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COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA






Present:  Chief Judge Fitzpatrick, Judges Benton, Coleman, Elder,      

               Bray, Annunziata, Bumgardner and Senior Judge Overton

Argued at Richmond, Virginia





ROBERT LEWIS CLAY

                       OPINION BY

v.      Record No. 1893-97-2    JUDGE ROSEMARIE ANNUNZIATA

                                                                   AUGUST 1, 2000

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA





UPON A REHEARING EN BANC



FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HALIFAX COUNTY

Charles L. McCormick, III, Judge



               J. William Watson, Jr. (Watson & Nelson,

P.C., on brief), for appellant.



               Leah A. Darron, Assistant Attorney General

(Mark L. Earley, Attorney General, on brief),

for appellee.







On October 5, 1999, a panel of this Court affirmed the

convictions of Robert Lewis Clay for second degree murder and

use of a firearm in the commission of murder.  We granted Clay's

petition for rehearing en banc to consider his contention that

the trial court erred by (1) refusing to allow him to

cross-examine witnesses Thelma Burns and Carlos Ragland during

the voir dire conducted outside the jury's presence, (2)

admitting hearsay evidence from these two witnesses, and (3)

refusing to allow him to call Deputy David Martin as a witness.  

We find no reversible error and, for the following reasons, we

affirm the convictions.

       FACTS

       On August 25, 1996, Clay entered the Halifax County

Sheriff's Office and asked to speak to Lieutenant Ernest Powell.  

Appearing "shook-up" and "upset," Clay told Powell he had shot

his wife, Joy Clay.  Powell told the dispatcher to call the

rescue squad.  When the rescue squad arrived at Clay's home,

they found Mrs. Clay's dead body on the den floor.  Mrs. Clay

had died from two gunshot wounds.

       At trial, Thelma Burns testified outside the presence of

the jury, and later before the jury, that she spoke with Mrs.

Clay every other day.  In the months prior to her death, Mrs.

Clay asked Burns whether she could move boxes to Burns' home, as

she planned to move because she "was very scared of what her

husband might do to her."  During one telephone conversation,

Burns overheard Clay say to Mrs. Clay, who had just attended a

funeral, "I'm going to kill you bitch, you can't never go with

me to any of my family's funerals and I'm tired of you, I'm

going to kill you, bitch."  During a telephone conversation only

days before Mrs. Clay was killed, Burns overheard Clay say to

Mrs. Clay, "[Y]ou might have got that school bus, but you won't

drive that school bus."

       At trial, Carlos Ragland testified outside the presence of

the jury, and subsequently to the jury, that Mrs. Clay told him

about a month before her death that she was planning to move

"because she was afraid of what might happen to her."  During

another telephone conversation, Ragland overheard Clay call Mrs.

Clay a "B" and say that "he was going to kill her because he was

tired of her."

       Robert Lewis Clay, Jr., the only son of Clay and Mrs. Clay,

testified that his mother told him in phone conversations during

the month leading up to her death that "she was moving away and

getting another job in Roxboro somewhere" because she "couldn't

take it no more."  Robert testified that Clay was an avid hunter

who practiced "safe firearms."  Robert never saw Clay load or

unload a gun inside the house, and Clay taught him to keep the

safety switch on until ready to shoot.

       Clay testified that when he confronted his wife about

$5,000 missing from his gun cabinet, she first denied knowing

anything about the money but then admitted taking the money and

refused to return it.  Clay "just got all upset" and took a gun

from his gun cabinet.  Clay testified that he thought his wife

would tell him where the money was if she saw the gun.  Clay

claimed that when he "raised the gun up it just went off."  Clay

claimed the gun discharged twice, although he did not recall

pulling the trigger.



       CROSS-EXAMINATION DURING VOIR DIRE

       Clay contends the trial court erred by refusing to allow

him to cross-examine Burns and Ragland during the voir dire

conducted outside the presence of the jury.  He claims that the

Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the

United States, and Article I, Section 8, of the Virginia

Constitution give him the right to confront his accusers.  

Therefore, he contends the trial court erred in refusing to

allow defense counsel to cross-examine Burns and Ragland during

voir dire conducted outside the presence of the jury.

       Although Clay objected when the trial judge refused to

allow defense counsel to cross-examine Burns and Ragland on voir

dire conducted out of the presence of the jury, he did not do so

on constitutional grounds and did not specify any constitutional

grounds.  No ruling of the trial court will be considered as a

basis for reversal unless the objection was stated together with

the grounds therefor at the time of the ruling, except for good

cause shown or to enable this Court to attain the ends of

justice.  See Rule 5A:18.

       The record does not reflect any reason to invoke the good

cause or ends of justice exceptions to Rule 5A:18.  Prior to the

trial, defense counsel advised the trial court that he had

ascertained that the Commonwealth might present certain

witnesses to whom Mrs. Clay made statements before she died.  He

assumed they would be adverse.  Defense counsel stated that "it

would be appropriate to let Mr. Greenbacker [Commonwealth's

Attorney] ask them the questions that he's going to ask them and

hear their responses so I can make the appropriate objections,

because there's some indication that she said she was going to

leave or that he had been mean to her or something along those

lines. . . ."

       The Commonwealth's Attorney stated that he did not want to

have a mini-trial but would "submit to the court or make a

proffer."  Defense counsel replied:  "All I wanted to do was to

see if I could hear what they were going to say before so I

could object to it, preserve the record, make the appropriate

objections, and then the jury can hear whatever you see fit."  

Both the trial judge and the Commonwealth's Attorney agreed to

this procedure.

       In due course, the Commonwealth called Burns as a witness.  

