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State v. Starling

Superior Court of Delaware

January 26, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
CHAUNCEY STARLING, Defendant.

          Submitted: January 25, 2017

         Upon State's Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony of Forensic Investigation Expert Robert Tressel DENIED.

         Upon Starling's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Starling's Nickname GRANTED.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE ANDREA L. ROCANELLI JUDGE.

         This case arises from the deaths of Darnell Evans and Damon Gist Jr. on March 9, 2001. On October 24, 2003, following trial, a jury found Defendant Chauncey Starling guilty of two counts of Murder in the First Degree. Starling was subsequently sentenced to death.

         On December 14, 2016, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed Starling's convictions and remanded the case to this Court for a new trial. On remand, the parties have presented numerous evidentiary challenges. This is the Court's decision regarding (1) the State's Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony of Starling's Forensic Investigation Expert Robert Tressel; and (2) Starling's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Starling's Nickname.

         Upon consideration of the parties' submissions; the Superior Court Criminal Rules; the facts, arguments, and legal authorities set forth by the parties; statutory and decisional law; and the entire record in this case, the Court hereby finds as follows:

         1. On March 9, 2001, Darnell Evans, an adult, and Damon Gist Jr., a five-year old child, were shot to death at the Made-4-Men Barbershop on Fourth Street between Market and Shipley Streets in Wilmington, Delaware.

         2. On April 27, 2001, following an investigation, Starling was arrested for the shootings. On November 5, 2001, a grand jury indicted Starling for two counts of Murder in the First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm during Commission of a Felony, and one count of Conspiracy in the First Degree.

         3. On October 24, 2003, following trial, a jury convicted Starling on each count of the indictment. The jury unanimously agreed on the existence of three statutory aggravating circumstances[1] and unanimously recommended the death penalty. On June 10, 2004, Starling was sentenced to death for the murders of Darnell Evans and Damon Gist Jr.[2]

         4. On February 8, 2005, Starling filed a direct appeal from his conviction and sentence to the Delaware Supreme Court. By Opinion dated August 16, 2005, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Starling's conviction but vacated his death sentence.[3] The Delaware Supreme Court remanded the case to the Superior Court for resentencing.[4]

         5. On October 2, 2005, the Superior Court resentenced Starling to death for each count of Murder in the First Degree. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Starling's death sentences on Starling's second direct appeal.[5]

         6. In April 2007, Starling filed three motions for postconviction relief as a self-represented litigant pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 61. The Court appointed counsel ("Rule 61 Counsel") to represent Starling during postconviction proceedings.

         7. On April 1, 2008, Rule 61 Counsel filed an amended motion for postconviction relief. Thereafter, the parties submitted numerous motions and responses and the Court held numerous hearings. Supplemental briefing for Starling's motion for postconviction relief concluded on May 30, 2014. By Memorandum Opinion dated August 28, 2014, this Court denied Starling's motion for postconviction relief.[6]

         8. On September 22, 2014, Starling filed a direct appeal from this Court's Memorandum Opinion denying Starling's motion for postconviction relief. By Opinion dated December 14, 2015, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and remanded Starling's convictions, granting Starling a new trial.[7]

         9. On remand for a new trial, the State seeks to exclude the testimony of Starling's forensic investigation expert Robert Tressel at trial. Although the State expressly recognizes that Tressel is a qualified forensic investigator, the State contends that Tressel's opinion is not relevant to this particular case, will not assist the trier of fact, and has the potential to confuse the jury. The State asserts that Tressel's opinion is baseless, and amounts to conclusory "Monday morning quarterbacking" of the investigation that led to Starling's arrest. The State asserts that the propriety of the Starling investigation can be adequately addressed through cross-examination of investigating detectives, who are in the best position to answer questions regarding the investigation in this case.

         10. The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Delaware Rule of Evidence ("DRE") 702, which provides:

If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.[8]

         11. The Delaware Supreme Court has ruled that the admissibility of expert testimony under DRE 702 is governed by the same test set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.[9]Consistent with Daubert, the Court considers a five-step test to ...


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