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State v. Clark

Superior Court of Delaware

February 13, 2017

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
VINCENT CLARK, Defendant.

          Submitted: December 22, 2016

         Upon Consideration of the State's Motion to Admit Out of Court Statements GRANTED in Part and DENIED in Part

          Brian J. Robertson, Esquire and Christina M. Kontis, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for the State of Delaware.

          Dade D. Werb, Esquire and David C. Skoranski, Esquire, Office of Defense Services, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for the Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BUTLER, J.

          STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         The facts necessary to understand the issues in this case take us through the parking lot of a north Wilmington apartment complex, through a police station and eventually to the tragic death of the State's star witness, who is now unavailable to tell the story of what happened. Her death has caused an evidentiary quagmire that the State has asked the Court to rule on pretrial. The Court will do so by first discussing the story of the case, as understood through the lens of the deceased witness' statements.

         Molly Hoffman was a nearby Pennsylvania resident whose life put her in contact with drug addiction and its attendant personalities. By December, 2015, she had prior convictions for shoplifting and was actively on probation in Pennsylvania from a drug conviction. She had been to rehab, had been on home confinement, yet continued to battle her demons. She was living in the basement of her sister's house, trying to stay clean; her success cannot be claimed with any certainty.

         On December 3, 2015, Ms. Hoffman asked her sister Michelle to drop Molly off at the family doctor's office for a routine visit, assuring her sister that she would get a ride home from someone else. Michelle was acutely aware of Molly's drug use but believed Molly was capable of getting a ride. Once Michelle left Molly, Molly proceeded to her doctor's appointment and contacted "Martin" (not otherwise specified) who lived in the Brandywine Apartments in North Wilmington, a short drive away from the doctor's office. Martin invited Molly to visit and asked Molly to obtain illegal drugs (cocaine) for him to ingest when she arrived. Molly agreed to Martin's request.

         Molly knew at least two individuals who could satisfy Martin's request: Jamai White and Vincent Clark. Molly called Jamai White to request $60 in crack, but the battery on White's phone apparently died mid-order and she was unable to be certain the arrangement had been solidified. After waiting a while near the doctor's office to see if White got the message clearly, she tried Vincent Clark. Clark responded affirmatively and offered to pick up Molly and bring her to Brandywine Apartments.

         According to Molly, Vincent Clark and a female picked her up in Clark's car and drove her to Brandywine Apartments. Along the way, they engaged in casual conversation. At one point Clark asked Molly if she had seen Jamai White, who had recently been in custody. Molly told Clark she had heard that White was out of jail, and Vincent Clark asked Molly to reach out to Jamai White and ask him to bring the $60 in cocaine to the Brandywine Apartments.

         We pause briefly here to note the obvious: Molly already had $60 in cocaine that she was procuring from Vincent Clark. She had no more money and did not want another $60 in cocaine from Jamai White. According to Molly's subsequent statements, she knew Clark and White were acquainted and assumed (incorrectly) that Clark simply wanted to see White to say hello. She did not question why Clark wanted her to order drugs from White, an odd request indeed given Clark's status as a drug dealer himself. She accepted uncritically why Clark wanted her to engage in this ruse with White, and obliged Clark anyway.

         It was a fateful error. When Molly and Vincent Clark got to the Brandywine Apartments, she still had not heard back from Jamai White with his dead phone battery. Clark left, asking Molly to get in touch with him if and when Jamai White contacted her. Martin came out of his apartment, paid Clark for the cocaine and Martin and Molly proceeded into Martin's apartment.

         Just a few minutes later, Jamai White phoned Molly and, as requested, she asked White if he could still deliver the $60 worth of cocaine they had previously discussed to her at the Brandywine Apartments. White agreed. Molly immediately called Clark, who told her he was still in the parking lot and Clark would see White when he arrived.

         When White arrived at the apartment complex, he pulled up in a pickup truck that Molly did not immediately recognize. She approached the truck to confirm it was indeed White, at which point she realized Clark was approaching the truck on foot. Clark fired multiple shots into the truck, hitting White and causing his demise.

          Exactly where Molly was as the shots were fired is not entirely clear, despite numerous statements recounting the event. What is certain, however, is that she was very quickly back in Martin's apartment. Clark had left for points unknown. Within minutes of returning to the apartment, she got a phone call from Clark threatening her life if she reported anything she had seen and directing her to get rid of her phone. Molly quickly removed the SIM card from the phone and flushed it down the toilet. She then put the phone between the cushions in Martin's apartment.

         Police swarmed the area and knocked on Martin's door. She and Martin avowed they knew nothing about what had happened in the parking lot, but it was all a bit much for Molly. She walked away from the complex and, borrowing a friend's phone, she called her sister Michelle for a ride out of the area. Michelle arrived shortly and quickly realized that Molly had been through an ordeal. Molly gave Michelle a somewhat truncated version of what had happened, at which point Michelle told Molly it was essential that she return to the scene and tell the police what she knew.

         Michelle and Molly flagged down one of the swarming County police officers. The officer drove her to the police station and while doing so, switched on an audio recorder. Thus, Molly gave her first recorded statement concerning what had just happened. It is beyond question that her mental state was one of extreme agitation and her statement was disjointed, punctuated by frequent bursts of'OhmyGod."

         The County officer brought Molly to the police station where she gave her second audio recorded statement to a detective. By then, and over the course of the statement, she calmed down to the point that she was able to convey a fairly consistent, coherent - if not entirely logical - version of what happened.

         After her interviews in December 2015, Molly Hoffman was sent home while the investigation continued. It is unknown whether and when Ms. Hoffman relapsed into her drug addiction. What is known is that on August 16, 2016, Molly died of a fatal dose of chemicals. We are told she succumbed to an opioid analgesic called U-47700, which has a street name of "Pink, " a drug with 7.5 times the potency of heroin.

         After Molly Hoffman's death, the police called her sister Michelle into the police station to give a recorded statement concerning her conversation with Molly in those moments after she picked up Molly on December 3, 2015 and before she contacted the police a short time later. This statement can thus be called "Statement 1" because Molly made it closest to the event, or "Statement 3" because it is the last one procured by the police.

         The State correctly surmises that Molly's death casts the admissibility of any of her prior statements in doubt and has sought a ruling from the Court. Arguments are pressed for the admissibility of all three, and they coalesce around common themes: D.R.E. 803(1) (present sense impression) D.R.E. 803(2) (excited utterance) and D.R.E. 807 (the residual exception). But the "elephant in the room" as to all of them is Crawford v. Washington[1] and the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the Confrontation Clause. For if a statement violates the Confrontation Clause, it matters not that it may "fit" within a hearsay exception.

         ANALYSIS

         1. THE ...


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