State v. Geddie, 561A94

Citation345 N.C. 73, 478 S.E.2d 146
Case DateDecember 06, 1996
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General by Tiare B. Smiley, Special Deputy Attorney General, for State.

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr., Appellate Defender by Marshall Dayan, Assistant Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellant.

WHICHARD, Justice.

Defendant was tried capitally for the first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm of Reginald Dale Emory. The jury found defendant guilty on both charges and recommended a sentence of death for the first-degree murder. The trial court sentenced defendant to death for the murder and to a consecutive forty-year term of imprisonment for the robbery. Defendant appeals from his convictions and sentences. We hold that defendant received a fair trial, free of prejudicial error, and that the sentence of death is not disproportionate.

The State's evidence tended to show that on the evening of 25 November 1992 defendant, Reginald Dale Emory, Paul Stanley Sanders, Frankie Boderick, and Thomas "Junior" Boderick met in the home of Eloise Speed, which was known as an illegal liquor house. Defendant was drinking "white lightning." Defendant, Emory, and Thomas Boderick asked Frankie Boderick and Sanders if they would drive them to Smithfield. Frankie Boderick responded by handing the keys to his car to Sanders and asking him to drive the other men to Finney Drive. Frankie Boderick and Sanders had an understanding that Sanders would drive the three men to Finney Drive so they could get some Thanksgiving money and five dollars for gas for Boderick's car.

Defendant, Sanders, Emory, and Thomas Boderick (Boderick) then left Speed's house, and Sanders drove them to the Forbes Manor apartment complex on Finney Drive in Smithfield. After parking, all four men stopped briefly at one apartment and then walked to the apartment of Deborah Bethea. While there, defendant and Emory began to argue over money. Bethea asked the men to leave after they became very loud. All four men left the apartment.

Thomas Boderick testified that after the men left the apartment and began walking toward the car, defendant asked Emory to pay for the gas for the drive to Smithfield. Defendant said to Emory, "You owe me some money. When are you going to pay me?" Emory responded, "I don't owe you nothing." Sanders testified that when defendant reached the car, he told Emory that he could not get into the car until he paid defendant five dollars. Defendant ordered Emory to take off his shoes and put all his money on the ground. Defendant then fired one shot into the ground. At that point, Sanders ran from the scene. Boderick observed as defendant ordered Emory to "[e]mpty your pockets" and Emory complied. After Emory removed his shoes and socks, defendant pointed the gun at Emory's chest, and Emory begged three times, "Please don't shoot me." Boderick testified that five to ten seconds after Emory's last plea for his life, defendant shot Emory and then bent down to pick up some change that Emory had dropped on the ground. Immediately after the gunshot, Boderick called to Sanders, saying, "Come on, Stanley, let's go." Sanders ran back to the car and drove off with Thomas Boderick and defendant.

At approximately 12:53 a.m. on 26 November 1992, Officer Thomas H. Graham of the Smithfield Police Department, responding to a call, found Emory lying in the parking lot and three to four individuals standing on the sidewalk. Officer Graham went to Emory, who was lying on his back, and discovered blood coming from his head. Emory was unconscious, had a wound to the back of his head, and was gasping for air. Officer Graham also observed that Emory was wearing a T-shirt and pants, which were down to his ankles, and that the victim's shoes and socks were off his feet, lying approximately one to two feet from his body. A wallet was at the victim's feet. Officers subsequently searched the wallet and found a North Carolina identification card and a pay stub, but no money.

Approximately five minutes after Officer Graham arrived on the scene, emergency medical personnel arrived, wrapped Emory's head, and transported him to the hospital. Emory subsequently died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Meanwhile, after leaving the scene of the shooting, defendant, Sanders, and Boderick proceeded to Maggie Pearl's, a nightclub and pool room. At Maggie Pearl's, defendant purchased ten dollars worth of crack cocaine from a man in the parking lot. The men then returned to Eloise Speed's house. Sanders testified that on the drive back to Speed's house, defendant said, "I shot this here MF--[sic] in the head." Boderick testified that he asked defendant whether he had killed Emory, and defendant replied, "Yeah, I killed him." When they got to Speed's house, defendant asked his nephew to dispose of defendant's gun. Several hours later, Sanders and Boderick made statements to the police. Both stated that defendant shot Reginald Emory.

