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First-degree murder conviction upheld

First-degree murder conviction upheld

Where appellant was convicted of first-degree murder, the trial court correctly denied his motion to suppress based on a Miranda violation.


Appellant Martin was convicted in Tennessee of kidnapping his wife.

Martin entered the marital home and “showed his wife a photograph on his cell phone of Pierce [his  who appeared to be dead with a visible wound behind his ear.” Martin confessed to his wife, Dawn, that he shot Pierce twice.

“Next, Martin bound Dawn’s hands and feet with zip ties. Then, he further confessed that, based on hidden recording devices he had placed in her truck and their bedroom, he had learned of her extramarital affair with Pierce.

“He also played some of the recordings from the device and advised her that he now had to finish his plan of killing her and committing suicide. Dawn was eventually able to persuade Martin to remove the zip ties and go with her to pick up her son and his girlfriend.”

Dawn was able to alert the police without Martin knowing.

Martin was charged with first-degree murder in Virginia, where Pierce’s body was found. Martin was lodged in a Tennessee jail. Chris Holder, who was a Scott County, Va. detective, traveled to the jail to interview Martin about the murder.

“While leaving the jail, Detective Holder encountered Martin’s parents. Detective Holder testified that he gave Martin’s parents his business card and advised them that if their son wanted to speak with him, they should have Martin contact him at the phone number on the card.”

Martin was tried and convicted of first-degree murder. He appeals.

Suppression motion

During an interview with Detective Holder, Martin admitted to shooting the victim “accidentally and defensively. …

“Martin contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because law enforcement reinitiated interrogation after Martin asserted that he wished to speak to counsel. Martin contends that his parents became agents of the Commonwealth through their contact with Detective Holder.

“Thus, any statement Detective Holder made to encourage him to speak with law enforcement constituted the Commonwealth improperly initiating contact with Martin after he asserted his right to counsel under the Fifth Amendment.

“Although it is well-settled law that further Miranda warnings and apparent waiver does not purge the effects of a nonconsensual governmental inquiry after invocation of a right to counsel, the facts here do not support Martin’s contention that (1) his parents became agents of the Commonwealth or (2) that Detective Holder unconstitutionally reinitiated an interrogation after the right to counsel was asserted. …

“At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Martin conceded that his motion was only relevant to Martin’s mother and not his father, because his father had told him he should only talk to the police with a lawyer present.

“Martin conceded that with his father giving such advice, he could not be considered an agent of the Commonwealth seeking to induce him to waive his rights.

“During the hearing on the motion to suppress, conflicting testimony was elicited from Detective Holder and Martin’s mother.

“Detective Holder testified that he told Martin’s mother that he wished to speak to her son and that he gave her his contact information. Detective Holder admitted that he might have told her that he would be able to talk to the Commonwealth’s Attorney if Martin cooperated.

“In contrast, Martin’s mother testified that Detective Holder advised her that he thought her son had a good case and he just really needed to talk to him, before asking her to get him to agree to do so. The trial court is best positioned to resolve conflicts in the testimony of witnesses. …

“[T]he trial court resolved the conflicting testimony by finding Detective Holder’s testimony credible and more believable than Martin’s mother’s testimony.

“In the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the evidence reflects that Detective Holder simply advised Martin’s mother that he would like to talk to Martin and provided her his phone number. Moreover, Martin initiated contact with the law enforcement summoning Detective Holder numerous times.

“Each time, Martin was properly mirandized. During his last communication requesting that Detective Holder travel to Tennessee to speak with him, Martin voluntarily agreed to be interviewed and provided the same version of events he testified to during the trial.

“We affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress his statement based on its finding that Martin initiated contact with Detective Holder and voluntarily provided a statement to him which was consistent with the theory he advanced at trial – that the shooting was accidental.”

Other issues

“The trial court did not err admitting evidence regarding the kidnapping of Dawn, and any error in admitting the Tennessee kidnapping conviction was harmless. … Martin’s kidnapping of Dawn demonstrates a common plan or scheme.

“Martin first picked up Pierce at his brother-in-law’s home, transported him to Virginia, confronted Pierce, and then killed him with a Glock 19 handgun.

“Martin then returned to his home in Tennessee and threatened his wife at gunpoint before showing her an image of Pierce’s dead body on his cell phone.

“Martin then stated, ‘look what you made me do’ before telling her he had a plan to kill her and then himself.

“This entire exchange is highly probative of Martin’s motive, as well as his intent and plan to kill Pierce. …

“This evidence is also more probative than prejudicial. While highly prejudicial to the defendant, there is no evidence that it would unduly inflame the passions of the jury.

“And it is so highly probative of Martin’s motive and intent and the absence of any mistake or legitimate self-defense that even high prejudice may be tolerated. …

“Any error in compelling Dawn to testify against Martin after invoking her privilege not to testify was harmless. … When ‘other evidence of guilt is so overwhelming and the error so insignificant by comparison that the error could not have affected the verdict’ or when ‘the evidence admitted in error was merely cumulative of other, undisputed evidence,’ the error is harmless. …

Here, the evidence of Martin’s guilt is overwhelming. …

“Martin contends that the trial court erred by permitting Martin to be tried for both first-degree murder and aggravated malicious wounding because doing so violated Martin’s Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy. We disagree. …

“[T]he trial court simply recognized that aggravated malicious wounding is a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder, and therefore a conviction on both indictments would violate the double jeopardy prohibition.

“To ensure a violation would not occur, the trial court instructed the jury that if they convicted Martin of first-degree murder, they were not to consider the aggravated malicious wounding charge. The verdict form also reflected the court’s direction to the jury.

“Since the jury followed the trial court’s instruction, Martin was not subject to multiple punishments for conviction on a single offense, and there was no error.”


Martin v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0757-22-3, April 18, 2023. CAV (unpublished opinion) (Athey Jr.). From the Circuit Court of Fairfax County (Gardiner). Melanie B. Salyer for appellant. Lauren C. Campbell, Jason S. Miyares for appellee. VLW 023-7-146, 26 pp.

VLW 023-7-146

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