Wilson v. State

Decision Date01 March 2023
Docket Number1947-2021
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland



No. 1947-2021

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland [*]

March 1, 2023

Circuit Court for Worcester County Case No.: C-23-CR-21-000070

Zic, Ripken, Meredith, Timothy E. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.


Meredith, J.


Tremaine Robertson Wilson, "Appellant," was indicted in the Circuit Court for Worcester County, Maryland, and charged with sexual abuse of a minor, third and fourth degree sexual offense, and second degree assault. He was convicted on all four counts following a bench trial. Appellant was then sentenced to 25 years, with all but 10 years suspended, for sexual abuse of a minor. The judge imposed no sentence for the conviction of third degree sexual offense, and the remaining counts merged. Appellant was also ordered to serve five years of supervised probation upon release and to register as a sexual offender. On this timely appeal, Appellant raised the following questions:

1. Was the evidence insufficient to convict Appellant [of sexual abuse of a minor] where the State failed to prove that he had temporary care of a minor
2. Did the court err in admitting hearsay

For the following reasons, we hold that the evidence was sufficient to sustain Appellant's conviction for sexual abuse of a minor. We further hold that, although the court erred in admitting some hearsay testimony that was beyond the scope of the exception for a complaint of sexually assaultive behavior, the testimony that exceeded the exception did not contribute to the trial judge's finding that Appellant had committed the crimes with which he was charged, and the error was therefore harmless. We shall affirm the judgments of the circuit court.


A minor girl whom we shall refer to as "J." testified that, on or around July 18, 2020, when she was twelve-years-old, she accompanied her friend's family on a trip to stay three


nights in Ocean City, Maryland, in a rented condominium unit, or "condo."[1] The family group with whom J. would be staying included her similar-aged friend, a girl whom we shall call "T.," as well as T's mother, T's younger brother, and Appellant (who was T's stepfather).[2] Part of the trip included a family gathering to celebrate T.'s twelfth birthday, which was attended by these family members, as well as T.'s uncle and his girlfriend, who were not identified at trial, and T.'s grandparents.[3]

With respect to how it came about that J. was part of T.'s family trip to Ocean City, J. testified that she first learned of the event when T. invited her to go on the trip with her family. J. then asked her mother for permission, and J.'s mother then spoke to T.'s mother. After the mothers had conversed, J.'s mother told J. she could go on the trip.

J. testified that, during the stay in Ocean City, T.'s mother took her and T. (and T.'s brother) to Jolly Roger's Amusement Park, as well as to the beach and boardwalk. There was no evidence that Appellant accompanied J. during these excursions.

The first night after they arrived in Ocean City, J. went to the boardwalk with T., T.'s brother, and T.'s grandparents. When they returned to the condo, they found T.'s


mother and the uncle's girlfriend waiting for them. Meanwhile, Appellant and T.'s uncle went elsewhere and had not returned by the time J. went to bed that evening.

The condo had three bedrooms and the sleeping arrangements were as follows: J. and T. slept in one room on bunk beds they placed together; Appellant and T.'s mother stayed in another bedroom; and T.'s uncle and his girlfriend occupied the third bedroom. T.'s grandparents slept on the sectional couch. T.'s brother slept either with his mother or in the bedroom with J. and T.

J. testified that, on the first night there, she fell asleep between 1:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. But, during the night, J. woke up when she heard "a big thump" in her bedroom. She looked toward the hallway and saw Appellant-wearing only boxer shorts-get up off the floor in her bedroom and leave the girls' room.[4]

J. went back to sleep, but woke up again when she felt "something" on her legs. In her testimony, she said that, after she woke up, she could feel that someone was "licking" her legs and there were "like, teeth, like, sucking on my toe." J. testified that then, "he, like, puts his hands underneath the blanket that I was sleeping with, and I feel him touching my private part." J. continued:

And then I feel his hand go underneath the blanket and started touching my private part. Everything just happened really quick. And then he started to get on top of me. That's when I pinched my best friend [T.], because she's, like, a really deep sleeper. I didn't know what to do, so I just pinched her and that's when she woke up and she was, like, ["]ow, [J.].["] That's when he got off of me and, like, went out. And I knew it was him because of the hallway, the light was on, so I saw that it was him.
And then that's when I got up real quick to lock the door. And I just heard him trying to come back in because he was, like, moving the doorknob, and he kind of got mad - not mad, but he just went, like, (indicating) and then left.

