State v. Braxton

Decision Date08 November 1996
Docket NumberNo. 551A94,551A94
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Michael Jerome BRAXTON
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Page 172

477 S.E.2d 172
344 N.C. 702
STATE of North Carolina
Michael Jerome BRAXTON
No. 551A94.
Supreme Court of North Carolina.
Nov. 8, 1996.

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General by Francis W. Crawley, Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State.

Daniel Shatz, Durham, for defendant-appellant.

LAKE, Justice.

The defendant was indicted on 8 March 1993 for two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon and one count of first-degree kidnapping. The defendant was tried capitally, and the jury found him guilty of the first-degree murder of Emmanuel Oguayo on the basis of the felony murder rule. He was also found guilty of the first-degree murder of Donald Ray Bryant on the basis of malice, premeditation, and deliberation and under the felony murder rule. In addition, defendant was convicted of three counts of robbery with a firearm and one count of first-degree kidnapping. Following a capital sentencing proceeding pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000, the jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of Emmanuel Oguayo but was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation for sentencing in the murder of Donald Bryant. Defendant received the mandatory life sentence for each murder, these to run consecutively, and consecutive sentences of forty, forty and thirty years on two counts of armed robbery and second-degree [344 N.C. 706] kidnapping. The trial court arrested judgment on one count of armed robbery and as to first-degree kidnapping. For the reasons discussed herein, we conclude that defendant received a fair trial, free from prejudicial error.

The State's evidence tended to show that on 12 February 1993, defendant Michael Jerome Braxton and two other men, Kjellyn Leary and Robin Moore, drove around Raleigh while they talked about finding people to rob. They went to a party near Saint Augustine's College for this purpose. Moore had a shotgun in an orange duffel bag. One of the victims, Donald Bryant, walked up to defendant and asked if he had any crack cocaine. Defendant told Bryant he did not have any. As Bryant walked back to his car, Moore pulled the shotgun on Bryant and made him get into the backseat. Defendant and Leary also got into Bryant's car. Defendant went through Bryant's pockets and took twenty dollars and two marijuana cigarettes. Defendant, Leary and Moore later decided to put Bryant in the trunk of the car.

After smoking the marijuana cigarettes and drinking two twelve-packs of beer they bought with the money taken from Bryant, Moore drove to a Fast Fare in North Raleigh and parked behind the building. Leary and defendant went inside the store while Moore waited in the car. Defendant carried the shotgun. Defendant walked up to Lindanette Walker, a customer in the store, and told her to get on the floor. He took her coat, watch and pocketbook. Meanwhile, the store clerk, Emmanuel Oguayo, began to fight with Leary. Defendant ran behind the counter, aimed the shotgun at Oguayo and pulled the trigger. The shotgun failed to fire. Defendant then reloaded and fired, this time hitting Oguayo in the abdomen. Defendant and Leary ran back to the car, got in and shouted at Moore to "go." Moore drove away. As they were driving down the road, Leary said to defendant, "I didn't believe you would shoot him." An audit of the cash register revealed that ninety-eight dollars was missing. Oguayo died from the wound.

Later that night, defendant and Leary drove to some woods in North Raleigh. Defendant got Bryant out of the trunk and shot him in the head. Bryant died instantly.

On either Valentine's Day or the day after, defendant gave his girlfriend, Letita Bridges, a leather coat and a watch. Sometime after giving Bridges the coat and watch, defendant told Bridges that he shot "some guy" at the Fast Fare. He said he did not know why. Thereafter, Bridges gave the police the coat

Page 175

and the watch. They were identified as being objects stolen from Lindanette Walker.

[344 N.C. 707] On 17 February 1993, Detective Gabriel Sanders of the Raleigh Police Department was driving south on South Blount Street when defendant's father motioned for him to stop. Defendant's father told Detective Sanders that his son had been involved in the commission of some crimes and wanted to turn himself in to the police. Detective Sanders radioed the Raleigh Police Department and confirmed the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant. Detective Sanders then took defendant into custody, handcuffed him and placed him in Detective Sanders' vehicle.

Defendant informed Detective Sanders that the charges against him concerned a robbery and murder in North Raleigh. Defendant then tried to begin a conversation with Detective Sanders. Because of the seriousness of the charges, Detective Sanders immediately advised defendant of his Miranda rights. The warnings were given verbally from Detective Sanders' memory, and included the right to remain silent, the warning that anything the defendant said could be used against him, the right to have a lawyer present, the right to have a lawyer appointed if he could not afford one, and the right to stop answering questions at any time. After being advised of his rights, defendant was silent for the remainder of the ride to the police station. He did not make any statements, nor did he request to talk with a lawyer or have a lawyer appointed. Detective Sanders also did not ask defendant any questions. There was no conversation between the two from the time of the Miranda warnings until the time Detective Sanders left defendant at the fourth floor of the Raleigh Police Department.

Upon arrival at the fourth floor of the police department, defendant was taken to an interview room. Detectives Malley Bissette and William Liles interviewed the defendant for approximately fifty minutes. At the beginning of the interview, Detective Bissette explained to the defendant his Miranda rights from a preprinted form of the Raleigh Police Department. The defendant indicated he understood his rights and signed the form acknowledging that he understood and desired to talk with the officers. He gave a statement in which he admitted robbing Lindanette Walker and shooting Emmanuel Oguayo. Defendant also admitted he shot Donald Bryant in the head. Defendant later assisted the police in locating the body of Donald Bryant.

In his first assignment of error, defendant contends the trial court erred by denying defendant's motion to suppress his confessions and [344 N.C. 708] statements made to law enforcement officers. Specifically, defendant contends that there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding that defendant was advised of his Miranda rights and that he voluntarily waived them. Defendant asserts that law enforcement officers initiated custodial interrogation before reading him his rights. He also maintains that he requested an attorney at his first contact with law enforcement. Therefore, he contends subsequent interrogation initiated by the officers was not voluntary, making the statements inadmissible. Upon careful review of the record, we conclude this assignment of error is without merit.

Statements made by a defendant resulting from custodial interrogation are admissible at trial only if, prior to questioning, the defendant has been fully advised of his rights to remain silent and to have counsel present during questioning. These rights may be waived by a defendant by a voluntary, knowing and intelligent waiver. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). "The ultimate test of the admissibility of a confession is whether the statement was in fact voluntarily and understandingly made." State v. Davis, 305 N.C. 400, 419, 290 S.E.2d 574, 586 (1982). Miranda and Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378 (1981), together establish that custodial interrogation must cease when an accused requests an attorney and may not be resumed by...

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