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Speller v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

November 6, 2018

SANTRAUN DESHAUD SPELLER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF VIRGINIA BEACH Glenn R. Croshaw, Judge

          Kristin Paulding (7 Cities Law, on brief), for appellant.

          Rosemary V. Bourne, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Petty, Chafin and Senior Judge Frank Argued at Norfolk, Virginia

          OPINION

          WILLIAM G. PETTY JUDGE

         Santraun Deshaud Speller was found guilty of two counts of burglary, two counts of conspiracy to commit burglary, and two counts of grand larceny of a firearm. On appeal, Speller argues that the trial court erred in finding him guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary because the evidence was insufficient to show that there was an agreement to commit burglary, that the trial court erred in finding the him guilty of burglary because the evidence was insufficient to show that he broke into a home or entered a home, and that the trial court erred in finding him guilty of larceny of a firearm because the evidence was insufficient to show that the items stolen were firearms. For the reasons stated below, we disagree and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Background

         "On appeal, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, granting to it all reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom." Wells v. Commonwealth, 65 Va.App. 722, 725, 781 S.E.2d 362, 364 (2016) (quoting Martin v. Commonwealth, 4 Va.App. 438, 443, 358 S.E.2d 415, 418 (1987)).

         A witness, N. Cobb, [1] testified that on February 26, 2016, at approximately 12:30 p.m. she was walking home from school. On her way home, she saw three unknown "[b]lack[] African-American" men going into and around the home of a neighbor to her friend, S. Fry. The men were wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts with the hoods up. Cobb saw one of the men knocking on Fry's neighbor's front door while the other two went in the yard between Fry's house and the neighbor's house. Then Cobb saw one of the men carry a "box full of stuff" out from the home of Fry's neighbor, C. Bare, and put it in the trunk of a silver Buick. That man then went back into Bare's house, and Cobb continued walking to her home, which was "[f]our or five houses" down the street. Ten minutes later, Cobb saw the silver Buick drive past her house; she could see two people inside the car.

         Fry testified that when Cobb informed her of the suspicious activity by her house, Fry immediately went to her house and saw the silver Buick parked across the street from her house and that of Bare's. Fry took a picture of the Buick's license plate, which was entered into evidence at trial. Fry looked in the silver Buick and saw a black book bag, which she took out and put in her boyfriend's car. Fry then went into Bare's backyard and looked in his kitchen window. Fry saw the "silhouette of a black man . . . standing in the kitchen." Fry ran to her boyfriend's car and watched as "three black males, [] two of them [] carrying rifles," ran to the Buick. Fry described the rifles as "[l]ong," "black" "guns." Fry corroborated Cobb's testimony that the burglars were wearing "grey, black" "sweatshirts and sweatpants" with "their hoods up."

         Homeowner Bare testified that when he left for work at 5:00 a.m. on the morning of February 26th, his house was secured. When he returned home after being notified of the burglary, Bare found his home in disarray with his things strewn about the floor, drawers emptied, cabinets gone through, and his side garage door "frame was broken out of the door where the deadbolt and the lock had been secured." Bare noted that he kept a number of shotguns, rifles, pistols, and ammunition in a gun safe, inside his garage. Bare found his gun safe pried open and the guns and ammunition stolen. Additionally, the burglars took Bare's medication, tablets, laptops, and jewelry-including a piece of Pittsburgh Steelers jewelry and other costume jewelry that was found in the silver Buick later that day.

         N. Blanco, a homeowner in a nearby neighborhood, testified that he left his home for work on February 26, 2016 at 8:15 a.m. with the doors and windows locked. When Blanco returned home at approximately 6:15 p.m. that night, however, he found his back door "had been kicked open and the deadbolt had pushed it up against . . . the opposite wall." Blanco testified that his house was in disarray. Missing from Blanco's home were at least two bottles of medication and a handgun-a green "Springfield Armory XD .40." Blanco kept the handgun "loaded" and on the top shelf in a closet that had been gone through by the burglars. Blanco explained that he had "fired" the handgun "probably several months before" the burglary-it was "operational" and he had "[n]o problem firing it."

         Soon after police were called about the burglary at Bare's home, Officer Kenneth Eavey of the Virginia Beach Police Department saw a silver Buick pass "right in front of [him]" at a stoplight and saw two people in the car who appeared to be black males. He followed the car until it pulled into a residential driveway. Officer Eavey watched three black males wearing "winter type" clothing-"long sleeves" and "a hoodie"-get out of the car. Officer Eavey got out of his car and told the men to "[h]old it." The men glanced in Officer Eavey's direction, acted as if they were going to the front door, but then "broke and ran straight . . . for the fence." All three men then climbed the six-foot fence, ran through the yard, and climbed over the fence again to leave the property out the back. Before the burglars fled out of sight, however, Officer Eavey was able to see them for ten to fifteen seconds and positively identified Speller as one of the fleeing burglars.

         Officer Gregory Blair was in the area and heard Officer Eavey's radio dispatch regarding the three burglary suspects and had been told that citizens in the area had called reporting that they had seen a male running and jumping fences. While searching for the suspects, Officer Blair could hear dogs barking from people's yards, noticed some broken pickets in a fence, looked into the yard, and saw fresh footprints in the wet grass. Officer Blair then saw a black male, Speller, running across the yard wearing only underwear and one sock. Speller was sweating and explained that he was hot and sweaty because he was out jogging. Needless to say, despite Speller's explanation, he was arrested at that time.

         A forensic specialist with the Virginia Beach Police Department examined the silver Buick and its contents for fingerprints. In the Buick were several firearms, jewelry, and clothing. He testified that "[t]he Ruger, the double barrel, the black rifle, and the black shotgun . . . were in the backseat of the vehicle." Underneath the driver's seat of the Buick was "a Springfield pistol," which was "loaded." The officer was able to obtain one latent print from the Springfield Armory firearm.[2] That fingerprint was identified as coming from Speller's left ring finger. Additionally, among other items of their property, both Blanco's and Bare's prescription medications were found in the car.

         A judge sitting without a jury found Speller guilty of two counts of burglary, two counts of conspiracy to commit a felony, and two counts of larceny of a firearm.

         Analysis

         Speller challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions. When considering the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, "a reviewing court does not 'ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Crowder v. Commonwealth, 41 Va.App. 658, 663, 588 S.E.2d 384, 387 (2003) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979)). "Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, as we must since it was the prevailing party in the trial court," Riner v. Commonwealth, 268 Va. 296, 330, 601 S.E.2d 555, 574 (2004), "[w]e must instead ask whether 'any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, '" Crowder, 41 Va.App. at 663, 588 S.E.2d at 387 (quoting Kelly v. Commonwealth, 41 Va.App. 250, 257, 584 S.E.2d 444, 447 (2003) (en banc)). "This familiar standard gives full play to the responsibility of the trier of fact fairly to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts." Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319. Accordingly, "[t]he ...


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