State v. Hopkins

Decision Date19 August 2020
Docket NumberOpinion No. 5766,Appellate Case No. 2017-001224
Citation848 S.E.2d 368,431 S.C. 560
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
Parties The STATE, Respondent, v. Rohaime Jamar HOPKINS, Appellant.

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

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General W. Jeffrey Young, Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody Jane Brown, Assistant Attorney General William Joseph Maye, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Isaac McDuffie Stone, III, of Bluffton, all for Respondent.

WILLIAMS, J.:

In this criminal appeal, Rohaime Jamar Hopkins appeals his conviction for murder. On appeal, Hopkins argues the trial court erred in (1) admitting State's Exhibits 7 and 8 (the Cell Phone Records), (2) admitting State's Exhibit 9 (the Text Message), and (3) allowing Michael Taylor's testimony. We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 12, 2014, Terrance Johnson (Victim) was shot and killed in Jasper County. Hopkins was indicted for Victim's murder and tried by a jury. The State's theory was that Victim was murdered at approximately 9:37 P.M.

Several witnesses saw Hopkins and Victim leave a wake together on the night of the murder, and one witness testified that during the wake, she saw Hopkins with a gun tucked into his pants. Lieutenant Shaun Harley, a supervisor with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), testified Latanya Singleton told him that on the night of the murder (1) Hopkins and Victim came to her house, (2) Hopkins and Victim left her house in Victim's car, and (3) approximately twenty minutes later, Hopkins walked back to her house alone before being picked up by someone.1 Agent Richard Johnson, a SLED investigator, testified Latanya lived approximately five hundred yards from where Victim's body was found.

Hopkins's written statement to police indicated he saw Victim at the wake and Victim took him to get clothes. After Victim dropped him off at Janeika DuPont's house around 6:30 or 7:00 P.M. , he did not see or speak to Victim anymore that day. DuPont testified that Hopkins was not at her house at 6:30 or 7:00 P.M. but he arrived at 10:30 or 11:00 P.M.

On the first day of trial, Michael Taylor, DuPont's husband, informed the State he was going to testify that when Hopkins arrived at their house on the night of the murder, he changed his clothing and proceeded to burn the clothing in a burn barrel. Upon learning this information, the State immediately informed Hopkins and the trial court. During the trial, Taylor testified that on the night of the murder, he returned home at approximately 9:07 P.M. and Hopkins was not there. He stated he went next door until approximately 10:15 or 10:30 P.M. and when he returned home, Hopkins was unexpectedly inside.

Taylor testified that after he and Hopkins talked for a while, Hopkins changed his clothes and burned them in Taylor's burn barrel. Hopkins objected to this testimony because it was not previously provided to him. A discussion was held off the record, and the trial court indicated it would state its ruling on the objection on the record later. When the trial resumed, Taylor stated that when he spoke to police in 2014, he did not think to mention that Hopkins burned his clothing because he did not believe Hopkins killed Victim. It was only when Taylor was asked to testify at trial that he began to consider Hopkins's specific actions on the night of the murder. The trial court overruled Hopkins's objection to Taylor's testimony. The court noted (1) the State informed Hopkins about Taylor's statement as soon as it became aware of it and (2) because witnesses often change their testimony or give surprise testimony, Hopkins only objected to Taylor's testimony to evoke sympathy from the jury about the amount of notice he received.

At trial, there was evidence presented that a drug dealer put "a hit" on Victim. Agent Johnson testified Daytron Simmons (Simmons) told him that (1) approximately two weeks before the murder, Hopkins was looking at Victim when Hopkins told Simmons he was waiting on the drug dealer to sign "the contract" and (2) Hopkins told Simmons the drug dealer put a hit on Victim because Victim was "snitching."2 Antoine Drake testified there was a hit out on Victim and he attempted to collect the hit money for killing Victim in an effort to scam the drug dealer and find out if Hopkins killed Victim. However, Drake clarified he was not paid because the drug dealer said "Hopkins told me he did it alone" and Hopkins had already been paid. Byron Singleton testified he and Hopkins were "basically roommates" in jail and Hopkins told him that he killed Victim because the drug dealer offered him $15,000 to kill Victim in a murder for hire.3 Angel Simmons (Angel), Victim's fiancé, testified she called Victim several times on the night of the murder and Victim answered her two calls close to 10:00 P.M. She stated the last time Victim answered her call, she asked where he was a couple of times and told him she loved him. Angel heard a little scuffle and the phone call abruptly ended. Angel stated she kept calling Victim's phone but it went straight to voicemail.

State's Exhibit 7 was a portion of Victim's cell phone record, and State's Exhibit 8 was a portion of Hopkins's cell phone record (collectively, the Cell Phone Records), both from the night of the murder.4 Each record listed the phone number associated with the record, its corresponding outgoing and incoming calls and text messages, the time and duration of those calls, whether the calls were forwarded to voicemail, and the cellphone tower and sector that connected the communication. State's Exhibit 9 was the record of a text message (the Text Message) sent from Hopkins's old cell phone number, which stated, "Dats done need to Holla at u."

