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WILLIAMS v. COMMONWEALTH



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WILLIAMS

v.

COMMONWEALTH


March 3, 2000

Record No. 990774

CARL LEE WILLIAMS

v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA

Present: Carrico, C.J., Compton,[1] Lacy, Hassell, Keenan, Koontz, and Kinser, JJ.

OPINION BY JUSTICE LEROY R. HASSELL, SR.


In this appeal, we consider whether police
officers violated a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights to be
free from unreasonable searches and seizures and whether the
evidence was sufficient to support the defendant’s convictions
for murder, robbery, and statutory burglary.

I.

A grand jury in the City of Richmond indicted
Carl Lee Williams for the following offenses: murder in violation
of Code ? 18.2-32, robbery in violation of Code
? 18.2-58, and statutory burglary in violation of Code
? 18.2-91. Williams was tried at a bench trial in the
Circuit Court for the City of Richmond and found guilty of the
charged offenses. The circuit court fixed his punishment as
follows: life imprisonment for the murder conviction, life
imprisonment for the robbery conviction, and 20 years
imprisonment for the statutory burglary conviction. Williams
appealed the circuit court’s judgment to the Court of Appeals,
claiming that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to
suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search and seizure
of his boots that were in the possession of the Sheriff of the
City of Richmond. Williams also argued that the evidence was
insufficient to support his convictions. The Court of Appeals
affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, Williams v. Commonwealth,
29 Va. App. 297, 512 S.E.2d 133 (1999), and Williams appeals.

II.

On Sunday morning, November 3, 1996, the
victim, Leslie Anne Coughenour, left her home in Henrico County
and went to a law office, where she was employed, at 416 West
Franklin Street in the City of Richmond. Coughenour had informed
her roommate, Andrea Melillo, that Coughenour would return to
their home on Sunday evening. When Melillo arrived at their home
about 8:00 p.m. that evening, she was concerned because
Coughenour was not there. Melillo made a telephone call to
Coughenour’s office, but no one answered the telephone.

Around 10:30 p.m., Melillo went to Coughenour’s
office, but she was unable to enter the building. Melillo
observed Coughenour’s car parked in front of the building.
Melillo placed a note on the car, returned to her home, and
waited for Coughenour to arrive.

Sometime after midnight, Melillo placed a
telephone call to the Richmond Police Department, and it
dispatched a police officer who met her at Coughenour’s office
around 1:00 a.m. The police officer checked the exterior of the
building and found nothing unusual.

Melillo returned to her home, and she made a
telephone call to a friend, who contacted Coughenour’s employer,
Carolyn Carpenter. Carpenter met Richmond police officer Charles
A. Bishop and another officer at the building about 3:25 a.m.
Monday morning, November 4, 1996. When they entered the building,
they learned that the office alarm system was not activated.
However, an inner set of doors, which should have been locked,
was unlocked. The doors to a cabinet were open, and certain items
had been removed.

The officers walked up a stairway to the second
floor of the building. Officer Bishop opened the door to a
storage room, examined the room using his flashlight, and found
Coughenour’s body situated in a swivel chair, which was tied to a
radiator. The body was bound to the chair with two sets of
ligatures. The victim’s hands were tied to the chair, and her
ankles were also bound. The victim’s head was covered with a
scarf. A plastic bag, which contained a rubber ball, had been
placed in the victim’s mouth so tightly that the bag filled the
entire outer part of the victim’s oral cavity. The victim’s
throat had been slashed. The victim’s right wrist had been cut,
and a number of tendons and the radial artery had been severed.
Carpet on the floor below the victim’s right hand was soaked with
blood. The victim had contusions and abrasions to her head and
had suffered a hemorrhage to her brain caused by the infliction
of blows to the side of her head. She had bruises on her arm. Dr.
Glen R. Groben, a medical examiner, testified that the cause of
Coughenour’s death was asphyxiation, with bleeding from the wrist
as a contributing factor. He opined that her death would have
occurred within three to five minutes after the plastic bag had
been forced into her mouth.

