COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
Present: Chief Judge Fitzpatrick, Judges Benton and Annunziata
Argued at Alexandria, Virginia
WILLIAM DEXTER LANSBERRY
Record No. 2296-99-4
MEMORANDUM OPINION * BY
CHIEF JUDGE JOHANNA L. FITZPATRICK
NOVEMBER 14, 2000
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF WARREN COUNTY
Dennis L. Hupp, Judge
Joseph R. Winston (Elwood Earl Sanders, Jr.;
Public Defender Commission, on brief), for
H. Elizabeth Shaffer, Assistant Attorney
General (Mark L. Earley, Attorney General, on
brief), for appellee.
William Dexter Lansberry (appellant) was convicted in a
jury trial of aggravated sexual battery, in violation of
Sections 18.2-67.3 and 18.2-67.10.6 of the Code of Virginia,
1950, as amended.
court erred in:
On appeal, appellant contends that the trial
(1) failing to appoint a DNA expert to aid
defense counsel; (2) permitting the prosecutor to ask leading
questions of the child witness; and (3) denying defense
counsel’s motion for a new trial due to the late disclosure of
We disagree and affirm his conviction.
* Pursuant to Code § 17.1-413, this opinion is not
designated for publication.
Under familiar principles of appellate review, we examine
the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth,
the prevailing party below, granting to that evidence all
reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom.
See Juares v.
Commonwealth, 26 Va. App. 154, 156, 493 S.E.2d 677, 678 (1997).
So viewed, the evidence established that appellant lived as a
guest in a home with Dana Dove Houston (Houston), Houston's
current husband Jerry Houston, and her two minor children, DD
and BD, from a previous marriage.
In November 1998, Houston and
her husband were working numerous jobs while appellant took care
of her children.
On November 23, 1998, while Houston was at work, DD, the
nine-year-old victim, went into appellant’s room and sat on his
DD testified that while he was there, appellant "was
touching my privates . . . with his hands and his mouth," and
that DD touched appellant "the same way he did me."
night, according to Houston’s testimony, DD told her that "Mr.
Lansberry was messing with him," and that the child was "nervous
and upset and rocking back and forth in the chair stating that
he didn't want to live in my house . . . because of Mr.
The next day DD told his therapist, Lisa Rader
(Rader), what had occurred.
Rader and Houston then contacted
Investigator Richard Kurzenknabe (Kurzenknabe) at the Front
Royal Police Department.
Kurzenknabe learned from DD that "Mr.
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Lansberry orally sodomized [the victim] and then requested that
[the victim] reciprocate and orally sodomize him."
searched appellant's residence for evidence of sexual abuse,
collecting both DD's and appellant’s clothing and bed sheets
from the home, and collecting DNA samples from the home and from
Based upon the investigation, William Dexter Lansberry was
indicted by a grand jury on two counts of oral sodomy, in
violation of Code § 18.2-67, and one count of aggravated sexual
battery, in violation of Code § 18.2-67.3 and § 18.2-67.10.6.
On February 12, 1999, the Commonwealth filed a pretrial
"Notice of Intent to Offer DNA and Profile Evidence."
to the pretrial notice was a certificate of analysis prepared by
DNA expert Karolyn Tontarski (Tontarski).
At trial, the
Commonwealth intended to offer evidence that samples taken from
the "interior front fly area" of DD's underwear matched
appellant's DNA structure.
On February 16, 1999, appellant's
counsel filed a "Motion for Funds for Forensic Expert."
alleged that (1) he had no expertise in DNA profiling and needed
expert assistance to properly prepare his defense; (2) the
Commonwealth's report was ambiguous and confusing; and (3) the
DNA material was mixed, contained no semen, and was not "subject
to understanding by lay persons."
At a pretrial motions hearing on March 1, 1999, appellant's
counsel argued that that he "just [did] not have the expertise"
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to understand DNA evidence.
Counsel admitted that he had not
attempted to communicate with Tontarski to review the
certificate of analysis, assist his understanding of the
analysis or ask any questions regarding the preparation of the
COURT: You are saying you are having
difficulty understanding the report. It
seems like the first step towards
understanding it is to talk to the expert
and say, "Explain it to me." Not
necessarily help you challenge the report.
That would be the second step, seems to me.
