State v. Dover, 298A21

Docket Nº298A21
Citation2022 NCSC 76
Case DateJune 17, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina




No. 298A21

Supreme Court of North Carolina

June 17, 2022

Heard in the Supreme Court on 9 May 2022.

Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, 278 N.C.App. 723, 2021-NCCOA-405, reversing the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss and vacating a judgment entered on 19 September 2019 by Judge Richard S. Gottlieb in Superior Court, Rowan County.

Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Benjamin Szany, Assistant Attorney General, for the State-appellant.

Marilyn G. Ozer for defendant-appellee.


¶ 1 This case requires us to determine whether the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to dismiss the charges of robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree murder. When considering a motion to dismiss, the trial court must determine whether there is substantial evidence of each element of the offense and whether the defendant was the perpetrator of the offense. If substantial evidence supports a reasonable inference of each element and that the defendant committed


the crime, then the motion to dismiss should be denied. Here substantial evidence supports the reasonable inference that defendant murdered the victim and took $3, 000. Accordingly, the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to dismiss. We reverse the Court of Appeals' decision and remand to the Court of Appeals for consideration of defendant's remaining argument.

¶ 2 In considering a defendant's motion to dismiss, we look at the facts in the light most favorable to the State. At the time of his "sudden, unexpected, and violent death," Arthur "Buddy" Davis was seventy-nine years old. Though he "had a few health problems," Mr. Davis was generally in good health for his age. He was "[w]onderful, kind, generous, soft-spoken, [and] very considerate." Every morning, Mr. Davis spoke with his two adult daughters. Every night before bed, Mr. Davis would call each of his daughters and sing them "a good-night song." He lived in a single-wide trailer at 2000 Chris Ann Lane in Kannapolis. One of his daughters, Charlotte, lived in a trailer "right beside" him with her husband, Waylon Barber (Barber). Mr. Davis had worked selling "cars all his life . . . since before [his daughters] w[ere] born." Mr. Davis first met Terry Bunn (Terry), the owner of Terry's Auto Sales in Kannapolis, at a car auction well before the events in this case. After Terry opened the business, Mr. Davis began working at Terry's Auto Sales as a salesman.

¶ 3 At Terry's Auto Sales, Mr. Davis did "a whole lot of things that w[ere] done


around the office. He took care of answering . . . the phones. When [Terry] wasn't there . . . [Mr. Davis] was the one in charge. . . . [W]hatever the office needed is what [Mr. Davis] did." Mr. Davis often "went with [Terry] to the [car] sales," where they "picked out what [cars they] wanted" to buy to be resold at Terry's Auto Sales. If Terry found a car at the auction that he wanted to buy but did not have the money, then Mr. Davis would loan Terry the money to purchase the car and Terry would pay him back with interest. When Mr. Davis "would go to these sales and . . . purchase a car," "he carried a lot of cash on him." Mr. Davis would carry the cash "folded over and usually in his front pocket," and "[h]e had places in his billfold that he had money" as well. One time when Terry borrowed money from Mr. Davis to buy a motorcycle, Mr. Davis "pulled money out of every corner of his billfold."

¶ 4 At the time, defendant was the only employee at Terry's Auto Sales other than Mr. Davis. Defendant started working for Terry's Auto Sales as a mechanic in the fall of 2015. He repaired cars in the garage attached to the office, typically earning $300 or $400 per week. In December of 2015, defendant was placed on probation. At that time, defendant lived in a motel. Eventually, he moved in with his girlfriend, Carol Carlson, who was also on probation and lived at 130 Haven Trail in China Grove across the street from her mother. Though defendant was "a good employee[ and] a very good mechanic," defendant had substance abuse issues that began to worsen.

¶ 5 While defendant was on probation, he tested positive twice for illegal


substances, resulting in his probation officer referring him to a substance abuse and mental health treatment center. Terry, who had known defendant for almost twenty years and worked with him previously, noticed that defendant lost a significant amount of weight and his attitude shifted. A waitress at Lane Street Grill, the restaurant that defendant, Mr. Davis, and Terry visited for breakfast "about every day, five days a week," also noticed that defendant "looked like he was wired up a lot more," that "[h]is personality changed a little bit," and that "deep down he just wasn't the same." After the waitress asked defendant to repay twenty dollars he owed her, defendant stopped coming to the restaurant and never repaid the money. Eventually, Mr. Davis repaid the waitress on defendant's behalf. Moreover, by February of 2016, defendant owed more than $2, 000 in court costs and probation supervision fees.

