Williams v. State

Decision Date07 July 2021
Docket NumberNo. 1403, Sept. Term, 2019,1403, Sept. Term, 2019
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Parties Nicholas Jabbar WILLIAMS v. STATE of Maryland

Argued by: Celia Anderson Davis (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender), Baltimore, MD, for Appellant.

Argued by: Derek Simmonsen (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen.), Baltimore, MD, for Appellee

Panel: Graeff, Berger, Ripken, JJ.

Ripken, J.

Nicholas Jabbar Williams ("Williams") appeals his convictions of second-degree murder, unlawful possession of a firearm by a person under twenty-one, and transporting a handgun in a vehicle. Following a jury trial in the Circuit Court for Charles County, Williams was sentenced to an aggregate of forty-eight years of incarceration with all but twenty years suspended.

Williams argues that his convictions should be vacated without retrial because the jury verdicts are legally inconsistent and the evidence was legally insufficient to support his convictions. Williams otherwise asserts that a new trial is necessary because of erroneously admitted testimony, including from the State's firearms examiner and two investigators, and improper jury deliberations. Williams alternatively seeks a limited remand in light of Rochkind v. Stevenson , 471 Md. 1, 236 A.3d 630 (2020), to determine the admissibility of the firearms examiner's expert testimony.

For the reasons discussed below, we remand the case for the circuit court to determine whether it would reach the same decision to admit the firearms examiner's testimony following the decision in Rochkind .

The Shooting

Cameron Townsend ("Townsend") was shot seven times in the intersection of Spruce Street and Holly Avenue in Waldorf, Maryland, on December 14, 2017. Residents of the neighborhood who were driving home discovered Townsend lying in the street and called 911. First responders were unable to resuscitate Townsend and pronounced him dead at 8:37 p.m.

The gunshots woke one resident of Holly Avenue that evening. He looked out his second-story window facing the intersection and saw a black car "facing up Spruce Street." A man was "standing beside it, and a body [was] laying on the ground beside him." The man "leaned down and almost touched the body, and asked him if he was alright." He jumped into the car and "took off as hard and fast as he could." The witness did not see or hear any other vehicles in the intersection after he heard the gunshots. The witness called 911.

Another resident of Spruce Street heard "five or six" gunshots that evening. He initially thought they came from the railroad tracks behind his house. He did not see anything behind his house or on Spruce Street and did not hear anything aside from the gunshots.

The Investigation

Based on interviews with Townsend's family, investigators learned that Townsend was with Williams on the day of the shooting. Townsend, Williams, Devin Hall ("Hall") and Justin Skinner ("Skinner") went to the District of Columbia for Townsend to sell shoes. Williams drove the group in his black Hyundai Accent. As they made their way to the shoe store, they stopped for Townsend to sell drugs. Townsend had a handgun with him in the car, which may have been stored in the center console or under a seat. Hall consumed Xanax pills and was heavily intoxicated by the time they reached the shoe store. Upon return to Maryland, Williams dropped Hall and Skinner off at Skinner's house around 8:00 p.m. Hall was so intoxicated that he needed to be carried inside. Williams and Townsend left in Williams’ car, with Williams still driving. Williams later told Skinner and Townsend's family that he dropped Townsend off at a liquor store in Waldorf.

The investigation at the crime scene uncovered three nine-millimeter cartridge cases. Investigators found a debit card, $850 in cash, and three plastic bags in Townsend's pockets. During an autopsy, a medical examiner recovered six bullets from Townsend's body. The medical examiner determined that three bullets directly penetrated Townsend's torso and four bullets entered his left arm before entering his chest and abdominal cavity. The wound paths were generally left to right, front to back, and downward.

On December 16, investigators executed a search warrant on Williams’ home and car. Investigators found a fired nine-millimeter cartridge case between the windshield and dashboard of Williams’ car. Forensic analysts observed holes in the front passenger seat, rear passenger seat, and in the rear passenger-side door. They recovered a bullet from the rear door. They determined that it was fired from the direction of the front left of the car and passed through the front and rear passenger seats before lodging in the rear door.

A firearms examiner in the State's Firearms and Toolmarks Unit compared the markings on the bullet recovered from the car door and the bullets recovered from Townsend's body. The examiner determined that the bullets were fired from the same firearm. She also analyzed the cartridge case from Williams’ car and the cases from the scene of the shooting. She determined that the cartridge cases were fired from the same firearm.


Williams filed a Motion in Limine to Exclude Firearms Identification Evidence under Frye - Reed1 and Maryland Rule 5-702. He sought to exclude the firearms examiner's testimony altogether or, alternatively, to limit her testimony to her observations of the individual markings on the bullets and cartridge cases. The circuit court held an initial hearing to determine whether a full Frye - Reed hearing would be necessary. At the initial hearing, the court heard arguments on the motion and admitted reports about the scientific validity of firearms examination as well as the firearms examiner's report. No testimony was taken at the initial hearing. The court denied Williams’ motion and declined to hold a full Frye - Reed hearing. The court did not make findings or set out its conclusions relating to Rule 5-702.

