State v. Geter, Appellate Case No. 2018-001647

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtKONDUROS, J.
Citation434 S.C. 557,864 S.E.2d 569
Parties The STATE, Respondent, v. Robert Xavier GETER, Appellant.
Decision Date18 August 2021
Docket NumberOpinion No. 5851,Appellate Case No. 2018-001647

434 S.C. 557
864 S.E.2d 569

The STATE, Respondent,
Robert Xavier GETER, Appellant.

Appellate Case No. 2018-001647
Opinion No. 5851

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Heard June 7, 2021
Filed August 18, 2021
Rehearing Denied November 5, 2021

Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody Jane Brown, Assistant Attorney General Tommy Evans, Jr., and Solicitor Byron E. Gipson, all of Columbia, for Respondent.


434 S.C. 560

In this criminal case, Robert Xavier Geter appeals his convictions for the murder of James Lewis (Decedent) and the attempted murder of Clarence Stone. The events in the case stem from a bar fight between Geter and Decedent. Geter maintains the circuit court erred in charging the jury on transferred intent in relation to the attempted murder charge and in allowing certain testimony from Investigator Joseph Clarke. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


On the night of March 7, 2015, Stone was at a pool room/restaurant, Culler's Pool Hall, located on Monticello Road in Richland County. Stone acted as something of a bouncer for the business, watching out for arguments or other types of trouble or disturbances. According to Stone, he was playing a game of pool when he heard a commotion and went to investigate. He found Decedent and Geter on the floor fighting. Stone broke up the fight and took Decedent outside on a

864 S.E.2d 571

deck behind the building. Decedent wanted to go back inside to get his chain, and Stone indicated he would retrieve it for him. As Stone was preparing to go back inside, Geter came out onto the deck, approaching Decedent and asking "we good?" Then, Geter swung at Decedent and Stone was caught in between the two while attempting to break up the altercation. Geter had a knife and stabbed and killed Decedent. Geter

434 S.C. 561

also struck Stone, stabbing him in the eye, causing permanent blindness in that eye.

Geter was indicted on one count of murder and one count of attempted murder. At trial, in opening statements, Geter's attorney indicated Geter had acted in self-defense after several men, including Decedent and Stone, had attacked and beaten him.

Investigator Joseph Clarke, of the Richland County Sheriff's Office, testified after Stone in the State's case and indicated he was the on-call homicide investigator on the night of the stabbing. He testified as follows regarding his investigation of the incident.

[STATE]: And you were here in opening statements, correct?

[CLARKE]: Yes.

[STATE]: Is that the first time you heard that story?

[CLARKE]: No. Oh, that story?

[STATE]: Yes, the story that he gave about – in opening statements?

[GETER]: Your Honor. I object. Openings are not evidence, so.

THE COURT: Overruled.

[STATE]: His scenario of the facts that Mr. Geter's attorney is now saying happened, is that the first time you have ever heard that?

[CLARKE]: Yes.


[STATE]: You confirmed that Clarence Stone was also a victim?

[CLARKE]: I did.

[STATE]: And you spoke with him as well?

[CLARKE]: I did. I took a statement at his home.

[STATE]: And he gave a statement of what occurred?

[CLARKE]: He did.

[STATE]: You saw him testify again today?

[CLARKE]: I did.

[STATE]: And was that exactly what he told you?
434 S.C. 562
[GETER]: Objection. Your Honor. Improper vouching.

THE COURT: Overruled. You are asking about the testimony that he gave?

[STATE]: Yes. We watched him just a few minutes ago.

THE COURT: Overruled.

[STATE]: The same thing he told this jury happened to him is what he told you?

[CLARKE]: Seems absolutely consistent. Correct.

At the close of the State's case, Geter moved for a directed verdict arguing the State had offered no evidence Geter specifically intended to kill Stone as required by the attempted murder statute. The State contended the necessary intent to establish the attempted murder charge could be transferred based on Geter's intent to kill Decedent. The circuit court agreed and denied the directed verdict motion.

