State v. Davis

Decision Date09 October 1998
Docket NumberNo. 452A96.,452A96.
Citation349 N.C. 1,506 S.E.2d 455
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. James Floyd DAVIS.

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General by David Roy Blackwell, Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State.

David G. Belser, Asheville, for defendant-appellant.

ORR, Justice.

This case arises out of the shooting deaths of Gerald Allman, Tony Balogh, and Frank Knox. On 11 September 1995, defendant was indicted for three counts of first-degree murder, one count of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and one count of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. Defendant was tried before a jury, and on 27 September 1996, the jury found defendant guilty of all charges. Following a capital sentencing proceeding, based upon the jury's finding defendant guilty of all three murders on the basis of premeditation and deliberation and the felony murder theory, the jury recommended sentences of death for each of the murder convictions. In accordance with the jury's recommendation, the trial court entered three sentences of death. The trial court additionally sentenced defendant to 79 to 104 months' imprisonment for the assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury conviction and 31 to 47 months' imprisonment for the assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill conviction, to be served consecutive to each other and to the sentences of death.

After consideration of the assignments of error brought forward on appeal by defendant and a thorough review of the transcript of the proceedings, the record on appeal, the briefs, and oral arguments, we find no error meriting reversal of defendant's convictions or sentences.

At trial, the State's evidence tended to show the following: Defendant James Floyd Davis had been employed in the warehouse of Union Butterfield since 1991. On 10 May 1995, an altercation occurred between defendant and two other employees. The management of Union Butterfield, including Herb Welsh, Larry Cogdill, Tony Balogh, and Debbie Medford, conducted a fact-finding meeting concerning the altercation. Defendant was suspended with pay until the following Monday, 15 May 1995. Subsequently, management made a decision to terminate defendant's employment.

On 15 May 1995, defendant met with Tony Balogh and Debbie Medford. During the meeting, Balogh informed defendant that his employment was being terminated. Medford informed defendant of the benefits he was entitled to receive upon his termination. Defendant appeared nervous and tearful during the meeting. Balogh and Medford asked defendant if there was anything they could do for him. Defendant responded by saying, "If you were going to help me, you would have."

On 17 May 1995, at approximately 9:00 a.m., defendant purchased from Pawn World a Winchester .30-caliber M1 carbine rifle, two clips, and ammunition. At approximately 11:20 a.m., defendant entered the facility of his former employer, Union Butterfield, carrying the Winchester rifle and a Lorcin.380-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Defendant proceeded to the break room, where he found Robert Walker, Tim Walker, Howard Reece, Gerald Allman, and Tony Balogh. The men were in the middle of a meeting about the building's sprinkler system. Defendant entered the break room and told Robert Walker and Tim Walker, representatives from the sprinkler company, to "get the hell out of here." Defendant aimed the gun at Allman and fired, shooting him in the head. Defendant then turned to Balogh and fired the gun. Reece ran from the room and felt pieces of the wall hitting him as defendant attempted to shoot him.

Defendant then proceeded down the hallway where the plant management offices were located. He began to fire shots into each office as he walked down the hallway. Larry Cogdill was in an office that he shared with Gerald Allman and Herb Welsh. Cogdill looked out and saw defendant coming down the hallway and slammed the office door shut. Defendant turned the door handle and opened the door slightly until Cogdill slammed his body against the door to keep defendant out. Defendant then shot through the door, with one bullet striking Cogdill in the arm. Cogdill fell to the side and watched as defendant shot holes in the door. At some point, Cogdill was also shot in the leg.

Defendant continued to move down the hallway, shooting into management offices and reloading his gun at least once. Frank Knox, an employee of Dormer Tools, parent company to Union Butterfield, was working in one of the offices. When Knox heard shots being fired, he hid under his desk. Defendant fired three shots through Knox's door, and two of the shots struck Knox in the wrist and chest.

