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Ray v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

July 25, 2017

REUEL RAY, Defendant Below-Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below-Appellee.

          Submitted: June 7, 2017

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware ID No. 1210020570A

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VAUGHN and SEITZ, Justices.


         This 25th day of July, 2017, upon consideration of the parties' briefs, oral argument, and the record on appeal, it appears that:

         (1) Appellant, Reuel Ray, appeals his convictions of Murder in the First Degree and related offenses. He makes two arguments on appeal. First, he contends that the Superior Court abused its discretion by failing to grant a mistrial. The second contention, as framed by Ray, is that the Superior Court denied his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial by failing to give a contemporaneous cautionary instruction on the presumption of innocence and admonition to the jury to refrain from discussing the case prior to deliberations. For the reasons which follow, we reject Ray's contentions and affirm his convictions.

         (2) Ray was found guilty of murdering Craig Melancon with a hand gun in the Southbridge area of Wilmington. A co-defendant, Tyare Lee, participated with Ray in the murder. Before trial, Lee pled guilty to Murder in the Second Degree and agreed to testify against Ray. According to Lee's testimony at Ray's trial, the two planned to rob Melancon. When they approached him, Melancon reached for his pocket Ray and Lee then both fired their guns at Melancon, hitting him three times, causing his death. The State also presented the testimony of two witnesses who said that Ray admitted to them later that he shot Melancon.

         (3) Ray was charged with two counts of Murder in the First Degree (one count of intentional murder and one count of felony murder), one count of Attempted Robbery in the First Degree, six counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF"), one count of Conspiracy in the Second Degree, one count of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, and two counts of Criminal Solicitation in the Second Degree. The Person Prohibited charge was severed and not presented at trial. The jury acquitted Ray of the intentional murder count and two associated PFDCF charges. It convicted him of the felony murder charge and the other remaining charges. The State entered a nolle prosequi on two of the PFDCF charges at sentencing.

         (4) At trial, an issue discussed among the prosecutor, defense counsel, and the trial judge was a concern on the part of the State that Ray and members of his family were attempting to intimidate the State's witnesses. As a result of these discussions, the trial judge ruled that Ray's brother, Charles Ray, would not be permitted in the courtroom. In addition, a bailiff and a capitol policeman were stationed outside the courtroom to ascertain the identity of anyone entering the courtroom.

         (5) On the fifth day of trial, while co-defendant Lee was on the witness stand testifying on direct examination, a spectator entered the courtroom. Upon observing the spectator, the prosecutor, apparently concerned about the person's identity, requested a side bar. At the side bar, defense counsel expressed concern that the sudden request for a side bar when the spectator entered made "it look like we brought this guy in to try to intimidate the witness."[1] The trial judge decided to take a short recess, mentioning to defense counsel that he could request a cautionary instruction if he wished to do so.

         (6) After returning to the courtroom following the recess, the trial judge reported the following:

The Court: So [defense counsel] any application that you have I would be happy to hear, but before you make that application, I need to disclose now that the jury has expressed concern for their safety and wants to know why the recess was taken when that man walked into the room.[2]

         Defense counsel then moved for a mistrial:

Defense Counsel: I would make a motion for a mistrial at this point, because I don't see why it was necessary for the State to stop their direct examination immediately, after turning around and looking upon the entry of this witness who then sat down on defendant's side [of the courtroom], that was the inference I was concerned about when I came to sidebar. Alternatively we would ask the court to voir dire each juror at this point in time to determine whether or not they can fairly continue judging this defendant. .. This is not an easy case to defend in the first place. Now that we have this, the jury that's concerned, not a jury that is going to listen, the jury is concerned about their safety, not a jury that is going to be amenable to listening to arguments that he is not guilty.[3]

         Defense counsel then asked "whether the inquiry [from the jury] was a collective inquiry, was it a concern expressed by one or more of the jurors."[4] The bailiff indicated that two jurors had expressed concerns about safety or security, Juror No. 11 and Alternate No. 3. Defense counsel then indicated that "if the mistrial is not granted on its face, " the voir dire could be limited to the two jurors mentioned, at least initially, to inquire as to whether "their fears have been communicated to other jurors."[5]

         The first juror examined was Juror No. 11. After being asked to express any concerns she had, she stated:

Okay, so a lot of stopping and starting, a lot of stuff we don't understand. We come in yesterday from a break there is now two police officers standing there by the doors, no one there they let us on the freight elevator altogether then of course you know a murder trial today, someone walks in and we all stop again, we leave.[6]

         When again asked to express her concerns, she responded:

I am confused. Did you ever see the juror Demi Moore, I know it sounds - this is a murder trial. Kind of wonder if I am going to get shot in my car, not like I am really think it is going to happen, I watch a lot of TV. In the back of my mind .. [7]

         The juror was then asked whether she had "discussed those concerns with anyone in the jury room."[8] The juror responded, "[h]e came in, I was asking him what is going on, " an apparent reference to her asking the bailiff what was going on.[9] The juror was then asked whether she had any discussion "with any other jurors about any concerns that you might have."[10] She again responded "[j]ust the time he came in I asked him what was going on." Defense counsel asked the Court to inquire whether that occurred in the presence of the other jurors, and Juror No. 11 stated that it had. After further questions and answers, she was asked whether she could still be an impartial juror. She responded "Yes, I believe that I don't mean none of my -1 don't think that none of that changed."[11]

         Her examination concluded with this exchange:

The Court: So you in terms of what we discussed here, having officers in the courtroom, have you - are you able to view the ...

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