Submitted: December 12, 2018
Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware I.D. No.
appeal from the Superior Court.
K. Wolpert, Esquire (Argued), and Eugene J. Maurer, Jr.,
Esquire, Eugene J. Maurer, Jr., P.A., Wilmington, Delaware,
for Appellant, Aaron Thompson.
T. Knoll, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Wilmington,
Delaware, for Appellee, State of Delaware.
STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and VAUGHN, Justices.
Aaron Thompson, appeals from a Superior Court jury verdict
finding him guilty of two counts of Murder in the First
Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the
Commission of a Felony, and Conspiracy in the First Degree.
The charges arose from the double homicide of Joseph and Olga
Connell, who were shot to death on September 22, 2013. The
State's theory of the case at trial was that Mr.
Connell's business partner, Chris Rivers, paid to have
the Connells killed so he could collect on an insurance
policy listing Mr. Connell as the insured and Rivers as the
beneficiary. The theory was that Rivers paid Joshua Bey, who
in turn hired Dominique Benson and Thompson to carry out the
murders. The success of the State's theory at
Thompson's trial largely depended on the testimony and
credibility of Bey. Thompson contended throughout the trial
that Bey was lying and made up the connection with Thompson
to get himself a favorable plea deal.
makes two claims on appeal. First, he contends that two
statements by the State during its rebuttal argument
constituted prosecutorial misconduct that undermined the
fairness of the trial. According to Thompson, the first
statement in question was one in which the State argued facts
that were not supported by record. The second statement, he
argues, was one that improperly appealed to the jury's
emotion. Second, he contends that the trial court abused its
discretion in allowing Bey's recorded statement to the
police to be played for the jury following his testimony,
arguing that this was inadmissible hearsay not subject to an
that the Superior Court should be affirmed on both claims.
First, we conclude that the two statements made by the State
during its rebuttal do not rise to the level of prosecutorial
misconduct. Second, we conclude that Bey's recorded
statement to the police was admissible under Delaware Rule of
Evidence 106, the rule of completeness.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
and Mr. Connell were joint owners of C&S Automotive
Repair. In October 2012, Rivers and Mr. Connell secured a
nearly one million-dollar mortgage in connection with their
business. As part of that transaction, they were both
required to purchase life insurance in the amount of $977,
500, with the other partner named as the beneficiary, so that
the surviving partner could pay off the mortgage if one of
them were to die.
approximately 1:30 a.m., on September 22, 2013, New Castle
County police officers responded to a reported shooting at
the Connells' residence in Wilmington. The officers
discovered that the Connells had been shot and killed. After
an extensive investigation, the police arrested Rivers and
charged him with their murders.
on in the investigation, on October 4, 2013, Bey was
questioned by Detective James Leonard because Rivers's
phone records revealed that, around the time of the murders,
he had deleted certain communications with a phone number
associated with Bey's girlfriend. Initially, Bey declined
knowing anyone by the name of Chris Rivers, but after the
detective confronted him with Rivers's phone records, Bey
admitted that Rivers was his mechanic. During the
questioning, it became apparent that Bey was not telling the
entire truth with regard to his contact with Rivers around
the time of the murders. As for his location on the night of
the murders, Bey stated that he worked an overnight shift at
a department store (from approximately 10:00 p.m. to 6:00
a.m.). His timesheet and video surveillance of the parking
lot corroborated Bey's statement that he was at work at
the time of the murders.
Leonard questioned Bey again on October 24, 2013, and this
time Bey admitted he was Rivers's drug dealer. The next
day, Bey was arrested for providing a false statement to the
police. This arrest violated the terms of a probationary term
he was serving and led to a violation of probation proceeding
almost ten months of incarceration, while awaiting trial on
the charge of providing a false statement to the police, and
moments before trial was to start, Bey agreed to provide
information about the murders in exchange for a deal from the
State. On August 14, 2014, Bey gave a proffer that implicated
not only himself, but also Rivers and Benson (the
"August 14 proffer"). At that time, however, Bey
declined to enter into an agreement with the State.
arrested for the Connells' murders the following month.
He then agreed to cooperate. In exchange for his cooperation,
the State made a plea offer involving a plea of guilty to
Conspiracy in the First Degree and a finding that he had
violated his probation. On September 5, 2014, after becoming
a cooperating witness, Bey provided his fourth and final
statement to the police (the "September 5
Thompson's trial, Bey testified for the State, and his
testimony provided the main narrative of the Connells'
murders. He explained that shortly after meeting Rivers in
2012, he started selling him prescription pills and cocaine
and that in 2013, Rivers asked him to hire someone to kill
the Connells. Bey and Rivers negotiated over the price,
eventually settling on $60, 000. Rivers agreed and arranged
to pay half up front and the other half in installments. Bey
told Rivers that he needed $5, 000 immediately, which Rivers
paid in cash.
testified that he hoped to make money from this transaction
by hiring someone else to do the murders for less. Bey asked
Benson to do it and brought him to C&S to see the shop
and meet Rivers. After learning from Rivers that Bey had lied
to him about how much Rivers was willing to spend (so that he
could keep the extra for himself), Benson nonetheless agreed
to find someone else to do it for them. As the planning
progressed, Bey was under the impression that Benson would
commit the murders, but at some point, Benson told Bey that
he would ask Thompson to assist him.
further testified that Benson's cousin, Willis Rollins,
was also asked to carry out their plan. Benson arranged for
Bey and Rollins to meet at a restaurant near the
Connells' residence so that Bey could show Rollins where
the Connells lived. Bey testified that Thompson arrived at
the restaurant and handed Rollins a gun with a silencer.
After showing Rollins the path to take to get to the
Connells' residence, Bey went back to his car and waited
for Rivers to provide updates as to their location. The ...