State v. Fair

Citation557 S.E.2d 500,354 N.C. 131
Decision Date05 October 2001
Docket NumberNo. 506A99.,506A99.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Nathaniel FAIR Jr.

Roy A. Cooper, Attorney General by Jill Ledford Cheek, Special Deputy Attorney General, and Steven F. Bryant, Assistant Attorney General, for the State.

Thomas K. Maher, Chapel Hill, for defendant-appellant.

MARTIN, Justice.

On 12 May 1999, a jury found Nathaniel Fair, Jr. (defendant) guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon and the first-degree murder of Reubin McNeill (victim) on the basis of malice, premeditation, and deliberation, and under the felony murder rule. On 18 May 1999, the jury recommended a sentence of death, and the trial court entered judgment in accordance with that recommendation. The trial court also sentenced defendant to 94-122 months in prison for the robbery conviction.

The victim's body was found near a vacant lot off Wilcox Road in Wake County, North Carolina, on 6 August 1998. The victim, a middle school principal within the Wake County Public School System, had not been seen alive since 4 August 1998, when he left his residence around 6:00 p.m. to attend a church meeting. He had been carrying a wallet with credit cards in his back left pocket, wearing a silver class ring with a burgundy stone, and driving a green Ford Explorer. After the church meeting ended between 8:15 and 8:30 p.m., the victim spoke briefly with some choir members and then left. When the victim had not arrived home by 11:00 p.m., his wife began to call his cell phone. Early the next morning, she called the police.

On 6 August 1998, around 1:30 p.m., a Carolina Power and Light employee found the victim's body and called 911. Law enforcement officers and paramedics who responded to the scene described the victim's clothing as extremely bloody. The victim was wearing a watch but no other jewelry. The authorities found no wallet or money on the victim. The inner lining of the victim's left rear pocket was flipped over the top of his pants, with a bloodstain appearing on the pocket lining.

Around 9:30 p.m. on 6 August 1998, police located the victim's car at Crabtree Valley Mall. They found a stained gauze bandage inside the truck, and the City-County Bureau of Investigation (CCBI) noted blood on the driver's door, steering wheel, and console area. CCBI found defendant's prints on the truck's left front door, rear hatch, and the cell phone on the console.

On 5 August, around 1:00 a.m., defendant approached the home of Tony Lucas in a green Ford Explorer. Defendant had a deep cut on his hand and blood on his clothes. Defendant refused to go to the doctor and instead bandaged the cut himself with duct tape. Lucas testified that when defendant cut the tape for the bandage, defendant produced a knife with blood on it. Defendant stated that his hand had been cut when he was jumped by three men.

Defendant changed clothes while at the Lucas residence and then went to buy beer with Lucas and another individual. During the drive Lucas noticed blood on the Explorer's steering wheel. An employee from Handy Hugo convenience store testified defendant had purchased gas that night for a green Explorer. Defendant paid for the gas with a credit card and signed the credit card slip as "Reubin McNeill." The Handy Hugo employee recalled that defendant was wearing a class ring with a stone which may have been reddish in color. At some point during the evening, defendant told Lucas' sister, Carolyn, that he was in trouble and that she would not see him again.

Several employees at Crabtree Valley Mall testified that on 5 August, a man fitting defendant's general description had purchased items with credit cards bearing the name Reubin McNeill. At least two of these employees, Ted Murphy from Brookstone and Penny Franklin from Sharon Luggage and Gifts, identified defendant as the man who made the purchases on 5 August.

Haywood McCoy testified that defendant had asked him to retrieve luggage from an Explorer parked in the Crabtree Valley Mall parking lot. Defendant told McCoy he had left the vehicle there because he had the feeling the police were watching him when he left the mall after shopping. Defendant also told McCoy the items in the Explorer were the only evidence that could tie him to a crime in which "he had cut somebody up." McCoy testified he could not locate the Explorer in the parking lot.

Defendant was arrested on 13 August 1998 at an apartment in Durham, North Carolina. As police approached, defendant raised his hands in the air, dropping some cards in the process. Police found a driver's license and various credit cards bearing Reubin McNeill's name near defendant. At that time, defendant told the police, "those aren't mine." Police also found a purple card bearing the name "Tank" and a pager number.