Just because you have a report from
someone at the State Lab does not
necessarily mean that it would have to be
challenged. I mean, it doesn't mean that it
Counsel argued that "I need expert advice on how to present this
That is all there is to it.
I have to have it."
trial court denied appellant’s request for the appointment of a
Then counsel moved to withdraw from the case, stating that
"I am certainly not going to call down to the Commonwealth's
Laboratory whose findings may be suspect in any case, which is
one reason you need an [sic] DNA expert of your own, to look and
make sure that they did it right.
Not that they do it wrong,
except probably five or ten percent of the time."
other lawyers who have had plenty of experience with this who
can possibly do it."
Appellant's counsel indicated that he
would attempt to talk to the Commonwealth's expert to understand
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The trial court denied counsel's motion to withdraw
but granted appellant a one-month continuance "to do what
investigation and study [was needed] to bring [counsel] up to
At trial, the Commonwealth's DNA expert testified that
there could possibly be other people with the same DNA as
appellant, but that it was 240,000 times more likely that the
DNA on DD’s underpants originated from appellant than from some
other Caucasian male.
Tontarski could not state that the fluid
in which the DNA was found was in fact saliva and she thought it
"highly unlikely" that there was any body fluid other than
During its case-in-chief, the Commonwealth called DD, the
victim, to testify.
DD stated that he was a little scared that
morning, he spoke softly and had problems remembering even the
name of the appellant, who had lived with DD for about five
The Commonwealth asked DD several questions which
required a "yes or no" answer, such as "Now, did you touch Mr.
Lansberry in any way?"
Appellant objected to these questions as
However, the trial court overruled appellant's
objections, concluding that these were "proper question[s]."
The Commonwealth's attorney also asked DD a couple of leading
Appellant's counsel objected to the leading nature
of the Commonwealth's questions.
The trial court overruled the
objection and ordered the prosecutor to "refrain" from asking
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leading questions in the future.
Upon a subsequent objection to
leading questions the trial court overruled the objection,
finding that the leading questions were permissible with this
In his defense, appellant testified that he was never alone
with DD in his room on the day of the offense, that he did not
commit the acts alleged by the Commonwealth, and that DD was an
aggressive child acting out against appellant for disciplining
him on previous occasions.
In rebuttal, the Commonwealth called Lisa Rader (Rader),
The Commonwealth gave the defense a copy of her
case notes including DD's statements regarding the incident with
Appellant had not received these notes prior to
Rader testified that based on her report of
her conversation with DD, the incident involved only DD touching
appellant and not appellant touching DD, as the other witnesses
Appellant made no objection or motion concerning Rader's
testimony or the use of Rader's notes during the trial.
Appellant was given time to read the notes prior to Rader's
testimony and cross-examined Rader about the contents.
Appellant also used Rader's notes, which showed some
inconsistencies in DD's statements, to support his motion to
strike the evidence and in his closing arguments to the jury.
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At the conclusion of the trial, the jury acquitted
appellant of the two sodomy charges and convicted him of
aggravated sexual battery.
After trial, appellant moved to set
aside the jury's verdict or, in the alternative, for a new
For the first time, appellant argued that he was
prejudiced by the Commonwealth's late disclosure of Rader's
The trial court denied the motion for a new trial,
finding that while the evidence was exculpatory, appellant was
able to effectively use the evidence and was not prejudiced by
late disclosure of the evidence.
Appellant also renewed his
objections to the trial court’s failure to appoint a DNA expert
and to the use by the Commonwealth's attorney of leading
The trial court overruled the objections on these
issues and denied the motion to set aside the verdict and the
motion for a new trial.
On review, the denial of a motion to appoint an expert will
not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion.
See Simerly v.
Commonwealth, 29 Va. App. 710, 718, 514 S.E.2d 387, 391 (1999)
(citing Elkins v. Commonwealth, 208 Va. 336, 337, 157 S.E.2d
243, 244 (1967)).
Although the right to expert assistance "is
not absolute," due process requires that an indigent "who seeks
the appointment of an expert witness, at the Commonwealth’s
expense, must demonstrate that the subject which necessitates
the assistance of an expert is likely to be a significant factor
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in his defense."
Husske v. Commonwealth, 252 Va. 203, 211-12,
476 S.E.2d 920, 925 (1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1165 (1997)
(quoting Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 82-83 (1985)).
