Submitted: February 11, 2015
Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for Sussex County, No. 1301001320 A
Before STRINE, Chief Justice, HOLLAND, and VAUGHN, Justices.
On this 19th day of March 2015, it appears to the Court that:
(1) Defendant-below/Appellant David Watson appeals from Superior Court jury verdicts finding him guilty of three counts of First Degree Reckless Endangering, three counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, one count of Second Degree Conspiracy, and one count of Criminal Mischief. Watson raises two claims on appeal. First, he contends that the Superior Court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of uncharged "other crimes, wrongs or acts." He contends that such evidence was inadmissible under Delaware Rules of Evidence 404(b) and 403. Second, Watson contends that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of his tattoos and a poster board that he had painted, both of which depicted the number "187." As discussed below, the tattoos and poster board were offered by the State to prove that he intentionally fired a weapon at a police officer's home. We find no merit to Watson's claims. Accordingly, we affirm.
(2) At approximately 3:30 a.m. on December 27, 2012, Officer Clifford Dempsey of the Dewey Beach Police department was awakened in his home in Laurel, Delaware by two loud crashes. Officer Dempsey immediately checked on his nine and four-year old sons, who were sleeping in bunk beds in a separate room. Officer Dempsey then checked his daughter's bedroom, where he discovered a bullet hole in the bedroom window and damaged dry wall. In a room adjacent to his daughter's bedroom, Officer Dempsey found additional damage and what he thought to be a .30 caliber bullet on the floor. A Delaware State Police Evidence Detection Unit officer later examined the scene and discovered that someone had fired three rounds at Officer Dempsey's home. It was also determined that the bullet Officer Dempsey found was a 7.62x54r, steel-jacketed, Russian-manufactured round.
(3) On the same morning, about half an hour before the shooting at Officer Dempsey's home, someone fired shots at Deputy Sheriff Jennifer Hall's home in Maryland. Hall is a member of the Worchester County, Maryland Sheriffs Office and a resident of Wicomico County, Maryland. Police recovered a 7.62x54r, steel-jacketed, Russian-manufactured bullet from Deputy Sheriff Hall's kitchen.
(4) On December 10, 2012, a little more than two weeks prior to the shootings at Officer Dempsey's and Deputy Sheriff Hall's homes, someone had fired three shots at Deputy Chuck Bratten's home in Parsonsburg, Maryland, about four miles from the Delaware State line. Deputy Bratten works for the Wicomico County Sheriffs Office. At the scene of the shooting at Bratten's house, officers recovered several shotgun pellets. All three of the officers whose homes were fired upon had been issued marked police vehicles, which were parked outside of the officers' homes at the times of the shootings.
(5) On January 2, 2013, a Wicomico County Sheriffs deputy noticed a speeding vehicle near the Delaware line and followed the vehicle as it crossed into Delaware. Delaware police were notified and eventually pulled the vehicle over for speeding. Orrin Joudrey was the vehicle's driver. Police immediately noticed that Joudrey was intoxicated, and arrested him for driving under the influence. An inventory search of Joudrey's vehicle revealed camoflauge paint, two shotgun shells, and a Russian-manufactured, steel-jacketed 7.62x54r round.
(6) Joudrey informed police that he was on his way to Watson's house. After being confronted with the 7.62x54r round found in his vehicle and a video on his phone of Watson shooting a shotgun, Joudrey confessed that it was he and Watson who had fired shots at the homes of all three law enforcement officers. Police then executed search warrants on the homes of both Watson and Joudrey. From Watson's home, officers recovered a pistol grip shotgun, shotgun shells, a number of 7.62x54r rounds, and a Russian Mosin-Nagant 7.62 bolt action rifle with a 7.62x54r round still in the chamber. Officers also recovered a poster board with the number "187" spray-painted on it. At Joudrey's house, officers discovered a makeshift shooting range in the back yard that was littered with spent 7.62x54r shell casings and shotgun shells.
(7) The State's firearm expert determined that the 7.62x54r bullets recovered from Officer Dempsey's and Deputy Sheriff Hall's homes were fired from the Mosin-Nagant rifle found at Watson's house. The steel-jacketed 7.62x54r round recovered from Joudrey's vehicle was also consistent with the bullet found at Officer Dempsey's house. Watson and Joudrey were charged in Maryland and Delaware for the three shootings. Prior to trial, Joudrey entered into a plea regarding the charges stemming from the Delaware shooting and agreed to testify at Watson's Delaware trial.
(8) At Watson's Delaware trial, the Superior Court allowed the State to present evidence of the two Maryland shootings on the grounds that the incidents were committed by the same person, in the same manner, and were thus admissible under D.R.E. 404(b) to show that Watson's conduct was intentional or reckless and not an accident or mistake. In admitting the evidence, the trial court stated: "I think that the need for this is great in the sense that the State is attempting to establish this was no accident; this was no mistake; this was a reckless course of conduct or an intentional course of conduct that, fortunately, did not lead to a tragedy . . . ." The Superior Court also provided a limiting instruction which directed the jury to use the evidence of the Maryland shootings only to help determine Watson's state of mind in the instant case and not to infer that the defendant was "a bad person."
(9) Additionally, the Superior Court permitted the State to introduce photographs of two tattoos on Watson's arms and the spray-painted poster board recovered from Watson's basement depicting the number"! 87." Joudrey testified at trial that Watson believed the number "187" meant "officer down" or "murder on a cop." Watson offered no witnesses of his own on rebuttal.
(10) After a four and a half day trial, the jury returned the aforementioned guilty verdicts. Watson was thereafter sentenced to, inter alia, a cumulative term of confinement of 101 ...