State v. Huff, No. 372A87

Docket NºNo. 372A87
Citation325 N.C. 1, 381 S.E.2d 635
Case DateJuly 26, 1989
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

Page 635

381 S.E.2d 635
325 N.C. 1
STATE of North Carolina
v.
Everett Randolph HUFF.
No. 372A87.
Supreme Court of North Carolina.
July 26, 1989.

Page 640

Appeal by defendant pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-27(a) from convictions and judgments entered thereon imposing a sentence of death for the murder in the first degree of Crigger Huff and a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder in the first degree of Gail Strickland, entered by Brewer, J., at the 8 June 1987 Criminal Session of Superior Court, Cumberland County. Heard in the Supreme Court 13 December 1988.

[325 N.C. 10] Lacy H. Thornburg, Atty. Gen. by Steven F. Bryant, Asst. Atty. Gen., Raleigh, for the State.

James R. Parish and Gregory A. Weeks, Fayetteville, for defendant-appellant.

MEYER, Justice.

Defendant was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, both of them upon the theory of premeditation and deliberation. [325 N.C. 11] Conviction on the first count was for the murder of defendant's infant son, Crigger Huff. Conviction on the second count was for the murder of defendant's mother-in-law, Gail Strickland. The court submitted and the jury found two aggravating circumstances in the murder of Crigger Huff: that defendant had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use of violence to the person and that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. The court submitted and the jury found a single aggravating circumstance in the murder of Gail Strickland: that defendant had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use of violence to the person. In both cases, the court submitted the same twenty-four possible mitigating circumstances. The jury found the same two mitigating circumstances in both cases: that "[t]he capital felony was committed while the defendant was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance" and that "[d]efendant was under a great deal of stress at the time of the offenses." Upon the jury's recommendation, the trial court sentenced defendant to death for the murder of the infant, Crigger Huff, and to life imprisonment for the murder of Gail Strickland. We find no error.

The State's evidence tended to show the following:

On 1 January 1984 defendant and Debra Strickland were married in Boston, Massachusetts. Their son, Crigger Stephen Huff, was born eight days later in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Since the child was premature, he was transferred to North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill where he remained until the end of February. Defendant and his wife lived in Greensboro with her mother, Gail Strickland, until the baby's discharge from the hospital, at which time they returned to Fayetteville to live in a house owned by Mrs. Strickland in the Montclair subdivision.

In August 1984, Debra Huff, having enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, left Fayetteville for six weeks of basic training in San Antonio, Texas. Three or four weeks before she left, her mother, Gail Strickland, moved back to Fayetteville to live with defendant and Crigger and to help defendant care for the baby while Debra was away on military duty. Mrs. Strickland found a job as a surgical nurse at a local hospital.

On 25 October 1984, Dorothy Pate, Gail Strickland's co-worker, drove to Strickland's residence between 12:15 and 12:30 p.m. to see why she had not come to work at the hospital that morning. When no one answered Pate's knock at the front door, she looked [325 N.C. 12] through the screen door in the back and saw Gail Strickland lying on a sofa in front of a television, which was operating. Pate called her name, got no response, noticed blood on Gail Strickland's neck, and then left to call the emergency number and to wait in her car until a Cumberland County Sheriff's Deputy arrived.

Deputy Ronald Sykes reached the Strickland house at 12:37 p.m., shortly after an ambulance had arrived. The ambulance crew had already examined Gail Strickland and had determined that she was dead. She was found sitting with her head leaning back. There was an open wallet on the floor and a pocketbook on a chair. Deputy Sykes called for the homicide detectives

Page 641

and then went outside to keep onlookers away from the house. While Deputy Sykes was outside, defendant arrived. He told Sykes who he was and said he had come to the house because he had been told something was wrong.

On 26 October 1984, pathologist Fred Ginn performed an autopsy on Gail Strickland's body. One gunshot wound to the head had caused her death. The bullet had entered behind the left ear lobe and had traveled to the right side of her head, almost horizontally.

Detective Sergeant Robert Bittle of the Homicide Division arrived at the Strickland house about 1 p.m. on 25 October. In a canvass of the neighborhood, his team had discovered that Debra Strickland Huff was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and that Crigger and defendant had been staying with Gail Strickland. The next day they located defendant at his parents' house, also in the Montclair subdivision, and spoke with him. Defendant told detectives that he and his mother-in-law had had a disagreement on 24 October. She had gotten mad at him when she discovered that he had gone through her closet looking for letters Debra Huff had written; she had asked him to leave, had helped him to pack, and he had left for his father's house. He said he had not seen Gail Strickland since 4 or 5 p.m. on 24 October. He told detectives that Crigger was staying with friends.

On 26 October, detectives kept the defendant under surveillance. They saw him walking in the Montclair neighborhood, making several trips between his parents' house and a neighborhood store.

Shortly after 7 p.m. on 26 October, Detective Bittle, after receiving a call from defendant's father, Everett Huff, Sr., went to his house. Defendant was there, seated at the dining room table [325 N.C. 13] with his back to the wall, banging his head against it and crying, "He's dead, he's dead!" He was hysterical and in tears. Emergency medical technicians who were called to examine defendant found his blood pressure elevated, but no treatment was required.

