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Rawlins v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

May 18, 2017


         On Appeal from the 184th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 1471355

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Bland, and Huddle.


          Evelyn V. Keyes Justice.

         A jury convicted appellant, Jonathan Rawlins, of the first-degree felony offense of murder and, after finding the allegations in an enhancement paragraph true, assessed his punishment at thirty-eight years' confinement.[1] In his sole issue, appellant contends that the trial court erroneously admitted evidence that he, the complainant, and other witnesses were affiliated with street gangs.

         We affirm.


         A. Factual Background

         On May 17, 2015, the Chancellors Family Center in southwest Houston hosted a pool party that had been heavily advertised on social media. Hundreds of people attended the party that evening, including the complainant, Ernest "Emo" Moore, his cousin, Francois Calvin, and his friends, Serpio Horne, Craig Bell, and Terrell Sanders. Moore, Bell, and Sanders were all members of 103, a street gang affiliated with the Third Ward area of Houston.

         Around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., after the men stopped by a friend's birthday party at a bar, Calvin drove the group to the pool party. When the group arrived at Chancellors and Calvin drove around looking for a parking spot, Sanders mentioned that he recognized several of the cars in the parking lot and he had concerns over who was present at the party. Moore and Sanders debated over whether to enter the party, and, ultimately, Sanders decided to stay in the parking lot, while Moore, Calvin, Horne, and Bell decided to go into the party.

         After walking into the party, Calvin saw a few people he recognized, but then his group was almost immediately surrounded by a group of twenty or thirty men, including appellant, who was wearing a gray tank top, navy blue or black shorts, and water shoes. Calvin testified that no one else there was wearing a gray tank top, and he also stated that appellant had a "lazy eye" and a distinctive haircut. Appellant, who was a member of the YMG street gang affiliated with southwest Houston, approached Moore, cracked his knuckles, and said, "Emo, you know what this is." Calvin testified that appellant appeared very angry and like he "was ready to throw a punch." Calvin stepped in front of Moore to try to diffuse the situation, but appellant responded to Calvin by saying, "You can't help him." Moore jumped in front of Calvin, and he and appellant started fighting. The other members of the group with appellant started hitting Calvin, Horne, and Bell.

         The fight lasted for about two or three minutes. Calvin then heard an unknown female voice yell, "They got a gun." The fight broke up, and people started running in every direction. Calvin managed to run out of Chancellors into the parking lot, where he saw Moore. Moore and Calvin agreed that they should leave Chancellors and started running to Calvin's car. Before Moore could reach the car, appellant walked out from beside the driver's side of the car with his arm extended, holding a gun. Calvin estimated that he was about fifteen yards behind Moore, also running to his car, but he could see that the person holding the gun was wearing the exact same thing as the person who had confronted Moore inside Chancellors. Calvin testified that this person was now wearing a bandana around his face, but Calvin could still recognize him, and he identified this person in court as appellant.

         Once appellant started firing shots at Moore, Calvin yelled at Moore to run, and he started to run back toward friends to ask for a gun. Moore also started running, and appellant pursued him, continuing to shoot at Moore. Calvin saw Moore fall down, and he saw appellant stand over Moore and continue shooting. Calvin then saw appellant jump into an SUV, which sped away. Moore suffered gunshot wounds to his shin, thigh, and head, and he died as a result of his injuries.

         Calvin remained at the scene for over an hour, and he spoke with one of the detectives for about five to seven minutes before he had to leave to assist his aunt, who had been in a car accident. After Calvin left the scene, he attempted to discover appellant's identity on his own by asking friends and family members. Three days later, a friend showed Calvin some pictures, and Calvin immediately recognized appellant by his haircut, his eye, and his skin color. Calvin called the detectives and relayed this information, as well as appellant's name and nickname. The detectives later showed Calvin a photo-array, and he identified appellant as the shooter.

         Serpio Horne testified that, within five minutes of his group's entering the pool party, about twenty or thirty men completely surrounded them, focusing on Moore. He identified appellant in court as the person who started arguing with Moore. Calvin tried to intercede, but appellant refused to listen, and a fight broke out. After the fight stopped and the group scattered, Horne started searching for his friends. When he heard gunshots, he found Bell and hid him in a patch of bushes, and he continued searching for Moore and Calvin. Horne testified that he "knew it was better for [him] to go searching than [Bell] because [he was] not a familiar face." He stated that Bell was probably more familiar, and, when asked why, he testified, "I just know for a fact that I'm not into all the drama part." After continuing to hear gunshots, Horne ran back to Bell and told him they needed to get to Calvin's car. When they arrived at Calvin's car, they found Calvin, who was in tears, and he led them over to where Moore was lying.

         Horne, who was incarcerated in the Harris County Jail on an unrelated charge at the time of the trial, also testified that, on the morning of his testimony, he had a confrontation with appellant in the jail's holdover cell. While Horne was being searched, appellant, who appeared ready to fight, walked by and told Horne, "Boy, you a snitch. You going to take the stand on me." When Horne walked into the holdover cell, appellant and another man hit him. Appellant hit Horne in the eye, and he had difficulty seeing out of his eye when he testified. To defend himself, Horne grabbed a crate that was in the holdover cell, but the detention ...

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