State v. Duke

Decision Date16 December 2005
Docket NumberNo. 57A04.,57A04.
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Jeffrey Neal DUKE.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by G. Patrick Murphy and Mary D. Winstead, Special Deputy Attorneys General, for the State.

Staples S. Hughes, Appellate Defender, by Benjamin Dowling-Sendor, Assistant Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellant.

BRADY, Justice.

During the early morning hours of 20 March 1999, defendant Jeffrey Neal Duke brutally and mercilessly murdered Ralph Arthurs and Harold Grant, beating them with a fire extinguisher and stabbing both men while they were down leaving a total of four knives in the victims' bodies. On 19 September 2003, a jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder based on malice, premeditation, and deliberation1, and subsequently on 26 September 2003, the jury recommended a sentence of death. We find no error in defendant's conviction or sentence.


As seemed to be his custom, defendant began consuming alcoholic beverages on 19 March 1999. After drinking Jim Beam bourbon whiskey and Long Island Iced Tea, defendant argued with Michelle Lancaster, a female with whom he was living. He slapped Michelle on the head, knocking her to the ground, took her money and a bottle of prescription medication, and left the residence. He eventually ended up at the apartment of Ralph Arthurs. Ralph Arthurs, Harold Grant, and defendant sat in Arthurs's apartment while defendant and Arthurs drank alcohol. Soon, Arthurs and Grant began discussing defendant's earlier beating of Robin Williams, defendant's former girlfriend. Arthurs demanded defendant leave the apartment, and defendant asked if he could finish his beer first. Grant got up and started walking towards the sink. When Grant got close to a knife block located on the counter beside the sink, defendant claims he thought Grant was going to attack him with a knife, although defendant admits Grant could have just been getting water.

Defendant stood up, grabbed a fire extinguisher, and started beating both Grant and Arthurs. At one time Grant got up from the floor and attempted to leave the apartment. Defendant dragged him back in and continued beating him. Defendant then stabbed Arthurs in the upper abdomen, and stabbed Grant in the face, chest, and neck. Defendant left the knives in Arthurs's upper abdomen, Grant's chest, and on both sides of Grant's neck. Grant's autopsy reflected the stab wounds were likely inflicted after Grant was rendered unconscious or had died. One knife recovered from Grant's neck was bent at a ninety-degree angle, indicating the force with which defendant plunged the knife into Grant's lifeless body. The cause of death for both murders was blunt force trauma to the head. Arthurs's pants were around his knees, and Grant's pants pockets were pulled out. The autopsy reports indicate Arthurs's blood alcohol content was .04, while Grant's did not register any alcohol present in his blood.

A blood spatter and stain expert testified for the State during trial and shed further light on the brutality of the killings. A blood stain which started at the front door and extended back to the body of Grant was consistent with defendant's dragging of Grant's body back into the apartment. In addition, a blood spatter on the front porch indicated Grant's head came into contact with the porch at some point. A blood spatter near Grant's head was consistent with his body being dragged back into the apartment, dropped face down onto the floor, and then later turned on his back. The blood spatter on the wall was consistent with the swinging of a fire extinguisher which hit Grant's head. In addition, the authorities found Arthurs's body with a significant amount of blood pooled to the left side of his head and a lack of blood on the front of his clothing. In the expert's opinion, Arthurs was also at one time lying face down and then subsequently rolled over.

These killings occurred the morning of 20 March 1999 around 4:00 a.m. The noise from the struggle awoke a neighbor, Macie Randall, along with her granddaughter Angel. Later that morning, Tommy Feemster, the superintendent of the apartment building where the murders took place, went to the apartment complex to repair a leaky toilet in Arthurs's apartment. Feemster's coworker motioned for him to come to the door of Arthurs's apartment. When Feemster arrived at the door, they noticed what appeared to be blood on the area outside the door. Feemster immediately went to Macie Randall's apartment, and she informed him of the struggle she heard earlier that morning. Feemster then returned to Arthurs's apartment and pushed open the door, stepped inside, and discovered a body with a knife sticking in it. Based upon what he observed, he immediately closed the door and called the police.

