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Suter v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

February 21, 2017



          Melissa I. Bray, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Stephen L. Forster, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Beales and O'Brien Argued at Norfolk, Virginia



         Chezmin Brittany Suter ("Suter") appeals the November 10, 2015 decision by the Circuit Court of the City of Virginia Beach (the "trial court") convicting her of one count of accessory after the fact to murder, in violation of Code § 18.2-19.[1] Suter's single assignment of error is that the trial court erred in holding that the evidence was sufficient to find Suter guilty of accessory after the fact to a homicide because the evidence did not establish that Suter was aware that a homicide had taken place.

         I. Background

         At 9:35 p.m. on May 21, 2014, Suter, her cousin, Andrew Roberts ("Roberts"), and a third woman arrived at the Tropical Delights restaurant ("Tropical Delights") in the City of Virginia Beach. The trio arrived in Suter's green BMW sedan and parked in front of Tropical Delights.

         Upon entering Tropical Delights, Suter, Roberts, and their compatriot passed Tyrone Martin ("Martin"), a security employee of Tropical Delights, who sat at the restaurant's entrance near a cash register. Shortly thereafter, another Tropical Delights employee asked Martin to approach Suter and ask for her identification in order to ensure that Suter was of the legal age to be served alcohol. Because she did not present her identification when requested, Martin asked Suter to leave. Suter walked to the entrance, but refused to exit.

         Martin and Suter had a verbal confrontation and within a couple of minutes Suter exited through Tropical Delights' front door and sat in her green BMW. Approximately one minute later, Martin came outside and the two exchanged words once again. At Suter's trial, William Harper ("Harper"), a Tropical Delights patron who had stepped outside the restaurant moments before Suter and Martin came outside, testified that Suter and Martin were arguing back and forth when Martin turned and walked away from Suter stating, "I don't have to put up with that." Then, Suter spat at Martin. During his trial testimony, Harper identified the defendant, Suter, to be the same woman that spat at Martin outside of Tropical Delights on May 21, 2014.

         After re-entering Tropical Delights, Martin returned to his seat by the entrance. Seconds later, Suter barged back into Tropical Delights and yelled to Roberts, who was at the restaurant's bar, that it was time to go. While waiting for Roberts, Suter reengaged in her verbal quarrel with Martin.

         At the entrance door, Roberts physically restrained Suter and forced her to exit. Once outside, Suter told Roberts that Martin had spat at her. Roberts turned to immediately confront Martin who stood in the doorway. At this point, two other Tropical Delights employees stood in front of Martin-the three employees made a triangular formation in the doorway. Suter testified that in response to Roberts' inquiry of whether Martin had spat on Suter, Martin stated, "Yeah, I spit on that little B." Instantly, Roberts pulled a gun from his right hip, and fired two shots directly at Martin striking him in the abdomen and right thigh. A security video captured the entire event.

         During this altercation between Roberts and Martin, Suter stood behind and to the right of Roberts. Suter's view was unobstructed. After shooting in the direction of Martin, Roberts fled to Suter's BMW. Suter rushed to the driver's seat of the BMW and drove herself, Roberts, and the other woman to the back of Tropical Delights. Roberts and the other woman exited Suter's BMW and fled the scene.[2] Suter drove away.

         Meanwhile, Martin had stumbled back into Tropical Delights and laid on the floor by the cash register holding his abdomen. Two days later, on May 23, 2014, Martin died as a result of the gunshot wounds.[3]

         On July 20, 2015, a grand jury indicted Suter on the following charges: one count of accessory after the fact, in violation of Code § 18.2-19; one count of attempt to assault and batter Martin, in violation of Code § 18.2-57; one count of obstruction of justice, in violation of Code § 18.2-460(D); and ...

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