Submitted June 4, 2014.
Revised: July 28, 2014.
Case Closed July 31, 2014.
Court Below -- Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for Kent County. Cr. I.D. 1210010232.
Nicole Walker, Esquire, Office of the Public Defender, Wilmington, Delaware, for appellant.
John Williams, Esquire, Department of Justice, Dover, Delaware, for appellee.
Before STRINE, Chief Justice, HOLLAND and BERGER, Justices.
The defendant-appellant, Ronald Luttrell, appeals from his convictions in the Superior Court of one count of Attempted Rape in the First Degree, three counts of Unlawful Sexual Contact in the First Degree, one count of Attempted Unlawful Sexual Contact in the First Degree, and two counts of Indecent Exposure.
Luttrell raises two claims in this direct appeal. First, Luttrell claims that the Superior Court abused its discretion when it failed to grant his motion for a bill of particulars, because the indictment did not clearly delineate the acts for which he was being prosecuted or when they occurred, and therefore it did not allow him to adequately prepare a defense or protect him from double jeopardy. Second, Luttrell contends that the Superior Court committed plain error when it allowed impermissible " vouching" evidence to be presented to the jury.
We have concluded that the Superior Court abused its discretion in denying Luttrell's motion for a bill of particulars. We also conclude that the admission of vouching evidence constituted plain error. Therefore, the Superior Court's judgment of convictions must be reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial.
On September 20, 2012, Lisa Dear walked in on her son, 10-year-old TF,
exposing himself to his cousin, a 5-year-old girl. Dear was furious with TF and testified that she slapped him, yelled at him for his behavior, and asked him what was wrong with him and where he had learned to do that. TF then began crying and informed Dear that, during a weekend that TF had spent at his grandmother's mobile home in July 2012, Luttrell -- a friend of his grandmother's who had been sleeping on his grandmother's couch because he did not have a home -- had touched him inappropriately. Dear stopped yelling at TF, hugged him, and then called the police, who came and took TF's complaint against Luttrell.
TF was later interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center (" CAC" ). TF stated that he had spent the weekend of July 14, 2012 with his grandmother, Cheryl Elmore, and that he slept in the living room of Elmore's mobile home. TF's grandmother, her husband, and their dog, a Chihuahua that the grandmother testified yelps a lot, all slept in the mobile home's bedroom with the door open. TF said that on Friday night -- presumably the night of July 13, 2012 -- he was sleeping on the couch when Luttrell came home drunk, woke him up, and told him to lock the front door.
TF claimed that after he locked the front door and went back to sleep, Luttrell woke him again and attempted, unsuccessfully, to force TF to have sexual contact with him; force TF to perform oral sex on him; and perform oral sex on TF. TF claimed that he escaped to the adjacent bathroom and locked the door. TF also said that at some point during the night, he complained to his grandmother about Luttrell's actions and that after he did so his grandmother left in the middle of the night to go to Wawa to get herself a cup of coffee and to get TF a slushy.
Later in the CAC interview, TF said that Luttrell committed similar acts of molestation the following night on Saturday, July 14, 2012. TF told the CAC interviewer that, on Saturday night, Luttrell climbed through an open window and into Elmore's mobile home because the front door was locked. Among other allegations, TF claimed that he was sleeping on his stomach when Luttrell removed TF's pants and anally penetrated him. TF claimed that he got away from Luttrell and locked himself in the bathroom on Saturday night as well. As with the prior evening, TF's grandmother, her husband, and the dog were all present in the mobile home during the alleged assault. TF stated that he slept in the bathroom on both Friday and Saturday night.
On October 15, 2012, Detective Daniel Wright obtained a warrant for Luttrell's arrest based upon TF's CAC interview. Luttrell was subsequently taken to the police station -- though he was not yet under arrest -- where he voluntarily chose to speak with Detective Wright. During the interview, Luttrell denied having either molested or raped TF and cooperated with Detective Wright's requests for information. But Luttrell, who did not have a home and was a transient, had difficulty remembering where he was on particular days. Luttrell is reportedly illiterate and suffers from alcoholism.
Other people had already informed Luttrell that he was accused of molesting TF during the weekend after Elmore's wedding. Luttrell first told Detective Wright that he had been in Dallas, Texas that weekend. Then, after Detective Wright specifically told Luttrell that the dates in question were July 20 and 21, 2012, Luttrell said that he had been staying at Elmore's neighbor's house that weekend. But Luttrell admitted that he spent one night at Elmore's house when TF was present. Luttrell told Detective Wright that TF slept on the couch, while he slept
on the loveseat, and that nothing improper happened between the two of them. After his interview with Detective Wright, ...