She submitted to what is called in the record a "Voir Dire

Examination," out of the presence of the jury.  Mr. Greenbacker

first fully examined the witness.  When he concluded, defense

counsel commenced to cross-examine the witness.  The

Commonwealth's Attorney objected, stating, "[I] think the

proffer of the evidence without cross-examination is probably

the appropriate way to go at this point."  The trial judge

sustained the objection and refused to permit cross-examination

until such time as the witness was called as a witness in the

trial before the jury.  After argument of counsel, the judge

further held that the evidence was admissible.  Upon this

record, we find no abuse of the trial court's discretion.  The

purpose of the voir dire, as enunciated by defense counsel, was

to permit defense counsel to hear the evidence prior to trial

for the purpose of permitting him to "object to it, preserve the

record, [and] make the appropriate objections."  That purpose

was met.  Furthermore, in the presence of the jury, defense

counsel ultimately fully cross-examined both witnesses.

VICTIM'S HEARSAY TESTIMONY

       Clay contends the trial court erred in admitting in

evidence the testimony of Burns and Ragland regarding statements

made to them by the victim, Joy Clay, indicating that she was

going to leave Clay because she was afraid of what he might do

to her.   Burns testified that on numerous occasions before the

death of Joy Clay, she had telephone conversations with Mrs.

Clay in which Mrs. Clay "asked [her if she] could . . . bring

some boxes to [her] house.  [Mrs. Clay] stated that she was

going to move because she was very scared of what her husband

might do to her."  Burns testified she received like requests

and intentions up to the time of Mrs. Clay's death.

       In similar phone conversations, Ragland testified the

victim "told [him] she was planning on moving to Roxboro, North

Carolina" and "she was going to move because she was afraid of

what might happen to her."  Clay argued that the evidence that

Joy Clay had to get out of the house because she was afraid of

what he might do to her did not prove that he intended to kill

her.  He contends the evidence was, therefore, not material, was

highly prejudicial, and should not have been admitted in

evidence.  We disagree and find the evidence admissible under

the state of mind exception to the hearsay rule to show Clay's

motive and intent.

       A person seeking to have hearsay declarations admitted must

clearly show that they are within an exception to the rule.  See

Doe v. Thomas, 227 Va. 466, 472, 318 S.E.2d 382, 386 (1984)

(citations omitted); Foley v. Commonwealth, 8 Va. App. 149, 161,

379 S.E.2d 915, 921, aff'd en banc, 9 Va. App. 175, 384 S.E.2d

813 (1989).  Hearsay evidence is inadmissible at trial unless it

falls into one of the recognized exceptions to the rule.  See

Evans-Smith v. Commonwealth, 5 Va. App. 188, 197, 361 S.E.2d

436, 441 (1987).

       The Commonwealth argues that the testimony of Burns and

Ragland relating Joy Clay's statements regarding her fear of

Clay fall within the state of mind exception.  The problem which

arises in connection with the admissibility of such statements

made by homicide victims is discussed in McCormick on Evidence:  

"The possibility of overpersuasion, the prejudicial character of

the evidence, and the relative weakness and speculative nature

of the inference, all argue against admissibility as a matter of

relevance. . . . [T]he cases have generally excluded the

evidence. . . ."  McCormick on Evidence   276 (John W. Strong,

ed., 4th ed. 1992) (footnotes omitted); see also United States

v. Brown, 490 F.2d 758, 766 (D.C. Cir. 1973).

       Notwithstanding the general rule favoring exclusion,

several exceptions have evolved, dictated by recurring factual

circumstances which make the statements' relevance manifest.

[I]n some circumstances, [a victim's state

of mind] statements may be admissible under

other hearsay exceptions, such as that for

startled utterances or dying

declarations. . . . There is broad agreement

that such statements are admissible where

the defense claims self-defense, suicide, or

accidental death, because in each of those

situations the decedent's fear helps to

rebut aspects of the asserted defense.



McCormick on Evidence   276; see also Brown, 490 F.2d at 766.

       Under Virginia law, statements that tend to prove the state

of mind of the victim "are admissible . . . [only] when the

statements are relevant and material."  Johnson v. Commonwealth,

2 Va. App. 598, 602, 347 S.E.2d 163, 165 (1986) (citations

omitted); see Kauffmann v. Commonwealth, 8 Va. App. 400, 406,

382 S.E.2d 279, 282 (1989).   We also noted in Hanson v.

Commonwealth, 14 Va. App. 173, 416 S.E.2d 14 (1992), that

[f]or the state of mind of the victim to be

relevant to prove the state of mind of the

accused, some nexus must exist which

inferentially implicates the accused, such

as by showing "previous threats made by the

defendant towards the victim, narrations of

past incidents of violence on the part of

the defendant or general verbalizations of

fear of the defendant."



Id. at 188-89, 416 S.E.2d at 23 (quoting Brown, 490 F.2d at

765-66).

Applying these principles, we find that the state of mind

of a homicide victim is relevant and material in cases where

accidental death is mounted as a defense.  See Hanson, 14

Va. App. at 188, 416 S.E.2d at 23 (citing Evans-Smith, 5

Va. App. at 198, 361 S.E.2d at 442); see also West v.

Commonwealth, 12 Va. App. 906, 910, 407 S.E.2d 22, 24 (1991).  

The inquiry does not end, however, with a court's determination

of relevancy.  The proffered evidence must be further examined

by the court to "undertake the familiar balancing process in

which the relative degrees of relevance and prejudice are

weighed and determined."  Brown, 490 F.2d at 774; McCormick on

Evidence   185.  Where outweighed by the prejudicial effect it

may have on the fair determination of the issues, such evidence

will be excluded.  See 490 F.2d at 774.

In this case, Clay was charged with first degree murder and

use of a firearm in the commission of murder.  In a first-degree

murder case, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant

killed the victim, that the killing was malicious, and that the

killing was willful, deliberate and premeditated.  See Painter

v. Commonwealth, 210 Va. 360, 364, 171 S.E.2d 166, 169-70 (1969)

(citing McDaniel v. Commonwealth, 77 Va. 281, 283-84 (1883)).  

Clay's contention that the killing was accidental put his state

of mind at issue, see Parsons v. Commonwealth, 138 Va. 746, 777,

121 S.E. 68, 71 (1924), and concomitantly established the

predicate for the admission of the challenged hearsay testimony.  

