Providence County Superior Court (P1/11-2541AG) Netti C.
Vogel Associate Justice.
State: Jane M. McSoley Department of Attorney General.
Defendant: Robert B. Mann, Esq.
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Maureen McKenna Goldberg Associate Justice.
defendant, Leron Porter, is before the Supreme Court on
appeal from a judgment of conviction after being found guilty
of: (1) second-degree murder (count one); (2) discharging a
weapon while committing a crime of violence (count two); and
(3) possession of a firearm, having been previously convicted
of a felony (count four). The trial justice denied the
defendant's motion for a new trial and, on March 6, 2014,
sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment on count one, a
consecutive term of life imprisonment on count two, and a
consecutive term of ten years to serve on count four. The
trial justice also declared the defendant to be a habitual
offender and imposed an additional consecutive term of
twenty-five years to serve, of which fifteen years must be
served before he is eligible for parole.
appeal, defendant argues that the trial justice erred when
she denied his motion for a new trial and refused to pass the
case after a spectator's outburst. The defendant also
asserts several Batson challenges in connection with the
selection of the jury. We affirm the judgment of conviction.
between two women over one man and an ensuing brawl led to
the senseless murder of Tiphany Tallo (Tiphany or the
decedent), a teenage girl. In May 2011, Debryonna Fortes
(Debryonna) was residing in a multifamily building located at
17-19 Spruce Street in Providence, Rhode Island, along with
Wendy Tallo (Wendy) and her two daughters, Ashley Tallo
(Ashley) and Tiphany. Debryonna's boyfriend, Jermaine,
and Ashley's boyfriend, Brandon Crumady (Brandon), also
were living in the same apartment.
9, 2011, Ashley, Debryonna, Brandon, and Jermaine were
heading to Oakland Beach in Warwick for the afternoon when
they decided to make a brief stop at a store located on
Atwells Avenue in Providence, during which Ashley ran into
Danessa "Mooky" Porter (Mooky). Ashley and Mooky
shared a strained and contentious relationship due to
Mooky's involvement with Ashley's boyfriend Brandon.
The two exchanged words; Mooky kicked Ashley, and Ashley
responded by punching Mooky in the face and tearing her
shirt. After this encounter, the parties retreated to their
respective vehicles and left the area; the plan to visit
Oakland Beach was abandoned, and Ashley and Debryonna
returned to 19 Spruce Street, where a melee subsequently
erupted, culminating in this homicide.
home, Ashley and Debryonna discussed the incident with Wendy
and Tiphany. The four women then decided to join their
neighbors, Sherissa and Kaleena Monroe, Loretta Gonzalez, and
Ashley Turner (the neighbors), at a spot they frequented in
the front of the building. Two vehicles-one red and one
black-appeared on Spruce Street, and headed towards the
apartment building. There were five persons in the red
vehicle and three persons in the black vehicle; all were
female except for a lone male, later identified as defendant,
who is Mooky's brother.
vehicles stopped in front of a church on Spruce Street. Mooky
immediately exited the red vehicle and approached Ashley in a
loud and aggressive manner. Mooky cursed at Ashley and
insulted Ashley's son, while flaunting her sexual
relationship with Brandon. Not to be outdone, Ashley charged
toward Mooky and attempted to strike her, but was elbowed in
the face by defendant. At this point a street fight between
Ashley and Mooky ensued. Although there were no weapons,
Ashley was outnumbered. According to the witnesses, as the
fight progressed to the yard of the nearby church, Ashley had
the best of Mooky, at which point Mooky's compatriots
joined the fray. The women produced two knives and a baseball
bat that was enhanced with nails. Ashley was stabbed, beaten
with the bat, kicked, and punched. At some point, defendant
pulled a firearm from his waistband, causing Debryonna and
Tiphany to move toward Ashley. Witnesses testified that as
Debryonna and Tiphany began to run toward the fight,
defendant raised his gun and fired the weapon in their
direction. Immediately after, Tiphany placed her hand on her
chest, began to retreat to the apartment building, and
collapsed. According to Debryonna, defendant passed the gun
to another female-Asia Porter-then ran to the red vehicle and
fled the scene. The remaining participants followed in the
second car. Tiphany was transported to the hospital, where
she was pronounced dead. The manner of death was homicide.
She was seventeen years old.
Police Officer Ricardo Silva was the first officer to arrive
on the scene; he responded within minutes of the shooting.
Based on information he obtained from the witnesses, an alert
including the vehicles, license plates, and the direction the
vehicles traveled was broadcast throughout the city.
Detective Kris Poplakski (Det. Poplakski) and Detective
Patrick Potter (Det. Potter) heard the broadcast for a
"[r]ed Impala with out of state
plates." Shortly thereafter, the detectives saw a
vehicle that matched the description pass directly in front
of them on Pleasant Valley Parkway. The detectives stopped
the vehicle and confronted one male driver and five female
passengers. The male driver was identified as
defendant; Mooky also was in the car. Detective Poplakski
testified that defendant was sweating profusely, and the
female passengers "couldn't sit still, any of them.
They were bouncing in the back seat nervously."
