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Sierra v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 7, 2014

LUIS SIERRA, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee

Submitted January 15, 2014.

Case Closed March 25, 2014.

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.

Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for New Castle County. Cr. I.D. No. 1006013865A.

Before HOLLAND, BERGER and RIDGELY, Justices.

OPINION

Carolyn Berger Justice

ORDER

This 7th day of March 2014, on consideration of the briefs and arguments of the parties, it appears to the Court that:

1) Luis Sierra appeals from his convictions, following a jury trial, of two counts of first degree murder, one count of first degree robbery, and related offenses. His sole argument on appeal is that certain communications between the bailiff and the jury were presumptively prejudicial and violated his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. We find no merit to this claim, and affirm.

2) On June 10, 2010, Anthony Bing, Jr. was shot three times and killed. The police arrested Sierra, Gregory Napier, and Tywaan Johnson. Napier pled guilty to manslaughter and other felonies. Johnson went to trial in 2011, and was found guilty on all counts. Sierra, who was the only defendant charged with capital murder, went to trial in January 2012. The jury found him guilty of all charges, but voted 11-1 in favor of a life sentence after the penalty hearing. The trial court sentenced Sierra to two life terms plus a term of years. This appeal followed.

3) Napier testified as a State's witness at Sierra's trial. Before he testified, the trial court expressed some concern about the witness's safety. Apparently in response to the court's comment, the prosecutor instructed the State's Chief Investigating Officer, Detective Michael Gifford, to turn around in his seat at counsel table and watch the spectators in the courtroom. Gifford stared at the gallery of spectators for about 1/2 hour, while Napier was testifying.

4) Court recessed after Napier's testimony, and a juror asked the bailiff why Gifford had turned his chair around, and whether what Gifford did was related to court procedures. According to that juror, the bailiff said something to the effect that Gifford was just turned that way and that there was no procedure involved. The bailiff then reported to the trial court that jurors had " expressed their curiosity" about Gifford's conduct, and that " [t]hey were all kind of, like, talking, yes, pretty much amongst each other" about " why the detective turned like that." [1] The trial court decided to conduct an individual voir dire with each juror. The bailiff reportedly returned to the jury room and asked the group " if any of [them] had noticed something weird or different during the trial." [2] The bailiff informed the jurors ...


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