Testimony of the victim's fear is relevant to Clay's claim that

the shooting was accidental and not deliberate.  See McCormick

on Evidence   185; Brown, 490 F.2d at 773-74.  Logically, a

deceased's fear of an individual accused of murder is

inconsistent with a claim that the events in question

culminating in the death were the result of "pure chance."  See

Black's Law Dictionary 15 (6th ed. 1990) (an "accident," "if

happening wholly or partly through human agency, [is] an event

which under the circumstances is unusual and unexpected by the

person to whom it happens").  Thus, the hearsay statements in

question tend to establish Clay's motive and intent and they are

probative rebuttal of his contention that the shooting was not

willful or deliberate.  See Batten v. Commonwealth, 190 Va. 235,

245-46, 56 S.E.2d 231, 236-37 (1949) (the accused's state of

mind is material in a homicide case); Parsons, 138 Va. at 777,

121 S.E. at 71; Hanson, 14 Va. App. at 188-89, 416 S.E.2d at 23.  

See also Elliott v. Commonwealth, 30 Va. App. 430, 437-38, 517

S.E.2d 271, 275 (1999) (where the accused claims the victim's

death was an accident and not murder, "the state of mind of the

victim is relevant to prove the state of mind of the accused and

the nature of their relationship").

We must now determine whether the prejudicial effect of

such evidence outweighed its probative value.  Some of the

factors which may be considered in determining whether the

evidence is unduly prejudicial and the trial court abused its

discretion in judging the balance in favor of admission include

whether the content of the statements tends to "arouse the

jury's hostility or sympathy for one side without regard to the

probative value of the evidence," McCormick on Evidence   185,

at 780, and whether it tends to confuse or mislead the trier of

fact, see id. at 781, or distract it to irrelevant

considerations.  See id.  Finally, where the proofs and

counterproofs of such facts require an inordinate amount of time

to accomplish, the evidence may properly be excluded.  See id.;

State v. Patricia A. M., 500 N.W.2d 289, 294 (Wis. 1993)

("Evidence is unduly prejudicial when it threatens fundamental

goals of accuracy and fairness of trial by misleading jury or by

influencing jury to decide case on improper basis, and

unfairness attaches if evidence tends to influence outcome by

improper means, or it appeals to jury's sympathies, arouses its

sense of horror, promotes its desire to punish or otherwise

causes jury to base its decision on extraneous

considerations.").  The particular factors that may be

determinative vary with the case.  See Evans-Smith, 5 Va. App.

at 197, 361 S.E.2d at 441; see also Beck v. Commonwealth, 253

Va. 373, 382, 484 S.E.2d 898, 904 (1997).

We find the probative effect of the evidence was not

outweighed by its potential for prejudicing the jury in its

consideration of the issues.  The witnesses' statements were

limited to describing the victim's plan to move because she

feared what her husband might do to her; neither past acts nor

threats by Clay were specifically referenced or recounted.  

Thus, the witnesses' statements effectively reflected the

victim's state of mind and not Clay's prior conduct.  Cf. Brown,

490 F.2d at 777 (victim's statement which included a reference

that she feared the accused would kill her, found to be

improper); id. at 775 ("[T]he more narration of past acts or

conduct of the defendant contained in the statement, the greater

the danger of jury misuse." (citations omitted)); McCormick on

Evidence   276.  Furthermore, the statements were not highly

emotional or inflammatory in content and they were thus unlikely

to distract the jury from the main issues in the case.  

Additionally, the statements were relevant as rebuttal to the

defense of accidental death, and, in light of the proper

admission of Clay's threats to kill his wife, were unlikely to

confuse or mislead the jury in this case.  Finally, an

inordinate amount of time was not consumed in the offer of proof

and counterproofs in this case.  For these reasons, we cannot

say the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the

statements.

REFUSAL TO ALLOW MARTIN TO TESTIFY

       After the Commonwealth rested its case, Clay attempted to

call Deputy David Martin as a witness on his behalf.  The

Commonwealth objected, contending that Clay's statements to

Martin were inadmissible hearsay and that Clay was attempting to

imply to the jury that evidence had been "improperly suppressed

by the prosecution."  The Commonwealth also contended that Clay

was attempting to admit Clay's statements into evidence through

Martin when he did not intend to testify himself.  Clay asserted

that the court should permit Martin to testify because he had

observed Clay after the shooting and had taken written

statements from him at the sheriff's office.  Martin had no

other participation in the case.

       The trial court excluded the testimony of Martin, stating

that "it's kind of setting up a straw man to knock it down or

something."

       Clay proffered for the record the following summary of

Martin's proposed testimony:

               His name is David Martin.  He was instructed

to obtain a full statement from Mr. Clay if

he was willing to give one.  He indicated he

would give one.  He was read his standard

Miranda rights.  The statement is

approximately four pages long in Martin's

handwriting.  About thirty minutes later,

Martin returned and asked Clay some more

questions.  During the thirty minute

interim, Clay was in the presence of Martin,

except maybe for a second or two.  Clay's

demeanor throughout the entire process was

somber and quiet.  Those two words best

described Clay to Martin.  Clay was

cooperative.



Lieutenant Powell had previously testified that Clay arrived at

the sheriff's department appearing "shook up or shaken" and

upset.  Clay asked to speak privately with Powell and admitted

killing his wife.  He gave his house key to Powell to make sure

the law enforcement officers could enter the house.  This

evidence showed that Clay sought out the police to admit

shooting his wife, that he was cooperative, and that he was

visibly shaken and upset.

       Martin's testimony would have been corroborative of Clay's

testimony but cumulative of Powell's testimony.  

