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State v. Gumkowski

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 9, 2020

State
v.
Matthew Gumkowski.

          Providence County Superior Court (P1/12-1584A) Associate Justice Netti C. Vogel

          For State: Virginia M. McGinn Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Kara J. Maguire Office of the Public Defender

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

          OPINION

          PAUL A. SUTTELL CHIEF JUSTICE

         The defendant, Matthew Gumkowski (defendant or Gumkowski), was found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder and first-degree arson. Gumkowski appeals his conviction on the basis of the denial of his motion for a new trial because, he argues, the weight of the evidence does not support the jury's verdict. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we hold that the trial justice was not clearly wrong to deny the defendant's motion for a new trial. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I Facts and Procedural History

         On May 11, 2011, Michael DiRaimo's throat was slashed and his dwelling burned. On May 25, 2012, defendant was charged by indictment with murder and arson. A jury trial was held over three days in June 2016. At trial, the state presented testimony from six individuals. The testimony revealed the following.

         On May 11, 2011, at 10:01 p.m., the fire department was called to 39 Sophia Street in Providence. Sean Reddy, who was an arson investigator in the Providence fire department, arrived at the scene at about 10:30 p.m. Reddy responded to that address to conduct "an origin cause investigation to the fire." Upon viewing the interior of the burned structure, he observed a "male deceased victim lying on the floor." The victim was positioned face down. In accordance with protocol, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Office of the Medical Examiner were notified.

         As part of his investigation, Reddy began "removing [the] debris from the fire scene[.]" During that process, Reddy noticed a laceration on the victim's neck and a "substantial amount of blood" underneath him. At that point, Reddy "immediately stop[ped, ] * * * removed [himself] from the scene[, ] and made the appropriate notifications to make sure everyone was aware of what [he] just observed[.]" Reddy testified that the victim's throat was slashed from right to left, "almost a complete[] 360 around his neck." With respect to the fire, Reddy classified it as "an incendiary arson fire[, ]" having two separate points of origin.

         Alexander Chirkov, M.D. was the acting Chief Medical Examiner for Rhode Island at the time of trial; he was an assistant medical examiner in 2011. He testified that on May 12, 2011, he was present at the autopsy of an individual identified as Michael DiRaimo.[1] The post-mortem examination revealed that DiRaimo was a white male, about forty-one years of age, who was "covered with soot[, ] and [there was] evidence of first[, ] second[, ] and third degree burn [sic]" over his entire body. The interior of his neck was cut, and he had two four-centimeter puncture wounds on the palm of his right hand. DiRaimo's neck wound was a twelve-inch "cut wound on [the] interior neck from right to left, up to the anterior neck to the spinal vertebrae. * * * [I]n depth we're talking about [the] entire thickness of the anterior neck." The wound dissected the victim's jugular vein, trachea, [2] and carotid artery. Doctor Chirkov testified that the wounds on the victim's hand were "classified as defensive wound[s] where the person tried to protect himself using his hands."

         The autopsy also disclosed that there was no evidence of smoke inhalation, soot, or ashes in DiRaimo's throat, and that carbon dioxide levels in his blood were less than 0.1 percent-an amount consistent with a chronic smoker. Doctor Chirkov testified that, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the cause of DiRaimo's death was blood loss due to the wound to his neck. Doctor Chirkov testified that the manner of DiRaimo's death was homicide.