Melillo testified that when Coughenour left
their home about 11:45 a.m. on November 3, she had about ten
dollars in cash. She was wearing a gold rope chain bracelet, a
gold herringbone necklace, and a gold diamond and sapphire ring.
She also wore a diamond earring in her left ear and other
assorted earrings in both ears and a "Mickey Mouse"
watch. She had in her possession a laptop computer and a black
and gold Central Fidelity bank card which bore her name. The card
could be used to access a joint account that Coughenour and
Melillo shared. The police officers did not find any of these
items at the murder scene.

An examination of the crime scene revealed that
a window in a men’s restroom on the second floor of the building
had been broken. The window is adjacent to a fire escape. Broken
glass from the window had been placed in a trashcan in the
restroom. Occupants of the office building testified that the
window had not been in that condition on the Friday before
Coughenour’s death. Additionally, a hole had been "knocked
in" a wall adjoining the room where the victim’s body was
found. This damage did not exist on the Friday before the
victim’s body was found. Tenants of the building reported that
two laptop computers, a computer printer, a black portable
compact disc player which contained a compact disc entitled
"Classical Cuts," a Rolodex address and telephone card
index, a small pair of Bushnell brand binoculars, a small,
folding multi-purpose tool, and $50 in cash were missing.

The police investigators found an imprint of
the bottom of a boot on a plywood wall panel near the top of the
stairs on the second floor. Forensic detectives removed this
piece of plywood from the wall and forwarded it to a forensic
laboratory for an analysis.

On Saturday night, November 2, 1996, the
evening before Coughenour was last seen alive, Cherry A. Wright
had a party at her apartment in the Gilpin Court housing
development in Richmond. Several persons, including the
defendant, attended the party. According to Wright, everyone was
"drinking and doing cocaine." The defendant became
"frustrated" and "angry" because he did not
have any cocaine or money to purchase cocaine. The defendant
removed some of his clothing and traded it for $10 or $15 worth
of cocaine. Williams left Wright’s apartment at 2:00 a.m.,
November 3, 1996.

Between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. on November 3, the
defendant returned to Wright’s apartment. When she opened the
door, the defendant asked if she was alone. When she responded
yes, he entered her apartment and told her that he had a box he
wished to place in her closet. He also had a "liquor
box" and a compact disc player. Williams asked Wright did
she "want to party," he "pulled out some
cocaine," "[h]e pulled out a watch," and "he
had a ring on his finger." He also had "a wad of
money." The ring that he was wearing looked like the ring
that had been taken from Coughenour. The defendant gave Wright
$25, a small quantity of cocaine, and a "Mickey Mouse"
watch which looked like Coughenour’s watch. The portable compact
disc player that the defendant had taken to Wright’s apartment
was similar to the compact disc player that had been taken from
the murder scene, and the compact disc player contained a compact
disc entitled "Classical Cuts," the identical name of
the compact disc that had been taken from the murder scene. The
defendant also had a small pair of Bushnell brand binoculars and
a small hand tool that resembled similar items removed from the
building where the murder occurred.

On Wednesday, November 6, 1996, the defendant
returned to Wright’s apartment and told her "he was broke
and that he needed some more money . . . to get
high." He directed her to retrieve the box which he had
hidden in her closet. He opened the box, which contained two
laptop computers and a computer printer.

Wright’s son, William Wright, found a black and
gold Central Fidelity bank card in Wright’s apartment. When the
defendant saw that Wright’s son had the card, the defendant took
the card and stated that "I thought I got rid of this."
Wright also observed that the defendant had a small card with
telephone numbers which resembled the Rolodex address and
telephone card that had been taken from the building where the
victim worked.

