State v. Green, 385A84-3

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
Citation443 S.E.2d 14,336 N.C. 142
Docket NumberNo. 385A84-3,385A84-3
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Harvey Lee GREEN, Jr.
Decision Date06 May 1994

Michael F. Easley, Atty. Gen. by Joan H. Byers, Sp. Deputy Atty. Gen., for the State.

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr., Appellate Defender, Raleigh, for defendant-appellant.

MITCHELL, Justice.

The defendant pled guilty, solely on the basis of the theory of felony murder, to the first-degree murders of Sheila Bland and Michael Edmondson and to two counts of common law robbery. A capital sentencing proceeding was conducted pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000, and the jury recommended that he be sentenced to death for each murder. The trial court entered judgments of death in accord with the jury's recommendations and arrested judgment in the robbery cases. The defendant appealed.

This Court remanded the case to the Superior Court, Pitt County, for a hearing as to whether the defendant's rights had been denied by racial discrimination in selecting the jury contrary to the principles set forth in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). State v. Green, 324 N.C. 238, 376 S.E.2d 727 (1989). A hearing was held, after which the Superior Court concluded that there had been no racial discrimination in the selection of the defendant's jury. The case was then returned to this Court.

We remanded the case to the Superior Court a second time for a further hearing on the Batson issue. It made further and more detailed findings of fact and again found no Batson error. The case was again returned to this Court.

The State then filed a motion in which it conceded prejudicial error under McKoy v. North Carolina, 494 U.S. 433, 110 S.Ct. 1227, 108 L.Ed.2d 369 (1990), and moved that the defendant receive a new capital sentencing proceeding. This Court ordered the case remanded to the Superior Court, Pitt County, for that purpose. State v. Green, 329 N.C. 686, 406 S.E.2d 852 (1991).

A new capital sentencing proceeding was held. As to both murders the jury found the statutory aggravating circumstances that:

(1) The defendant had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence.

(2) The murder was committed for pecuniary gain.

(3) This murder was part of a course of conduct in which the defendant engaged and the course of conduct involved another crime of violence against another person.

The jury also found seven mitigating circumstances. The jury again recommended sentences of death for each of the two first-degree murders, and the trial court entered judgments accordingly. The defendant appeals to this Court as a matter of right from the judgments sentencing him to death for each of the first-degree murders.

On 19 December 1983, Michael Edmondson and Sheila Bland were beaten to death at Young's Cleaners in Bethel, North Carolina during a robbery. On 16 January 1984, the Grand Jury of Pitt County returned true bills of indictment charging the defendant, Harvey Lee Green, Jr., with first-degree murder for each of these killings.

The State's evidence introduced during the capital sentencing proceeding tended to show, inter alia, the following. On 19 December 1983, Sheila Bland, a seventeen year old high school senior, was working as a cashier at Young's Cleaners. She came to work at approximately 1:00 p.m. At 6:00 p.m. she was to close the cleaners, lock the doors and leave.

John Michael Edmondson, then thirty-three years old, was the organist for Bethel United Methodist Church. On the afternoon of 19 December 1983, choir practice for an upcoming Christmas play at the church ended a little before 6:00 p.m. Michael Edmondson told Holly Teeterson that he had to be somewhere by 6:00 p.m. and left the church. The church is just across the street and around the corner from Young's Cleaners.

Lynn Rogerson had dinner on 19 December 1983 at Da-Nite Cafe and afterwards, at just after 6:00 p.m., she started to go into the cleaners to leave some laundry. She looked through the windows of the cleaners and noticed that the lights were on but that Sheila Bland was not sitting behind the counter where she usually sat. No one appeared to be in the cleaners.

About 6:45 p.m., Mrs. Frances Young, a co-owner of the cleaners, drove by and noticed that the lights were on but that no one was in the front. When Mrs. Young went to the door of the cleaners, it was unlocked and she entered. Nothing appeared out of place or unusual in the front of the building. She called for Ms. Bland and then went to the back of the building. She looked over a partition and saw the bodies of Ms. Bland and Mr. Edmondson lying face down in a pool of blood. Their heads were "right up against the partition." Mrs. Young then called for help. When the rescue squad and police arrived, both victims were dead. The bodies were lying roughly parallel to each other, directly behind the partition. They were lying in pools of blood and had obvious head wounds. The cleaners itself showed no other signs of any disturbance.

