State v. Hill, 233A91

Decision Date25 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 233A91,233A91
Citation417 S.E.2d 765,331 N.C. 387
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Zane Brown HILL.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Lacy H. Thornburg, Atty. Gen. by David Roy Blackwell, Sp. Deputy Atty. Gen., Raleigh, for State.

William D. Auman and Robert W. Clark, Asst. Public Defenders, Twenty-Eighth Judicial District, Asheville, for defendant-appellant.

MITCHELL, Justice.

The State's evidence tended to show the following. In October 1989 the defendant Zane Brown Hill abandoned his wife Bonnie Hill. Early on the morning of 29 November 1989, the defendant broke a bedroom window and entered his estranged wife's home. The defendant placed a pistol to his wife's throat and said he had come to kill her. He then ordered his wife to bed. The defendant soon passed out, and Mrs. Hill left the house.

On 10 January 1990 Mrs. Hill left for work at 6:20 a.m. The defendant telephoned her at work several times that day to discuss the possibility of their reconciliation. Mrs. Hill arrived home at approximately 5:30 p.m. and noticed the defendant's van behind a trailer located on her property. Mrs. Hill went into the house and spoke with her son Randall and the defendant's mother who also lived with her. Mrs. Hill and Randall saw the defendant leave the nearby trailer and approach the house carrying a rifle. Randall then got a pistol from within the house.

The defendant entered the house and pointed his rifle at his son Randall. The defendant had alcohol on his breath. Randall asked his father to put the rifle down. The defendant's mother also attempted to calm the defendant. During the commotion, Randall went to a bedroom to call the police. The defendant ran after Randall. Mrs. Hill heard one shot fired, and then Randall moaned. A second shot was fired, and Randall moaned again. A third and final shot was then fired.

Mrs. Hill ran into the bedroom and saw her son lying on the floor with the telephone receiver in his hand. She attempted to help her son, but the defendant struck her with the butt of the rifle knocking her to the floor. As the defendant was attempting to reload the rifle, Mrs. Hill ran out of the house. As she ran across her yard, she heard gun shots. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the defendant standing on her porch holding the rifle. She ran to a neighbor's house and asked the neighbor to call the police. The defendant did not pursue her.

Jason Scott Smith, a neighbor of Mrs. Hill's, testified that on 10 January 1990 he saw the defendant at a garage near the Hill residence. When Mrs. Hill arrived at home that afternoon, the defendant told Smith, "You're going to see some blue lights now." A few minutes later Smith saw Mrs. Hill run out of the house. The defendant came out to the porch and shot toward her, but he missed.

Jeremy Banks also saw the defendant at the garage near the Hill residence on 10 January 1990. Banks saw Mrs. Hill arrive home from work. The defendant then went into the house with a gun. Five minutes later, Mrs. Hill ran out of the house, and the defendant shot at her from the porch.

Sheriff's deputies apprehended the defendant later that day. They found the defendant lying in the front seat of a truck with a rifle underneath him. The deputies seized the rifle.

At the crime scene, the deputies found Randall's body on the floor of a bedroom. The telephone cord was wrapped around his arm, and the receiver was on the floor.

An autopsy of Randall Hill's body revealed three gunshot wounds: (1) one in the upper abdomen; (2) one in the upper middle back; and (3) one in the left upper side of the back. One bullet had passed through the aorta producing massive bleeding inside Randall's chest. Randall Hill died from the combination of gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen.

The deputies collected .22 caliber spent shell casings from inside Mrs. Hill's house and from her front porch. A .22 caliber bullet was recovered from Randall Hill's body. Ballistics tests showed that the spent shells had been fired from the rifle seized from the defendant. The deputies also retrieved a fully loaded .38 caliber pistol from Randall's right front pants pocket.

The defendant introduced evidence tending to show the following. The defendant had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse. On 10 January 1990 the defendant began drinking at 9 a.m. and consumed twelve beers during the course of the day. The defendant also took four Darvons, a pain reliever, and two Flexorils, a muscle relaxant.