"[C]orroborative testimony and cumulative testimony are not the

same thing.  Cumulative testimony is repetitive testimony that

restates what has been said already and adds nothing to it.  It

is testimony of the same kind and character as that already

given."  Massey v. Commonwealth, 230 Va. 436, 442, 337 S.E.2d

754, 758 (1985) (citation omitted).  Corroborative evidence is

evidence that does not emanate from the defendant's mouth, does

not rest wholly upon the defendant's credibility, but is

evidence that adds to, strengthens, and confirms the defendant's

testimony.  See id. at 442-43, 337 S.E.2d at 758; see also

Proctor v. Town of Colonial Beach, 18 Va. App. 28, 441 S.E.2d

233 (1994); Cash v. Commonwealth, 5 Va. App. 506, 364 S.E.2d 769

(1988).  "[W]here evidence is merely cumulative its introduction

may be limited by the court.  Yet, because of the constitutional

right to call for evidence in one's favor, even cumulative

evidence should sometimes be admitted.  Where testimony is

material 'even though cumulative to some extent' it should

nonetheless be considered."  Massey, 230 Va. at 442, 337 S.E.2d

at 758.

       Clay was entitled to call witnesses in his defense, and

Martin's testimony, subject to appropriate objections by the

Commonwealth's Attorney, was admissible.  We find the trial

court erred in excluding Martin as a witness.

       It remains only to determine whether the trial court error

was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  See Chapman v.

California, 386 U.S. 18, 22-23 (1967); Scott v. Commonwealth, 25

Va. App. 36, 42, 486 S.E.2d 120, 122-23 (1997); Hope v.

Commonwealth, 8 Va. App. 491, 497, 386 S.E.2d 807, 810-11

(1989).  Where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, the error

will be held harmless.  Scott, 25 Va. App. at 42, 486 S.E.2d at

123.  "We will not reverse a judgment for error in excluding

evidence where it appears from the record that the error . . .

could not and did not affect the verdict."  Pace v. Richmond,

231 Va. 216, 226, 343 S.E.2d 59, 65 (1986) (internal quotation

omitted) (citing, inter alia, Williamson v. Commonwealth, 180

Va. 277, 284, 23 S.E.2d 240, 243 (1942)).  We find that the

erroneous exclusion of the evidence was harmless.

The evidence overwhelmingly proved that Clay deliberately

shot his wife.  He admitted in a detailed, written statement to

Deputy David Martin that he shot her.  In his written statement

and in his testimony at trial, Clay stated that he discovered

$5,000 missing from his gun cabinet.  He went to the den where

his wife was sitting on a sofa.  He confronted her about the

missing money and she denied knowing anything about it, but then

admitted taking the money.  She refused to return it.  Clay

testified that he became upset.  He went to the bedroom where

his gun cabinet was located.  He obtained one of his several

guns.  He did not look to see if it was loaded, and he did not

load it.  He then went back to the door of the den where his

wife was seated.  Clay told her, "I needed the money," raised

the gun up, and it went off.  He did not remember discharging

the gun and did not remember pulling the trigger.  Clay

testified that he "thought if she seen the gun she might tell me

where my money was at."  He testified the gun went off twice.

       Clay's son testified that he was the executor of his

mother's estate and went through her papers and effects.  He

never found any cash as large as "a thousand dollars or two

thousand dollars."  He did not find that she had transferred any

large sum of money to or from any accounts.  Clay stated in his

statement to Deputy Martin that he never found the $5,000.  It

can be reasonably inferred from this testimony that the $5,000

never existed and that the dispute over the funds between Clay

and his wife was fabricated to conceal his guilt.  See Rollston

v. Commonwealth, 11 Va. App. 535, 547-48, 399 S.E.2d 823, 830

(1991).

       Robert Clay, Jr., further testified that he grew up in the

household with his parents, that his father was a hunter and

hunted every hunting season, that his father had "over three"

firearms, and that his father taught him how to hunt.  Both men

always "practiced safe firearms."  He never saw his father load

or unload a gun in the house.  His father always cleaned his

guns regularly during the off-season.  Robert had never known

his father to keep a gun in his house that had shells chambered

in it.

James L. Pickleman, an employee at the Virginia Division of

Forensic Science Laboratory in the firearms section, testifying

as an expert in firearms, stated that if the gun was loaded, one

would have to push the safety switch open and then pull the

trigger to fire the gun.  This action fires the shell in the

chamber.  The murder weapon is automatic loading; the firing of

the shell ejects it from the gun.  When fired, the pellets are

expelled from the muzzle, the recoil action pushes the bolt back

and discharges the empty shell, and the next shell from the

magazine is loaded into the chamber.  The gun is then ready to

be fired again.  However, the trigger would have to be pulled

again to fire the second shot.  Pickleman further testified that

the trigger mechanism on the weapon would not fire easily,

stating that it would take three and three-quarters pounds of

pressure to pull the trigger on each occasion.  He further

testified that the only way the gun could fire the second time

would be for the trigger to be pulled by applying the necessary

amount of pressure.  Pickleman's testimony provided strong

evidence that Clay did not accidentally fire the shotgun.

To further meet Clay's defense of accidental death and to

prove the motive and intent of the accused, Burns and Ragland

testified to the threats Clay made against his wife.  During one

telephone conversation between Burns and the victim, Burns

overheard Clay in the background say to Joy Clay, who had just

returned from attending a funeral, "I'm going to kill you bitch,

you can't never go with me to any of my family's funerals and

I'm tired of you, I'm going to kill you, bitch."  Ragland also

testified that during a telephone conversation with Joy Clay, he

heard Clay in the background call his wife a "B" and say that

"he was going to kill her because he was tired of her."

       Finally, Dr. Glen Robert Groben, a medical examiner,

testified that the victim received two shotgun wounds to the

body.  One wound was to the head and chest; the other was to the

left side of the body.  In his opinion, both wounds were lethal

and the victim would have died in minutes from loss of blood.