The evidence reflected that after leaving the crime scene, defendant smoked some crack cocaine, and later that morning started seeking help from friends and family members. He telephoned Michelle Lancaster who told him he needed to retrieve his belongings and move out of her residence because of their recent altercation. She also told defendant she would not help him. Defendant then went to an automobile dealership where his sister Charlene McKinney worked. From there, he telephoned his half-sister Lisa Sneed and told her he needed her to pick him up at a nearby restaurant. Sneed picked him up, later that day took him to Lancaster's residence to pick up his belongings, and then they returned to Sneed's residence. After arriving at Sneed's residence, defendant put a pair of jeans and a pair of shoes in the washing machine. Later, Sneed received a telephone call from a detective investigating the homicides who was seeking to interview defendant and Sneed. When Sneed inquired of defendant concerning this request, he informed her the detective wanted to question him about a murder.

Defendant asked Sneed to lie to the detectives and tell them defendant and Sneed were together during the time of the murders. He told her he was with some guys smoking crack, and they would not cover for him. Based upon the detective's telephone call, defendant and Sneed went to the police station along with Robin Williams. Sneed told police the lie defendant posited, and Sneed and defendant quickly departed when detectives requested consent to search her residence. Upon returning to Sneed's residence, defendant grabbed his clothes and shoes from the washing machine, and Sneed gathered some drug paraphernalia she did not want the police to find. Defendant and Sneed then drove to Clover, South Carolina and threw the clothing items and drug paraphernalia out the window.

The next day defendant and Sneed went to a grocery store where defendant asked Sneed to purchase a newspaper. After reading about the murders in the newspaper, defendant revealed to Sneed he in fact killed the two men. He claimed one of the men pulled a gun on him, and then defendant told Sneed to "[t]ake it to your [expletive deleted] grave." The very next day Sneed went to the police station, told the detectives what defendant said, and told the detectives she had lied in their prior interview. Defendant was soon arrested, and shortly thereafter invoked his right to counsel. Later defendant voluntarily requested the detectives question him — at which time he admitted killing the victims. Defendant presented no evidence in the guilt-innocence proceeding. Upon deliberation, the jury found defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

During the penalty proceeding, the State presented testimony from family members of Grant and Arthurs detailing the effects of the victims' murders on their lives. The State elicited testimony from Phyllis Williams, the mother of Robin Williams, concerning an incident in which defendant beat Robin. In addition, two law enforcement officers testified regarding this event, and the State submitted into evidence a judgment reflecting a conviction against defendant arising from his assault of Williams. Defendant served time in prison and also received probation as punishment for this beating.

Defendant submitted evidence of a difficult home life, including his father shooting his maternal grandfather shortly after his birth. He also submitted evidence he dropped out of high school, was successful in a group home, was a good father, and came from a family that consumed copious amounts of alcohol. A vocational rehabilitation counselor testified defendant had been employed as a drywall installer. However, on cross-examination the prosecution elicited testimony defendant violated his probation while being aided by the vocational rehabilitation counselor.

Defendant's forensic psychologist James H. Hilkey, Ph.D. also testified as an expert in the penalty proceeding. In his opinion, defendant suffers from longstanding depression, bipolar disorder, poly-substance abuse problems, and exhibits some characteristics of borderline personality disorder with antisocial and paranoid features. Dr. Hilkey testified defendant had been admitted numerous times to Dorothea Dix Hospital for various mental health problems, including attempted suicide, impulse control disorder, poly-substance abuse, and paranoid personality disorder. Dr. Hilkey also opined defendant suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Dr. Hilkey believed defendant would adjust well to prison life so long as he was compliant with his medication regimen. In addition, Dr. Hilkey...

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