During the direct examination of Karen Milbrodt, a senior analyst in Executive Relations and a records custodian for Verizon Wireless, Hopkins made a general objection to the introduction of the Cell Phone Records and the Text Message. A discussion was held off the record. On the record, the trial court stated, "The State seeks to admit a text message ," and the court noted Hopkins objected based on the Confrontation Clause and hearsay. (emphasis added). Hopkins conceded the authenticity of the Text Message. The trial court overruled Hopkins's objection, finding the Text Message (1) did not violate the Confrontation Clause, (2) was not hearsay because it was an admission of a party opponent, (3) in the alternative, met the exception for hearsay as a statement against interest, (4) was relevant, and (5) was not unfairly prejudicial. Following the court's ruling on Hopkins's hearsay objection, Hopkins reminded the court he had "a couple of other positions as far as why that language should not be admissible."5 (emphasis added). Hopkins argued the language in the Text Message was confusing and not relevant because (1) the State could not tie the language in the Text Message to its argument that the Text Message meant Hopkins killed Victim and (2) the State could not prove to whom the Text Message was sent.6 The trial court conveyed that Hopkins's concerns related to a potential inference from the evidence, which would go to the weight rather than admissibility of the evidence and would be for the jury to determine. Hopkins then argued the prejudice outweighed the probative value under Rule 403, SCRE, because the State was going to use it to say Hopkins carried out a "hit" on Victim without any evidence to support that assertion. The court stated the Text Message did not mention a "hit" and that any connection to the "hit" would be based upon an argument or an inference.

The next day, the court indicated it believed it only ruled on one exhibit, but the State clarified there were three exhibits. Hopkins agreed, and the Cell Phone Records and the Text Message were admitted into evidence. The court then turned to "a new issue" related to Hopkins's pretrial motion to exclude any testimony or evidence related to the cell phone sector analysis created by Dylan Hightower, an investigator for the State.7 The State sought to qualify Milbrodt as an expert to lay a foundation for Hightower's cell phone sector analysis and proffered her qualifications outside of the presence of the jury. The court found Milbrodt was not qualified to provide expert testimony on the use of cell phone towers but she was qualified as a records custodian. Hopkins did not object.

Milbrodt recited from the Cell Phone Records when asked which phone tower a call in the Cell Phone Records utilized. Milbrodt stated that if the Cell Phone Records showed two identical time stamps for an incoming call that meant the call was unanswered and forwarded to voicemail. Milbrodt testified that on the night of the murder, Victim's cell phone record indicated there were two answered incoming phone calls at 9:33 P.M. and 9:34 P.M. 8 She stated that a third incoming phone call came in at 9:37 P.M. , lasted twenty seconds, and utilized cell tower 216 and sector one alpha.9 Milbrodt testified Victim's cell phone record indicated every call made to his cell phone from 9:38 P.M. until 1:53 A.M. was forwarded to voicemail. Milbrodt also testified Hopkins's cell phone records indicated there was an outgoing call at 9:37 P.M. that utilized cell phone tower 216 and sector one alpha. Milbrodt further testified the Text Message record indicated it was sent from Hopkins's old cell phone number at 9:56 P.M. on the night of the murder. Hopkins did not object to any of the aforementioned testimony. When Hopkins asked Milbrodt whether a call would go to the next available towers if the usual tower was overloaded or not working, Milbrodt answered affirmatively; the State objected, and this objection was sustained.

Hopkins was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without the...

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4 cases
  • State v. Dent
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • November 8, 2023
    ... ...          In ... criminal cases, the appellate court reviews the underlying ... matter for an abuse of discretion, which occurs when the ... findings of the trial court lack evidentiary support or are ... controlled by an error of law. State v. Hopkins , 431 ... S.C. 560, 56869, 848 S.E.2d 368, 372 (Ct. App. 2020) ...           LAW/ANALYSIS ...           I ... Failure to Quash Indictments ...          Dent ... argues the trial court erred in failing to quash the ... ...
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    ...would tend to show a common scheme or plan by Mr. Morales." Consequently, the issue is preserved. See State v. Hopkins , 431 S.C. 560, 569, 848 S.E.2d 368, 372 (Ct. App. 2020) ("The failure to raise specific grounds for an objection will not prevent the appellate court from addressing an is......
  • State v. Dent
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    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
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    ...occurs when the findings of the trial court lack evidentiary support or are controlled by an error of law. State v. Hopkins , 431 S.C. 560, 568–69, 848 S.E.2d 368, 372 (Ct. App. 2020).LAW/ANALYSISDent contends the trial court erred in failing to charge the jury with the requested circumstan......
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    • August 19, 2020
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