         Detective Kenneth Court of the Providence police department testified that on May 11, 2011, he responded to 39 Sophia Street to investigate DiRaimo's death. Detective Court testified that there were no eyewitness accounts of either the arson or the homicide. Further, Det. Court testified that, to his knowledge, no murder weapon was found and defendant's DNA was not found at the crime scene. During his search for a suspect following the murder, Det. Court requested the victim's cell-phone records-phone calls, text messages, and cell-tower location information-for the period from April 16, 2011, to his death on May 11, 2011. A review of the victim's phone records revealed text and call communications between DiRaimo's cell-phone number and Gumkowski's cell-phone number. The trial justice permitted both the full call and text-message records between DiRaimo's phone and anyone with whom he was in contact, as well as an "outline" of all text messages and phone calls sent and received exclusively between defendant and DiRaimo from April 16 through May 11 to be admitted into evidence as full exhibits.[3]

         Detective Court testified that DiRaimo's phone records show that the "vast majority" of DiRaimo's communications with Gumkowski were between May 10 and May 11, the day of the fire and homicide. The text message history portrayed a relationship between DiRaimo and defendant involving drugs and sex-with DiRaimo supplying the drugs in exchange for Gumkowski's sexual favors. Further, while DiRaimo occasionally referenced their sexual relationship in text messages, Gumkowski's texts to DiRaimo reveal that Gumkowski was concerned about the information disclosed in the messages. The day before DiRaimo was killed, Gumkowski objected to DiRaimo commenting by text message about their planned sex-for-drugs exchange; in response to Gumkowski asking DiRaimo if he still had "the 4 blue & 20[, ]" DiRaimo confirmed, "Yes u got ur hands and mouth right lol[, ]" but Gumkowski objected to DiRaimo's sexual reference, exclaiming, "dont write that shit mikey what if sum1 read ur phone!!"

         A text message conversation that lasted from the evening before the homicide until the early morning on the day of the murder implied that a planned exchange between DiRaimo and Gumkowski had gone awry. Portions of that conversation are as follows, based upon the records of DiRaimo's cell phone provided by his cell-phone provider, Metro PCS.[4], [5]

Date/Time

From

To

Message

5/10/2011 6:35 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

I just talked 2 him he wants 2 know if u will buy 8 of them and i buy 4 of them he wont come all the way down here 4 less than that and he cant be here till 930

5/10/2011 6:35 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

Thats fine

* * *5

* * *

* * *

* * *

5/10/2011 8:39 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

U want me 2 park around?

5/10/2011 8:39 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Yes like last time not in driveway

5/10/2011 8:40 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

K

5/10/2011 9:07 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Ur a piece of shit u robed me and i got 2 pay 4 Them now

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

5/10/2011 9:23 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Ur a crackhead u piece of fucking shit i will get u i got 2 pay 4 that i know where u work and 4 who

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

5/10/2011 9:32 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

If u dont answer me I will call u all nite

5/10/2011 9:35 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

If u dont answer me I will call u all nite

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

5/10/2011 9:41 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Call me

5/10/2011 9:43 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

I have been 2 ur new house be4

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

5/10/201110:34 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

U mad @ me?

5/10/201110:43 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

Hey u home? Im gunna cum by wit the loot 4 the blueberrys

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

5/11/20111:26 a.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Fuck u

5/11/20111:29 a.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

I said sorry mikey!!! Ill. cum c u 2marro I go the $ 4 u!!

5/11/20111:31 a.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Dont bother after what u did 2 me i will never bother with u u do that 2 me i dont trust u i will pay the guy why would u do that 2 me

         Nonetheless, several hours later, around noon on May 11, 2011, DiRaimo reached out to Gumkowski about meeting for payment and whether Gumkowski wanted "the other 7 [pills]." Around that same time, Gumkowski also agreed to give DiRaimo a ride to West Warwick:

5/11/201112:00 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

K do u want the other 7 i showed u cause i have them i sent u a pic

5/11/201112:00 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

U want 2 meet me in w warwick at 4.30

5/11/201112:02 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

Ok

5/11/201112:03 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Ok what u want the 7 more or ok u will meet me at shell at 4.3o or both

5/11/201112:04 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

Both & why @ shell?

5/11/201112:04 p.m.

Gumkowski

DiRaimo

U need a ride home?

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

5/11/20111:29 p.m.

DiRaimo

Gumkowski

Matt i am going 2 be home so call me when u can come here i can ride back 2 west warwick with u later


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