Evaluating the error in the context of all the evidence in

the case, we find that, had the evidence been admitted, it would

not have affected the verdict.  There is little difference

between Martin's proffered testimony and that given by Clay and

Lieutenant Powell.  In Martin's testimony, Clay was reported to

be somber, quiet, and was cooperative during the time the

statements were taken in the calm of the sheriff's office.  That

Clay first appeared at the sheriff's office and appeared

"shaken" and "upset" does not contradict Martin's testimony that

he appeared "somber" and "quiet" when giving the statement.  The

difference in the two statements is inconsequential, and

Martin's excluded testimony would have added nothing to the

evidence presented by the testimony of Powell and Clay.  We find

that the error was harmless because it could not have affected

the outcome of the case.

       Accordingly, the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

                                                                               Affirmed.





Benton, J., with whom Elder, J., joins, dissenting.



       I dissent from the part of the opinion styled Victim's

Hearsay Testimony and the harmless error analysis in the part of

the opinion styled Refusal to Allow Martin to Testify.

I.

       At trial, the Commonwealth proved by the testimony of

several witnesses that in the months prior to the decedent's

death, she told the witnesses she was afraid of what Robert

Clay, her husband, would do to her.  Relying on Evans-Smith v.

Commonwealth, 5 Va. App. 188, 361 S.E.2d 436 (1987), Clay's

attorney objected that the statements were hearsay and

immaterial and that the prejudicial effect of the statements

outweighed their probative value.  In response, the prosecutor

argued that the testimony was admissible as "a present sense

impression" and to show "motive and premeditation as well as

malice."  Citing Compton v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 716, 250

S.E.2d 749 (1979), the prosecutor also argued that the evidence

was admissible to show the "history and relationship" between

the Clays.  The trial judge ruled that the evidence was

admissible.

       For the reasons generally stated in the previous panel

opinion, see Clay v. Commonwealth, 30 Va. App. 650, 519 S.E.2d

393 (1999), I would hold that the trial judge erred in admitting

the decedent's statements in evidence.  "The principal danger

[of admitting this evidence] is that the jury will consider [the

decedent's] statement[s] of fear as somehow reflecting on

[Clay's] state of mind rather than the [decedent's] - i.e., as a

true indication of [Clay's] intentions, actions, or

culpability."  United States v. Brown, 490 F.2d 758, 766 (D.C.

Cir. 1973).  Indeed, it is precisely because of this risk of

improper use that the general rule favors excluding this

evidence.

  A recurring problem arises in connection

with the admissibility of accusatory

statements made before the act by the

victims of homicide.  If the statement is

merely an expression of fear - i.e., "I am

afraid of D" - no hearsay problem is

involved, since the statement falls within

the hearsay exception for statements of

mental or emotional condition.  This does

not, however, resolve the question of

admissibility.  The victim's emotional state

must relate to some legitimate issue in the

case.  For example, the victim's emotional

state may permit the inference of some fact

of consequence, such as lack of consent

where the prosecution charges that the

killing occurred during the commission of

either a kidnapping or rape.

  However, the most likely inference that

jurors may draw from the existence of fear,

and often the only logical inference that

could be drawn, is that some conduct of the

defendant, probably mistreatment or threats,

occurred to cause the fear.  The possibility

of overpersuasion, the prejudicial character

of the evidence, and the relative weakness

and speculative nature of the inference, all

argue against admissibility as a matter of

relevance.  Moreover, even if the judgment

is made that evidence of fear standing alone

should be admitted, statements of fear are

rarely stated pristinely.  Instead, that

state of mind usually assumes the form

either of a statement by the victim that the

accused has made threats, from which fear

may be inferred, or perhaps more likely a

statement of fear because of the defendant's

threats.  Not only does the evidence possess

the weaknesses suggested above for

expressions of fear standing alone, but in

addition it seems unlikely that juries can

resist using the evidence for forbidden

purposes in the presence of specific

disclosure of misconduct of the defendant.

  In either event, the cases have generally

excluded the evidence.  While the same

pressing need for the evidence may be

present as that which led to the development

of the hearsay exception for dying

declarations, the case for trustworthiness

is much weaker, and need alone has never

been thought sufficient to support a hearsay

exception.  Exclusion is not universal,

however, for in some circumstances

statements may be admissible under other

hearsay exceptions, such as that for

startled utterances or dying declarations.  

Moreover, the decedent's fear may be

relevant for other legitimate purposes

beyond proof of the defendant's act or state

of mind.  There is broad agreement that such

statements are admissible where the defense

claims self-defense, suicide, or accidental

death, because in each of those situations

the decedent's fear helps to rebut aspects

of the asserted defense.  

McCormick on Evidence   276, at 243-45 (4th ed. 1992) (emphasis

added) (footnotes omitted).

       Thus, hearsay evidence of the decedent's state of mind is

not automatically admissible simply because the defense contends

the death was an accident.  Although the decedent's hearsay

statements concerning her fear of Clay may fit within an

exception to the hearsay rule, they are only admissible if they

are relevant to some aspect of Clay's defense and their

prejudicial effect is outweighed by their probative value.  The

decedent's statements, which were made months before her death,

that she "was moving away" and that "she was afraid of what

might happen to her" are irrelevant to whether Clay accidentally

shot her while he was handling the gun.  Evidence of her state

of mind rebutted no aspect of Clay's defense and, when combined

with the evidence that Clay had threatened her, were highly

prejudicial.  See id.

  The threshold requirement of

admissibility of such hearsay statements of

fear of defendant in homicide cases is some

substantial degree of relevance to a

material issue in the case.  While there are

undoubtedly a number of possible situations

in which such statements may be relevant,

the courts have developed three rather

well-defined categories in which the need

for such statements overcomes almost any

possible prejudice.  The most common of

these involves defendant's claim of

self-defense as justification for the

killing.  When such a defense is asserted, a

defendant's assertion that the deceased

first attacked him may be rebutted by the

extrajudicial declarations of the victim

that he feared the defendant, thus rendering

it unlikely that the deceased was in fact

the aggressor in the first instance.  

