Wilson v. State

Citation764 A.2d 284,136 Md. App. 27
Decision Date02 November 2000
Docket Number No. 1892
PartiesGarrett Eldred WILSON v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

764 A.2d 284
136 Md.
App. 27

Garrett Eldred WILSON
STATE of Maryland

Nos. 1892, Sept. Term, 1999.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

November 2, 2000.

Reconsideration Denied January 31, 2001.

764 A.2d 288
John L. Kopolow, Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant

Steven L. Holcomb, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Atty. Gen., Baltimore, and Douglas Gansler, State's Attorney for Montgomery County, Rockville, on the brief), for appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, Chief Judge, HOLLANDER and KENNEY, JJ.

764 A.2d 285
764 A.2d 286

764 A.2d 287

In July 1999, Garrett Eldred Wilson, appellant, was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County of first-degree murder in connection with the 1987 death of his infant son, Garrett Michael Wilson. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Questions Presented

Appellant presents six questions for our review:

1. Did the trial judge err in admitting expert testimony which encroached on the jury's function to judge credibility and resolve contested facts?

2. Did the trial judge err in admitting statistical evidence and the expert opinions based on that evidence?

3. Did the trial judge take inadequate corrective action when, in closing argument, the State's Attorney misrepresented a statistical computation as the probability of appellant's innocence?

4. Did the trial judge err in prohibiting the defense expert from presenting a basis for his opinion?

5. Was the evidence rebutting the findings stated in the original death certificates admitted in violation of applicable statutes?

6. Did the trial judge err in admitting evidence of appellant's alleged murder of his infant daughter six years before the alleged murder in this case?

We answer these questions in the negative and shall affirm.

Factual Background

In 1976 or 1977, when appellant was twenty years old, he began a sexual relationship with Deborah Oliver Fennell, who was then 13 years old. She testified that appellant "wooed" her by buying her gifts and by leading a relatively expensive lifestyle. Ms. Fennell became pregnant five times in the next three years and, at appellant's behest, aborted the first four pregnancies. Appellant wanted Ms. Fennell to abort the fifth pregnancy, but the doctor they consulted refused because Ms. Fennell was five months pregnant. The couple then married; Ms. Fennell was 15 years old and appellant was 22.

Ms. Fennell, whose pregnancy was without complications, testified that, when she was seven months pregnant, appellant asked her if she would be "okay" if "anything ever happened to the baby." On February 25, 1981, Ms. Fennell gave birth to a daughter, Brandi Jean Wilson. According to Ms. Fennell and her parents, Jean and Kyle Oliver, Brandi was a very healthy baby.

Within four weeks of Brandi's birth, appellant, without his wife's knowledge, purchased from two separate insurance companies four days apart two life insurance policies in the amounts of $10,000 and $30,000 on Brandi's life. Appellant was the primary beneficiary for both policies. The insurance agents testified that, if appellant had told them he was getting two policies, their companies probably would not have sold them to him.

764 A.2d 289
Appellant did not feed Brandi or change her diapers, and he did not get up during the night to care for her. On the night of April 30, 1981, Ms. Fennell had a cold, and appellant gave her three or four pills that he said were vitamins. After taking the pills, Ms. Fennell slept through the entire night, which she had not done since Brandi's birth. That night was the first and only time appellant took care of the baby. Mrs. Oliver had offered to babysit Brandi, as she had often done in the past, while Ms. Fennell rested, but appellant said that he would care for Brandi.

Between approximately 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on April 30, 1981, Brandi died. At approximately 6 a.m. appellant, rather than calling 911 or waking Ms. Fennell, called the Olivers and told them that Brandi was dead and that they should come over to appellant's house. Mrs. Oliver told appellant to call 911, and she and Mr. Oliver left for appellant's house. Although the fire station was approximately halfway between the Olivers' house and appellant's house, and although the Olivers had to dress before coming, they arrived before the paramedics. Mark Cashman, the first paramedic to enter Brandi's room, testified that he could tell immediately by her stiffness and blue color that she was dead.

Ms. Fennell slept so soundly she was not awakened by the arrival of her parents or the police officers who followed. Her mother shook her awake.

Ms. Fennell testified that she put Brandi in the crib on her stomach. In the crib with Brandi were pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, and a comforter. Brandi did not have the ability to roll herself over. The paramedic, Mr. Cashman, testified that, when he arrived, Brandi was lying face down in the crib. After an autopsy, Brandi's death was labeled as a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) death. Ms. Fennell, however, told family members and friends that she thought appellant was "involved" in Brandi's death. Ms. Fennell left appellant four months after Brandi's death, and they later divorced.

On the same morning Brandi died, appellant called the insurance agent who sold him one of the policies on Brandi's life and informed him of Brandi's death. Later that day, appellant played pool and then went flying with a friend. Several witnesses testified that appellant's demeanor after Brandi's death, including at the funeral, reflected a lack of emotion.

