State v. Eubanks

Decision Date10 August 2022
Docket Number5933,Appellate Case 2018-001684
PartiesThe State, Respondent, v. Michael Cliff Eubanks, Appellant.
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals

Heard April 13, 2021

Appeal from Laurens County Frank R. Addy, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

E Charles Grose, Jr., of Grose Law Firm, of Greenwood, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General William M. Blitch, Jr., both of Columbia, and Solicitor David Matthew Stumbo, of Greenwood all for Respondent.


Michael Cliff Eubanks appeals his convictions for first-degree second-degree, and third-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor. Eubanks raises several evidentiary errors; he further argues the circuit court erred in denying him a continuance, failing to discharge a juror, and declining to charge second-degree assault and battery as a lesser included offense of CSC with a minor. Finally, Eubanks asserts he is entitled to a new trial due to highly prejudicial statements in the State's closing argument and under the cumulative error doctrine. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

The minor's mother (Mother) married Josh Lyons in 2000. Together, they had two children-a son (Brother) and two years later, a daughter (Child). Lyons left the family when Mother was seven months pregnant with Child, and he has not been involved in his children's lives. Mother met Eubanks in 2009, married him in 2010, and moved with her children into Eubanks's home. Eubanks has two daughters from a previous marriage, and Mother and Eubanks have one child together, B.E.

Eubanks began inappropriately touching Child when she was six years old; the abuse lasted until she disclosed it at age twelve. Child first realized Eubanks's behavior was inappropriate when she was eight years old. She recalled Eubanks took her to the couch, pulled down both their pants, and touched his genitals to hers while she was half asleep. Brother recalled that when Child was eight years old, he saw Eubanks go into the bathroom with her, and he stayed in the bathroom with her for twenty minutes. Child testified Eubanks often touched her chest, buttocks, and genitals with his hands and mouth, and he made her touch his genitals. The abuse eventually progressed to vaginal and anal intercourse.

Child, Mother, Brother, and A.E. (Eubanks's biological daughter) all testified Eubanks gave Child more attention than the other children, which resulted in family arguments. Eubanks's preferential treatment included giving Child lunch money even though school lunch was free, taking her places with him, and discussing his marital problems with her. Brother and A.E. also testified about Eubanks's "weird" touching of Child. Brother described this touching as mainly "grabs on the butt." A.E. saw Eubanks "touching her butt" and "would see them up under the covers [of a bunk bed] with each other."

In November 2013, Mother was involved in a serious car accident; she broke her neck in multiple places and severed nerves on the left side of her body. Mother had a difficult time after her subsequent spinal and neck surgery-she was unable to work, and she and Eubanks began to argue.

From November 2014 to April 2015, Child attended counseling sessions because she was having anger issues and had stopped bathing and eating. She also suffered lower grades, nightmares, and an inability to focus. Child explained she believed Eubanks would stop touching her if she was "nasty" or if he could not look at her in the bathroom. During this time, she almost disclosed the abuse to a counselor but was afraid because she did not know the counselor very well.

In April 2016, Mother, Eubanks, Child, Brother, and B.E. moved in with Mother's parents due to financial issues. Eubanks resumed the abuse about a week after the family's move. Child testified Eubanks abused her in a bedroom and in the barn. Child and Eubanks spent a lot of time together in the barn, and he rarely invited Brother or his daughters to join him there. A.E. thought it was strange that Eubanks often took Child to the barn with him but did not generally invite the other children to the barn. Child described how Eubanks would block the barn door with a piece of wood and take their pants off. Eubanks would then pull her onto his lap in a chair behind a dollhouse and "wiggle" her on his lap. At times, he ejaculated on the chair and the floor. Child stated he "used his boy part" on her in the barn "quite a few times." After Child disclosed the abuse, she and her family destroyed the chair with a hammer and burned it in a bonfire.