The defendant called his wife at her work on 10 January 1990 to discuss a possible reconciliation. He testified that he went to the trailer near the Hill residence because his wife asked him to do so. When Mrs. Hill arrived home at approximately 5:45 p.m., the defendant walked up to the house with a rifle intending to leave it in the house as he had always done. When the defendant entered the house, Randall threatened him with a pistol. Randall went to telephone the sheriff, and the defendant followed. While Randall was on the phone, Randall drew the pistol on the defendant a second time. The defendant testified, "I just figured he was going to maybe shoot me, and I pulled the trigger, I reckon. That's all I remember." The defendant testified that he never reloaded the rifle, never struck his wife with it, and never fired it at her.

The defendant testified that he left the house after shooting Randall. While walking through a field, he fell into a creek. He then borrowed clean clothes from a neighbor. Later, he got into a truck and fell asleep on the front seat. The sheriff's deputies woke him later and arrested him.

The defendant also testified about the November 1989 incident when he entered Mrs. Hill's residence. The defendant testified that he went to his estranged wife's house to retrieve some of his clothes. His wife had changed the locks to the house. He broke a window because he had no other way to enter the house.

At the time he killed Randall, the defendant was living with Teresa Taylor and her son Edward. Taylor testified that the defendant treated her son Edward like his own son. Taylor also testified that the defendant took Darvon and other prescription drugs for pain.

Dr. Richard Reed Felix, a psychiatric expert, conducted a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant. He testified that the defendant took prescription drugs for pain resulting from his arthritis. Dr. Felix testified that on 10 January 1990 the defendant suffered from a degree of brain damage, primarily to the frontal and limbeck areas which control the processing and sorting of information. The defendant's long-term alcohol abuse had contributed to his brain damage. In Dr. Felix's opinion, the drugs the defendant testified that he had consumed on the day of the killing, coupled with the eight to ten beers the defendant said he drank, would have aggravated his mental impairment and worsened his perception.

Mrs. Hill, the defendant's wife, testified for the State on rebuttal about an incident on 1 January 1990 when the defendant came to her residence with a pistol. The defendant and Mrs. Hill went for a drive on that day, and the defendant shot the pistol two times into the floorboard of the car. The defendant then rented a motel room, and the defendant and Mrs. Hill went to bed. Shortly afterwards, the defendant passed out. Mrs. Hill found the pistol the defendant had been carrying, took it with her, and went home. At some point during the incident, the defendant threatened to kill Mrs. Hill.

Other evidence introduced in the trial court is discussed at other points in this opinion, where pertinent to the issues raised by the defendant.

In his first assignment of error, the defendant contends that the death penalty as provided for by N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000 is unconstitutional because the district attorney has the discretion to decide whether to seek the death penalty. "[T]he question of trying a first degree murder case as capital or non-capital is not within the district attorney's discretion." State v. Britt, 320 N.C. 705, 709, 360 S.E.2d 660, 662 (1987). The defendant's argument is without merit.

The defendant also argues under this assignment that the State violated the guarantees of due process contained in the Constitution of the United States and Article I, Section 23, of the Constitution of North Carolina by not listing in the indictment the aggravating circumstances upon which it would rely during any sentencing proceeding under N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000. This Court rejected a similar argument in State v. Williams, 304 N.C. 394, 420-22, 284 S.E.2d 437, 453-54 (1981), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 932, 102 S.Ct. 1985, 72 L.Ed.2d 450 (1982). N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000(e) sets forth an exclusive list of the only eleven aggravating circumstances which may be considered by the jury. Therefore, the statute fully apprised the defendant of all of the aggravating circumstances that the State might rely upon in seeking the death penalty. Id. 304 N.C. at 422, 284 S.E.2d at 454. No more was required. Id. This assignment of error is overruled.

In his next assignment of error, the defendant contends that the trial court allowed the prosecutor to unconstitutionally select a jury uncommonly willing to recommend a sentence of death by using the State's peremptory challenges to remove potential jurors who expressed doubts about capital punishment. The defendant concedes that this Court has rejected this argument many times. E.g. State v. Bacon, 326 N.C. 404, 414, 390 S.E.2d 327, 333 (1990); State v. Spangler, 314 N.C. 374, 380, 333 S.E.2d 722, 727 (1985). We continue to adhere to our prior holdings on this issue.

The defendant next assigns as error the trial court's refusal to allow defense counsel to rehabilitate jurors whom the State moved to excuse for cause because of their expressed inability to comply with the law. Specifically, the defendant contends that the trial court's failure to allow defense counsel to inquire into the...

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