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State v. Adamson

Supreme Court of West Virginia

March 9, 2018

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
Derrick William Adamson, Defendant Below, Petitioner

         Randolph County 15-F-94


         Petitioner Derrick William Adamson, by counsel J. Brent Easton, appeals following a jury trial resulting in convictions for first degree murder, grand larceny, and possession of a stolen vehicle. By order entered on January 5, 2017, the circuit court sentenced petitioner to life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, one to ten years for grand larceny, and one to five years for possession of a stolen vehicle, with the sentences for grand larceny and possession of a stolen vehicle to run concurrently to one another, but consecutively to the life sentence for murder. Respondent State of West Virginia, by counsel Mary M. Downey, filed a response.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In 2015, a Randolph County Grand Jury indicted petitioner for the first degree murder of Donavan Nicholson, grand larceny, possession of a stolen vehicle, and receiving or transferring stolen goods.[1] The circuit court commenced a jury trial in October of 2016. The evidence at trial revealed that at approximately 11:30 p.m. on April 20, 2015, two City of Elkins police officers responded to a call from the Mountaineer Mart convenience store regarding possible gunshots. The officers spoke with the store manager, who described two males who had been in the parking lot. The officers left the scene to search for the men based on the descriptions given.

          About twelve minutes later, the officers encountered petitioner, who matched the description given by the store manager, at a nearby railroad station. The officers searched petitioner and found a box of .25-caliber bullets, some of which were missing. At this time, however, the officers received a call regarding an unrelated burglary in process and left petitioner. The officers returned to the Mountaineer Mart about twenty minutes later and spoke with the manager again. She informed the officers that the other male who had been with petitioner earlier, Timothy Summerfield, was present. Mr. Summerfield told the officers that he had had a short conversation with petitioner at the Mountaineer Mart earlier, during which petitioner pulled out a small pistol, fired at him and missed, and then the pistol jammed. Mr. Summerfield told the officers that petitioner then shook his hand, told Mr. Summerfield "[i]t wasn't your day, " and walked away.

         While still at the Mountaineer Mart, the officers received a call from a nearby GoMart convenience store regarding a stolen vehicle. The officers viewed the surveillance video from the GoMart and identified petitioner as the driver of the alleged stolen vehicle, a 2006 Ford Five Hundred, gold in color. By this time, it was in the early morning hours of April 21, 2015. The officers began a foot patrol of the area between the GoMart and the Mountaineer Mart. At approximately 4:00 a.m., one of the officers discovered the body of Donavan Nicholson behind the railroad station. He had been shot once in the head. The officers located a .25-caliber bullet casing near the body. The officers issued a "be on the lookout" for the stolen car and petitioner.

         At about 11:36 a.m. on April 21, 2015, a West Virginia State Police trooper located petitioner driving the stolen Ford Five Hundred in Webster County and stopped the vehicle. Petitioner was wearing body armor and had a .25-caliber pistol in the vehicle. After backup for the trooper arrived at approximately 11:45 a.m., the trooper read petitioner his Miranda rights and placed him in the backseat of the State Police cruiser. Petitioner then voluntarily gave a recorded statement that lasted about eight minutes in which petitioner indicated that he was worried about his eleven-year-old daughter, whom he believed was missing and had been killed. Petitioner then disclosed that he shot and killed Mr. Nicholson because he believed he killed petitioner's daughter. However, this was untrue; petitioner's daughter was not missing and was alive. Petitioner and Mr. Nicholson had no prior knowledge of one another. The State Police then transported petitioner to a magistrate, arriving at 12:55 p.m.

         In addition to the involved officers, the State presented the testimony of Richard Foresi, a college student who encountered petitioner walking through Elkins at approximately 11:00 p.m. on April 20, 2015. Mr. Foresi did not know petitioner. He described petitioner as behaving in a "bizarre" manner; that "it was pretty clear that there was definitely something - something wrong with him[;]" and that petitioner "appeared to be under the influence of something." Additionally, GoMart clerk Teresa Miller testified that petitioner had been in the store around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. on April 20, 2015, and then again around 10:00 p.m. She testified that petitioner did not purchase anything, but asked to borrow a screwdriver and some bandages. She described petitioner as "preoccupied" and "suspicious of his surroundings."

