58-Year-Old Man Found Guilty of Wife’s Murder

Baltimore Courthouse

Cleveland DeShields was found guilty of first-degree murder on Sept. 22 in the death of his wife, Wanda Diggins after less than a day of jury deliberation.

During closing arguments on Sept. 21, the prosecutor tried to convey to the jury that this was not a “whodunnit” case but a straightforward case of a domestic violence-related murder. 

The prosecutor said DeShields’ motive was that the victim was the reason he had spent the last two months incarcerated. Cell phone tower data, a 911 call, and two witnesses that were at the residence were enough to tie him to the scene.

His lack of contact with the 54-year-old victim after the accident showed a guilty conscience, the prosecutor said.

He then played an emotional 911 call from the assault and showed the jurors pictures of Diggins at the hospital.

“People are killed in Baltimore all the time,” he said. “But people don’t die like this; this wasn’t a random person. This was a person with strong feelings towards her.”

After going over the cell phone records extensively for the second time, he discussed Diggins’ injuries.

The prosecutor said Diggins had an orbital skull fracture, bleeding in the brain, and was spitting up blood. He said she had been going back and forth to different rehabilitation hospitals when her condition deteriorated, all the while never being able to breathe on her own.

The prosecution emphasized that they believe these injuries caused her to have seizures, which were the reason she was put in hospice care and eventually died.

During defense counsel’s closing argument, Rowland began by saying the prosecutor had gone past his duties and had now become an advocate for the victim. She said the prosecution has to prove the defendant’s guilt with evidence, not conjecture and inferences. 

Rowland said the detectives and the prosecution only went off of what the witnesses were saying and never questioned if they were lying. They only jumped to conclusions, she added.

Rowland reiterated that the marriage between DeShields and Diggins was one where arguing was the standard. The assault happened 10 days after he was released from incarceration and if his incarceration was the motive for killing her, he wouldn’t have waited that long.

Rowland then said that the only facts of this case were that Diggins was beaten, she had cocaine in her system, and that she died six months later. Everything else the prosecution put forward required assumption, she said.

Rowland said the prosecution is relying on the juror’s humanity and “you don’t rely on that for a murder case. The jurors are not here to vindicate Wanda’s death or to make her family feel better.” They were only there to decide if the prosecution proved DeShields’ guilt, she said.

But, during his rebuttal, the prosecutor said that the drugs in Diggins system were nothing to talk about. DeShields was her husband and was gone after the assault and never visited her while she was in the hospital.

The prosecutor also said homicide detectives on this case don’t know, nor did they practice confirmation bias, which is a bias where you will interpret any new evidence as supporting your already existing beliefs. He said the only evidence in this case supports the witness’ statements. 

“We all know what happened here, and we know who exactly did this,” the prosecutor said, asking the jury to find DeShields guilty of murder.

During opening statements on Sept. 17, the prosecution alleged that DeShields was guilty of first-degree murder after assaulting his wife on Nov. 2, 2018. Diggins passed away on May 5, 2019, approximately six months after the assault. 

Yet, DeShields’ defense attorney, Maureen Rowland, said it was normal for married couples to argue and that past arguments should not be an indicator of guilt. Rowland also said DeShields was not present at the time of the assault.

A friend of the family testified that she was present during the assault and called 911 to get help for the victim.

A video interview between the witness and the police was played for the jury, during which the witness said she was asleep in a chair in the room where the assault occurred. She said she had been drinking and was high on marijuana when she woke up to a thumping sound, saw Diggins, and ran out of the home.

The witness later identified DeShields in a photo line-up.

Rowland highlighted that the witness was intoxicated during the alleged murder and that police had coerced her into saying the thumping sound she heard sounded like slapping. 

The witness said that DeShields was at the home when she fell asleep but was not there when she woke up. 

A crime lab technician working for the Baltimore Police Department, who had collected evidence from the crime scene, said he did not see signs of forced entry at the scene. He showed the jury the photos he took of the scene, including the couch Diggins was found on and various blood stains, which were submitted into evidence.

A third witness was a special agent with the FBI in Baltimore who works with the cell analysis team. He generated a report from a cell phone that was registered in DeShields’ name and said the phone made calls from the general area around the location of the assault approximately four hours before it occurred. 

Rowland argued that the cell phone records could only provide a general location and were not conducive to DeShields’ presence during the assault.

Diggins’ daughter, who was also called to testify, said the day before the incident, she had a phone call with her mother who sounded worried about something.

After the incident, the witness said she met up with other family members to discuss what happened. One of the family members was asleep on the couch the night of the incident and saw DeShields on top of Diggins beating her.

When the defense cross-examined the daughter, she initially said she never told detectives she thought those family members had been planning to get DeShields in trouble. 

Throughout the trial, however, the daughter went back and forth about a statement of whether her family actually wanted to get DeShields in trouble.

A close friend of the victim, who was also present the night of the incident, said the couple had a history of arguments prior to the incident. She said Diggins told her that DeShields had threatened her before. 

The witness also said the only people in the room where the assault occurred were her, the victim, DeShields, and another family member. She said the room was dark but not too dark that she couldn’t see what was going on. 

The day after the assault, the witness identified DeShields in a photo line-up as the man responsible. 

During the defense’s cross-examination, the witness admitted that she had been smoking marijuana and drinking beer the night of the assault but said that she was not drunk at the time. 

The witness also admitted that she told the police she believed DeShields was responsible for the assault. Rowland added that, at this point, the police were no longer considering alternative suspects. 

During his testimony, a medical examiner detailed Diggin’s injuries, including neck abrasions, bruises on her lips and eyelids, facial lacerations, bleeding from her nose, and fluid in her chest cavities.

He said the injuries led to more serious problems, such as acute respiratory failure, pneumonia, and seizures, which could last up to 30 minutes.

When the prosecution asked him what he believed caused Diggins’ death, he said it was due to the ailments caused by her injuries from the assault. 

On the final day of arguments, the last witness to be called to the stand was a responding officer to the scene of the assault, whose body camera footage was played for the jury.

The officer testified that when he first arrived at the scene, there was a woman outside who was “frantic, concerned, and scared” for Diggins. He and the other responding officer then entered the residence and saw Diggins sitting up on the couch.

According to the officer, Diggins’ face was disfigured and bleeding. He also reported that Diggins was unresponsive, albeit, occasionally twitching.

While searching the home, the officer said that no suspects were apprehended nor did they collect any evidence. The officer said there were no signs of forced entry, and there was a hoodie and a hat near the victim that was considered evidence.