In Husske, the defendant was charged with breaking and
entering with intent to commit rape, forcible sodomy, rape, and
At trial, the defendant requested the trial court to
appoint an expert to help him challenge the Commonwealth's DNA
The trial court denied the defendant's request.
id. at 208, 476 S.E.2d at 923.
On appeal, the Virginia Supreme
Court affirmed and held that:
[a]n indigent defendant who seeks the
appointment of an expert, at the
Commonwealth’s expense, must show a
particularized need for such services and
that he will be prejudiced by the lack of
expert assistance. The defendant failed to
meet these requirements. At best, the
defendant asserted, inter alia, that DNA
evidence is 'of a highly technical nature;'
he thought it was difficult for a lawyer to
challenge DNA evidence without expert
assistance; and he had concerns about the
use of DNA evidence because 'the Division of
Forensic Science [was] no longer
[conducting] paternity testing in [c]riminal
cases.' The defendant’s generalized
statements in his motions simply fail to
show a particularized need.
Id. at 213, 417 S.E.2d at 926 (emphasis added).
In the instant case, appellant’s request tracks the
"generalized statements" of Husske.
He stated that he was
incapable of defending the case without expert assistance
because the DNA evidence was "confusing" and "ambiguous" in
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nature, and he lacked "expertise" with DNA evidence.
also alleged that the DNA evidence was "not subject to
understanding by laypersons."
Such "generalized statements
. . . simply fail to show a particularized need."
Id. at 213,
417 S.E.2d at 926.
While leading questions on direct examination are generally
improper, reversible error occurs only if the appellant can show
See Belton v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 5, 7, 104 S.E.2d
1, 3 (1958).
A question is not rendered a leading question
merely because it is framed to require an answer of "yes" or
See Charles E. Friend, The Law of Evidence in Virginia
§3-5 (4th ed. 1993).
The trial court has "large discretion" in
the matter of leading questions.
See Flint v. Commonwealth, 114
Va. 820, 823, 76 S.E. 308, 310 (1912).
The trial court may properly permit leading questions where
the witness is reluctant to answer, slow to understand, or is
under some incapacity such as infancy.
See Hausenfluck v.
Commonwealth, 85 Va. 702, 708, 8 S.E. 683, 686 (1889); see also
Charles E. Friend, The Law of Evidence in Virginia §3-5 (4th ed.
Here, DD is a young (nine-year-old) boy, and the nature
According to The Law of Evidence in Virginia §3-5 (4th ed.
1993), leading questions
. . . may also be asked where the witness
proves reluctant to answer or slow to
understand. Leading questions should be
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of the charges reasonably caused his hesitancy in testifying.
For example, at the beginning of his testimony, the child
testified that he did not remember appellant's name, although
appellant had lived with DD for approximately five months.
Indeed, DD stated on the morning of the trial that he was "a
little scared" and spoke softly in responding to questions.
Under these circumstances, we find no error in the use of some
leading questions by the Commonwealth. 2
Furthermore, appellant failed to demonstrate any prejudice
resulting from the Commonwealth's use of leading questions.
response to proper questioning by the Commonwealth's attorney,
the child witness testified in detail about the elements of the
charged offenses, including where the offense occurred and the
permitted where the witness is under some
incapacity, such as infancy or mental
deficiency; or does not speak English well.
Leading is also available as a means of
refreshing memory, and is frequently used
where the matter is not one in any real
It should be noted that allowance of
leading questions is a matter largely within
the discretion of the trial judge.
Ordinarily, the allowance of such a question
is not grounds for reversal. Even if the
judge’s ruling is erroneous, the error is
harmless where other testimony confirms the
answer to the leading question, or it is
otherwise obvious that no harm has been done
to the objecting party.
Additionally, many of the "leading questions" appellant
objected to were simply not leading questions. They merely
required a "yes" or "no" response.
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specific manner in which appellant "touched" him.
prejudice alleged by appellant, the trial court did not err.
MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL
Appellant next contends that the trial court erred in
denying his motion for a new trial because the Commonwealth's
attorney did not turn over statements made by the victim to
Rader, the victim's therapist, until Rader was called to the
We find that appellant is procedurally barred from
raising this issue on appeal by Rule 5A:18.
When the Commonwealth's attorney called Rader to the stand,
he handed Rader's notes to appellant.
Appellant had not been
provided a copy of the notes prior to Rader being called to the
The trial court provided appellant time to
examine the notes prior to allowing Rader to begin testifying.
