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Bell v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

August 2, 2016



          Christopher M. Reyes (Spencer, Meyer, Koch & Cornick, on brief), for appellant.

          Christopher P. Schandevel, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, O'Brien and Malveaux Argued at Richmond, Virginia



         Carlos Matthew Bell ("appellant") was convicted by a jury of three felonies: attempted murder, in violation of Code §§ 18.2-26 and 18.2-32; aggravated malicious wounding, in violation of Code § 18.2-51.2; and use of a firearm while attempting to commit murder or aggravated malicious wounding, in violation of Code § 18.2-53.1. He contends that the trial court erred by not granting his jury instruction on justifiable self-defense.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In November 2013, the victim, a confirmed member of the Black Guerilla Family gang, was working as a confidential informant for the King George County Sheriff's Department. The victim was conducting controlled purchases of crack cocaine from various people, including appellant. During this time, the victim sent appellant a threatening text message following a dispute. Later, on two different occasions, appellant told the victim that he was concerned that the victim was working with the police and had given appellant marked money when purchasing drugs from him. Appellant last sold drugs to the victim the week before January 15, 2014.

         The Commonwealth presented evidence that at approximately 4:00 p.m. on January 15, 2014 the victim was speaking to Louis Pryor in a parking lot in front of his home when appellant and Demetrius Smith pulled into the lot in a white SUV. The victim concluded his conversation with Pryor and began to walk toward his home, which required him to walk behind the SUV. The victim testified that as he was approaching the SUV, appellant got out of the vehicle, called him a "bitch-ass" and fired a shot that struck the victim in the front of his body, near his abdomen. The victim fell face forward to the ground, and landed between the front and rear passenger doors of the SUV. He testified that appellant stood over him and shot him again. The bullet struck the victim in the upper left side of his back, in the shoulder blade. The victim heard appellant fire several other shots, but they did not strike him. The victim testified that he did not say anything to appellant or Smith before he was shot. Pryor also testified that he did not hear the victim say anything to appellant before the shooting. After he was shot, the victim's fiancée helped the victim into their home. The victim survived the shooting but he suffered permanent injuries.

         The victim's fiancée testified that she was standing on the front porch of their home while the victim and Pryor were talking. She saw the victim walking toward the SUV and observed appellant jump out of the vehicle, call the victim a "bitch-ass, " and shoot him. The fiancée testified that she did not see anything in the victim's hands when he was shot and that he did not have a gun with him when she helped him into their house after the shooting.

         Appellant presented his version of the events on January 15, 2014 through his own testimony and the testimony of other nearby witnesses. Appellant explained that the victim had repeatedly threatened him in the past, both in person and by text message, and had previously brandished a gun at him. Appellant stated that on January 15, 2014, he was a passenger in Smith's car when they arrived in the parking lot. He testified that as he was getting out of the car, he heard someone say "you think I'm playing, n****, " and saw the victim approach him quickly and begin to pull a gun out of his pocket. He said that he believed that the victim was going to shoot him, so he protected himself by shooting the victim twice. Appellant denied standing over the victim and shooting him.

         Smith testified for the defense. He stated that as soon as he parked the car, the victim ran toward the passenger side where appellant was sitting and said "something" to appellant. Smith stated that he heard two shots, "back-to-back, " and then saw the victim at the top of the stairs to his home. Smith testified that he saw the victim throw something into his house. Smith also corroborated appellant's statement that the victim had threatened appellant in the months preceding the January 2014 incident.

         Lashaunda Smith and Dietrius Roy also testified that they heard the victim threatening appellant in late fall 2013. Another witness, Tiffany Smith, testified that she heard the victim talking to Pryor just before the incident. According to Tiffany Smith, the victim told Pryor that he was "about to go hard" against appellant because appellant thought the victim was "playing with him." Lashaunda Smith, Tiffany Smith, and Dietrius Roy all testified that they saw the victim running toward the white SUV with what looked like a rifle or some other type of gun inside his jacket. Lashaunda Smith testified that after he was shot, the victim "scoot[ed himself] back to his porch" and threw the gun into his home.

         On rebuttal, the Commonwealth presented evidence that Lashaunda Smith previously told Detective Joseph Patterson that she could not say whether the victim had a gun. Detective Monty Clifte testified that when he interviewed Demetrius Smith, Smith did not tell him anything ...

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