¶ 6 Defendant also borrowed money from Terry, "[s]ometimes . . . every afternoon . . . especially later on." Eventually, defendant was "borrow[ing] more money than he had coming to him," but Terry still let him borrow money. A few weeks before Mr. Davis's death, Terry caught defendant returning parts that belonged to the company and keeping the money without permission. Terry almost fired defendant, but Mr. Davis "talked [Terry] out of it" because the shop "needed a mechanic." Defendant also borrowed money from Mr. Davis, which "was pretty much a regular thing, too, that [defendant] would ask, and . . . almost every time [Mr. Davis] . . . did let him borrow the money." A few days before his death, Mr. Davis "had just gotten mad about"


defendant borrowing money and refused to loan more money to defendant. According to defendant, even though Mr. Davis sometimes stopped loaning him money, Mr. Davis would eventually still give defendant more money.

¶ 7 In late April of 2016, a customer named Murphy Sauls (Sauls) asked defendant to repair the transmission in his Oldsmobile Cutlass. Defendant agreed to repair the car for $700. Sauls's friend paid defendant $400 on 22 April 2016 as a partial payment for the work. Defendant replaced the transmission in Sauls's Oldsmobile with a transmission from an Oldsmobile which belonged to Terry's Auto Sales. After working on the car for a few weeks, defendant called Sauls on Saturday, 7 May 2016 and "said [the] car was ready." Defendant then "picked [Sauls] up at home, took [him] to the bank, [and Sauls] withdrew [$]300 and gave it to [defendant]," fully paying for the repair. Then, on Sunday, 8 May 2016, defendant borrowed twenty dollars from Mr. Davis again, even though Mr. Davis had recently refused to loan defendant more money.

¶ 8 The next day, Monday, 9 May 2016, Mr. Davis brought out his chainsaw around 4:00 p.m. to help his son-in-law, Barber, cut a tree limb that had fallen during a storm. Meanwhile, that evening defendant borrowed another "[$]30 or $40 from [Terry] . . . and told [Terry] that he was going to collect on that transmission job that night," despite having already collected that money from Sauls just two days earlier. Thus, defendant "told [Terry] he would have $300 for [Terry] the next morning."


Defendant was also three months behind on his power bill, and his electric service was going to be terminated the next day. After speaking with Terry, defendant continued his mechanic work at the dealership. That evening, while Barber was working on his wife Charlotte's Jeep by himself, defendant "rode by a couple times." The last time, around 9:00 p.m. after it was dark, defendant stopped and "asked [Barber] what was wrong with the Jeep." When Barber went back inside around 9:35 p.m., Charlotte was talking to Mr. Davis on the phone as she did every night. Mr. Davis called his daughter April as well and "sang [her] a song good night." Mr. Davis "was supposed to come over [to April's home] at 7:00 [a.m.] the next morning" to give April money.

¶ 9 Records of the calls defendant made from his cell phone showed that between 9:46 p.m. and 10:23 p.m., defendant made several phone calls from the area of his home at 130 Haven Trail in China Grove. Then, between 11:22 p.m. and 11:32 p.m., defendant made several more phone calls from the area that included Mr. Davis's residence and Terry's Auto Sales. Two of defendant's calls during this time, at 11:31 p.m. and 11:32 p.m., were to Mr. Davis's phone. Defendant concealed his phone number when he made these two calls. Defendant later told investigators he "called [Mr. Davis] two or three times" that night, but Mr. Davis never picked up. Defendant wanted to borrow twenty dollars from Mr. Davis.

¶ 10 Later that evening, between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., defendant went to the


home of Walter Holtzclaw (Holtzclaw), a known drug dealer, at 3052 Clermont Avenue to buy drugs. Defendant's phone records showed he made calls from the area of Holtzclaw's home at 12:11 a.m. and 12:12 a.m. During this visit, defendant paid twenty dollars for "[a] dime of crack" and "was looking for a woman." Defendant was dressed "[i]n mechanic clothes" and was "very filthy, oily and greasy, like somebody maybe pulled him out of a grease pit." Holtzclaw told defendant he would not "give [defendant a woman] the way he was looking." Defendant left and eventually returned to his home, making several phone calls from the area of his home between 12:49 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. Defendant then came back to Holtzclaw's home around 2:00 a.m., and "got 40 or 50 [dollars] worth" of drugs. Defendant "had cleaned up and everything" and was wearing casual clothes,...

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