Cynthia Lafawn Tyler, a resident of the Gilpin
Court housing development, saw the defendant "a day or
two" after November 2, 1996. The defendant had a compact
disc player that she wanted to buy, but the defendant would not
sell it to her. The defendant reached in his pocket, "pulled
out his own [cocaine] and his own money. He flashed it."
Tyler testified that the defendant’s actions meant that he had
his own money and cocaine and that he did not need her money. The
defendant had a "Mickey Mouse" watch and a ring that
looked like the victim’s ring. The defendant asked Tyler to take
him to a 7-Eleven store on Chamberlayne Avenue in Richmond
because he wanted to use an ATM machine that did not have a video
camera that recorded automated transactions. Someone used
Coughenour’s ATM card to obtain $300 in cash, from the account
the victim shared with Melillo, utilizing ATM machines, including
the ATM machine at the 7-Eleven store where Tyler had taken the
defendant.

Guy Lee Robinson, another resident of the
Gilpin Court housing development, gave the defendant $150 worth
of cocaine in return for one of the laptop computers and a
printer. Robinson saw the "Mickey Mouse" watch that the
defendant had given to Wright. Later, Robinson’s sister-in-law
acquired the watch. Robinson destroyed the watch and threw the
computer and printer in a creek when he learned that the
defendant may have taken these items from the building where
Coughenour’s body was found.

The defendant was arrested for a parole
violation and placed in a jail. When he was released from jail,
the defendant had a conversation with Wright. Wright informed him
that people in the neighborhood had been talking and asking
questions; so she asked him whether he had anything to do with
the lawyer. The defendant said "that it had to do — [do
you] want to know what happened with the lawyer?" Wright
said no.

On November 30, 1996, the defendant was
incarcerated at the Richmond City Jail on an unrelated charge.
When he was processed as a prisoner, he was relieved of his
property, including his clothing, a strip search was conducted,
and an inventory was taken of his property. The only items that
he was allowed to keep were his socks and underwear.

In accordance with the Richmond Sheriff’s
policies and procedures, each prisoner’s property is placed in a
separate bag, and the prisoner’s initials are affixed to the bag.
A prisoner does not have free access to the property. Fifteen
officers who work in the jail’s quartermaster section have access
to any property seized from prisoners. The property is returned
to a prisoner when the prisoner is released from custody.
Lieutenant Clarence L. Jefferson, a deputy sheriff, testified
that prisoners’ shoes are taken from them and prisoners are
issued "jail shoes" because hard-sole shoes or street
shoes have hard heels which are dangerous to officers and
inmates.

Richmond police detective James Hickman
received a "tip" that Williams’ boot matched the boot
impression that was found at the scene of the crimes. The
Richmond Sheriff’s deputies received a request to examine the
defendant’s boots from the Richmond police officers. The deputy
sheriffs gave the defendant’s boots to the police officers
without a search warrant.

Robert B. Hallett qualified as an expert
witness on the subject of shoe print impressions. He conducted
tests on the defendant’s boots. Hallett testified that the boot
impression on the wall at the murder scene was either made by the
defendant’s right boot or a boot that was identical in size,
shape, tread pattern, and the locations and configurations of two
cuts which had been inflicted on the bottom of the defendant’s
boot by sharp objects. Even though there was a deviation in
general wear between the boot that left the impression at the
crime scene and the boot that was taken from the defendant,
Hallett testified that he had never seen two different boots with
such identical characteristics.

Richmond police detective James Hickman
testified that when he served the indictments upon the defendant,
the defendant stated that he had been in New York from October
through the end of December 1996. Richmond police sergeant Gary
Keith Ladin, however, testified that he saw the defendant in
Richmond on November 29, 1996.

Keitha Lasha Thomas, the defendant’s
girlfriend, testified that while she was incarcerated at a
correctional facility in Goochland County, the defendant sent a
letter to her describing his crimes. The defendant stated, in the
letter, that he entered the building where the victim worked when
it was "dark outside" and that the victim arrived when
"it had got[ten] light." The defendant told Thomas that
he had taken some computers, the victim’s ring, and a bank card
because she did not have much money. The defendant stated that
"he tried to smother the bitch but the bitch wouldn’t die
fast enough." He stated that "he cut her throat. Then
he went on to say he cut her wrists."