At trial, the State called the firearms examiner. Williams noted a continuing objection to her testimony under Frye - Reed and Rule 5-702 regarding the reliability of firearms analysis and whether the expert reliably applied the methodology to this case. She testified that firearms examiners first look to class characteristics such as the caliber of a bullet or firearm, rifling characteristics, and other intentional design features to determine whether ammunition components correspond to a certain firearm. Firearms examiners next look to individual characteristics—those "unique to a specific firearm." In her testimony, she described the basis of comparison between individual characteristics:

During the manufacturing process ... and through subsequent use and abuse, or rust or damage over time, there are microscopic imperfections or irregularities in the surfaces of the metal. And when a firearm is discharged, the pressure from the discharge forces the transfer of those microscopic imperfections from the firearm itself to the ammunition components such as bullets and cartridge case[s].

The examiner also testified about her conclusions that the recovered bullets were fired from the same firearm and the recovered cartridge cases were fired from the same firearm. She explained that firearms examiners "can't say, without a gun to link them, that a cartridge case and a bullet came from the same firearm."

The State also presented testimony from Detective Long, the lead investigator into Townsend's murder, and Master Corporal Shankster, another investigator. Detective Long testified about the investigation into Townsend's murder. On cross-examination, Williams’ counsel questioned Detective Long about his interviews with Hall and Skinner and about a press release from the Sheriff's Department stating "no clear motive has been established" in Townsend's killing. On redirect examination, Williams objected as the State began to elicit testimony about possible motives developed in the investigation. The circuit court overruled the objection, and Detective Long described possible motives connected to Williams.

Master Corporal Shankster testified about photos taken during the search of Williams’ bedroom. One of the Assistant State's Attorneys approached the bench and explained that he intended to ask Master Corporal Shankster about a photo depicting a bottle on Williams’ dresser. Williams objected. The circuit court overruled the objection. Master Corporal Shankster identified the bottle as Hoppe's Number Nine Gun Cleaner and Lubricant.

Following the State's case, Williams moved for a judgment of acquittal on all counts except transporting a handgun in a vehicle. Williams renewed the motion at the conclusion of the presentation of all evidence. Williams argued at both points that the evidence was insufficient to support the offenses charged. The circuit court denied both motions. The case was submitted to the jury.

The jury found Williams guilty of second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a person under twenty-one, and transporting a handgun. Before hearkening the jury, Williams objected to the circuit court accepting the verdict, arguing that the verdict was legally inconsistent. Williams asked that the court send the jury back for further deliberation with instructions that if the jury believes Williams did not commit first-degree assault, they must acquit on second-degree murder. When the court declined, Williams moved for a mistrial on the second-degree murder charge. The circuit court determined that the verdict was supported by the evidence, denied Williams’ motion, and accepted the jury's verdicts.

Williams filed a timely motion for a new trial under Maryland Rule 4-331(a). Williams contended that defense counsel communicated with jurors after the trial who stated that they did not think that Williams killed Townsend. Instead, per counsel's conversation, they thought Williams was "neglectful" in leaving the scene. Williams also asserted that a member of the jury...

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8 cases
  • Williams v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 25, 2022
    ...firearms examiner's report was admissible under Rochkind v. Stevenson, 471 Md. 1, 236 A.3d 630 (2020). See Williams v. State, 251 Md. App. 523, 574, 546, 254 A.3d 556, 586, 570 (2021). Although the Court of Special Appeals did not affirm the convictions, the Court rejected Williams's conten......
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    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • April 20, 2023
    ... PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RONNIE LAMONT SPEARS, Defendant-Appellant. No. 357848 Court of Appeals of Michigan April 20, 2023 ... 481; 264 N.W.2d 33 (1978), overruled in part on other grounds ... by People v Williams , 422 Mich. 381; 373 N.W.2d 567 ... (1985). Hawkins stated as follows: "To prove ... the defendant guilty of second-degree murder the ... ...
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    • September 30, 2022
    ...novo." Frankel v. Deane , No. 43, Sept. Term 2021, 80 Md. 682, 702, 281 A.3d 692 (filed Aug. 25, 2022) ; see also Williams v. State , 251 Md. App. 523, 546, 254 A.3d 556 (2021) (citations omitted) ("[E]ven with respect to a discretionary matter, a trial court must exercise its discretion in......
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    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 28, 2022
    ... ... Madrid v. State , 247 Md.App. 693, 714 (2020) ... We then make "an independent, de novo, constitutional ... appraisal by applying the law to the facts presented in a ... particular case." Padilla v. State , 180 Md.App ... 210, 218-19 (2008) (quoting Williams v. State , 372 ... Md. 386, 401 (2002)) ...          The ... designation at issue was made pursuant to Section 18(b) of ... Article IV of the Maryland Constitution and Maryland Rule ... 16-102, both of which pertain to the administrative ... ...
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