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State v. Pittman

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 31, 2017

State
v.
Keith J. Pittman.

         Providence County Superior Court No. 2015-370-C.A. (P2/14-1420A) Associate Justice Luis M. Matos

          For State: Owen Murphy Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Megan F. Jackson Office of the Public Defender

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Robinson, Flaherty, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          CHIEF JUSTICE PAUL A. SUTTELL.

         for the Court. A robbery on the streets of Providence led to a thief's short-term possession of stolen goods but long-term period of incarceration. The defendant, Keith J. Pittman, appeals from his conviction by a jury of second-degree robbery, for which he was given a twenty-year sentence with sixteen years to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) and four years suspended with probation. This case came before the Supreme Court, sitting at Woonsocket High School, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         On January 17, 2013, after leaving work for the day, Ryan Laughlin and his roommate, Kyle Nichols-Schmolze, left their Chestnut Street office in downtown Providence and began walking home. Laughlin testified that they left in the early evening because it was "definitely * * * starting to get dark out but not fully dark." Laughlin explained that he and his roommate walked across the Point Street Bridge and proceeded up Wickenden Street. According to Laughlin, he "was carrying a messenger bag with a laptop; and [Nichols-Schmolze] [also] had a backpack with his laptop * * * [and] other work supplies." Laughlin testified that, while walking "somewhere near * * * Pizza Pie-er" on Wickenden Street, "two men stepped out from an alleyway" and grabbed him.

         Laughlin continued to testify that "somebody" came from behind, "grabbed ahold of [him] and grabbed ahold of [his] bag and said, 'Give me your bag. I've got a gun.'" He began "taking off [his] bag" because he was "afraid" and did not "know [what was] going to happen." Laughlin testified that "the guy took [his] bag [from] over [his] head" when Nichols-Schmolze, standing "a couple of steps" away, said to the man, "You don't have a gun, " to which the man repeated, "I have a gun." Laughlin described the man who took the bag from him as "a black guy" in his mid to late thirty's;[1] he did not get as good a look at the second man, however. Laughlin testified that, as the two men ran off with his bag towards the Point Street Bridge, Nichols-Schmolze gave chase closely behind them, with Laughlin about twenty to thirty feet behind Nichols-Schmolze.

         Nichols-Schmolze's testimony at trial essentially corroborated Laughlin's version of the incident. He described the two suspects, however, as "a white male and a black male[, ]" stating that "[t]he black male was the one threatening that he had a gun" and "basically arresting [Laughlin], trying to peel the messenger bag over his head and pull it off."

         Nichols-Schmolze continued to testify that, when the men started running, he realized that it appeared "very unlikely" that they had a firearm, and he started chasing after them. He said that, "[a]fter [running] the first block, the white male peeled off into a driveway[.]"[2]Nichols-Schmolze continued to pursue the man with the bag, who was "turning corners around the block." After one of the corners, the man "turned left down a driveway" and out of Nichols-Schmolze's sight. Nichols-Schmolze testified that he then "slowly walked and kept [his] distance from the corner" of the house, where he "assumed" the man with the bag was hiding. As he "rounded the corner" of the house, he saw the man in a driveway "leaning up against the house holding the bag, " near "an overhead light." Nichols-Schmolze testified that he was ten feet from the man with the bag, and could see his face clearly, in what "could have been five seconds, [or] it could have been [fifteen]."

         According to Nichols-Schmolze, the man then "threw the bag towards [him] and it landed at [his] feet[, ]" and then the man "started jogging out [of] the driveway and back towards * * * where the original incident had happened." Nichols-Schmolze followed the man, encountering Laughlin on the way. Nichols-Schmolze said that he handed Laughlin the bag and told him to ensure that his belongings were not missing. Nichols-Schmolze testified that, after encountering Laughlin, the black male was "trailing" him and kept threatening that he still had a gun.

         Nichols-Schmolze said he saw the man "get out a set of keys" and get into a silver sedan. At trial, Nichols-Schmolze could not recall the license plate number, but he testified that he "screamed the license plate number out loud" and he heard Laughlin, who was on the phone with 911 at the ...


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