People v. Littlejohn

Full title: The PEOPLE, etc., respondent, v. Darryl LITTLEJOHN, appellant.

Court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York.

Date published: Oct 30, 2013

Facts

At approximately 4:00 a.m. on February 25, 2006, 24–year–old graduate student Imette St. Guillen was the lone remaining patron at The Falls, a bar in Manhattan that was in the process of closing for the night. She was last seen alive after she finished her drink at the bar, and was escorted out of the establishment by the defendant, a bouncer employed at The Falls, and another employee who went directly home. According to the defendant’s own subsequent statements to the police, in order to facilitate his job as a bouncer, he falsely told people at The Falls that he was a federal marshal. The defendant admitted that shortly before he escorted the intoxicated St. Guillen out of the establishment, he had untruthfully informed her that he was a United States marshal.

At approximately 8:30 p.m. on that same date, St. Guillen’s lifeless body was discovered in a vacant, overgrown lot in a desolate area at the intersection of Fountain Avenue and Seaview Avenue, near the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. St. Guillen’s body was wrapped in a quilt which had been taped closed at both ends. A sock had been stuffed in her mouth while she was still alive, and packing tape had been wrapped around her head from her eyebrows to her chin. Her wrists had been bound together behind her back with three plastic zip ties, and her feet had been bound together with what appeared to be a dark-colored shoelace. An automobile snow brush that was lying on the ground at the foot of the quilt also was recovered from the scene. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxia by compression of the neck and occlusion of the mouth and nose. The injuries on the body indicated that St. Guillen had resisted her attacker, and tears in the area of her vagina and anus were found to be consistent with a sexual assault. Medical experts estimated that St. Guillen was killed between one and three hours after she consumed her last alcoholic beverage on February 25, 2006.

The evidence at trial further revealed that the defendant’s DNA was found on one of the zip ties used to bind St. Guillen’s wrists, as well as on the automobile snow brush found next to her body. DNA from the defendant’s mother and from the defendant’s brother was found on the quilt in which St. Guillen’s body had been wrapped. Carpet fibers and two different types of animal hair found on the quilt and on the tape that had been wrapped around St. Guillen’s head were consistent with samples taken from the defendant’s basement apartment in Jamaica, Queens, and from a van that he used. Moreover, approximately one hour before St. Guillen’s body was discovered, a witness observed a van, which generally matched the characteristics of the van used by the defendant, at the remote location where the body was found. The same witness observed a man using a cellular phone while seated inside the vehicle. An investigation of the defendant’s cellular phone calling records for that time period revealed that the call activity was consistent with the defendant’s phone having traveled from the vicinity of his residence in Queens to the vicinity of the body’s location in Brooklyn, and then returning to the vicinity of the defendant’s residence.

Issue

Whether the trial court properly exercised its discretion in weighing the probative value and the need for the evidence of the M.S. incident against the potential for undue prejudice to the defendant.

Decision

The evidence of other crimes regarding S.W., however, presents a closer question on the issue of relevance, and we reach a different result concerning it. To be sure, there are some strong similarities between the S.W. incident and the instant crime, including the status of each victim as a young, unaccompanied female, the defendant’s misrepresentation that he was a member of law enforcement, the binding of each victim’s hands behind her body, and evidence of the transportation of each victim in a van. Nevertheless, several key components of the instant offense, especially the wrapping of tape around the head and face of the victim and the commission of a sexual assault against her—circumstances that were present in the attack on M.S. and the instant crime—did not occur during the S.W. incident. While it may well be, as the People argue, that the absence of these additional factors was the fortuitous result of S.W.’s dramatic escape from the defendant, the fact remains that the S.W. incident does not sufficiently comport with the distinctive repetitive pattern found in the M.S. incident and in the present case to support its admission into evidence at the defendant’s trial, and the trial court should have excluded it. However, we also found that the error was harmless. Indeed, given the previously referenced compelling circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s commission of the murder of St. Guillen, and all of the other evidence in the case, the proof of the defendant’s guilt may fairly be characterized as overwhelming, and there is no significant probability that the verdict would have been different if the court had excluded the evidence of the S.W. incident ( see e.g. People v. Gillyard, 13 N.Y.3d 351, 356892 N.Y.S.2d 288920 N.E.2d 344; People v. Arafet, 13 N.Y.3d at 467–468892 N.Y.S.2d 812920 N.E.2d 919). Furthermore, the admission of the evidence of the S.W. incident did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial.

In accordance with the foregoing, the judgment is affirmed.

ORDERED that the judgment is affirmed.

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