Mr. Edmondson had died as a result of a trauma to his head causing skull fractures and bruising of the brain. That injury had been produced by a stiff rod-like instrument. Ms. Bland's death was the result of blows to the head causing fractures and contusions of the brain. Incomplete manual strangulation had contributed to her death.

Sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. on the evening of 19 December 1983, the defendant went into the Whitehurst grocery near the cleaners. A few minutes later, the people in the grocery learned about the murders at Young's Cleaners and went down the street to see what had happened. A search of the cleaners revealed that the rolled coins kept in a bank bag under the counter had been taken. The electric cash register had not been opened. A length of pipe used by the pressers and ordinarily placed on one of the machines in back of the cleaners was also missing. The night of the murders, the defendant presented several dollars worth of rolled pennies to Joe Suggs at Whitehurst grocery in exchange for paper money.

On 30 December 1983, the Bethel police recovered a piece of pipe from the yard of a residence located between the cleaners and the defendant's residence. The pipe tested positively for blood. Hair on the pipe was consistent with that of Michael Edmondson.

On 31 December 1983, officers of the SBI and the Bethel Police Department spoke to the defendant about the rolled coins he had exchanged for bills on the night of the murders. The defendant Green admitted to the officers that on one occasion he had used rolled coins, but he denied having gone to the cleaners at any time on 19 December 1983 or committing the two murders. He allowed officers to look at the clothes and shoes he claimed he had worn on that night.

On 1 January 1984, the defendant was again questioned. He again denied involvement in the murders. Special Agent Godly then spoke with the defendant for about an hour. The defendant gave Godly a statement to the effect that he had used a toy gun to rob the cleaners. He said that Ms. Bland had been alone at first. When Mr. Edmondson came in, the defendant turned around to see who had entered. Ms. Bland jumped over the counter onto the defendant's back, and Mr. Edmondson struggled with the defendant. The defendant then flipped Ms. Bland off of his back, subdued Mr. Edmondson, and made the two victims get down by the counter. He took the coins from under the counter and then went back and demanded money from the victims. Mr. Edmondson gave him twenty dollars, but then struggled with him again. In the struggle, the defendant grabbed a pipe and used it to beat Mr. Edmondson. Ms. Bland started screaming, and the defendant told her to stop. When she did not, he hit her with the pipe. The defendant tried to get Mr. Edmondson to open the cash register for him. The defendant then beat the victims with the pipe. Thereafter, he took the rolled coins, left the building, and hid the pipe in some bushes. The defendant told Godly that he never meant to hurt anyone.

Godly called in another agent of the SBI and the Police Chief of Bethel who took a similar but more detailed statement. The defendant explained that he had committed the robbery because he needed money to pay off checks he had forged. He had thought that he could get at least half of the money he needed from the cleaners. He stated that on the day of the murder he had shared a pint of wine with his brother, his brother's girlfriend, and George Purvis. He clarified that he took the victims to the back behind the partition after having scuffled with them in the front of the cleaners.

After completing his statement, the defendant accompanied officers to his home where he gave them the pants he had worn on the night of the murders. They had minute blood splatters on the front of both legs. The defendant also showed the officers where he had hidden the pipe.

Other evidence introduced during the capital sentencing proceeding is discussed at other points in this opinion where pertinent to the issues raised by the defendant.

In an assignment of error the defendant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to permit questioning of prospective jurors about their beliefs concerning parole eligibility and by denying his request for an instruction on parole eligibility. The defendant argues that because the General Assembly has recently amended N.C.G.S. § 15A-2002 to require the trial court to instruct the jury during a capital sentencing proceeding concerning the parole eligibility of a defendant sentenced to life (1993 N.C. Session Laws Ch. 538, § 29), he was entitled to such an instruction in this case. We disagree.

First, the defendant has failed to assert a convincing basis for this Court to abandon its prior authority on the issue of questioning or informing jurors with regard to potential parole eligibility of a defendant. State v. Syriani, 333 N.C. 350, 428 S.E.2d 118, ...

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