Detective Poplakski testified that he also found a purse, a
dark navy blue Yankees baseball cap, and a wooden bat
embedded with several nails. Within an hour of the homicide,
multiple witnesses-most of whom were neighbors and
eyewitnesses-identified defendant as the shooter.
defendant was arrested and charged by indictment with the
murder of Tiphany Tallo, in violation of G.L. 1956
§§ 11-23-1 and 11-23-2; discharging a firearm while
committing a crime of violence, to wit, murder, in violation
of G.L. 1956 § 11-47-3.2(b)(3); possession of a firearm,
having been previously convicted of a crime of violence, in
violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-47-5; and assault upon
Ashley Tallo with a dangerous weapon, to wit, a firearm, in
violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-5-2 (count
six). When the case was reached for trial, the
pretrial motions and jury selection were conducted by a
justice of the Superior Court, but a second justice presided
over the trial itself. The trial spanned more than seventeen
days and the jury heard from eight eyewitnesses. On December
6, 2013, the jury declared defendant guilty of murder in the
second degree and the two firearm offenses. The defendant was
acquitted on the count charging him with assault with a
dangerous weapon upon Ashley Tallo. He timely appealed.
this Court, defendant raises multiple issues. First,
defendant challenges his conviction based on two alleged
Batson violations by the first justice when he
permitted the state to exercise two peremptory challenges
during the jury selection. The defendant further contends
that the trial justice improperly restricted the
cross-examination of a witness about a gun the witness saw at
some point before the murder. Next, defendant argues that the
trial justice abused her discretion by denying
defendant's motion to pass the case after an emotional
outburst during the defense's opening statement. Finally,
defendant asserts that the trial justice erred by denying his
motion for a new trial.
jury selection, the state exercised peremptory challenges to
strike two prospective jurors: Juror 216, a juror of Hispanic
descent, and Juror 103, an African American. The defendant
objected to both peremptory challenges, citing to Batson
v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The defendant now
contends that the first trial justice erred by allowing the
state to strike the two prospective minority jurors.
in the rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is a
guarantee "that the [s]tate will not exclude members of
his [or her] race from the jury venire on account of
race[.]" State v. Pona, 66 A.3d 454, 472 (R.I.
2013) (Pona II) (quoting State v. Pona, 926
A.2d 592, 601 (R.I. 2007) (Pona I)). The United
States Supreme Court, in Batson, established a
tripartite test to determine whether a defendant has been
deprived of this constitutional guarantee by a
prosecutor's wrongful exercise of a peremptory challenge.
Batson, 476 U.S. at 96-98; see also Pona
II, 66 A.3d at 472.
first step in the three-prong Batson analysis
requires that the defendant "establish a prima
facie case of purposeful discrimination[.]"
Pona II, 66 A.3d at 472 (quoting Pona I,
926 A.2d at 601); see also Batson, 476 U.S. at 96. A
prima facie case of purposeful discrimination is
based on the "totality of the relevant facts [which
give] rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose."
Batson, 476 U.S. at 94. However, "[t]his step
of the analysis will become moot if the trial justice moves
beyond it to consider the second and third steps."
State v. Gallop, 89 A.3d 795, 805 (R.I. 2014);
see also Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 359
(1991) ("Once a prosecutor has offered a race-neutral
explanation for the peremptory challenges and the trial court
has ruled on the ultimate question of intentional
discrimination, the preliminary issue of whether the
defendant had made a prima facie showing becomes
moot."); State v. Austin, 642 A.2d 673, 678
(R.I. 1994) ("Because the trial justice below similarly
ruled on the ultimate question of intentional discrimination,
we need not determine whether the exclusion from the jury of
the only black person in the jury panel establishes a prima
facie showing that the prosecutor exercised the state's
peremptory challenge on the basis of race. We instead need
only determine whether the trial justice erred in accepting
the prosecutor's race-neutral reason for excluding the
the second step of the Batson test, the burden
shifts to the prosecution to "articulate its
race-neutral reason(s) for challenging that particular
juror." Pona II, 66 A.3d at 472 (quoting
State v. Price, 706 A.2d 929, 935 (R.I. 1998)). The
prosecutor cannot satisfy this burden by merely "denying
that he [or she] had a discriminatory motive or [affirming]
[his or her] good faith in making individual
selections." Pona I, 926 A.2d at 602 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Batson, 476 U.S.
at 98). During the second step of a Batson analysis,
"the issue is the facial validity of the
prosecutor's explanation. Unless a discriminatory intent
is inherent in the prosecutor's explanation, the reason
offered will be deemed race neutral." Id.
(quoting Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 360); see also
Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 767-68 (1995) ("The
second step of this process does not demand an explanation
that is persuasive, or even plausible."). Finally, the
third step requires the trial justice "to determine
whether the defendant has carried his or her burden of
proving purposeful racial discrimination." Pona
II, 66 A.3d at 472 (quoting Price, 706 A.2d at
935). "There will seldom be much evidence bearing on
that issue, and the best evidence often will be the demeanor
of the attorney who exercises the challenge." Pona
I, 926 A.2d at 602 (quoting Hernandez, 500 U.S.
at 365). This determination rests with the trial justice.
"[t]he trial justice's evaluation of the
prosecutor's state of mind is accorded great
deference." State v. Nichols, 155 A.3d 1180,
1191 (R.I. 2017) (quoting Pona II, 66 A.3d at 472).
Therefore, the "ruling on the issue of discriminatory
intent must be sustained unless it is clearly
erroneous." Pona ...