Soon after Brandi's death, appellant collected the $40,000 in insurance proceeds and made large purchases, including a new Trans Am. He never informed Ms. Fennell that he had insured the baby, or that he had received the proceeds. She did not learn about the insurance policies until after Brandi's death. One of Ms. Fennell's friends, who was dating the agent who sold appellant the $10,000 policy, told her about that policy sometime after Brandi's death. Ms. Fennell was told by police investigators about the other policy more than a decade after Brandi's death.

In 1986 appellant became engaged to two women, Mary Anastasi and Elizabeth Bahlmann, during the same period of time and scheduled weddings for March and June 1986. Ms. Bahlmann testified that appellant, who was then working as a salesman at a health club, frequently gave her expensive gifts and often persuaded her to pay for the gifts. In March 1986 he married Ms. Anastasi in Maryland, and in May 1986 he and Ms. Bahlmann filed for a marriage license in Virginia. On that same day, however, Ms. Bahlmann surreptitiously looked at papers in appellant's wallet and discovered that he was already married. Ms. Bahlmann informed appellant that he owed her $3,500 for the wedding preparations she had made and for the gifts he had purchased for her with her credit card. Appellant promised to pay this amount, and began making payments toward the total.

In late 1986 appellant began socializing with still another woman, Julie Stinger, giving her expensive gifts. He also persuaded her to lend him $5,250.

764 A.2d 290
Appellant also owed $1,000 to his uncle, Donald Ward.

Ms. Anastasi gave birth to appellant's son, Garrett Michael Wilson, on March 22, 1987. Ms. Anastasi testified that appellant interacted with the baby very infrequently, never feeding him or changing his diapers.

Within five weeks of Garrett Michael's birth, appellant approached two separate insurance companies and purchased two life insurance policies on the child's life in the amounts of $50,000 and $100,000. According to the insurance agents and the documents maintained by the insurance companies, appellant did not inform either company of the other insurance policy. Appellant was the primary beneficiary for both policies, and his wife was unaware of the policies until after he had purchased them.

Appellant discussed marriage with Ms. Stinger, but she eventually discovered that he was already married and had a child. She demanded that he repay the money she had lent him. Appellant told Ms. Stinger that he had not wanted a child and that Ms. Anastasi had had the baby against his wishes.

In August 1987, as appellant was preparing to go to Bethany Beach for a weekend with Ms. Anastasi and Garrett Michael, he spoke with Ms. Stinger, who was "pushing really hard" for the return of her money. Appellant told her he would have the money "soon" because he was "going to take care of it this weekend."

Ms. Anastasi had researched SIDS, because appellant told her that Brandi died of SIDS, and she thought the two babies' genetic similarities might make Garrett Michael susceptible to SIDS. On August 12, 1987, during the trip to Bethany Beach, Ms. Anastasi remarked to appellant that, as Garrett Michael was then five months old, he had made it to an age when SIDS deaths were far less common. In her words, he was "out of the woods." Appellant did not reply to her comment.

On August 13, 1987, after returning from the beach, appellant told Ms. Stinger that he would be getting the money to repay her "real soon." Garrett Michael died nine days later, at approximately 6 a.m. on August 22, 1987.

The morning of Garrett Michael's death was the first occasion appellant took care of him without Ms. Anastasi present. The couple was in bed when the baby cried. When Ms. Anastasi began to get up to feed the baby, appellant said that he would feed him. Ms. Anastasi was surprised because it was the first such offer appellant had made. When appellant went into Garrett Michael's room, Ms. Anastasi, listening via a room monitor, could hear footsteps approaching the crib, and then creaking sounds from a rocking chair in the nursery. The rocking-chair sounds continued for approximately seven minutes, and then she heard a...

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  • Pringle v. State, 705
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 28 November 2001
    ...appellant's statement, and his expertise in drug distribution, packaging and recognition. Similar to our findings in Wilson v. State, 136 Md.App. 27, 764 A.2d 284 (2000), Detective Massoni's expert opinion would not impinge on the jury's function to weigh credibility. Wilson, 136 Md.App. at......
  • Browne v. State
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    ...cited Wilson v. State, 136 Md.App. 27 (2000), rev'd on other grounds, 370 Md. 191 (2002), an opinion that followed the reasoning of Woods. In Wilson, the defendant was of murdering his five-month-old child by smothering the child, but there was "little to no physical evidence" to support th......
  • Whittington v. State, 1143
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    ...the circumstances that surround the death with the findings at the autopsy and any eyewitness accounts." Wilson v. State, 136 Md.App. 27, 764 A.2d 284, 295 (2000), rev'd on other grounds , 370 Md. 191, 803 A.2d 1034 (2002) ; see 40 Am.Jur. Trials p. 581 (1990).The defendant acknowledges tha......
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