Defendant returned to the office where Cogdill and Welsh were located and fired several more shots through the door. Defendant then entered the warehouse area of the plant. Larry Short then saw defendant standing in a doorway and smoking a cigarette. Short attempted to flag down cars for assistance. When defendant and Short made eye contact, defendant raised his gun and began firing at Short. Short ducked, ran, and then dove and rolled out of defendant's sight. Soon after, defendant surrendered to the Asheville police.

While in police custody, defendant stated, "I got fired. Damn it. I got set up. They drove me crazy out there." Furthermore, when the arrest warrants for the murders were served upon defendant, he pointed to one of the victims' names on the warrant and stated, "That's the son of a bitch that fired me." While looking at another warrant, defendant stated, "That's a troublemaker. He's made my life hell since I've worked there." Finally, while looking at the warrant for the murder of Frank Knox, defendant stated that he did not remember him.


First, defendant contends that the trial court committed reversible error in excusing prospective jurors for cause based on their beliefs regarding the death penalty. Defendant argues that the trial court's ruling denied defendant his rights to a fair and impartial jury, to due process of law, and to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. We do not agree.

The standard for determining whether a prospective juror may be excused for cause for his or her views on capital punishment is whether those views would "prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath." Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 424, 105 S.Ct. 844, 852, 83 L.Ed.2d 841, 851-52 (1985). "The granting of a challenge for cause where the juror's fitness or unfitness is arguable is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent a showing of abuse of discretion." State v. Abraham, 338 N.C. 315, 343, 451 S.E.2d 131, 145 (1994). Prospective jurors with reservations about capital punishment must be able to "`state clearly that they are willing to temporarily set aside their beliefs in deference to the rule of law.'" State v. Brogden, 334 N.C. 39, 43, 430 S.E.2d 905, 908 (1993) (quoting Lockhart v. McCree, 476 U.S. 162, 176, 106 S.Ct. 1758, 1766, 90 L.Ed.2d 137,149 (1986)). This Court has recognized that a prospective juror's bias may not always be provable with unmistakable clarity and that, in such cases, reviewing courts must defer to the trial court's judgment concerning the prospective juror's ability to follow the law. State v. Davis, 325 N.C. 607, 624, 386 S.E.2d 418, 426 (1989),cert. denied, 496 U.S. 905, 110 S.Ct. 2587, 110 L.Ed.2d 268 (1990).

In the present case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excusing the prospective jurors for cause. Our review of the record indicates that each of the prospective jurors excused for cause stated that he or she would be unable to follow the law and recommend a sentence of death, even if that was what the facts and circumstances suggested. Defendant has pointed to nothing in the record to support his contention. Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in allowing the State's challenges for cause of the prospective jurors. This assignment of error is overruled.


Next, defendant contends that the trial court erred in conducting an ex parte hearing concerning defendant's competency evaluation in the absence of defendant and defense counsel. Defendant argues that he suffered prejudice when the State allegedly handpicked the forensic psychiatrist to evaluate his competency to stand trial, moved the site of the evaluation from Central Prison to Dorothea Dix Hospital, and subsequently utilized the results of that evaluation to crossexamine the defense's psychiatric expert. Specifically, defendant argues that this procedure violated: (1) his unwaivable right to presence at every stage of his capital proceeding and to confront the witnesses against him pursuant to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 23 of the North Carolina Constitution; (2) his right to a true, complete, and accurate record of the proceedings pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-1241; and (3) his right to counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 23 of the North Carolina Constitution. Defendant also argues that the cumulative effect of the denial of these rights operated to deprive him of his rights to due process of law. We do not agree.

On 16 October 1995, the State filed a motion for an order directing Dr. Robert Rollins, director of forensic psychiatry at Dorothea Dix Hospital, to examine defendant and prepare a written report describing the state of defendant's mental health. Pursuant to statutory mandate, Judge Loto G. Caviness conducted a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, defendant appeared through counsel. The hearing transcript indicates that both the prosecutor and defense counsel expressed concerns for defendant's capacity to stand trial. After this hearing, defense counsel...

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