Wright v. State, 73

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation349 Md. 334,708 A.2d 316
Docket NumberNo. 73,73
PartiesRodney Wade WRIGHT v. STATE of Maryland. ,
Decision Date01 September 1997

Page 334

349 Md. 334
708 A.2d 316
Rodney Wade WRIGHT
STATE of Maryland.
No. 73, Sept. Term, 1997.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
April 17, 1998.

[708 A.2d 317]

Page 336

Mark Colvin, Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner.

Kathryn Grill Graeff, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), Baltimore, for respondent.

Argued before BELL, C.J., ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, RAKER and WILNER, JJ., and ROBERT L. KARWACKI, Judge (retired), Specially Assigned.

WILNER, Judge.

Rodney Wright was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Charles County of second degree rape, second and third degree sexual offense, and child abuse, for which he was given varying terms of imprisonment. The judgments were affirmed by the Court of Special Appeals. We granted certiorari to consider two questions: (1) whether the trial court erred in allowing, as rebuttal evidence, an inculpatory statement that Wright made to Louis Hurt, a one-time cell-mate at the county detention center; and (2) whether, for purposes of the child abuse conviction, Wright qualified as a "household member," within the meaning of Maryland Code, Article 27, § 35C (1957, 1996 Repl.Vol.). 1 We shall answer both questions in the

Page 337

affirmative and therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals and remand the case for retrial.

In June, 1995, Wright was living in Bel Alton with Shirley Thompson and Shirley's two children, Latara, age 4, and Rhonda, age 2. The victim in the case was Shirley's younger sister, Queen Champion, who was then 12 years old. Queen lived with her mother (Juanita Thompson), her stepfather, and her two younger sisters about 15 miles away, in Indian Head. Following the end of the school term and with her mother's consent, she went to stay with Shirley for part of the summer. There is some dispute as to when she actually arrived. Juanita Thompson said that Shirley came to get her around June 10 or June 13, which conforms with Queen's recollection, and, for purposes of this appeal, we shall assume that to be the case. Initially, the stay was to be for two weeks, but it was extended to July 10. At some point near the end of June, a friend of Queen's, Tomika Dorsey, came to stay for about a week. Queen and Tomika occasionally played outside but also helped care for Shirley's children.

On June 28, Shirley left the home at about 8:30 a.m. to keep an appointment at the health department. In the home at the time were Wright, Queen, Tomika, Latara, and Rhonda. Queen testified that, while Rhonda was sleeping and Tomika and Latara were taking a bath, she was watching television. When the TV began "acting up," Queen asked Wright, who was in his bedroom, if he could fix it. According to Queen, as she was leaving Wright's room, he called her back, pushed her on to the bed, and locked the door. He held her down on the bed, removed her shorts and underwear, performed cunnilingus, and then had sexual intercourse with her. She said that she was squirming, kicking, screaming, and attempting to get away, to no avail. At some point, one of the other children began knocking on the door, asking to come in, but Wright continued. Not until he heard Shirley returning did he relent, jump up, and put on his clothes. Queen ran into the bathroom and noticed blood "and some slimy stuff" coming from [708 A.2d 318] her

Page 338

vagina. Wright, she said, warned her not to tell anyone what happened, or he would "slam [her] head into the wall."

Although Queen said that she called for Shirley to come into the bathroom, Shirley responded instead to Wright. Thereafter, Queen said nothing. Her mother came to get her on July 10, after somehow learning from one of her other daughters that Wright had "fooled with" Queen, but it was not until Queen was home that she informed her mother what had happened. Ms. Thompson took her daughter to the hospital, where she was examined. The doctor found one tear of the hymen which, the doctor later testified, indicated a single incident of intercourse.


The Statement To Louis Hurt

After his arrest, Wright was incarcerated in the county detention center. His cell-mate for part of that time was one Louis Hurt, who was facing carjacking and robbery charges. According to Hurt, although Wright was initially reluctant to discuss the charges against him, he eventually told Hurt a story that was largely consistent with Queen's version of what had occurred. It was, in every respect, a full confession. Although Hurt was listed as a witness by the State, he did not testify, and was not even mentioned, in the State's case-in-chief. The State's case consisted of the testimony of Queen, her mother, and the doctor who examined Queen at the hospital. Queen's account was thus corroborated principally by the testimony of the doctor that she was not a virgin and that the tear to her hymen indicated only one penetration. In cross-examination, the suggestion was planted that Queen may have had intercourse with a boyfriend which, if true, could also explain her vaginal condition.