Second, where defendant seeks to defend on

the ground that the deceased committed

suicide, evidence that the victim had made

statements inconsistent with a suicidal bent

are highly relevant.  A third situation

involves a claim of accidental death, where,

for example, defendant's version of the

facts is that the victim picked up

defendant's gun and was accidentally killed

while toying with it.  In such cases the

deceased's statements of fear as to guns or

of defendant himself (showing he would never

go near defendant under any circumstances)

are relevant in that they tend to rebut this

defense.  Of course, even in these cases,

where the evidence is of a highly

prejudicial nature, it has been held that it

must be excluded in spite of a significant

degree of relevance.

Brown, 490 F.2d at 767 (emphasis added).

       Relying on Compton, the Commonwealth argued that the

decedent's state of mind was relevant to prove the history of

Clay's relationship with the decedent.  In Compton, the accused

claimed he had no reason to kill the decedent because they

intended to marry.  See 219 Va. at 729, 250 S.E.2d at 757.  

Noting that testimony, the Court expressly detailed in the

following passage, the nexus between the disputed evidence and

the theory of accident:

  During the trial the defendant referred

to the affection which he and the deceased

had for each other, their harmonious

relationship, and their plans to marry and

to build a home when his divorce became

final.  Love notes and a sentimental

greeting card from the victim to the

defendant were introduced by him to show

their prior relationship and to negate any

reason or motive that the defendant would

have had to kill the deceased.  This

evidence was properly admitted as bearing

upon the motive and intent of the defendant,

and in support of his theory that the

killing was accidental.  For the same reason

it was equally permissible for the

Commonwealth to show that the relationship

between the parties was not always an

affectionate and calm one, but that there

were turbulent episodes in which the conduct

of the defendant toward the deceased was

aggressive and threatening.

Id.

       The record in this case contains no evidence establishing a

logical nexus between the decedent's state of mind months prior

to her death and Clay's state of mind when the gun fired.  Clay

admitted handling the gun when he and the decedent were

discussing money that he believed she had taken.  Clay, however,

did not put at issue his personal relationship with the

decedent.  If Clay had put at issue the relationship between

himself and the decedent, for example, by asserting that they

had a loving marriage, the statements might be relevant to rebut

that account of their relationship.  In the context of the

evidence in this case, however, decedent's statements were

irrelevant to any aspect of Clay's defense.  Moreover, a

substantial likelihood exists that the jury used the statements

to infer that Clay intentionally killed his wife.

       Reversing a murder conviction where a decedent's hearsay

report of threats by the defendant was admitted to disprove the

defendant's claim of accidental death, the Supreme Court of

California noted that in "cases involving hearsay threats,

admissibility has always been approached through a careful

examination of the precise issues to which the threat may be

relevant."  People v. Lew, 441 P.2d 942, 944 (Cal. 1968) (en

banc).  The Lew court examined the evidence and found no nexus

between the defendant's previous threats to the decedent and the

defense that the decedent accidentally killed herself while

handling a gun in the defendant's presence.  See id. at 943.  

Similarly, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected testimony of

hearsay threats attributable to the defendant by the decedent

and noted that "inherent in the hearsay and the [state's]

argument was that the defendant had once purposefully pointed a

gun at deceased; therefore, he must have been doing the same

thing when she was killed."  State v. Bartolon, 495 P.2d 772,

774 (Or. App. 1972).  The Bartolon court held that the hearsay

threats were inadmissible in the state's case-in-chief to prove

the defendant's "purposefulness in pointing a firearm at his

wife," where the defense was accidental shooting.  Id.; see also

Jones v. Commonwealth, 202 Va. 236, 242, 117 S.E.2d 67, 72

(1960) (holding that where the defendant testified his wife

grabbed his hand causing the gun to discharge, evidence of

hearsay threats reported by the decedent more than one month

prior to the shooting was inadmissible).

       Relying on Brown, the majority opinion holds that the

decedent's statements of fear that Clay would harm her are

"admissible under the state of mind exception to the hearsay

rule to show Clay's motive and intent."  In Brown, however, the

court ruled only that "the state of mind exception to the

hearsay rule allows the admission of extrajudicial statements to

show the state of mind of the declarant at that time if that is

at issue in the case."  490 F.2d at 762 (emphasis added).  The

Brown court held that state of mind was not at issue in that

case and reversed the murder conviction.  See id. at 781-82.  

The Brown decision is consistent with the majority rule

elsewhere that although hearsay evidence of a decedent's fear of

a defendant legitimately can be used to prove the decedent's

conduct, it is not relevant or admissible to prove the

defendant's conduct.  See State v. Fulminante, 975 P.2d 75,

89-90 (Ariz. 1999) (en banc); see also McCormick on Evidence

 276, at 244-45 (in certain cases hearsay can be used to prove

declarant's state of mind or conduct but not the conduct of the

accused).  The United States Supreme Court has also noted that

hearsay statements of belief or fear concerning the defendant

which bear close proximity to the issue of guilt or innocence

may cause substantial prejudice to the defendant's case which

outweighs any probative value.  See Shepard v. United States,

290 U.S. 96, 104 (1933); see also Rule 803(3), Fed.R.Evid.,

advisory committee's notes (recognizing that Rule 803(3)

statement can prove only declarant's conduct, "not the future

conduct of another person").

       At Clay's trial, no act or conduct of the decedent was at

issue.  Thus, the decedent's state of mind had no bearing on any

issue to be decided by the jury.  The important fact in this

case was Clay's state of mind.

The testimony now questioned faced backward

and not forward.  This at least it did in

its most obvious implications.  What is even

more important, it spoke to a past act, and,

more than that, to an act by some one not

the speaker.  Other tendency, if it had any,

was a filament too fine to be disentangled

by a jury.

Shepard, 290 U.S. at 106 (emphasis added).  By ruling that this

evidence was admissible, the majority "reverses the effect of

the statement so as to reflect on [Clay's] intent and actions

rather than that state of mind of the declarant (victim)."  

