State v. Copeland, 24402

Decision Date10 January 1996
Docket NumberNo. 24402,24402
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Angela COPELAND, Appellant. . Heard

Page 620

468 S.E.2d 620
321 S.C. 318
The STATE, Respondent,
Angela COPELAND, Appellant.
No. 24402.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard January 10, 1996.
Filed March 25, 1996.

Lisa T. Gregory and Tara Dawn Shurling, Assistant Appellate Defenders, South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General T. Travis Medlock, Chief Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Attorney General Harold M. Coombs, Assistant Attorney General [321 S.C. 321] Alexandria B. Skinner, Columbia; and Solicitor Wade S. Kolb, Jr., Sumter, for Respondent.

BURNETT, Justice.

Angela Copeland appeals her convictions and sentences for murder (life imprisonment), armed robbery (ten years consecutive imprisonment), and possession of a weapon during a violent crime (five years concurrent imprisonment). We affirm.


At approximately 8:30 pm on March 22, 1991, police officers found the body of Floyd Davis (Victim) lying along a roadside in Sumter County. The deceased Victim had been shot in the heart at close range. Although twelve dollars in change was found on the Victim, wallets normally carried by the Victim were not found at the crime scene.

At trial, the Victim's employer testified that the Victim had received a paycheck between 4:00 and 5:00 pm on March 22nd. As was his custom, the Victim took his payroll check to a retail liquor store to be cashed. The owner of the liquor store testified that on March 22nd he cashed the payroll check as well as a tax refund check for the Victim--both checks totalling in excess of one thousand dollars.

The Victim's girlfriend testified that he normally carried two wallets--a green cloth wallet which contained his spending money and a leather wallet which contained the bulk of his money. She further stated that the Victim was at a beer garden adjacent to the liquor store at approximately 5:00 pm on March 22nd. The girlfriend testified that she saw him take money from the green wallet to pay for beer. Another friend testified that he drove the Victim home from the beer garden that night between 6:00 and 6:15 pm.

A neighbor testified that he saw the Victim in his yard between 7:30 and 8:00 pm on March 22nd. He further stated that when a small car drove up, the Victim approached it and talked to the driver. The car left shortly thereafter. The neighbor identified Copeland's car as the vehicle he saw on March 22nd in the Victim's yard.

The following was revealed during an in camera hearing. After Copeland, a resident of Tennessee, became a suspect in this matter, police officers from South Carolina met with her in Tennessee. Copeland initially told them that she had been in Tennessee at the time the murder was committed. Police officers then interviewed Copeland's husband, and as a result of his statements, the officers located and identified the vehicle seen by the neighbor in the Victim's yard on March 22nd. The identified vehicle belonged to Copeland.

The trial court ruled that the spousal privilege prevented admission of the actual content of the statements of Copeland's husband.

Page 623

However, the trial court held that references could be made to the fact that discussions with Copeland's husband subsequently led the police to discover the vehicle seen in the Victim's yard on March 22nd. This discovery provided the police with probable cause to suspect Copeland. As a result, on April 24, 1991, Copeland was arrested and read her Miranda rights. She then voluntarily stated that she had been in Sumter on March 22nd and that someone named "John" committed the murder.

Copeland returned to Sumter, South Carolina, and was incarcerated with Tonya McBride. At trial, McBride testified that Copeland admitted that she and "John Carter" planned to rob the Victim for his income tax check. The plan was for Carter to pose as a drug dealer, for the three of them to get crack cocaine together, and then for Carter to pull a gun on the Victim. However, when Carter pulled the gun, the Victim would not give up his money. McBride further testified that Copeland told her that when Carter did not shoot the Victim after she told him to do so, she did it herself and then drove to Tennessee.

Copeland negotiated an agreement with police whereby she would give a statement in exchange for leniency. Based upon this understanding, Copeland gave a statement on May 22, 1991, naming "John Carter" as the trigger man in the murder. When Carter was not immediately located, Copeland's brother, in exchange for dropping a gun charge and armed robbery charges pending against him, assisted the police in finding Carter.

The trial court ruled Copeland's May 22nd statement inadmissible because it had been induced by promises of leniency [321 S.C. 322] which were not delivered, thus making it involuntary. Nevertheless, the trial court refused to rule that the discovery of Carter depended entirely upon the illegally obtained statement. The judge based this ruling upon the fact that while Copeland was in Tennessee, she voluntarily revealed the existence of an individual named "John" to the authorities.

Prior to trial, Carter pled guilty to armed robbery and possession of a firearm while committing a violent offense. At trial, Carter admitted that he agreed to participate in Copeland's plan to pose as a drug dealer and to pretend to hold up the Victim and Copeland. He further testified that Copeland gave him a gun, but she told him that it was not loaded. In addition, Carter conceded that he pointed the gun at the Victim and demanded money from him. However, Carter asserted that when Copeland came from behind him and grabbed the gun, it went off and he dropped it. Upon realizing that his fingerprints were on the gun, he picked it up and ran.

Copeland testified that Carter and the Victim were riding with her in her vehicle on March 22nd. Carter was in the back seat and the Victim was in the front passenger seat. Copeland asserted that as Carter got out of the back seat, she heard a boom and saw the Victim fall from the car. She panicked and pulled away leaving the Victim behind.

Counsel for Copeland moved for a directed verdict on the armed robbery charge. The trial court denied the motion after concluding that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to warrant submitting the three charges to the jury.


Did the trial court err in:

I. Admitting John Carter's testimony?

II. Admitting police testimony concerning conversations with...

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71 cases
  • State v. Moore
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • February 19, 2020
    ...the challenged evidence is admissible if it was obtained from a lawful source independent of the illegal conduct. State v. Copeland , 321 S.C. 318, 323, 468 S.E.2d 620, 624 (1996) (internal citation omitted).Here, in a portion of the investigation wholly unrelated to or affected by the cell......
  • State v. Hamilton
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 12, 2001
    ...A Solicitor's closing argument must be carefully tailored so it does not appeal to the personal biases of the jurors. State v. Copeland, 321 S.C. 318, 468 S.E.2d 620 (1996); 344 S.C. 362 State v. Linder, 276 S.C. 304, 278 S.E.2d 335 (1981). Further, the argument may not be calculated to aro......
  • State v. Pichardo, 4036.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • October 31, 2005
    ...360 S.C. 1, 598 S.E.2d 725 (Ct.App.2004). The trial court, therefore, did not err in suppressing the evidence. See State v. Copeland, 321 S.C. 318, 323, 468 S.E.2d 620, 624 (1996) ("The `fruit of the poisonous tree' doctrine provides that evidence must be excluded if it would not have come ......
  • State v. Rice, 4300.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 5, 2007
    ...not disturb a trial court's ruling regarding closing argument unless the trial court commits an abuse of discretion. State v. Copeland, 321 S.C. 318, 324, 468 S.E.2d 620, 624 (1996); State v. Jernigan, 156 S.C. 509, 524, 153 S.E. 480, 486 (1930). An appellate court must review the argument ......
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