State v. Holmes

Decision Date18 December 2018
Docket NumberNo. COA17-1237,COA17-1237
CourtNorth Carolina Court of Appeals
Parties STATE of North Carolina v. Karlos Antonio HOLMES, Defendant.

Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Isham Faison Hicks, for the State.

Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Amanda S. Zimmer, for defendant-appellant.

MURPHY, Judge.

The victim, Ms. Claiborne, lived with and was engaged to Defendant, Karlos Antonio Holmes. The couple had a tumultuous relationship after their engagement. On Sunday, 24 November 2013, Ms. Claiborne sent Defendant a text message telling him to move out of the home and that she would be changing the locks and continuing to request child support. Ms. Claiborne went to a concert that Sunday night and returned home afterwards. The next morning, her friends and colleagues, concerned that Ms. Claiborne was absent from work and not responding to text messages, went to Ms. Claiborne's home to check on her. Once they gained entry to the home, they found Ms. Claiborne lying dead in the bathtub along with a hair dryer. The police arrived and found white feathers throughout the home and a feather pillow in the room where Defendant had been staying. A subsequent autopsy found petechiae

under Ms. Claiborne's eyelids and an internal bruise under her skull.

While the forensic pathologist stated it was her medical opinion that Ms. Claiborne did not die from electrocution, he was unable to determine a cause of death with certainty. Defendant was charged with and convicted of first-degree murder.

On appeal, Defendant argues the trial court erred in (A) denying his motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge; (B) failing to instruct on the lesser-included offenses of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter; (C) admitting letters detailing Defendant's debts; (D) overruling his objection to a statement made by the State during closing argument; and (E) admitting testimony from two expert witnesses. We find no error in part and no prejudicial error in part.


Defendant and Ms. Claiborne had a romantic relationship and were the parents of a young child, Christopher1 . Ms. Claiborne and Christopher lived in Charlotte in a home Ms. Claiborne owned. In early 2013, Defendant came to Charlotte to visit Ms. Claiborne and assist in her recovery after laparoscopic surgery

for endometriosis. Defendant's move to Charlotte and his stay at Ms. Claiborne's home became permanent and the two became engaged late in 2013.

As of November 2013, the two were having relationship troubles. Ms. Claiborne's cousin testified that "a lot of animosity" existed between Defendant and Ms. Claiborne and that the two barely spoke during their engagement party. Ms. Claiborne told her cousin that she did not want "to continue with the wedding because [Defendant] was having financial issues and he was basically spending all of her money and she was using all of her money for wedding stuff."

On Sunday, 24 November, Christopher was with Ms. Claiborne's mother in Virginia, and Ms. Claiborne had plans to attend a concert with two friends and colleagues, Ms. Carlisle ("Carlisle") and Ms. Horne ("Horne"). Carlisle arrived at Ms. Claiborne's home before the concert to curl Ms. Claiborne's hair. Ms. Claiborne had just taken a shower and was putting on clothes, and Carlisle noted that there were no bruises on Ms. Claiborne's body when she fully disrobed. Carlisle then used a curling iron to curl Ms. Claiborne's hair. While in Ms. Claiborne's room, Carlisle noted that "everything was put up and organized nice and neat." The two then left Ms. Claiborne's home in Ms. Claiborne's BMW for the concert, where they met Horne and other friends. Ms. Claiborne and Carlisle arrived back at Ms. Claiborne's home at approximately 10:00 P.M. that night. Defendant's Volkswagen was not at the home when they arrived, and Carlisle watched Ms. Claiborne safely enter the home.

The next morning, Horne texted a group chat with Carlisle and Ms. Claiborne, and Ms. Claiborne never responded. Carlisle then sent Ms. Claiborne an individual text message asking whether she was at work and if she was okay. Ms. Claiborne never responded. Carlisle did not "feel right about the situation," and told her supervisor that she would be leaving work for an hour. Horne texted Defendant about Ms. Claiborne's whereabouts, to which he responded:

I'm sorry for the delayed response, but I just got out of a – out of a meeting for work. She went out with [Carlisle] last night, but I left early this morning and [she] wasn't there when I went to work. I'll call to check on her in a little bit, I think she had another doctor's appointment.

Horne replied to the text message and asked whether Ms. Claiborne's BMW was at home earlier that day. Defendant did not respond.

Carlisle and Horne went to Ms. Claiborne's home, where they found Defendant's Volkswagen, but not Ms. Claiborne's BMW. All the doors and windows to the home were locked, so Carlisle had to lift the garage door for Horne to enter through an unlocked door inside the garage. While searching for Ms. Claiborne in the home, Horne entered the bedroom and found it to be "a disaster." Her clothes, shoes, and bags were strewn across the floor. Horne then looked in the bathroom, where she found Ms. Claiborne unresponsive in the bathtub with a blow dryer in her lap. Horne pulled out and unplugged the blow dryer, and unsuccessfully tried to find a pulse on Ms. Claiborne.

Defendant arrived at the home shortly after emergency personnel, alone and driving Ms. Claiborne's BMW. Defendant stated he was unaware that Ms. Claiborne was supposed to go to work that morning. He also told a paramedic that he had spoken to Ms. Claiborne approximately 30 to 45 minutes before he arrived at the home and that she told him she planned to take a bath.