Brown, 490 F.2d at 771.  Although the majority opinion

extensively cites Brown, a close reading of Brown discloses that

it logically cannot be read to support the majority's analysis.  

Indeed, it supports the opposite proposition.

       Neither Hardy v. Commonwealth, 110 Va. 910, 67 S.E. 522

(1910), nor Hanson v. Commonwealth, 14 Va. App. 173, 416 S.E.2d

14 (1992), supports the majority's holding that the hearsay

statements made by the decedent about her fears are admissible

in this prosecution.  Indeed, the majority opinion's quote from

Hanson was taken from the following context in Brown:

Quite a number of courts have confronted

facts similar to those here involving

hearsay statements made by the victim of a

homicide which inferentially implicate the

defendant.  Such statements by the victims

often include previous threats made by the

defendant towards the victim, narrations of

past incidents of violence on the part of

the defendant or general verbalizations of

fear of the defendant.  While such

statements are admittedly of some value in

presenting to the jury a complete picture of

all the facts and circumstances surrounding

the homicide, it is generally agreed that

their admissibility must be determined by a

careful balancing of their probative value

against their prejudicial effect.  Courts

have recognized that such statements are

fraught with inherent dangers and require

the imposition of rigid limitations.  The

principal danger is that the jury will

consider the victim's statement of fear as

somehow reflecting on defendant's state of

mind rather than the victim's - i.e., as a

true indication of defendant's intentions,

actions, or culpability.  Such inferences

are highly improper and where there is a

strong likelihood that they will be drawn by

the jury the danger of injurious prejudice

is particularly evident.

490 F.2d at 765-66.

       I perceive no reason to characterize as dicta our statement

of the general rule in Hanson, that to be admissible in a

prosecution involving a defense of accidental death, the state

of mind of the victim must have been communicated to the

accused.   See 14 Va. App. at 188, 416 S.E.2d at 23.  The

reference in Hanson to the Hardy decision was intended to

support the proposition that the hearsay declarant's state of

mind only could have been proved to be relevant in that case if

it had been conveyed to Hanson and, additionally, would have

tended to prove some fact at issue.  Indeed, we stated that

"[i]n Hanson's case, Taylor's state of mind would have had

significance only if the fact finder inferred that Taylor acted

upon his state of mind by communicating his dissatisfaction to

Hanson and that Hanson responded by killing Taylor."  Hanson, 14

Va. App. at 188, 416 S.E.2d at 23.  This is consistent with the

following ruling we made in an earlier case:

Out of court statements offered to show the

state of mind of the declarant are

admissible in Virginia when relevant and

material.  See, e.g., Compton v.

Commonwealth, 219 Va. 716, 729, 250 S.E.2d

749, 757 (1979); Jones v. Commonwealth, 217

Va. 226, 228, 228 S.E.2d 124, 126 (1976);

Karnes v. Commonwealth, 125 Va. 758, 764, 99

S.E. 562, 565 (1919).  [Under this rule,]

. . . a statement made by a declarant [might

be] admissible for the purpose of showing

the probable state of mind thereby induced

in the hearer, such as being put on notice

or having knowledge, or motive, or good

faith of the subsequent conduct of the

hearer, or anxiety, when relevant and

material.

Johnson v. Commonwealth, 2 Va. App. 598, 602, 347 S.E.2d 163,

165 (1986).

       For these reasons, I would hold that the trial judge erred

in admitting the witnesses' testimony of the decedent's hearsay

statements.  Furthermore, for the reasons stated in Judge

Elder's previous dissent, see Clay, 30 Va. App. at 668-670, 519

S.E.2d at 402 (Elder, J., dissenting), I would also hold that

the error was not harmless.

II.

       I agree with the majority that the trial judge erred in

excluding the testimony of Deputy Martin.  I disagree, however,

with the majority's conclusion that this error was harmless

beyond a reasonable doubt.

       As the majority recognizes, constitutional error is

harmless "only when the reviewing court is 'able to declare a

belief that it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.'"  

Lavinder v. Commonwealth, 12 Va. App. 1003, 1005, 407 S.E.2d

910, 911 (1991) (en banc) (quoting Chapman v. California, 386

U.S. 18, 24 (1967)).  In Virginia, a reviewing court can find a

non-constitutional error harmless only if it "can conclude,

without usurping the jury's fact finding function, that, had the

error not occurred, the verdict would have been the same."  

Lavinder, 12 Va. App. at 1005, 407 S.E.2d at 911.  For example,

where the error involves improperly admitted evidence, the error

may, in some cases, be harmless when that evidence is merely

cumulative of other, properly admitted evidence.  See Freeman v.

Commonwealth, 223 Va. 301, 316, 288 S.E.2d 461, 469 (1982).  

Thus, the Supreme Court has held that "[e]ven though testimony

is objectionable as hearsay, its admission is harmless error

when the content of the extra-judicial declaration is clearly

established by other competent evidence."  Schindel v.

Commonwealth, 219 Va. 814, 817, 252 S.E.2d 302, 304 (1979).  

       The erroneous exclusion of evidence, however, raises

different concerns.  If the fact sought to be proved by that

evidence is established by other, properly admitted evidence,

the probative value of or the weight the jury might have given

the improperly excluded evidence may be qualitatively more

significant than the evidence that was admitted.  Thus, we have

said that the admission of "[o]ther evidence of a disputed fact

standing alone, does not establish that an error is harmless."  

Hooker v. Commonwealth, 14 Va. App. 454, 458, 418 S.E.2d 343,

345 (1992).  A harmless error analysis is not simply a

sufficiency of the evidence analysis.  See id.  Even if "the

other evidence amply supports the jury's verdicts, [the error is

not harmless when] the disputed testimony may well have affected

the jury's decision."  Cartera v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 516,

519, 248 S.E.2d 784, 786 (1978).

