State v. Lemons, 377A95.

Citation501 S.E.2d 309
Decision Date09 July 1998
Docket NumberNo. 377A95.,377A95.
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Edward LEMONS.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General by John G. Barnwell and Teresa L. Harris, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State.

Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr., Appellate Defender by Janine C. Fodor, Assistant Appellate Defender, Durham, for defendant-appellant. ORR, Justice.

This case arises out of the shooting deaths of Margaret Strickland and Bobby Gene Stroud. On 5 July 1994, defendant was indicted for two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of armed robbery, and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and murder. Prior to trial, the State took a voluntary dismissal of the conspiracy charge. Defendant was tried before a jury, and on 11 August 1995, the jury found defendant guilty of all remaining charges. Following a capital sentencing proceeding, based upon the jury's finding defendant guilty of both murders on the basis of premeditation and deliberation and the felony murder theory, the jury recommended sentences of death for each of the murder convictions. In accordance with the jury's recommendation, the trial court entered two sentences of death. The trial court additionally sentenced defendant to forty years' imprisonment for each of the first-degree kidnapping convictions and for each of the armed robbery convictions, to be served consecutively to each other and concurrently with the sentences of death.

After consideration of the assignments of error brought forward on appeal by defendant and a thorough review of the transcript of the proceedings, the record on appeal, the briefs, and oral arguments, we conclude that defendant received a fair trial, free from prejudicial error.

At trial, the State's evidence tended to show the following: On the night of 21 January 1994, defendant was playing cards with Edna Raynor at her house. While at Raynor's, defendant's cousin, James Leggett, phoned defendant and told him that he and Kwame Teague were on their way to pick defendant up. When they arrived, defendant got into the car with Leggett and Teague, and they drove off. According to defendant, when he asked where the car came from, Teague said to "ask the people in the back." When defendant asked "if there was someone in there," referring to the trunk, he heard a man moan.

The three men then proceeded to a field near Rollingwood subdivision in Wayne County. Upon reaching the field, the two victims, Strickland and Stroud, were ordered out of the trunk at gunpoint and forced to strip. Stroud was then shot three times with a .25-caliber pistol, and Strickland was shot three times with a .32-caliber pistol. Subsequently, Leggett, Teague, and defendant went to the home of Bernice Lemons, defendant's aunt, where they spent the night.

The next day, the bodies of the victims were discovered in a field near Rollingwood Drive. Bobby Ray Kelly, a special deputy for the Sheriff's Department, arrived at the scene within approximately twelve to fifteen minutes of being notified of a possible shooting. Once there, Deputy Kelly secured the area and waited for additional help.

Subsequently, the bodies were identified as those of Bobby Gene Stroud and Margaret Strickland. Dr. Debra Radish, an expert in the field of pathology, performed the autopsy on Stroud. Dr. Radish testified that there were three separate gunshot wounds to Stroud's body. In Dr. Radish's opinion, Stroud "most likely" died five to ten minutes after suffering from a gunshot wound that entered his body in the left anterior temple and exited on the right of the anterior or front midline. The wound track was "from left to right through the brain slightly upward from the front to the back of his head." In Dr. Radish's opinion, "the cause of death in this case was due to [a] gunshot wound of the head."

Dr. Karen Chancellor, also an expert in the field of forensic pathology, performed the autopsy on Strickland. Although Strickland was shot three times, the bullets inflicted four wounds because one of them entered through her right forearm and struck her in the chest. One gunshot wound was above Strickland's left ear. In Dr. Chancellor's opinion, the gun was held no farther than one or two inches from Strickland's head when this wound was inflicted. Dr. Chancellor concluded that Strickland died from the "gunshot wound to the head and to the chest."

Ten days after the murders, on 31 January 1994, defendant assaulted and shot James Taylor in Taylor's home. Taylor's wound, however, was not fatal. Ballistics tests established that the gun which was used in the Taylor assault was also used in the Strickland murder. On the same day as the Taylor assault, defendant was arrested.

