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Kirkland-Williams v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

November 3, 2017

DAMARCUS J. KIRKLAND-WILLIAMS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; E. Lamar Battles, Judge.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Ivy R. Ginsburg, Special Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Susan M. Shanahan, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          LaROSE, Chief Judge.

         Damarcus J. Kirkland-Williams challenges his judgment and sentences for first-degree felony murder while engaged in aggravated child abuse (count 1), and aggravated child abuse (count 2). We have jurisdiction. See Fla. R. App. P. 9.140(b)(1)(A), (F). We affirm Mr. Williams' judgment and sentences in all respects. We write to address his argument that the trial court erred in admitting Williams[1] rule evidence.

         Factual Background

         Mr. Williams had been watching his girlfriend's thirteen-month-old son, E.M., for most of the day on May 18, 2011. Early on May 19, E.M. died. He sustained multiple blunt trauma injuries to his head and lacerations to his liver and spleen. E.M. also had multiple bruises and contusions all over his body. Mr. Williams told detectives that E.M.'s injuries were accidental. He explained that when E.M. was crying, he accidently hit E.M. on his back a couple of times and squeezed his stomach. When E.M. continued to cry, Mr. Williams tossed E.M. towards the bed; E.M.'s stomach hit a dresser. Mr. Williams also stated that E.M. slid off the bed and bumped his head.

         The State charged Mr. Williams with first-degree felony murder while engaged in aggravated child abuse, and aggravated child abuse. Prior to trial, the State filed a notice of intent to rely on Williams rule evidence and a supplemental argument in support. The State sought to admit a video recording and eyewitness testimony that less than three weeks before E.M.'s death, Mr. Williams struck F.M., E.M.'s two-year-old sister, several times at a public park. At the Williams rule hearing, the State presented the testimony of the eyewitness and of the officer who investigated the incident at the public park. The State also played the video recording. The eyewitness testified that E.M. was crying a lot; the eyewitness started recording Mr. Williams and saw Mr. Williams shake E.M. The recording depicted Mr. Williams striking F.M. several times with a blunt object and then picking up F.M. by the arm and striking her with the object repeatedly, resulting in "numerous bruises and contusions on her body."

         After viewing the video and the transcript of the interview between Mr. Williams and detectives, the trial court concluded as follows:

[T]he Court is going to find that both criminal acts, both of the incidents involving these children were committed within a very short period of time of each other; both of these incidents involved situations in which the defendant was the caregiver at the time that these incidents took place. These children were close in age. Their injuries were consistent with each other that they both sustained blunt trauma injuries and that the State should be allowed to use it to show the absence of mistake or accident, and I'm going to allow the Williams[] [r]ule evidence in, the evidence during the trial.

         At trial, the State presented the Williams rule evidence to the jury. The trial court explained the proper use of the Williams rule evidence to the jury before the eyewitness testified and in its final charge to the jury. The State also presented Mr. Williams' statements to detectives about E.M.'s injuries, as well as other testimony and evidence concerning the trauma E.M. endured. Specifically, the State presented the testimony of Dr. Mary Mainland, the chief medical examiner who performed E.M.'s autopsy. She testified that E.M. received numerous strikes or blows from a blunt object. She discounted the possibility that falling on a blunt object would have caused E.M.'s extensive injuries. The jury found Mr. Williams guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced him to life in prison for count one, first-degree felony murder, and to thirty years in prison for count two, aggravated child abuse.

         Analysis

         Mr. Williams argues that (1) the Williams rule evidence was irrelevant and its prejudicial effect substantially outweighed its probative value, and (2) the State's notice of intent was insufficient. "We review the trial court's admission of Williams rule evidence for an ...


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