The defendant testified that he did not commit
the crimes, but admitted possession of some of the stolen
property. He claimed that he obtained the stolen property and the
boots from a man whom he identified as Mark Cromartie. The
defendant denied that he told Detective Hickman that he had been
in New York from October through December and insisted that he
had said he had been in New York until the end of November
instead. The defendant also admitted that he acquired money to
purchase drugs by committing "B&E[s]."

III.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the
evidence related to the examination of his boot. He argued that
the Richmond police officers violated his rights guaranteed by
the Fourth Amendment when the officers obtained his boots from
the Richmond Sheriff and conducted tests on the boots. The
circuit court denied the defendant’s motion, and the Court of
Appeals agreed with the circuit court’s ruling. The defendant
makes the same argument on appeal. We disagree with the
defendant.

Initially, we observe that the Fourth Amendment
protects the privacy interests of persons. Katz v. United
States
, 389 U.S. 347, 350-51 (1967). In Oliver v. United
States
, 466 U.S. 170, 177 (1984), the Supreme Court stated
that: "[s]ince Katz . . . the touchstone of
[Fourth] Amendment analysis has been the question whether a
person has a ‘constitutionally protected reasonable expectation
of privacy.’ Id., at 360 (Harlan, J., concurring). The
Amendment does not protect the merely subjective expectation of
privacy, but only those ‘expectation[s] that society is prepared
to recognize as "reasonable."’ Id., at
361."

In United States v. Edwards, 415
U.S. 800 (1974), the Supreme Court considered whether the Fourth
Amendment required that police officers obtain a search warrant
before searching an arrestee’s clothing. Edwards was lawfully
arrested and charged with attempting to break into a post office.
He was taken to a local jail. An investigation revealed that the
perpetrator of the crime for which Edwards was charged had
attempted to gain entry into the post office through a wooden
window which had been pried with a pry bar, thereby causing paint
chips to fall on a window sill and a wire mesh screen. Edwards,
415 U.S. at 801-02.

Edwards spent the night in the jail. The next
morning, jail officials seized the clothing that he had been
wearing at the time of and since his arrest and held the clothing
as evidence. Examination of the clothing revealed paint chips
that matched the samples taken from the post office window.
Edwards’ clothing and evidence of the paint chips were admitted
in evidence at trial over Edwards’ objection. Id. at 802.

The Supreme Court, approving the admission of
the evidence without a search warrant, held:

"With or without probable cause, the
authorities were entitled at that point [in the booking process] not only to search Edwards’ clothing but also to take it from him
and keep it in official custody. There was testimony that this
was the standard practice in this city. The police were also
entitled to take from Edwards any evidence of the crime in his
immediate possession, including his clothing."

Id. at 804-05. Moreover, the Supreme
Court observed:

"Indeed, it is difficult to perceive what
is unreasonable about the police’s examining and holding as
evidence those personal effects of the accused that they already
have in their lawful custody as the result of a lawful
arrest."

Id. at 806. Concluding, the Supreme
Court stated in Edwards:

"’While the legal arrest of a person
should not destroy the privacy of his premises, it does —
for at least a reasonable time and to a reasonable extent —
take his own privacy out of the realm of protection from police
interest in weapons, means of escape, and evidence.’"

Id. at 808-09 (quoting United States
v. DeLeo, 422 F.2d 487, 493 (1970)).