That defense was pursued in Wright's case, in large part through the testimony of one of Queen's girlfriends, Crystal Hill, who said that, in June, 1995, Queen had told her that Queen and her boyfriend, Damian, had had intercourse on one

Page 339

occasion. 2 Queen also told her that she (Queen) and Wright had "had sex," although Queen said nothing about being raped. Wright was the last defense witness. On direct examination, he denied having had sexual intercourse with Queen; he denied pushing her on the bed and removing her clothing; he denied having oral sex with her; and he denied removing his own clothes in Queen's presence. He was not asked about Louis Hurt or whether he had made any statements to Hurt. He acknowledged having spoken with a police detective when he was arrested on July 10, identified the written statement given to the detective, and was questioned about some aspects of it, although the statement itself was never offered into evidence. On cross-examination, he was asked, for the first time, whether he knew Hurt, and he acknowledged that he did. He also acknowledged having talked to Hurt about this case, although not about what his testimony would be. When asked whether he trusted Hurt sufficiently to tell him "about what happened," Wright objected, and, at the bench, the prosecutor made a proffer:

"First, he told him, I am in on these charges, they charged me with this. Then he talked to him later and the defendant said, it is her mother, the mother is behind this. He talked to him a month later and he said, I will tell you what happened, and he told him the entire thing that happened, him and Shirley were having problems, she was out of the house that day. He wanted to get a nut so he had sex with Queen."

The court overruled the objection, declaring that the State could ask "about any admissions he may have made." Upon further questioning, Wright again admitted having talked to Hurt about the charges and even about Queen's mother, but he denied telling him "that what happened was that you and Shirley were having some problems, and you just wanted to get a nut so Queen was there and you had sex with Queen." On redirect examination, he said that he knew Hurt and did

Page 340

not trust him. He said that Hurt was aware of the charges against him--Wright had a copy of the charges with him in jail and Hurt had seen them--but that, when Hurt [708 A.2d 319] questioned him about the charges, he "just told him to mind his business."

Immediately upon the conclusion of Wright's testimony, which ended the defense case, the State called Hurt as a rebuttal witness. Over objection, Hurt was permitted to testify essentially as the prosecutor had proffered. Omitting intervening questions, he said:

"[Wright] told me that him and his girlfriend were having problems between each other. She left ... to go to the health department, took one of the children with her. He was left in the house with him and his other daughter and ... Shirley's sister ... Shirley was gone. She left. He was in the living room playing with his daughter and Shirley's sister asked him could he fix the antenna in the bedroom. He went to fix the antenna and he started to think to himself the girl looks pretty good. He went behind her and said he pushed her on the bed and started to have oral sex with her and she started screaming, saying stop. He said he just want to get a nut."

Hurt continued that, in addition to having oral sex, Wright admitted having vaginal intercourse with Queen and stopped only when Shirley's car pulled up. Wright also said that he threatened Queen if she said anything.

There are a number of nuances and distinctions that need to be considered in this case, but the ultimate question is whether it is permissible for the State to withhold from its case-in-chief an inculpatory statement by the defendant bearing directly and substantively on the defendant's guilt, set the stage for using the statement in rebuttal by asking the defendant on cross-examination whether the defendant ever made such a statement, and then using the statement in rebuttal if the defendant denies having made it. The answer depends on the nature of the statement, what it is intended to rebut, whether it is being offered as substantive or impeachment evidence,

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and whether it really could have been used in the State's case-in-chief.

The general rule, of long standing in Maryland, is that "the plaintiff [which in a criminal case is the State] must put in the whole of his evidence upon every point or issue which he opens, before the defendant proceeds with the evidence on his part." Maurice v. Worden, 54 Md. 233, 251 (1880). It may not "go into half of its case and reserve the remainder, but is obliged to develop the whole." Cumb. & Penn. R.R. Co. v. Slack, 45 Md. 161,...

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