When police arrived at the scene, they found a white feather in the bathroom where Ms. Claiborne was found. They further found the furniture had been moved in Ms. Claiborne's bedroom and that her closet was "a mess[,]" with a pile of clothes, broken hangers, and Ms. Claiborne's engagement ring hidden in a shoebox under two feet of clothing. In the bedroom with an air mattress where Defendant was staying, police found clothing and shoes scattered across the floor and a black duffle bag across the room containing white socks in the original packaging. There were also white feathers on the floor of the room and a feather pillow behind the air mattress. A subsequent search of the kitchen revealed white feathers on wet socks found in the trashcan, and additional white feathers were found in the trash bin outside of the home.

A search of Ms. Claiborne's BMW revealed a broken end table from Ms. Claiborne's bedroom, Defendant's keys to his vehicle, and a Ziploc bag containing mail. The mail in the Ziploc bag consisted of thirteen parcels addressed to Defendant containing notices of delinquent child support payments and other debts.

DNA analysis indicated that Defendant's DNA was found under one of Ms. Claiborne's fingernails and on one of the ends of the hair dryer's electrical cord. The autopsy performed on Ms. Claiborne revealed a large bruise around her hip and upper thigh, a scratch on her right thigh, and petechiae

inside her eyelids. The forensic pathologist found no indication that Ms. Claiborne ingested alcohol or drugs, no evidence supporting electrocution, and no water in her lungs to indicate drowning. However, because there were no "strong, solid physical indications that point to an exact thing that [caused the death]," the forensic pathologist was unable to determine a cause of death.

Defendant was arrested approximately three months after Ms. Claiborne's death and was charged with first-degree murder. A jury convicted Defendant on that charge and the trial court entered judgment, sentencing Defendant to life without parole. Defendant timely appeals.

A. Motion to Dismiss
The trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss is reviewed de novo on appeal. Upon defendant's motion for dismissal, the question for the Court is whether there is substantial evidence (1) of each essential element of the offense charged, or of a lesser offense included therein, and (2) of defendant's being the perpetrator of such offense. If so, the motion is properly denied.

State v. Pressley , 235 N.C. App. 613, 616, 762 S.E.2d 374, 376 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted), disc. review denied , ––– N.C. ––––, 763 S.E.2d 382 (2014). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." State v. Smith , 300 N.C. 71, 78-79, 265 S.E.2d 164, 169 (1980). In reviewing claims of sufficiency of the evidence, we consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the State, drawing all reasonable inferences in its favor. State v. Everette , 361 N.C. 646, 651, 652 S.E.2d 241, 244 (2007).

To convict Defendant of first-degree murder under N.C.G.S. § 14-17, the State must prove Defendant committed: "(1) an unlawful killing; (2) with malice; (3) with the specific intent to kill formed after some measure of premeditation and deliberation." State v. Peterson , 361 N.C. 587, 595, 652 S.E.2d 216, 223 (2007). Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss on the first-degree murder charge, the State was required to offer substantial evidence of each element and of Defendant's identity as the perpetrator of the unlawful killing. Defendant claims the State failed to meet this burden with respect to two specific elements: (1) the unlawful killing and (2) Defendant's identity as the perpetrator. We discuss each contention in turn.

1. Unlawful Killing

Defendant contends the State failed to show that Ms. Claiborne died by virtue of a criminal act and, therefore, failed to offer substantial evidence of an "unlawful killing." We disagree.

In proving first-degree murder, the State must show that the victim's "immediate cause...

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7 cases
  • Holland v. French
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 2020
    ...evidence must have a logical tendency to prove any fact that is of consequence in the case being litigated." State v. Holmes , 263 N.C. App. 289, 302, 822 S.E.2d 708, 720 (2018), review denied , 372 N.C. 97, 824 S.E.2d 415 (2019). "Trial court rulings on relevancy technically are not discre......
  • State v. Hall
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • January 21, 2020 channelled so that it may convict a defendant of only those crimes fairly supported by the evidence.’ " State v. Holmes , 822 S.E.2d 708, 717 (N.C. Ct. App. 2018), rev. denied , 824 S.E.2d 415 (N.C. 2019) (quoting State v. Taylor , 362 N.C. 514, 530, 669 S.E.2d 239, 256 (2008) ) (alterat......
  • State v. Abbitt
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • August 3, 2021
    ...evidence must have a logical tendency to prove any fact that is of consequence in the case being litigated." State v. Holmes , 263 N.C. App. 289, 302, 822 S.E.2d 708, 720 (2018), disc. rev. denied , 372 N.C. 97, 824 S.E.2d 415 (2019). "Trial court rulings on relevancy technically are not di......
  • State v. Glenn
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • November 17, 2020
    ...N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 401 (2019). "Trial court rulings on relevancy technically are not discretionary." State v. Holmes , 263 N.C. App. 289, 302, 822 S.E.2d 708, 720 (2018), review denied , 372 N.C. 97, 824 S.E.2d 415 (2019). "Whether evidence is relevant is a question of law ... [an......
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