Submitted: July 18, 2014
Upon Defendant's "Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, or Alternatively for a New Trial."
Upon Defendant's "Motion for Leave to Amend Previously filed Motion for a New Trial."
RICHARD R. COOCH, R.J.
Defendant Waymond Wright ("Defendant") has filed a "Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, or Alternatively for a New Trial" following his conviction of Robbery Second Degree and Conspiracy Second Degree. His convictions stem from an incident involving two co-defendants, Natasha L. Mahaley ("Mahaley") and Steven D. Huff ("Huff"). Subsequent to that motion, Defendant also filed a "Motion for Leave to Amend Previously Filed Motion for a New Trial." Defendant argues for a Judgment of Acquittal based on insufficient evidence to support his convictions.Alternatively, he requests a new trial because he alleges he was prejudiced by the partial testimony of a witness and a series of delays that Defendant attributes to the State. In Defendant's Motion to for Leave to Amend, he argues that a recent letter alleged to be from co-defendant Huff requires Amendment to his original Motion for New Trial to add that Huff offered perjured testimony at trial. Defendant also seeks an evidentiary hearing to explore issues related to both the trial delays and Huff's testimony. For the reasons set forth below, this Court DENIES the request for an evidentiary hearing and both motions.
II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Defendant, along with co-defendants Mahaley and Huff, began their joint trial on July 9, 2013. During jury selection, Defendant brought up, for the first time and via oral motion, the immigration status of the State's witnesses including the State's first witness and alleged robbery victim, Juan Ambrosio ("Ambrosio"). Discussion of the issue required significant delays, with the end result being that Ambrosio invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege after the start of his testimony. His testimony was stricken, separate charges involving an incident against Ambrosio (including a weapons charge) were dropped, and the jury was instructed to disregard his testimony. At the time, the Court stated "there are novel and complex issues presented, so we've had more recesses than ordinarily anyone would like, but I think it's been necessary to have taken the time."
On July 11, 2013, shortly after it became clear Ambrosio would not testify and some of the charges were dropped, Mahaley entered a guilty plea to Conspiracy Second Degree and the State's second witness Carlos Sanchez ("Sanchez") began to testify. The next day, Huff also entered a guilty plea to Conspiracy Second Degree and Robbery Second Degree.The jury was instructed not to attribute the delays in trial to the Defendant.
Both Mahaley and Huff testified for the State. After his conviction, Defendant filed his pending Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, or Alternatively for a New Trial.
On December 21, 2013, Defendant's counsel notified the Court of a handwritten, notarized letter he received that he alleges to be from Huff, which read as follows:
I'm writing to you in reference to Mr. Waymond Wright. I, Steven D. Huff was coerce [sic] into signing a plea to robbery 2nd and conspiracy 2nd in which I had nothing to do with due to the position my co-defendant Natasha Mahaley put me in. Mr. Waymond Wright did not have any involvement in the robbery.
Defendant subsequently filed his Motion for Leave to Amend Previously Filed Motion for a New Trial.
Huff has also, through appointed counsel, withdrawn a pro se previously filed Motion for Postconviction Relief. As a result of this Huff letter, the State filed perjury charges against Huff.
III. CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES
A. Defendant's Contentions
Defendant contends that there is insufficient evidence to support either of his convictions. Defendant asserts that there was no evidence of actual agreement to commit a robbery, and both of Mahaley and Huff testified that there was never an agreement to commit a robbery. Defendant further asserts that Sanchez's testimony about the robbery is too contradictory to support his conviction and other evidence presented only places Defendant at the scene.
Defendant also contends that both the stricken testimony of Ambrosio and the purposeful prosecutor actions that resulted in extensive trial delays mandate that he receive a new trial. Defendant contends that it was the State that failed to prepare for potential impeachment of Ambrosio, and the ensuing delays in dealing with related issues are its fault. Defendant claims that Ambrosio's partial testimony, though it was stricken and jurors were instructed to disregard it, prejudiced his case because it could be interpreted to allude to another, now stricken, crime involving Ambrosio as the victim. Defendant also argues that the extended delays at the start of his trial, first to react to the Ambrosio testimony and then to deal with subsequent guilty pleas from co-defendants Mahaley and Huff, further prejudiced his case. Defendant asserts the State caused the delays and then used those delays to aggressively improve its case, negotiating pleas with both co-defendants, to Defendant's detriment. Defendant requests an evidentiary hearing to explore the reasons for these delays.
As a result of Huff's letter, Defendant also requests to amend his original motion to include an argument that Huff's allegedly perjured testimony mandates a new trial. Defendant also requests an evidentiary hearing to question Huff and create a thorough record of his "new" testimony.
B. The State's Contentions
The State takes the position that there was more than enough evidence to support convictions on the charges. The State argues it "set forth five independent perspectives" that each, on their own, are enough to support conviction. Those five perspectives included "1) Extensive video surveillance and stillshots from the videos; 2) The testimony of store-owner witness Carlos Sanchez; 3) The testimony of co-defendant and accomplice Natasha Mahaley; 4) The testimony of co-defendant ...