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State v. Thomas

Superior Court of Delaware

February 18, 2019


          Submitted: December 21, 2018

          Written Decision Issued: February 18, 2019

         Cr. A. Nos. IN17-03-0408, etc.



         This 18th day of February, 2019, having considered Defendant Kashiem Thomas's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (D.I. 67); the State's Response thereto (D.I. 68); the parties' supplemental filings (D.I. 79; D.I. 82); the parties' oral arguments; and the record in this matter; it appears to the Court that:

         (1) Defendant Kashiem Thomas was arrested for multiple charges stemming from the shooting death of Keevan Hale in Wilmington, Delaware.[1]

         (2) After a six-day jury trial, Thomas was found guilty of Murder in the First Degree and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF").[2] But before the matter was submitted to the jury, Thomas had moved unsuccessfully for a judgment of acquittal.[3] He argued then that "there has literally been no evidence provided in any part of the State's case" that he shot and killed Keevan Hale.[4] Now before the Court is Thomas's renewed motion seeking to have the Court toss the jury's verdict, adopt his peculiar view of the evidence, and enter judgments of acquittal on his two convictions.[5]

         (3) Thomas has always challenged just one element essential to his two convictions: identity.[6] Put simply, Thomas says the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was he who fatally shot and killed Keevan Hale.

         (4) The State counters that the evidence presented at trial, both direct and circumstantial, when viewed in the light most favorable to its case, was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to convict Thomas of intentional murder and its related firearms charge.[7]

         (5) The Court here briefly recounts just some of the evidence relevant to this motion. On February 23, 2017, at approximately 8 p.m., gunfire erupted on the 600 block of East 23rd Street of Wilmington. When the dust settled, two men were down. Keevan Hale had been struck multiple times and collapsed inside his residence at 602 East 23rd Street. The weapon used to shoot and kill Mr. Hale fired .410 shot shells. Kashiem Thomas was felled on the front sidewalk just outside Mr. Hales's home. He had been struck in the right rear flank by a .40 caliber handgun that Mr. Hale fired back at him. Thomas could not get to his feet, despite efforts to do so, and remained incapacitated on the sidewalk.

         (6) Police arrived quickly to a bevy of onlookers, intermeddlers, and various members of both the Hale and Thomas families. The first responding officer tried to render aid to Thomas, but he was met with resistance from both Thomas and an unknown man who forbade Thomas from talking to any police officer. While Mr. Hale lay in extremis on his living room floor, he confirmed for the police that it was the man outside on the sidewalk, i.e., Thomas, who had shot him.

         (7) Thomas and Mr. Hale were each taken to the hospital. Thomas was treated and eventually recovered from his single injury. Mr. Hale died that evening from his multiple gunshot wounds.

         (8) The police found .40 caliber spent shell casings and wadding from .410 shot shells strewn on the grass in front of 602 East 23rd Street and near its front porch area. Mr. Hale's .40 caliber handgun was found tucked in the armrest of the living room couch near where he collapsed. Mr. Hale's mother first located the pistol on her front porch; his sister hid it in the couch before the police arrived. The firearm that discharged the wadding and multiple shot shell projectiles that killed Mr. Hale was never found.

         (9) Surveillance footage from the corner store between Thomas's and Mr. Hale's homes was admitted at trial. It showed Thomas in and around the store and its environs at various points during the fifteen-minute period before the shooting. At all times then, he was clad all in black with his face fully visible. But as Thomas made his last pass of the store's outside camera heading down 23rd Street towards Mr. Hale's house in the few seconds before the shooting, he had a ski mask covering all but his eyes, his hood pulled up, and his right hand in his jacket pocket.

         (10) A witness who had just left Mr. Hale's company, confirmed that Thomas was the only person he saw on that block of 23 rd Street when Mr. Hale was shot. The sum of that witness's trial testimony and pre-trial statements made it clear that Thomas-whom the witness had just passed on the street and whom the witness saw trying to get up from the sidewalk just after the exchange of gun fire-was the person who shot and killed Mr. Hale.

         (11) Forensic Shot Spotter evidence demonstrated that all of the fatal shots were fired first; and, that those fatal shots were fired from the Hales's front sidewalk and yard.

         (12) Forensic testing also identified gunshot residue on Thomas's hand.

         (13) A convicted criminal defendant must clear a high bar to prevail on a motion for judgment of acquittal.[8] The Court may enter a judgment of acquittal only if "the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction."[9] On such motion, the Court considers the evidence, "together with all legitimate inferences therefrom . . . from the point of view most favorable to the State."[10] The Court must be mindful that the jury, not the judge, is the factfinder, and it is "[t]he jury's function is to decide whether the evidence presented at trial proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the charged crimes."[11] And so, the standard of review a trial judge employs on a motion for judgment of acquittal is '"whether any rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, could find [the defendant] guilty beyond a reasonable ...

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