State v. Jenkins, 28089

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtFEW, JUSTICE
PartiesThe State, Respondent, v. Jerome Jenkins Jr., Appellant.
Decision Date06 April 2022
Docket Number28089,Appellate Case 2019-001280

The State, Respondent,
v.

Jerome Jenkins Jr., Appellant.

No. 28089

Appellate Case No. 2019-001280

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 6, 2022


Heard October 12, 2021

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

Appeal from Horry County Robert E. Hood, Circuit Court Judge

Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, Kathrine Haggard Hudgins, and Adam Sinclair Ruffin, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody Jane Brown, and Senior Assistant Attorney General William Edgar Salter III, of Columbia, for Respondent.

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FEW, JUSTICE

Jerome Jenkins Jr. was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery. An Horry County jury sentenced Jenkins to death on the murder charge. This opinion consolidates Jenkins' direct appeal and our mandatory review of his death sentence under section 16-3-25 of the South Carolina Code (2015). We affirm.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On January 2, 2015, James Daniels entered the Sunhouse convenience store at the intersection of Highway 905 and Red Bluff Road in Longs, South Carolina, on the pretense of buying a bottle of lemonade. James' actual purpose was to scout the store for Jerome Jenkins and James' brother McKinley Daniels to rob it. Minutes after James left the store, Jenkins and McKinley entered, masked and armed with pistols. They first encountered Jimmy McZeke, who worked at the store. Jenkins and McKinley fired at McZeke, but both missed. McZeke then ran into the bathroom at the back of the store and locked the door. Jenkins followed McZeke and shot at him through the bathroom door. The gunshots shattered several glass bottles, and the shattered glass cut McZeke on his head.

McKinley stayed at the front of the store where the store clerk-Bala Paruchuri- stood behind the cash register. McKinley pointed his pistol at Paruchuri, went behind the counter, and robbed Paruchuri of the money in the register. Jenkins quickly returned to the front of the store. As he and McKinley left the store, both shot Paruchuri. According to the store's video security system that recorded the entire sequence, Jenkins and McKinley were in the store for thirty-seven seconds. Paruchuri died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds.

The State charged Jenkins with murder of Paruchuri, attempted murder of McZeke, and armed robbery, and sought the death penalty for the murder charge. During defense counsel's opening statement in the guilt phase of trial, Jenkins admitted his guilt, stating through counsel, "Let me say this to you. I listened to the Solicitor's presentation, and a lot of what he said is true. I will tell you this right up front, straight up: Jerome Jenkins is guilty. . . . He's guilty of the charges that the State has brought against him." The jury found Jenkins guilty of all three charges, and after the twenty-four-hour mandatory waiting period, the case proceeded to the sentencing phase of trial.

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During the sentencing phase, the State introduced evidence that Jenkins and the Daniels brothers robbed two additional convenience stores-one Scotchman and a second Sunhouse-within hours of each other on January 25, 2015, three weeks after the first Sunhouse robbery and murder. As in the first Sunhouse robbery and murder, James scouted each store minutes before Jenkins and McKinley entered wearing masks and armed with pistols. In the course of the robbery of the second Sunhouse store, Jenkins shot and killed the store clerk Trisha Stull.[1]

Also during the sentencing phase, the State introduced Jenkins' prior convictions for burglary in the second degree and grand larceny in 2011, and for distribution of cocaine in 2013. The State also presented a written summary of Jenkins' twenty-six disciplinary infractions in pre-trial detention in South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) as evidence of Jenkins' future dangerousness. Witnesses testified to several specific instances, including Jenkins throwing "unknown liquids" on correctional officers, cutting an officer with a sharp object, assaulting an officer and threatening to kill him, throwing a metal object at an officer, throwing feces in an officer's face, and throwing a homemade knife at an officer and threatening to kill another one of the officers. The jury heard that all of this conduct occurred while the State held Jenkins as a "safekeeper" in SCDC pending trial, but the jury did not hear the reasons Jenkins was held at SCDC instead of the county jail.[2]

Jenkins called two SCDC officers to testify they had not had any disciplinary issues with Jenkins. Jenkins also presented witnesses testifying-among other things- Jenkins had three young children, was a "respectful guy," and was "vulnerable to the

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influence of others" because he was "very immature."[3] Dr. Donna Maddox-an expert in forensic psychiatry-diagnosed Jenkins with several mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, an unspecified depressive disorder, and a substance abuse disorder. Dr. Maddox also testified Jenkins was "under the influence" of McKinley or James.