         At trial, petitioner conceded that he shot and killed the victim; however, he attempted to persuade the jury that he was guilty of second degree murder. In his defense, petitioner called Dr. Timothy Saar regarding his alleged diminished capacity and its effect on petitioner's ability to premeditate and deliberate the killing, necessary elements for a first degree murder conviction. Dr. Saar testified that petitioner had a history of substance-induced psychosis, which led to his commitment to Sharpe Hospital in Weston, West Virginia, in 2007. According to petitioner's records, petitioner had also been treated at Ohio State University Medical Center in 2011 and 2014 for "paranoid and incoherent" behavior, during periods in which he had consumed substances. Based on petitioner's mental health history, his report of using methamphetamine and alcohol in the days leading up to and including April 20 and 21, 2015, and the fact that petitioner did not know Mr. Nicholson, Dr. Saar concluded that petitioner lacked the ability to premeditate and deliberate the killing. In rebuttal, the State relied upon Dr. David Clayman, who acknowledged petitioner's mental health records, but suspected petitioner of malingering. Dr. Clayman concluded that petitioner possessed the capacity to form intent and malice at the time of the killing.

         At the conclusion of the three-day trial, the jury found petitioner guilty of first degree murder, grand larceny, and possession of a stolen vehicle, and did not recommend mercy at sentencing. The jury acquitted petitioner of receiving or transferring stolen property. By order entered on December 23, 2016, the circuit court denied petitioner's motions for judgment of acquittal and for a new trial. Subsequently, the circuit court sentenced petitioner as set forth above. This appeal followed.


         On appeal, petitioner raises the following six assignments of error: (1) the circuit court denied petitioner a fair and impartial jury panel because the court refused to question, or permit counsel to question, prospective jurors regarding their understanding of a mercy recommendation; (2) the State presented insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation; (3) the circuit court subjected petitioner to multiple punishments in violation of double jeopardy and due process principles by allowing the State to pursue both grand larceny and possession of a stolen vehicle charges; (4) the admission of petitioner's statement to law enforcement violated the prompt presentment rule; (5) the circuit court should have granted a mistrial based on prosecutor's description of the killing as an "execution;" and (6) the admission of the incident between Mr. Summerfield and petitioner violated Rule 404(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence. We address petitioner's arguments in turn.

         Petitioner's first assignment of error is that the circuit court refused to question, or permit counsel to question, prospective jurors regarding their understanding of a mercy recommendation upon a guilty verdict of first degree murder. Petitioner sought to inquire in voir dire whether the panel fully understood that eligibility for parole after fifteen years was not absolute, i.e., that it did not mean that petitioner would automatically be released after fifteen years if the jury recommended mercy. The circuit court declined petitioner's request to delve into the details of parole eligibility and instead made the following inquiry, to which petitioner noted an objection:

Ladies and gentlemen, are any of you aware of any conscientious objection you may have to returning a verdict of first degree murder if, that is, the evidence that you believe - the verdict that you believe is appropriate based upon the evidence, if you realize that in doing so there may be - you also have the opportunity to determine whether or not mercy is recommended or whether no mercy is recommended. With the idea that no mercy means the defendant could be incarcerated for life. Mercy would indicate that he would have the opportunity to be paroled. Do you understand that? Do you think that there's - does anyone here believe that they would have any conscientious objection to rendering a verdict given those circumstances?

         It is undisputed that no one on the panel voiced a concern. However, petitioner contends that the court's inquiry did not probe into whether the panel understood the parameters of parole; that it was possible that a juror would believe that mercy equated to petitioner's serving only fifteen years then being released; and that it was possible that a juror would refuse to recommend mercy based on the belief that fifteen years is not a long enough sentence.

         This Court has held that "[i]n a criminal case, the inquiry made of a jury on its voir dire is within the sound discretion of the trial court and not subject to review, except when the discretion is clearly abused." Syl. Pt. 2, State v. Beacraft, 126 W.Va. 895, 30 S.E.2d 541(1944), overruled on other ...

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