Geter testified in his own defense and indicated he had accidentally stepped on Decedent's foot and when confronted by Decedent, he apologized. While doing so, Stone came over and interfered in their conversation by hitting Geter in the back of the head. Then, according to Geter, Stone and Decedent were beating him pretty severely and he believed several other men were also attacking him. To defend himself, he pulled out his knife and while brandishing it, Decedent and Stone were injured.

At the close of all testimony, Geter renewed his motion for directed verdict which the circuit court denied. Geter objected to the circuit court charging on the doctrine of transferred intent. The circuit court denied the objection and charged the jury as follows:

Ladies and gentlemen, we'll next talk about the doctrine of transferred intent. If the [d]efendant with malice aforethought attempts to kill another person, but by mistake injures or kills a different person, the law considers that the [d]efendant still
864 S.E.2d 572
had the intent to kill. Intent to kill is a mental state. It exists in the mind. So, if the State proves that a [d]efendant acting with malice had the intent to kill one person, but mistakenly injured another, the intent to kill is merely transferred from the original person the [d]efendant attempted to kill to the actual person injured.
434 S.C. 563
Pursuant to the transfer[red] intent doctrine, if one person intends to harm a second person but instead unintentionally harms a third, the first person's criminal intent toward the second applies to the third as well.

The circuit court also charged the jury on self-defense. Geter was convicted of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to forty years’ imprisonment and twenty years’ imprisonment, respectively, to run concurrently. This appeal followed.


"An appellate court will not reverse the trial judge's decision regarding a jury charge absent an abuse of discretion." State v. Mattison , 388 S.C. 469, 479, 697 S.E.2d 578, 584 (2010). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law or, when grounded in factual conclusions, is without evidentiary support." State v. Jennings , 394 S.C. 473, 477-78, 716 S.E.2d 91, 93 (2011) (quoting Clark v. Cantrell, 339 S.C. 369, 389, 529 S.E.2d 528, 539 (2000) ). Likewise, the admission or exclusion of evidence is subject to the discretion of the circuit court. State v. Kromah , 401 S.C. 340, 349, 737 S.E.2d 490, 494-95 (2013). Additionally, any abuse of discretion related thereto is subject to a harmless error analysis. Id. at 362, 737 S.E.2d at 501.


I. Transferred Intent and Attempted Murder

Geter argues the circuit court erred in charging the jury on the doctrine of transferred intent to support the attempted murder charge. We agree.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals has twice-answered the first question presented in this appeal—whether the doctrine of transferred intent applies to attempted murder which requires specific intent.1 In State v. Williams , 422 S.C. 525, 539, 812 S.E.2d 917, 924 (Ct. App. 2018), aff'd in part as modified, vacated in part , 427 S.C. 148, 829 S.E.2d 702 (2019), the court concluded "the doctrine of transferred intent is proper to convict a defendant of attempted murder regardless

434 S.C. 564

of whether a victim, intended or unintended, suffers an injury." In that case, Williams had fired shots into a trailer in which his intended target and two other people were located. Id. This court found:

Williams misconstrues the attempted murder statute to the extent he argues the statute requires the specific intent to murder specific victims. Williams specifically argues the transferred intent charge erroneously allowed the jury to find Williams guilty of attempted murder of Ycedra and Wrighton without requiring the State to prove (1) Williams knew they were in the [r]esidence and (2) Williams specifically intended to kill Ycedra and Wrighton [unintended targets], in addition to Young. We disagree.


However, the Supreme Court of South Carolina, based on preservation grounds, vacated the portion of Williams that decided the transferred intent question. State v. Williams , 427 S.C. 148, 150, 829 S.E.2d 702, 703 (2019). Because the defendant had not appealed the erroneous jury charge indicating attempted murder was a general intent crime, the court declined to weigh in. Id. "Because the court of appeals treated the case as if it had been tried as a specific-intent crime, we vacate the portion of its opinion dealing with the issue of transferred intent and leave for another day the determination of whether the...

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