The trial court charged the jury on two statutory aggravating circumstances: the defendant committed the murder while in the commission of robbery while armed with a deadly weapon and the defendant committed the murder while in the commission of larceny while armed with a deadly weapon.[4] Additionally, the trial court charged five statutory mitigating circumstances[5] to the jury.

The jury unanimously found both statutory aggravating circumstances existed and sentenced Jenkins to death for the murder of Bala Paruchuri. The trial court sentenced Jenkins to thirty years in prison for attempted murder and thirty years in prison for armed robbery but did not indicate whether the sentences were consecutive or concurrent.

II. Analysis

Under our mandatory duty to review a sentence of death, we must "consider the punishment as well as any errors by way of appeal." § 16-3-25(B). We first address the seven errors Jenkins alleges the trial court made and then review the death sentence as required by section 16-3-25.

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A. Sentencing by Court on a Guilty Plea

The first error Jenkins alleges on appeal is the trial court denied him the right to plead guilty and be sentenced by a jury. As Jenkins acknowledges, however, subsection 16-3-20(B) of the South Carolina Code (2015) requires that when a capital defendant pleads guilty to murder, he must be sentenced by the trial court and must not be sentenced by a jury. Jenkins initially states this issue as whether the trial court "erred by refusing to declare the state's death penalty statute, SC Code § 16-3-20(B), unconstitutional to the extent it mandates that the sentencer is the judge and not a jury." We have repeatedly addressed this very argument, and on each occasion, we held this subsection is constitutional. See State v. Downs, 361 S.C. 141, 146-47, 604 S.E.2d 377, 380 (2004) (holding a defendant is not deprived of his right to a trial by jury when he pleads guilty because-as a predicate to pleading guilty-he must voluntarily waive his right to a jury trial on both guilt and sentencing; distinguishing Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002)); see also State v. Allen, 386 S.C. 93, 102, 687 S.E.2d 21, 25 (2009) (same); State v. Crisp, 362 S.C. 412, 418-19, 608 S.E.2d 429, 433 (2005) (same); State v. Wood, 362 S.C. 135, 143, 607 S.E.2d 57, 61 (2004) (same).

Jenkins argues the Supreme Court's 2016 decision in Hurst v. Florida, 577 U.S. 92, 136 S.Ct. 616, 193 L.Ed.2d 504 (2016), requires that a jury impose the sentence in all capital cases, effectively overruling Allen, Crisp, Wood, and Downs. In Hurst, the Supreme Court stated, "The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death." 577 U.S. at 94, 136 S.Ct. at 619, 193 L.Ed.2d at 508. Hurst is distinguishable from this case, however, for the same reason we distinguished Ring v. Arizona in Allen, Crisp, Wood, and Downs. Hurst dealt with a Florida statute under which "the jury renders an 'advisory sentence' of life or death," after which, "Notwithstanding the recommendation of a majority of the jury, the [trial] court . . . shall enter a sentence of life imprisonment or death." 577 U.S. at 95-96, 136 S.Ct. at 620, 193 L.Ed.2d at 509 (quoting Fla. Stat. § 921.141(2)-(3) (Supp. 2012)). The Florida procedure applied even in cases in which the defendant exercised his right to a trial by jury. As we explained in Allen, Crisp, Wood, and Downs, the situation is different when the defendant makes a valid waiver of his right to a trial by jury as a predicate to pleading guilty. See, e.g., Crisp, 362 S.C. at 418-19, 608 S.E.2d at 433 ("The constitutionality of Section 16-3-20(B) . . . rests . . . on whether the statute comports with the right to a jury trial as established by this Court and the United States Supreme Court in interpreting the state and federal constitutions."); Downs, 361 S.C. at 146, 604 S.E.2d at 380

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("Ring did not involve jury-trial waivers and is not implicated when a defendant pleads guilty."). Thus, we disagree Hurst has any impact on Allen, Crisp, Wood, or Downs. We once more affirm the constitutionality of the subsection 16-3-20(B) requirement that a capital defendant who pleads guilty to murder must be sentenced by the trial court.

Jenkins' more precise and compelling argument, however, is based on a particular discussion the trial court had with him during a pre-trial hearing on March 7, 2019, nine weeks before trial. The trial court conducted the hearing without the Solicitor present pursuant to subsection 16-3-26(B)(1) and (C)(1) of the South Carolina Code (2015).[6] As the hearing concluded, the trial court and Jenkins joked with each other about Jenkins' move from SCDC back to the county jail in preparation for trial. Jenkins...

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