After being informed of his Miranda rights, defendant made several statements to police. In his final statement, defendant told the police that he was at Edna Raynor's house when Leggett and Teague phoned and told him that they were on their way to pick him up. Defendant stated that once they arrived,

[he] asked where the car came from. Kwame said ask the people in the back. I turned around and said, yo, is someone in there. I heard a man moan. I said, man, you are bull shitting me. I said what's up. Kwame said make sure your prints ain't in this car. I looked and Kwame and Larry both had on white rubber gloves. Kwame drove for a little ways and stopped in a field with hills of dirt and tall weed.

According to defendant, Kwame then got the victims out of the car and ordered them to undress. Defendant stated that

Kwame pulled the man's pants off. The man took his own shirt off. The woman had pulled off, pulled all her clothes off. She was squatted on the ground. The man was lying on his side. Kwame grabbed the man and said, I am fixing to do him. Kwame shot him in the back of the head more than once. The woman started screaming and started running. Larry shot up in the air and ran and caught the woman. Larry made her lie, correction, Larry made her lay on the ground. She sat on her butt. Kwame asked her if she knew him. She stuttered. She hesitated. Kwame said, do her, Larry. Do her. Larry shot her in the back of the head. She started treating [sic] to get up. Larry slung her on the ground and shot her again in the side of the head. He shot her again in the stomach. We got back in the car.

The defendant also presented evidence during the guilt phase. Denio Edwards, a friend of defendant's, testified that he was with defendant, Jerry Newsome, and others at James Taylor's house on 30 January 1994. He testified that he heard defendant say that he had "made a lick against two white people for several thousand dollars" but that he did not hear defendant say he had killed two white people. Defendant testified that on 21 January 1994, Edna Raynor took him to her house, where he played cards and had one mixed drink. Defendant's testimony concerning the events on the night of 21 January 1994 mirror his statement to law enforcement officers as set out above. Defendant admitted that he lied to law enforcement officers in his first statement when he said that he did not get into the car with Teague and Leggett. He also admitted that he tried to get Raynor to provide him with an alibi and that she refused. He denied, however, that he planned the kidnapping and robbery of Stroud and Strickland and asserted that the only person he shot was James Taylor.

During the sentencing phase, defendant presented several witnesses who testified regarding defendant's family background and upbringing. Defendant also presented the testimony of James Davis and Antoine Dixon. The trial court allowed their testimony after both Leggett and Teague asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Davis, Leggett's cellmate in the Wayne County jail, testified that Leggett told him that he, Teague, and defendant "robbed somebody in the woods." He also stated that Leggett told him that Teague shot the man and that Leggett shot the woman in the back of her head.

Dixon testified that during February and March 1994, he was in jail with Leggett. According to Dixon, Leggett said that during the robbery, defendant started "hitting the man with his fists." Dixon further testified that Leggett said that Teague shot the man, and then he, Leggett, shot the woman in the head twice.

In rebuttal, the State presented the testimony of Sergeant Ken Taylor. Taylor testified that in Leggett's first statement to the police, he denied any involvement in the kidnappings, robberies, and murders. In his second statement, Leggett admitted involvement but stated that it was defendant who had shot the gun. Detective George Raecher also testified concerning a statement that Teague made to the police. In the statement, Teague admitted involvement in the crimes but denied actually firing the gun. Instead, Teague claimed that defendant "shot the man while he was laying [sic] on the ground." Teague further stated that as he ran off, he heard several more shots.

I.

On appeal, defendant first contends that his constitutional right to be present at every stage of his capital trial was violated. Specifically, defendant contends that this right was violated when (a) the jurors took their oath outside of defendant's presence, and (b) the clerk spoke with prospective jurors outside of defendant's presence. Defendant argues that these incidents violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 23 of the North Carolina Constitution. We do not agree.

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution guarantee the right of a criminal defendant to be present at every critical stage of his trial. State v. Buchanan, 330 N.C. 202, 208, 410 S.E.2d 832, 836 (1991). Our Court has interpreted the North Carolina Constitution as...

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