would have taken only two minutes for Wiggins to move the sheetrock. Weinberg also testified that Wiggins appeared for work on Friday, September 16, but left early, stating that he was being evicted that day.

The evidence disclosed that on the evening of September 15, at about 7:45 p.m., Wiggins, driving the victim's orange Chevette, went to the home of his girl friend, Geraldine Armstrong. According to her testimony, they went shopping and made several purchases, using the victim's credit cards, which Wiggins told Armstrong belonged to his aunt. Armstrong said that she signed the victim's name to the charge slips because Wiggins said his handwriting was bad. The following day, September 16, Wiggins drove Armstrong to work in the victim's car, after which they again went shopping, using the victim's credit cards to purchase additional items, including a diamond ring at a J.C....

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