In May 2017, Brother attended a counseling session with Dr. Kimberly Little at Gilchrist Consultation Center. During this session, Brother discussed the family dynamic, including Child's role as a "peacekeeper" between Mother and Eubanks. Dr. Little was concerned about Child's wellbeing and asked Mother to bring her in for a session. During her session with Dr. Little, Child disclosed the sexual abuse. Dr. Little then notified law enforcement and the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). Child testified she disclosed the abuse to Dr. Little because she believed she could trust her because Brother trusted her.

Deputy Ronald Richey of the Laurens County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) received Dr. Little's report. After Deputy Richey spoke with Child, he notified DSS and the LCSO investigations department. While Deputy Richey was at the Gilchrist Center taking a report in Child's case, Eubanks unexpectedly showed up with his mother and attempted to enter the building.[1]

On May 17, 2017, LCSO Investigator Jared Hunnicutt was assigned to the case. After reviewing Deputy Richey's report, Investigator Hunnicutt met with Child and Mother; he then met with Eubanks to discuss the allegations. According to Investigator Hunnicutt, Eubanks claimed he was unsure if anything had happened, and if anything had occurred, it happened while he and Child were asleep in a bed together. During the meeting, Eubanks provided a written statement in which he wrote, "I have no clue what goes on when I sleep. I'm not saying that I did or didn't while I was asleep."

After his meeting with Eubanks, Investigator Hunnicutt contacted Mother to advise her of the investigation's progress. Mother reported that she told Eubanks there was a "nanny cam" in the home or barn area, even though there really was no hidden camera. Investigator Hunnicutt then met with Eubanks again. At this meeting, Hunnicutt "advised him that his stepdaughter said that inside the barn property was where this-these allegations occurred. I slipped the DVD across the table to him and insinuated that I had footage of the act." Eubanks then responded that he and Child were in the barn tearing apart pallets when she sat on his lap in a chair and "started grinding her buttocks into his leg and penis and that it lasted for a few minutes and-until he ejaculated into his pants." Eubanks said he knew this was wrong, and he tried to push her off, but he was scared and panicked and did not know what to do or say. He claimed this was the only time this ever happened. Following Eubanks's completion of a written statement, Investigator Hunnicutt charged him with third-degree CSC with a minor.[2]

Child participated in a forensic interview and medical evaluation. Dr. Lyle Pritchard observed she was underweight and recommended she see another physician for evaluation of a possible eating disorder.

A jury found Eubanks guilty of first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree CSC with a minor. The circuit court sentenced Eubanks to twenty-five years for first-degree CSC with a minor and fifteen years for third-degree CSC with a minor, to be served concurrently. Eubanks received fifteen years for second-degree CSC with a minor, suspended on time served, and five years' probation, to run consecutively to his first-degree sentence. The circuit court also ordered Eubanks to register as a sex offender upon his release. The circuit court denied Eubanks's motion for a new trial.

Standard of Review

"The trial court's decision to admit expert testimony will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion." State v. Makins, 433 S.C. 494, 500, 860 S.E.2d 666, 670 (2021) (quoting State v. Price, 368 S.C. 494, 498, 629 S.E.2d 363, 365 (2006)). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the conclusions of the trial court either lack evidentiary support or are controlled by an error of law." Id. (quoting State v. Douglas, 369 S.C. 424, 429-30, 632 S.E.2d 845, 848 (2006)).

Law and Analysis I. Therapy and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Eubanks objected to the admission of therapist Samantha Black's testimony regarding her treatment of Minor, including the type of therapy she provided and the goals of her treatment and the admission of psychiatrist Eman Sharawy's diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eubanks argues the circuit court erred in admitting the testimony of these witnesses because their opinions that Child suffered a significant traumatic event and required treatment for "the psychological ramifications of the abuse" improperly vouched for the victim's credibility. Eubanks further contends this testimony should have been excluded under Rule 403, SCRE.

Black testified she worked as a therapist at Beyond Abuse, where she performed assessments and therapy with children who have been abused. Black first met with Child on June 14, 2017, and "got her background, history, family, abuse allegations symptoms, and then we did assessment measures." Based on her assessment, Black provided Child with trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Black explained the goals of such therapy are to learn coping skills, change thought distortions, and complete...

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