However, appellant did not object to the testimony or use of the
notes at any time during the trial.
Appellant did not request a
continuance or mistrial based upon this evidence.
cross-examined Rader, using the notes.
At the end of the trial,
appellant made a motion to strike the evidence based in part
upon the inconsistencies in the victim's statements and Rader's
When the motion was denied, appellant used Rader's notes
in his argument to the jury that the victim's statements
However, appellant never objected to
the use of Rader's notes until after the jury reached a verdict.
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The primary purpose of Rule 5A:18 is to inform the trial
judge of possible error so that he or she can consider the issue
intelligently and take any corrective actions necessary to avoid
unnecessary appeals, reversals, mistrials and retrials.
Campbell v. Commonwealth, 12 Va. App. 476, 479, 405 S.E.2d 1, 2
(1991) (en banc); Rule 5A:18.
When appellant was handed the
previously-undisclosed notes he made a decision to proceed with
the trial with the evidence instead of attempting to seek a
mistrial or pursue other remedies.
The appellant failed to
object and provide the trial judge an opportunity to rectify the
problem when he decided to proceed to a verdict.
See Tickel v.
Commonwealth, 11 Va. App. 558, 563, 400 S.E.2d 534, 537 (1991).
The fact that this argument was raised initially in a post-trial
motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial does not
preserve the issue for appeal. 3
See Bobblett v. Commonwealth, 10
Va. App. 640, 651, 396 S.E.2d 131, 137 (1990).
The trial judge
lacks a chance to remedy the situation once the jury has reached
Thus, appellant failed to meet the mandates of Rule
5A:18 by waiting until after the verdict to present the problem
Although the trial court considered and denied appellant's
objection to the "late disclosure" of Rader's notes in
appellant's post-trial motions, it was not required to do so.
The timing of the appellant's objection prevented the trial
court from taking corrective action during the trial.
Furthermore, even if appellant had properly preserved this
issue for appeal, we note that he has failed to offer any
evidence of "prejudice" to his case derived from the "late
disclosure" of Rader's notes.
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to the trial judge.
Since no timely and proper objection to the
"late disclosure" of Rader's notes was presented to the trial
court, we do not address the merits of this argument on appeal.
Accordingly, we hold that appellant did not make the
requisite showing of a particularized need for a DNA expert, the
trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the
Commonwealth to ask the child victim some leading questions and
appellant is barred from appealing the late disclosure of
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Benton, J., concurring and dissenting.
I concur in Parts I, III, and IV of the opinion.
dissent, however, from Part II, which affirms the trial judge's
refusal to appoint a DNA expert to assist William Lansberry in
Principles the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed in
Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985), bear repeating:
This Court has long recognized that when
a State brings its judicial power to bear on
an indigent defendant in a criminal
proceeding, it must take steps to assure
that the defendant has a fair opportunity to
present his defense. This elementary
principle, grounded in significant part on
the Fourteenth Amendment's due process
guarantee of fundamental fairness, derives
from the belief that justice cannot be equal
where, simply as a result of his poverty, a
defendant is denied the opportunity to
participate meaningfully in a judicial
proceeding in which his liberty is at stake.
We recognized long ago that mere access to
the courthouse doors does not by itself
assure a proper functioning of the adversary
process, and that a criminal trial is
fundamentally unfair if the State proceeds
against an indigent defendant without making
certain that he has access to the raw
materials integral to the building of an
effective defense. Thus, while the Court
has not held that a State must purchase for
the indigent defendant all the assistance
that his wealthier counterpart might buy, it
has often reaffirmed that fundamental
fairness entitles indigent defendants to "an
adequate opportunity to present their claims
fairly within the adversary system." To
implement this principle, we have focused on
identifying the "basic tools of an adequate
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defense or appeal," and we have required
that such tools be provided to those
defendants who cannot afford to pay for
Id. at 76-77 (citations omitted).
Most courts that have
considered the issue, now including Virginia, have held that
these principles apply when an accused makes a particularized
showing of need for the assistance of an expert when the
prosecutor intends to rely upon DNA evidence.
See Husske v.
Commonwealth, 252 Va. 203, 211-12, 476 S.E.2d 920, 925 (1996).