During the sentencing phase, the State presented evidence of three prior violent assaults defendant had committed. Charles Edward Atkinson testified that on the evening of 28 October 1979, he and defendant became involved in a "tussle," and defendant shot him three times in the leg. As a result, Atkinson's leg had to be amputated. James McIver, a deputy with the Johnston County Sheriff's Department, testified that he investigated an assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury upon James Lemon on 17 June 1984. Lemon had a small round wound on his left shoulder. Deputy McIver concluded that defendant inflicted the wound using a small firearm. The State also offered evidence of defendant's conviction of attempted robbery in the District of Columbia on 11 July 1989.

Defendant offered evidence that he came from a broken home and had been abused as a child. His mother was a bootlegger and ran an illegal liquor house. Defendant's family was very poor and lived in a one-bedroom house with no bathroom or running water. Two of defendant's fourteen brothers and sisters died as children. When defendant was a teenager, his mother and her live-in boyfriend went to prison for abusing defendant and three other children; defendant and his siblings were placed into foster care at that time. After defendant's mother was released from prison, defendant and several of his brothers and sisters lived with her again. Defendant left his mother's home at age fifteen after an incident in which his mother beat him with a broomstick and injured his eye.

Defendant also introduced expert testimony regarding his mental state and his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Robert Brewington, an expert in clinical psychology and substance-abuse diagnosis and counseling, testified that defendant was a victim of child abuse and has limited intellectual and coping skills and a highly addictive personality. Brewington testified that defendant understands the difference between right and wrong; however, he opined that because defendant was taught to use violence to settle conflicts, he does not have the basic coping skills to deal with situations in which he is under pressure. Brewington characterized defendant as a substance abuser and an antisocial person.

During the sentencing proceeding, the jury found as aggravating circumstances that defendant had been previously convicted of a violent felony and that the first-degree murder was committed while defendant was engaged in a robbery with a firearm. Three statutory mitigating circumstances were submitted but not found by the jury: that defendant had no significant history of prior criminal activity, that defendant's capacity to appreciate his criminality or to conform his conduct to the law was impaired, and the catchall circumstance. The jury found six of nineteen nonstatutory mitigators. Based upon its findings, the jury recommended a sentence of death for the first-degree murder.

Defendant first assigns as error the following instruction, which the trial court gave to venire members prior to jury selection:

Now, after all of the evidence has been presented, and after you have listened to the arguments of counsel, I will instruct you as to all the law that you are to apply to evidence in this case. It is your duty to apply the law as I will give it to you and not as you think the law is, nor as you might like the law to be.... Obviously at this point, you're not expected to know the law. Counsel should not question you about the law, except to ask whether you will accept and follow the law as given to you by this court.

(Emphasis added.) Although defendant did not object to the instruction, he now argues that the trial court committed plain error in giving it. Defendant contends that the emphasized portion informed the venire members that voir dire questions about their views on capital punishment were inappropriate. Thus, he argues, there is a risk that the instruction led the jurors to mistrust the defense counsel, who did in fact ask about the jurors' views on capital punishment, and that this mistrust infected the jurors' views of the defense throughout the trial and during the capital sentencing proceeding and decision.

The extent of the inquiry of a prospective juror rests within the trial court's discretion, and we will not find reversible error unless an abuse of discretion is shown. State v. Huffstetler, 312 N.C. 92, 103, 322 S.E.2d 110, 118 (1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1009, 105 S.Ct. 1877, 85 L.Ed.2d 169 (1985). In this instance, defendant does not even suggest abuse of discretion by the trial court. Instead, he complains of the theoretical potential for prejudice created by a correct statement of the respective roles of the judge, jury, and counsel with regard to applying the law in a criminal case. The trial court simply advised the jurors that they were not expected to know the law and that neither the prosecution nor the defense...

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