State v. Felton

Decision Date27 January 1992
Docket NumberNo. 247A91,247A91
Citation330 N.C. 619,412 S.E.2d 344
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Claude Algustis FELTON, Jr.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court
second-degree murder. Heard in the Supreme Court 12 November 1991

Lacy H. Thornburg, Atty. Gen. by Valerie B. Spalding, Asst. Atty. Gen., Raleigh, for the State.

W.T. Culpepper, III, and Samuel Bobbitt Dixon, Edenton, for defendant-appellant.

WHICHARD, Justice.

On 3 October 1988, defendant was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Sarah Jones and her daughter, Falinda Brooks. Defendant's first capital trial for the murders, with Judge Brown presiding at the 22 January 1990 Criminal Session of Superior Court, Chowan County, ended in a mistrial. Defendant's second capital trial commenced before a jury at the 20 August 1990 Criminal Session of Superior Court, Chowan County, with Judge Grant presiding. On 31 August 1990, the jury returned verdicts of guilty of first-degree murder for the death of Sarah Jones and second-degree murder for the death of Falinda Brooks. After a capital sentencing proceeding pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000, the jury recommended that defendant receive a life sentence for the first-degree murder charge. The trial court then sentenced defendant to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. Defendant appealed his first-degree murder conviction as of right and on 2 July 1991, we allowed his motion to bypass the Court of Appeals as to the second-degree murder conviction. We conclude that defendant received a fair trial, free from prejudicial error.

The State presented evidence tending to show the following: Toya Jones was the twelve-year-old sister of Falinda Brooks and the daughter of Sarah Jones. Toya lived with her mother and sister in an apartment at One Davis Place, in Edenton, North Carolina. Toya spent the weekend of 27 August 1988 with her grandmother, but she returned home the morning of Sunday, 28 August. Upon returning home, Toya discovered that the front and back doors were locked. When no one responded to her knocking on the doors, Toya went to a neighbor's house. The neighbor, Evette Williams, returned with Toya to her mother's house, but again they received no answer to repeated knocks on the door. Toya testified that she then looked through one of the front windows and saw her mother lying on the couch and her sister Falinda lying on the floor in the front room. Sarah Jones was wearing a nightgown and Falinda Brooks was wearing a t-shirt and panties; both Sarah and Falinda were bloody. Toya and Evette asked that someone call the police and then they went back to Evette's house.

Toya also testified that she had seen defendant at her mother's apartment previously. She testified that he once had a key to the apartment, but that he had returned it. Toya also said that defendant carried in his pocket a silver gun and a black knife.

Dr. Leibert Devine, the medical examiner for Chowan County, testified that he examined the bodies of Sarah Jones and Falinda Brooks at the murder scene. His examination revealed that the victims had been dead for several hours. There was a large amount of blood beneath Sarah Jones' body on the couch. Dr. Devine found several stab wounds in the front of Jones' chest and one defensive stab wound on her left arm. Dr. Devine testified that the cause of death was a knife wound to the lung or heart cavity. Dr. Devine testified that Falinda Brooks' face was bruised and swollen. There was a large amount of blood beneath her head and a laceration to the scalp. Brooks' eyes were swollen up to four times the normal size, which indicated that she had received a major trauma to the head such as a contact gunshot wound. Dr. Devine testified that in his opinion Jones and Brooks were killed between midnight and 6:00 a.m. on the morning of 28 August 1988.

Dr. Page Hudson, a regional forensic pathologist, testified that Sarah Jones suffered injuries to her head and knife wounds to the chest, back, and arms. Dr. Hudson testified that Jones' skull was caved in and that her brain was bruised. The injury to her skull was consistent with a blunt force wound inflicted by a glass bottle. Dr. Hudson also testified that he found a gunshot Chief Williams of the Edenton Police Department testified that he discovered a broken soft drink bottle near Sarah Jones' foot and an unbroken bottle on the floor near Falinda Brooks. State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Ransome testified that when Jones' body was taken from the apartment, he discovered a .25 caliber shell casing in the crease of the couch where Jones lay.

wound above Falinda Brooks' hairline. He determined that the bullet causing this wound went through Brooks' head and brain and was the cause of death. Dr. Hudson recovered the .25 caliber bullet from Brooks' brain.

Agent Ransome also testified that he saw defendant on Sunday evening, 28 August, and asked him for the clothes he had been wearing the previous night. Ransome identified in court a pair of blue jeans, a gray and black Harley-Davidson t-shirt, and a black t-shirt. Ransome testified that when he saw defendant on 28 August, defendant had a fresh scar on his right temple which appeared to have been bleeding. Ransome also testified that a bone-handled pocket knife in a brown case and a white shirt with dark stains were taken from defendant's residence; the white shirt was found underneath the mobile home. Additionally, investigators removed four bullets from an old water heater in the yard behind defendant's residence.