About twenty minutes later, defendant stood and told Detective Bittle: "I will show you." Bittle understood defendant to mean that he would show the officers the location of the baby's body. Defendant led the investigative team behind the house and about 500-600 yards along some railroad tracks. It was about 8 p.m. and getting dark. Defendant pointed to a trail and said, "the grave is at the end." The detectives looked fruitlessly for a few minutes, then defendant pointed out a spot covered over with leaves and twigs. He cleared away the leaves and twigs from an oval-shaped area of recently turned dirt in the hard ground. Two of the officers began digging. About eighteen inches down, the officers found the body of Crigger Huff. The infant's left hand covered his face and mouth. The emergency medical team member present confirmed that the child was dead, and that he had been dead for some time.

Defendant was arrested, charged with both murders, and jailed that night.

Several days later, the police searched the area around the residence of Everett Huff, Sr. Hidden in a doghouse, they found the rifle later determined to be the one with which Gail Strickland had been shot. They also found a spade in the brush near the grave, which defendant said he had used to bury the child.

On 11 February 1985, defendant told a jailer that he wanted to speak to a detective, and the jailer contacted Detective Bruce Daws, the Chief Homicide Investigator. Daws came to the jail, assumed custody of defendant, took him to the homicide office and advised defendant of his Miranda rights, which defendant waived in writing. Then defendant gave Detective Daws and Detective Bittle a nineteen-page statement in which he told the officers that he had killed Crigger Huff and Gail Strickland.

Detective Bittle read defendant's lengthy statement into the record at the trial. In the statement, defendant explained that he had first met Debra Strickland outside her house in the Montclair subdivision. Since she was living in Greensboro and came

Page 642

back to Fayetteville only on weekends, he asked her to go out the next weekend. They started dating and had sexual relations. [325 N.C. 14] After they had been seeing each other for a few weeks, Debra went to Texas to take part in a skating competition. When she returned, she told defendant that she was pregnant. He asked her if the child was his; she said that it was, and they planned to marry in January 1984 when Debra was to move back to Fayetteville. Defendant offered Debra money for an abortion, explaining that "I had a doubt in my mind about it being my baby," but she refused it.

After the two were married, defendant related, "things were rough" financially. When Debra was pregnant she thought she did not have to work, but defendant talked with her about going into the Air Force since she had a college degree and since fringe benefits were available for the family. Debra did not want to enlist at first, but finally agreed. For his part, defendant got a job first at the pizza parlor and later at the bowling alley at Pope Air Force Base. Defendant and Debra's relationship was also "rough." Defendant stated that their conversations turned into arguments about other men defendant believed could have fathered the child. He said that Debra would not look at him when he talked to her, did not like to go out with him, and did not like defendant's going out with his brother to drink beer and smoke marijuana. Faced with these problems, he asked himself, "why did I marry her?"

Defendant described a visit that their family made to Debra's mother, Gail Strickland, who was, according to defendant, "living with a bisexual." During the visit, the housemate grabbed Debra on the behind. Although Debra was unperturbed, defendant confronted her...

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97 practice notes
  • State v. Williams, No. 278A99.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • June 28, 2002
    ...(1981). Whether such a connection exists so that the offenses may be joined for trial is a fully reviewable question of law. State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 22, 381 S.E.2d 635, 647 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990). Once the trial co......
  • State v. Anderson, No. 60A97.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 9, 1999
    ...`killing betrays the trust that a baby has for its primary caregiver.'" Flippen, 349 N.C. at 270, 506 S.E.2d at 706 (quoting State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 56, 381 S.E.2d 635, 667 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990)). Tabitha was only......
  • State v. Golphin, No. 441A98.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • August 25, 2000
    ..."inherent mitigating content," we have previously rejected these claims. See Hill, 331 N.C. at 418, 417 S.E.2d at 780; State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 58-61, 381 S.E.2d 635, 668-70 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990); State v. Fullwood......
  • State v. Atkins
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 9, 1998
    ...mandate serves to safeguard both defendant's and society's interests in reliability in the imposition of capital punishment. State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 30, 381 S.E.2d 635, 651 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990). This constitution......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
97 cases
  • State v. Williams, No. 278A99.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • June 28, 2002
    ...(1981). Whether such a connection exists so that the offenses may be joined for trial is a fully reviewable question of law. State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 22, 381 S.E.2d 635, 647 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990). Once the trial co......
  • State v. Anderson, No. 60A97.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 9, 1999
    ...`killing betrays the trust that a baby has for its primary caregiver.'" Flippen, 349 N.C. at 270, 506 S.E.2d at 706 (quoting State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 56, 381 S.E.2d 635, 667 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990)). Tabitha was only......
  • State v. Golphin, No. 441A98.
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • August 25, 2000
    ..."inherent mitigating content," we have previously rejected these claims. See Hill, 331 N.C. at 418, 417 S.E.2d at 780; State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 58-61, 381 S.E.2d 635, 668-70 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990); State v. Fullwood......
  • State v. Atkins
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 9, 1998
    ...mandate serves to safeguard both defendant's and society's interests in reliability in the imposition of capital punishment. State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 30, 381 S.E.2d 635, 651 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 110 S.Ct. 3266, 111 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990). This constitution......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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