Submitted: October 23, 2019
Revised: November 15, 2019
Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No.
SEITZ, Chief Justice; VALIHURA, and VAUGHN, Justices.
Collins J. Seitz, Jr. Chief Justice.
15th day of November, 2019, having considered the
briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:
2018, a Superior Court jury convicted Christopher Gregg of
two counts of second degree arson and one count of third
degree arson. On appeal, Gregg claims that the Superior Court
erred when it allowed the State to admit Gregg's 2009
arson conviction into evidence at trial. According to Gregg,
the prejudicial effect of admitting the 2009 conviction
substantially outweighed its probative value. We find,
however, that the Superior Court carefully weighed the
admissibility of the 2009 arson conviction under the
standards in Getz v. State and gave the jury a limiting
instruction. Thus, we affirm the Superior Court's
November 2017, Gregg rented a property with a home and a barn
with his daughters, "L.G." and "D.G.,"
and his fiancée, Debbie Mauthe. On the morning of
November 2, 2017, Gregg argued with D.G. because D.G. wanted
to live with her grandmother. After D.G. left for school,
L.G. saw that her father had ransacked D.G.'s room.
Shortly after Gregg and Mauthe left the house, John Witzke,
who was driving home from work past the house, noticed that
Gregg's house and barn were on fire and called 911.
Witzke also saw personal items scattered on the roof and back
yard. Once the fire team suppressed the fire, the fire
marshals began investigating. The investigation at the scene
led to Gregg's arrest when he returned to his house that
morning. The K9 search by the Deputy Chief Fire Marshal and
his dog detected accelerant in several areas. The exterior
visual search revealed a melted kerosene can by the rear
porch door and excessive charring indicating an area that
burned longer than other areas. The interior visual search
showed pour patterns in the floor joists where an accelerant
seeped through the floor to the joists. The investigators
sent debris samples for testing.
grand jury indicted Gregg on December 18, 2017 on two counts
of arson in the second degree and one count of arson in the
third degree. Gregg went to trial in August 2018. On the
third day of trial, Gregg moved to dismiss the charges for a
discovery violation. The Superior Court declared a mistrial
and a new trial began on December 3, 2018.
trial, Deputy Hedrick testified that two structures situated
approximately thirty yards apart on a clear, windless day are
unlikely to ignite simultaneously due to accidental causes.
He also ruled out accidental causes such as careless smoking,
faulty kerosene heaters, and faulty electrical issues because
the indicators pointed to an incendiary fire that was
intentionally lit by using an accelerant and an open flame,
such as a candle or a match.
Prior to trial, the State filed a motion to admit evidence of
Gregg's 2009 guilty plea to arson. The 2009 fire occurred
at the home of Gregg's uncle on January 20, 2009, and was
an incendiary fire started inside with an open flame and an
accelerant. At the time, Gregg was living there with his
uncle due to issues with his substance abuse. Gregg argued
with his uncle because his uncle changed the locks on the
home and believed that his uncle was going to kick him out.
Gregg threatened to burn the house down, and, on the same
day, the home burned down. Gregg pled guilty to reckless
burning and intentionally starting the fire.
After a hearing, the Superior Court allowed the State to
admit the circumstances surrounding the 2009 arson and
Gregg's guilty plea. The court weighed the Getz
factors and admitted the evidence under Rule 404(b) to prove
absence of mistake or accident-that the fire was set
intentionally-and, if so, identity-that Gregg set the fire.
During trial, and before the State introduced the challenged
evidence, the Superior Court instructed the jury that they
"may use such evidence only to help you in deciding
whether the fire in this case was set intentionally; and, if
so, whether the defendant was the person who intentionally
set that fire." At the end of trial, the ...