Agent Dennis Honeycutt testified that he examined defendant's car and discovered blood on the steering wheel, the driver's side arm rest, and the inside door handle. SBI Agent David Spittle, an expert in forensic serology, reported the presence of blood on the pocket and front of the leg areas of defendant's jeans. SBI Agent John Bendure, testifying as an expert in the field of fiber identification and comparison, said that red fibers found on defendant's clothing and car could have originated from the same source as red fibers found in the carpet in the victims' apartment. Bendure also testified that yellow fibers found on Jones' body and the couch on which she was found could have come from the same source as yellow fibers found on defendant's jeans. In addition, cotton and polyester fibers found on the victims could have originated from defendant's t-shirts.

SBI Special Agent Ricky Navarro testified as an expert in the field of latent evidence and fingerprint identification. Agent Navarro testified that he found in the victims' kitchen a latent palm print matching defendant's right palm. He also found defendant's left palm print on the interior of the back door to the apartment. Agent Navarro further testified that he found in the living room a bloody latent fingerprint matching defendant's right index finger.

SBI Special Agent Eugene Bishop testified as an expert in the field of forensic firearm identification. Bishop testified that the bullet recovered from Falinda Brooks' head was a .25 caliber bullet manufactured by CCI and that it had rifling characteristics of six lands and grooves with a right-hand twist. Bishop said that the four bullets recovered from the water heater behind defendant's trailer were .25 caliber CCI bullets and they all exhibited the same rifling characteristics as the one that killed Brooks. Bishop was unable to determine if all the bullets had been fired from the same gun.

Connie Jernigan testified for the State that she had known defendant for about eight years and that she had dated him for about a year in 1988. Jernigan testified that she had seen defendant with a silver-colored .25 caliber pistol. She also said that she had seen defendant's knife and that every time he left his house he had both the gun and knife with him. Jernigan testified that she saw defendant at a lounge in Hertford, North Carolina, at about 10:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, the 27th of August. Though defendant is a deaf mute, Jernigan could communicate with him because he had taught her hand signals. Jernigan and defendant went to two clubs together and then separated sometime before midnight. Jernigan testified that she saw defendant later that evening when he came to Jernigan's aunt's house, where she was staying. Still later In addition to the evidence described above, the State called several witnesses to testify about the nature of defendant's relationship with the victims. This testimony is the subject of one of defendant's assignments of error and will be described in more detail below. The bulk of the testimony, however, described defendant's jealous behavior and rough treatment, including physical brutality and threats, of Sarah Jones.

about 4:15 a.m., Jernigan was at another bar when she saw defendant. She testified that defendant seemed upset at the time and he had two fresh scratches on his face and blood on his wrist. Defendant demonstrated to Jernigan that he had been in a fight. Jernigan testified that although defendant had both his gun and knife earlier in the evening, when she saw him at 4:15 a.m., he had neither. Two days later, Jernigan saw defendant again and asked him about his gun and knife. According to Jernigan, defendant responded that he was smart and had thrown them away. Defendant threatened Jernigan with violence if she talked to the police.

The State also presented evidence of Agent Ransome's interview with defendant, with the assistance of a certified interpreter, on 28 August. Through the interpreter, defendant told Agent Ransome that he was with Connie Jernigan from...

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29 cases
  • State v. DeCastro
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • March 8, 1996
    ...admissibility of a possible murder weapon is well established, and the general principles were recently stated in State v. Felton, 330 N.C. 619, 638, 412 S.E.2d 344, 356 (1992): Under our rules of evidence, unless otherwise provided, all relevant evidence is admissible. N.C.G.S. § 8C-1, Rul......
  • State v. Grooms
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 21, 2000
    ...277, 286-87, 141 S.E.2d 506, 513 (1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 1020, 86 S.Ct. 1936, 16 L.Ed.2d 1044 (1966)). State v. Felton, 330 N.C. 619, 638, 412 S.E.2d 344, 356 (1992), quoted in State v. DeCastro, 342 N.C. 667, 680-81, 467 S.E.2d 653, 659, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 896, 117 S.Ct. 241, 13......
  • State v. Skipper
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 29, 1994
    ...Questions asked on redirect should not go beyond matters discussed during cross-examination. See State v. Felton, 330 N.C. 619, 633, 412 S.E.2d 344, 353 (1992); State v. Jolly, 332 N.C. 351, 366, 420 S.E.2d 661, 670 (1992). In this case, the second question at issue went far beyond the scop......
  • State v. Parker
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • November 9, 2001
    ...86 S.Ct. 1936, 16 L.Ed.2d 1044 (1966))." State v. DeCastro, 342 N.C. 667, 680-81, 467 S.E.2d 653, 659 (quoting State v. Felton, 330 N.C. 619, 638, 412 S.E.2d 344, 356 (1992), overruled on other grounds by State v. Jackson, 348 N.C. 644, 503 S.E.2d 101 (1998)), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 896, 11......
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