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State v. Coleman

Superior Court of Delaware

April 23, 2019


          Submitted: April 1, 2019

          Martin B. O'Connor, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Attorney for the State.

          Patrick J. Collins, Esquire. COLLINS & ASSOCIATES, Attorney for Defendant.



         This 23rd day of April 2019, upon consideration of defendant Darrell Coleman's Motion for Postconviction Relief, I find and recommend the following:

         Facts and Procedural History

         Coleman was convicted in the Superior Court following a jury trial on June 7, 2016, of Murder in the First Degree and Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited. Coleman's conviction was upheld by the Delaware Supreme Court on direct appeal. The facts surrounding the trial and conviction, as found by the Delaware Supreme Court in its decision upholding the conviction, are as follows:

As part of a planned visitation, J.R. [Marvin Moore Jr.] spent May 12, 2013 with his father, Marvin Moore, at Moore's residence at Riverside in Wilmington. Moore was expected to return J.R. to his mother that evening. In the hours leading up to the time Moore was to do so, he and Coleman, who was then the boyfriend of J.R.'s mother, exchanged numerous phone calls. Finally, they arranged for Moore to drop J.R. off at a Wawa near Memorial Drive in New Castle. Moore drove toward the Wawa with J.R. and two of Moore's friends, Tierra Battles and Dearius Riley, stopping first at the home of another friend near the Wawa. As they approached the friend's home, Moore could be heard on the phone angrily telling a male voice on the other end that he was not going to let him pick up his son. After they arrived at the friend's home, they decided that Battles and Riley would take J.R. over to the Wawa while Moore remained at the friend's house.
When Battles and Riley arrived at the Wawa with J.R., Coleman was there. Battles asked Coleman where J.R.'s mother was, and Coleman asked Battles where Moore was. They then began arguing. J.R. got in Coleman's vehicle, and Coleman followed Battles back to her vehicle to continue arguing. At one point, Coleman said: "Tell Marvin next time Marvin say something crazy out his mouth I be at his front door." Riley asked if Coleman wanted him to go get Moore, and Coleman replied: "No. If Marvin was a man, Marvin would have come down." Coleman then departed the Wawa with J.R. while Battles and Riley returned to the friend's house.
When told about the confrontation, Moore responded: "I'm sorry, but I got to go take care of my business,' and he was going to go meet [Coleman] to fight." Moore, Battles, and Riley then drove back to Riverside, during which time Moore and Coleman were "snapping over the phone" in a "heated" conversation. Finally, Moore and Coleman arranged to meet near Peralta's Market in Riverside, which was about a block and a half away from Moore's residence. When Coleman arrived, he backed his vehicle down a one-way street and parked near Peralta's Market. While traveling back to Riverside, Riley overheard Moore say on the phone: "You already at the corner store, so I'll be there in a little bit."
After Moore, Battles, and Riley arrived back at Moore's house, Moore walked to the sidewalk across the street from Peralta's Market. Coleman then got out of his vehicle and ran diagonally back across the street between two cars. Moore was then shot. Coleman ran back to his car and took off. When police arrived at the scene, they determined that Moore had one gunshot wound to the jaw and another one to his chest. He also had an unfired revolver between his thighs.
Michelle Pflaumer, from the Children's Advocacy Center, interviewed J.R. on May 13, 2013. J.R. discussed the previous day's activities during his visitation with his father. He discussed being driven to a gas station by Battles and Riley and being picked up by Coleman. Initially, J.R. told Pflaumer that Coleman took him to his mother's home to sleep, but J.R. eventually said that Coleman took him to the vicinity of his father's home in Riverside. He said that while seated in Coleman's vehicle, he saw Coleman shoot his father.
The Wilmington Police were unable to locate Coleman in Delaware. As a result, they enlisted the help of the U.S. Marshals Service, which apprehended Coleman in Newark, New Jersey on May 31, 2013. In October of the same year, Coleman was indicted by a grand jury on charges of Murder in the First Degree, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, and Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited.
Trial commenced on October 20, 2014 and lasted five days. J.R. was called as a witness by the State. On direct examination, he discussed some events of the day and evening of the murder, but did not mention, and was not directly asked, about seeing the shooting itself. At the conclusion of his direct examination, the State moved for the admission of his prior out-of-court statement under § 3507. Coleman objected on the grounds that the State had not laid an adequate foundation because J.R.'s testimony did not touch on the shooting. The trial court overruled the objection, and the statement was played for the jury.
[The Delaware Supreme Court upheld Coleman's conviction on the grounds] that the other evidence of Coleman's guilt [was] so overwhelming that any error in the admission of J.R.'s out-of-court statement, if any, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. This evidence included testimony from both Battles and Riley regarding the heated exchanges between Coleman and Moore, which ultimately led to the arranged rendezvous at Peralta's Market. A Riverside resident testified that after she heard gunshots, she saw a man with dreadlocks run to a dark colored sedan that sped away from the area. A police officer also testified regarding the inability to locate Coleman within Delaware and his ultimate apprehension in Newark, New Jersey. Another police officer testified that the murder weapon, which was also admitted as evidence, was found two days after the murder on the northbound catwalk (toward New Jersey) of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
The State also introduced physical evidence. This included surveillance video of: (1) Battles and Riley handing J.R. over to Coleman at the Wawa; (2) Coleman arriving at Peralta's Market; and (3) Coleman starting to leave Peralta's Market, stopping, running over to where Moore's body was later found, and running back to his car before fleeing. Additionally, the State introduced phone records that documented twenty calls between Coleman and Moore before the murder. Those records also showed that Coleman stopped calling Moore and turned his phone off after the shooting. Further, the State produced cell phone tower maps that tracked Coleman's movement to Wawa and then to Peralta's Market. The State also admitted Coleman's mug shot showing that at the time of his arrest he still had dreadlocks like the man seen running from the shooting and in the surveillance videos. This evidence not only corroborated J.R.'s statement but also corroborated the live testimony.[2]