At trial, J. identified Appellant as her assailant, and clarified that, when he touched her vagina, "[i]t was the bottom of my vagina, but it was, like, he was touching it because I had clothes on. He didn't go underneath my clothes." J. was wearing shorts and underwear at the time. She maintained that Appellant was "kind of touching, like, circling around my vagina." J. further explained that, when Appellant was on top of her, "his hands were, like, beside me, like, kind of like in a pushup position."

She acknowledged that she did not say anything, but noted that T. did after she pinched her awake, and that was when Appellant left the room. After that, J. immediately told T. that "your dad came in and tried doing stuff to me[,]" but T. did not understand, so J. told her to go back to sleep and she would tell her in the morning.

The next day, J. told T. what happened. T. was in "shock," started crying, and wanted to tell an adult, but J. declined. J. testified that she thought it would "ruin our relationship."

After the trip, Appellant started sending messages to J., and continued to do so until sometime in September. He first contacted her through the TikTok app.[5] J. testified that,


in one of these messages, Appellant "would say, like, don't tell our family. Like, it would destroy our family."

At another point, Appellant told J. that he worked for Gucci and he was going to give her a pair of Gucci shoes.

J. said that, at some point, Appellant asked for her cell phone number, and J. gave Appellant her number. Appellant then began sending text messages to her cell phone. At one point, while J. was out with one of her aunts, "Aunt J.", she received a text from Appellant, asking J. for her picture. J. sent him one, and in return, Appellant sent her a picture of himself, shirtless. J. testified that she "got freaked out[,]" and told Aunt J. about the texts.

J. also testified that, on another occasion, near midnight, she was with her grandmother when Appellant tried to call her cell phone. She testified she "got weirded out[,]" and blocked him. J. deleted the texts, as well as the messages from TikTok, and, until September 29, 2020, she did not tell anyone other than T. about what happened in Ocean City.[6]

J. testified that, after the Ocean City trip, the two families-J.'s family and T.'s family, including Appellant-continued to spend time together. For instance, sometime near the end of September 2020, the families went to a winery to celebrate T.'s mother's birthday. After that, J. went with T. to T.'s grandmother's house where J. and T. again


discussed the Ocean City incident. T. wanted J. to report it, but J. still declined. J. eventually reported the July incident to her mother on September 29, 2020, a few days after this winery trip.

J. also testified that, after the incident, sometime between July and September 2020, she went to T.'s house one time. Appellant was present, as was T.'s grandmother and uncle. J. testified that was the only time she went to T.'s house because, other than that, "nobody was there to take care of me." She confirmed that she felt safe then "[b]ecause I knew he wouldn't do anything, and it was, like, daytime" and she was "only there for a little bit."

On cross-examination, J. was asked several clarifying questions about how long the incident took, what type of shorts she was wearing, whether Appellant touched her anywhere else or said anything, whether she smelled alcohol, whether she noticed anything unusual about Appellant, or whether he was naked. She was asked what time it was when Appellant left and she testified she checked her phone and saw that it was 2:00 a.m. She was also asked other clarifying questions on cross, some of which added details about the incident, such as the fact that Appellant touched J.'s vagina with his left hand, but none of which significantly contradicted her direct examination.

J. acknowledged that, prior to the trip to Ocean City, she never went anywhere with Appellant alone. And she said that she had never been left in Appellant's care. She testified that she did go with T. and Appellant to a sporting goods store on one previous occasion, but, she recalled, that was a "long time ago[,]" and was "only for an hour."


T.'s grandmother (Appellant's mother-in-law) testified she was present in the Ocean City condominium unit when Appellant returned with her son late the night of the incident. The men were both intoxicated. T.'s grandmother testified that she saw Appellant stumble down the hallway leading to the three bedrooms, and she heard him inside the girls' bedroom. She then heard him vomiting in his own bedroom.

J.'s friend T. testified that...

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