       I would hold that the erroneous exclusion of Deputy

Martin's testimony regarding Clay's demeanor and willingness to

cooperate after the shooting was not harmless error.  As Clay

proffered at trial, Martin's testimony was not merely cumulative

of Lieutenant Powell's testimony.  As the majority notes,

Powell's testimony established that Clay sought out police to

admit shooting his wife and that he was visibly shaken and

upset.  Powell's testimony, however, which, including

cross-examination, spans only four pages in the transcript,

indicates that Powell's contact with Clay was limited to the

time of Clay's initial arrival at the police station.  Clay told

Powell he had shot his wife in their home and did not know

whether she was still alive.  After Clay gave Powell a key to

his house, Powell asked the dispatcher to call the rescue squad

and "[got] somebody to sit with [Clay] while [Powell] went out

to [Clay's] house."  Powell related no further contact with

Clay.  Martin's testimony would have established that Clay

remained in Martin's company for more than "thirty minutes to an

hour," during which time he remained somber, quiet, and

cooperative.  He did not invoke his right to silence or counsel

and gave a lengthy statement regarding the shooting.  Clearly,

Martin's testimony would have given the jury a fuller picture of

Clay's demeanor immediately after the incident and was not

simply cumulative of Powell's testimony.

       The jury convicted Clay of second degree murder, which

required a finding that Clay acted with malice in shooting his

wife.  Deputy Martin's testimony concerning appellant's demeanor

and continued cooperation might have lended credibility to

Clay's testimony that the shooting was an accident.  Thus, the

erroneously excluded evidence might have provided a significant

foundation for the jury to find the evidence at most proved the

lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter.  Although the

evidence, including Deputy Martin's testimony, was sufficient to

support a conviction for second degree murder, I do not believe

we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt, without usurping the

jury's fact finding function, that the error of excluding

Martin's testimony did not affect the verdict.

       For these reasons, I would reverse the convictions and

remand for a new trial.



         Although not entirely clear from the record, we deduce

that Mrs. Clay had recently obtained a job as a school bus

driver.

         Clay does not challenge the admissibility of the

statements made by Clay to Joy Clay, and overheard by Burns and

Ragland in telephone conversations, to the effect that he was

going to kill her.  These statements are considered herein under

another exception to the hearsay rule.

         In Brown, the United States Court of Appeals observed as

follows:



While there are undoubtedly a number of

possible situations in which such statements

may be relevant, the courts have developed

three rather well defined categories in

which the need for such statements overcomes

almost any possible prejudice.  The most

common of these involves defendant's claim

of self-defense as justification for the

killing. . . . Second, where the defendant

seeks to defend on the ground that the

deceased committed suicide . . . . A third

situation involves a claim of accidental

death . . . . In [cases where the defense is

"accidental death"] the deceased's

statements of fear as to guns or of

defendant himself . . . are relevant in that

they tend to rebut this defense.



Brown, 490 F.2d at 766-67.



         The admissibility of declarations under the state of mind

exception is also conditional on three prerequisites:  1.  The

statement must refer to a presently existing state of mind.  

Although the mental state of emotion must exist at the time of

the declaration, it may relate to matters occurring in the past

or in the future; 2.  There must be no obvious indication of

falsification or contrivance; 3.  The mental condition must be

relevant to the case.  See Charles E. Friend, The Law of

Evidence in Virginia   18-16 (5th ed. 1999).



         To the extent Hanson may be read to include a requirement

that the state of mind declaration must have been communicated

to the accused when the defense is accidental death, it is

dicta.  See Hardy v. Commonwealth, 110 Va. 910, 924, 67 S.E.

522, 527 (1910) (when defendant raises a justification defense,

the victim's statement must have been communicated to the

defendant for it to be introduced in support of the defense);

Taylor v. Commonwealth, 31 Va. App. 54, 63 n.4, 521 S.E.2d 293,

297 n.4 (1999) (en banc) (accidental death not included among

the justification defenses).  See also Brown, 490 F.2d at

765-66, 773-78, cited with approval in Hanson, 14 Va. App. at

188-89, 416 S.E.2d at 23, which makes clear that, while a

requirement that the victim's statements be communicated to the

defendant may inhere in the exception when the hearsay

statements are sought to be introduced in cases involving

self-defense, the exception is not otherwise predicated on proof

of such communication.



         This evidence was admissible as an exception to the

hearsay rule when offered by the prosecution because it

constituted the statement of an opposing party.  The jury was

entitled to consider it to prove Clay's motive and intent.  See

Alatishe v. Commonwealth, 12 Va. App. 376, 378, 404 S.E.2d 81,

82 (1991).



 Although the majority cites Taylor v. Commonwealth, 31 Va.

App. 54, 63 n.4, 521 S.E.2d 293, 297 n.4 (1999) (en banc), for

the proposition that justification defenses do not include

accidental death, the footnote in Taylor merely states that

"[c]laims of justification include" the listed defenses.  It

does not state that the list is exclusive rather than inclusive.  

Indeed, Virginia case law suggests it is not an exclusive list.



  "Ordinarily the law of self-defense is

not applicable in a case of a killing

resulting from an act which was accidental

and unintentional, particularly where the

facts of the case are not such as would make

such law applicable.  However, where the

defense of excusable homicide by

misadventure is relied on, the principles of

self-defense may be involved, not for the

purpose of establishing defense of self, but

for the purpose of determining whether

accused was or was not at the time engaged

in a lawful act; and it has been held that

in such case the right, but not the law, of

self-defense is invoked.  Accused is

entitled to an acquittal where he was

lawfully acting in self-defense and the

death of his assailant resulted from

accident or misadventure, as where in

falling he struck or overturned an object

and thereby received injuries resulting in

his death, or where in a struggle over the

possession of a weapon it was accidentally

discharged."

Braxton v. Commonwealth, 195 Va. 275, 278, 77 S.E.2d 840, 841-42

(1953) (quoting Valentine v. Commonwealth, 187 Va. 946, 952, 48

S.E.2d 264, 268 (1948)) (citations omitted).
















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