         Coleman filed the instant motion, pro se, pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 61, on July 5, 2016.[3] The motion was subsequently referred to the undersigned judicial officer. Rule 61 Counsel (hereinafter "Counsel") was appointed on July 18, 2016. Due to a shortage of available attorneys, Patrick Collins was not appointed as Counsel until January 12, 2017. An initial briefing schedule was issued on January 24, 2017. At trial, Coleman was represented by Timothy Weiler (hereinafter "Trial Counsel"). Counsel filed an Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief (hereinafter the "Motion") on July 25, 2017. Trial Counsel filed his Affidavit, responding to Defendant's Rule 61 claims, on August 23, 2017. The State filed its Response on September 22, 2017. Coleman filed a Reply on October 27, 2017.

         After reviewing the issues raised in Coleman's Motion, I exercised my discretion and ordered an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Rule 61(h), principally related to the testimony offered at trial by the State's ballistics expert, Carl Rone. Shortly thereafter, it was learned that Rone had been fired by the Delaware State Police and charged with a number of crimes for falsifying time sheets. At the request of Counsel, the evidentiary hearing was delayed a number of times so the investigation could run its course. Ultimately, the evidentiary hearing was held on August 22, 2018, and November 30, 2018. Neither side elected to call Rone as a witness at the hearing, presumably due to the pending legal case against him. At the hearing, Coleman testify on his own behalf and the State called Trial Counsel as its only witness in rebuttal. Following a delay to obtain transcripts, post-hearing briefs were filed by Coleman on January 23, 2019, [4] and by the State on April 1, 2019.[5]Coleman also filed an Appendix to his Post-Hearing Memorandum that contains transcript and other exhibits.[6]

         Coleman's claims for postconviction relief, as stated in the Amended Motion, [7] are as follows:

Claim One: Trial Counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the firearm/toolmark evidence, resulting in constitutional prejudice to Mr. Coleman.
Ground Two: Trial Counsel was ineffective for failing to litigate a Rule 609 motion, resulting in prejudice to Mr. Coleman.

         As I will outline in greater detail below, the arguments put forth by Coleman during the evidentiary hearing changed substantially from what was asserted in the Amended Motion.

         Legal Standard

         To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must meet the two-pronged Strickland test by showing that: (1) counsel performed at a level "below an objective standard of reasonableness" and that, (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.[8] The first prong requires a defendant to show by a preponderance of the evidence that defense counsel was not reasonably competent, while the second prong requires the defendant to show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for defense counsel's unprofessional errors, the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.[9]

         When a court examines a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, it may address either prong first; where one prong is not met, the claim may be rejected without contemplating the other prong.[10] Mere allegations of ineffectiveness will not suffice-a defendant must make and substantiate concrete allegations of actual prejudice.[11] An error by defense counsel, even if professionally unreasonable, does not warrant setting aside the judgment of conviction if the error had no effect on the judgment.[12]

         In considering post-trial attacks on counsel, Strickland cautions that trial counsel's performance should be viewed from his or her perspective at the time decisions were being made.[13] A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort is made to eliminate the distorting efforts of hindsight. Second guessing or "Monday morning quarterbacking" should be avoided.[14]


         The procedural requirements of Rule 61 must be addressed before considering the merits of any argument.[15] Coleman's Motion was timely filed and is not repetitive, thus satisfying the procedural requirements of ...

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