We conclude that the defendant, Williams, had
no expectation of privacy in his boots that society is prepared
to recognize as reasonable. The boots were in the custody of the
Richmond City Sheriff pursuant to administrative booking policies
and procedures. We hold that when a person, such as the
defendant, has been lawfully arrested and his property has been
lawfully seized by law enforcement personnel pursuant to that
arrest, the arrestee has no reasonable expectation of privacy in
that property, and later examination of the property by another
law enforcement official does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
[2] See United States
v. Turner, 28 F.3d 981, 983 (9th Cir. 1994), cert. denied,
513 U.S. 1158 (1995) (postal service inspector’s removal of a cap
without a warrant from defendant’s property bag at a jail does
not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights because
initial search and seizure of defendant’s personal items was
lawful); United States v. Thompson, 837 F.2d 673,
676 (5th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 832
(1988) (subsequent inspection of keys by a federal agent did not
unduly intrude upon defendant’s expectation of privacy when
police lawfully viewed the keys earlier at the time of
inventory); United States v. Johnson, 820 F.2d
1065, 1072 (9th Cir. 1987); United States v. Burnette,
698 F.2d 1038, 1049 (9th Cir. 1983), cert. denied
461 U.S. 936 (1983) ("once an item in an individual’s
possession has been lawfully seized and searched, subsequent
searches of that item, so long as it remains in the legitimate
uninterrupted possession of the police, may be conducted without
a warrant"); United States v. Phillips, 607
F.2d 808, 809-10 (8th Cir. 1979); United States v. Oaxaca,
569 F.2d 518, 524 (9th Cir. 1978), cert. denied,
439 U.S. 926 (1978) (seizure of defendant’s shoes six weeks after
his arrest while defendant was still in custody at the county
jail did not violate defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights); United
States
v. Jenkins, 496 F.2d 57, 73 (2nd Cir. 1974), cert.
denied, 420 U.S. 925 (1975) (federal agent can view money
to compare serial numbers when police seized the money after
arresting defendant on unrelated state charges and kept money in
an envelope in a jail safe for safekeeping apart from defendant’s
other belongings); State v. Copridge, 918 P.2d
1247, 1251 (Kan. 1996); State v. Wheeler, 519 A.2d
289, 292 (N.H. 1986); Contreras v. State, 838
S.W.2d 594, 597 (Tex. App. 1992).

IV.

Williams argues that the evidence is
insufficient to support his convictions. We disagree.

Applying well-established principles of
appellate review, we must consider the evidence and all
reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom in the light
most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party below. Phan
v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 506, 508, 521 S.E.2d 282, 282
(1999); Derr v. Commonwealth 242 Va. 413, 424, 410
S.E.2d 662, 668 (1991). The burden is upon the Commonwealth,
however, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant
was the perpetrator of these crimes. Phan, 258 Va. at 511,
521 S.E.2d at 284. Additionally, circumstantial evidence is as
competent, and entitled to the same weight, as direct testimony,
if that circumstantial evidence is sufficiently convincing. Epperly
v. Commonwealth, 224 Va. 214, 228, 294 S.E.2d 882, 890
(1982); Stamper v. Commonwealth, 220 Va. 260, 272,
257 S.E.2d 808, 817 (1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S.
972 (1980).

The evidence, which is summarized in Part II of
this opinion, and which we need not repeat here, was sufficient
to permit the circuit court to find beyond a reasonable doubt
that the defendant was the perpetrator of these crimes. Moreover,
as we have already stated, the defendant admitted to Thomas that
he killed Coughenour and he asked Wright if she wanted to know
how the murder occurred. The defendant admitted that he often
committed "B&E[s]" when he needed money to purchase
cocaine. The defendant possessed property taken from the scene of
the murder soon after the crimes occurred.

V.

We find no merit in the defendant’s remaining
arguments. For the reasons stated, we will affirm the judgment of
the Court of Appeals.

Affirmed.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Justice Compton participated in
the hearing and decision of this case prior to the effective date
of his retirement on February 2, 2000.

[2] We find no merit in Williams’
argument that Edwards is not controlling because the
clothing examined in Edwards related to the charge for
which Edwards had been arrested. This distinction is legally
insignificant because the dispositive inquiry remains whether the
defendant, Williams, had an expectation of privacy in the seized
items. The defendant had no such expectation.

 

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