The state presented DNA evidence at trial via State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) Special Agent Brenda Bissette. Bissette testified that a DNA profile taken from three samples of the victim's pants matched defendant's DNA. On a piece taken from the inside of the victim's pocket, defendant's DNA was dominant. Finally, Bissette testified that the DNA of both the victim and defendant appeared in samples taken from the Explorer.

Dr. Thomas Clark, a pathologist, performed an autopsy on the victim's body. In addition to multiple superficial wounds, the autopsy revealed a stab wound that entered the victim's lung and caused bleeding in the chest cavity. The autopsy also identified a group of wounds that entered the heart. According to Dr. Clark, the cause of death was multiple stab wounds.

Defendant testified on his own behalf. He stated that after graduating from high school, he had pled guilty to a rape charge, received a life sentence, and served prison time in South Carolina. Defendant was paroled in 1993 and eventually attended Fayetteville State and North Carolina State Universities. According to defendant, in November 1997, he began using crack cocaine and never stopped. Defendant testified he purchased crack cocaine from people known on the street as "Tank" and "T-Bone." In one transaction, defendant obtained $600.00 of cocaine from T-Bone and never paid for it. Defendant testified T-Bone had once shot out defendant's car windshield and tried to attack him because defendant owed him money. Defendant reported this incident to the police.

Defendant testified he first met the victim in 1996 at Snap Shot Video, an adult video establishment. Defendant also testified he had encountered the victim on 4 August 1998 in an adult-oriented establishment where defendant was smoking crack cocaine. Defendant and the victim left in the victim's car. The two men drank a beer together at a restaurant and discussed engaging in some sort of sexual conduct with each other. Defendant decided, "I wasn't going to have any sex with him or get with him or anything like that unless I got some drugs." Defendant and the victim drove to Shepherd Street, where defendant bought three rocks of cocaine from "Tank." Tank made a phone call to obtain more cocaine for defendant, and directed defendant to drive to the spot where the victim's body was eventually found. Defendant testified that Tank told him to wait there about fifteen minutes for more drugs.

According to defendant, after they arrived at the spot, a car pulled up, and defendant and the victim exited the Explorer. Defendant recognized the man in the other car as T-Bone. Defendant testified that T-Bone demanded the money defendant owed him and brandished a knife in front of defendant's face. Defendant grabbed the knife and T-Bone shoved defendant into the front of the victim's truck. Defendant then grabbed T-Bone's knife by the blade. After continued brawling, the victim eventually pulled T-Bone off of defendant. According to defendant, T-Bone stabbed the victim, and they fell down. Defendant then fled in the victim's Ford Explorer to Carol and Tony Lucas' house.

Defendant denied bringing a knife to the Lucas home but admitted using the victim's credit cards. Defendant stated he left the Explorer at Crabtree Valley Mall because when he left the mall, he saw a police officer in an unmarked car with a radio in his hand. Defendant also admitted he asked McCoy to try to retrieve items from the Explorer but denied telling McCoy he had "cut anybody up real bad."


Defendant first argues that the trial court, by allowing the state to use peremptory strikes against three African-American jurors, violated his right to equal protection under the state and federal Constitutions, U.S. Const. amend. XIV, N.C. Const. art. I, § 26; his right to fair and equal jury selection under the North Carolina Constitution, N.C. Const. art. I, §§ 19, 26; and his Sixth Amendment right to a representative jury from a cross-section of the community, U.S. Const. amend. VI.

The use of peremptory challenges for racially discriminatory reasons violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 89, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 1719, 90 L.Ed.2d 69, 83 (1986), as well as Article I, Section 26 of the North Carolina Constitution, State v. Fletcher, 348 N.C. 292, 312, 500 S.E.2d 668, 680 (1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1180, 119 S.Ct. 1118, 143 L.Ed.2d 113 (1999).

In Batson, the U.S. Supreme Court established a three-part test to determine whether the state had impermissibly discriminated on the basis of race when selecting jurors. 476 U.S. at 96-98, 106 S.Ct. at 1722-24, 90 L.Ed.2d at 87-89. Our courts have adopted the Batson test for review of peremptory challenges under the North Carolina Constitution. State v. Lawrence, 352 N.C. 1, 13, 530 S.E.2d 807, 815 (2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1083, 121 S.Ct. 789, 148 L.Ed.2d 684 (2001); State v. Mitchell, 321 N.C. 650, 365 S.E.2d 554 (1988). First, the defendant must make a prima facie showing that the state exercised a peremptory challenge on the basis...

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