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White v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

February 19, 2019

ABDUL WHITE, Defendant-Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: January 16, 2019

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. 1508010489 (K)

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


          Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Justice.

         This 19th day of February, 2019, having considered the briefs and the record below and oral argument, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) After a two-week trial, a Superior Court jury convicted Abdul White of murder first degree and lesser charges after he and two associates broke into a home, held those inside captive, and killed John Harmon in pursuit of drugs believed to be in Harmon's home. On appeal, White argues the Superior Court erred by (1) not granting a mistrial after alleged Brady[1] evidence surfaced, (2) denying defense requests during the trial to order the State to produce documents and information, and (3) allowing the State to introduce into evidence White's tattoo which read "Duct Tape Bandit." After a careful review of the record, we find that the trial court acted within its discretion on each issue and affirm White's convictions.

         (2) On August 8, 2015, White and two other masked and armed men broke into John Harmon's home and restrained all eleven occupants. White's wife drove the three men to the house. White and his associates believed Harmon had a large amount of marijuana at the house. White ordered his accomplices to restrain the occupants with duct tape. White then allegedly interrogated and tortured Harmon trying to find the hiding place for the marijuana. Eventually, Harmon was shot and the three men fled the house without finding any drugs.

         (3) The five adult witnesses who testified described the man who shot Harmon as substantially larger than the other two and wearing a helmet.[2] The helmet had a light duct-taped to it and was found in Harmon's house with White's fingerprint on it.[3] One witness also identified the shooter as having a tattoo on his face-which White also has.[4]

         (4) At trial White testified that he was in the house, but not the person who shot Harmon. White also claimed that he participated in the crime under duress. According to White, Kevin McDonald, Sr.-White's cousin-led a criminal operation which included White. White claimed to fear for his life if he did not aid McDonald because White owed him $20, 000.

         (5) During the trial White's counsel noted that Khalil Baines, one of the men with White during the robbery, had given a two-and-a-half-hour statement to the police, largely related to the robbery, that was not provided to White. White argued that the statement was Brady evidence and also a statement by a co-defendant-both of which should have been disclosed to the defense. The court accepted the prosecutor's statement that nothing in the statement was exculpatory, but ordered it produced as arguably a co-defendant's statement. The court gave White a few days to review the tape before continuing the trial. The Superior Court denied White's request for a mistrial, noting that White had not alleged any substantial prejudice and there was no evidence of prosecutorial bad faith.[5]

         (6) Upon resumption of the trial, White requested that the State be ordered to produce the probable cause affidavit attached to a search warrant request for Baines' DNA, and a sample of the DNA itself. The trial court refused because the DNA was sought for a separate drug case involving Baines, and the State had not compared Baines' DNA to any DNA found in Harmon's home.

         (7) During trial the State sought to introduce evidence of the tattoo on White's stomach reading "Duct Tape Bandit" in a motion in limine. White opposed the motion, claiming the tattoo was inadmissible hearsay and the State was improperly using it as prejudicial character evidence. The Superior Court admitted the tattoo because it was a party admission, duct tape was used at the crime scene, and the risk of prejudice did not substantially outweigh its probative value.[6]

         (8) After trial but before the verdict, the State received information of threats made against White after he testified. The Superior Court denied White's requests for details about the threats. It found that the information came too late for White to use in his defense and a late-2017 threat would have limited relevance to a 2015 murder. The Superior Court jury convicted White of murder first degree and various lesser offenses. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and over a hundred years for the litany of other charges.

         (9) A few months after trial, White became aware of misconduct by Carl Rone, the State's ballistics expert, and sought discovery of information about the charges that resulted in his legal troubles. The Superior Court ruled that because the State was not aware of any problem until about two months after the trial ended, Rone's report was ...

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