In Husske, the Court "h[e]ld that an indigent defendant who
seeks the appointment of an expert witness . . . must
demonstrate that the subject which necessitates the assistance
of the expert is 'likely to be a significant factor in his
defense' and that he will be prejudiced by the lack of expert
Id. (citation omitted).
Denying Husske's request,
the Court ruled (1) that his counsel only made "generalized"
statements about his need and (2) that he could make no showing
of prejudice "because . . . he confessed to the crimes" in great
Id. at 213, 476 S.E.2d at 926.
Lansberry's counsel, however, made a sufficiently
particularized showing to justify his request.
In addition to
asserting that he had "no expertise in DNA profiling," he stated
that he needed "expert investigation to provide . . . sufficient
information to properly defend . . . Lansberry," that the
laboratory DNA analysis report "is ambiguous and confusing
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concerning its findings," and "that the DNA material is minor
and mixed and that there is no semen found at all; therefore,
the evidence . . . is very minimal and not subject to
understanding by lay persons."
Lansberry's counsel attached to
his motion the report of DNA analysis that the Commonwealth
That report was conclusory, ambiguous in its
description of the "genetic material" tested, and provided
statistics based on "assuming only one foreign contributor to
Refusing the request for an expert witness, the trial judge
suggested to defense counsel that the Commonwealth's DNA expert
could answer his questions about the report.
the judge that such a discussion would reveal to the
Commonwealth's witness the nature of his defense and was "not
going to lead me to understand how [he] may be able to view this
The United States Supreme Court "has often
reaffirmed that fundamental fairness entitles indigent
defendants to 'an adequate opportunity to present their claims
fairly within the adversary system.'"
Ake, 470 U.S. at 77
The notion that Lansberry would have a fair
opportunity to present his defense based upon his counsel's
informal pre-trial discussion with the scientific expert the
Commonwealth proposed to use in its effort to convict Lansberry
cannot be a serious proposition.
Such a procedure gives the
Commonwealth "a strategic advantage over the defense . . .
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[that] cast[s] a pall on the accuracy of the verdict obtained."
Id. at 79.
Expert witnesses are permitted to offer opinions about
facts they or others have gathered and about their own
examination of evidence.
Those opinions are often judgments
that are subject to reasonable dispute by other experts.
issues are complex, as with DNA and the interpretation of DNA
results, expert witnesses aid parties in many ways, not the
least of which is identifying "the probative questions to ask of
the opposing party's [experts] and . . . interpret[ing] their
Id. at 80.
Recognizing the complexities of the
underlying methodology supporting DNA analysis and the
complexities of the interpretation of results, the National
Academy of Sciences through its Committee on DNA Technology in
Forensic Science recommended the following:
Defense counsel must have access to adequate
expert assistance, even when the
admissibility of the results of analytical
techniques is not in question, because there
is still a need to review the quality of the
laboratory work and the interpretation of
results. When the prosecutor proposes to
use DNA typing evidence or when it has been
used in the investigation of the case, an
expert should be routinely available to the
defendant. If necessary, he or she should
be able to apply for funds early in the
discovery stages to retain experts without a
showing of relevance that might reveal trial
strategy. Whenever possible, a portion of
the DNA sample should be preserved for
independent analysis by the defense.
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Report of the Committee on DNA Technology in Forensic Science,
National Research Counsel, DNA Technology in Forensic Science,
p. 147 (April 1992).
I would hold that counsel's motion, memorandum, and
statements at the hearing particularized his need for expert
assistance to provide Lansberry an adequate defense at trial.
Inherent in the particularized showing that he made is a showing
that the absence of expert assistance would be prejudicial to
The ambiguity of the DNA report is evidenced by the jury's
acquittal of Lansberry on both charges of sodomy.
Commonwealth used that same evidence to support its charge that
Lansberry was "guilty of fondling [the child's] genitals," the
basis of the aggravated sexual battery conviction.
its expert's testimony that the deposit of the unspecified
genetic material she found "is more consistent . . . with a
primary transfer than with a secondary transfer," the prosecutor
argued to the jury:
"I defy anyone to come up with a
reasonable, rational explanation why a 54 year old man's genetic
material gets inside a nine year old boy's underpants
The record in this case adequately demonstrates that an
expert in this matter would have been of significant assistance
to Lansberry in his defense and that Lansberry was prejudiced by
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the lack of that assistance.
Thus, I would reverse the
conviction and remand for a new trial.
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