State v. Malone-Bullock, COA20-334

Docket NºNo. COA20-334
Citation863 S.E.2d 659, 278 N.C.App. 736
Case DateAugust 03, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)

278 N.C.App. 736
863 S.E.2d 659

STATE of North Carolina
v.
Ramon Davaul MALONE-BULLOCK

No. COA20-334

Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Filed August 3, 2021


Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Patrick S. Wooten, for the State.

Glover & Petersen, P.A., Chapel Hill, by James R. Glover, for defendant-appellant.

ZACHARY, Judge.

¶ 1 Defendant Ramon Davaul Malone-Bullock appeals from a judgment entered upon a jury's verdict finding him guilty of first-degree murder. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred by overruling Defendant's objections to lay-witness opinion testimony. Defendant also argues that the trial court committed plain error by permitting the State to elicit testimony from a detective regarding Defendant's post-arrest silence. While we agree that the trial court erred by overruling Defendant's objections to impermissible lay-witness opinion testimony, we conclude that the error did not prejudice Defendant. We further conclude that the trial court did not err by allowing the prosecutor to question the detective regarding Defendant's statements to law enforcement officers following his arrest. Therefore, after careful

863 S.E.2d 662

review, we conclude that Defendant received a trial free from prejudicial error.

I. Background

¶ 2 The State's witnesses at Defendant's trial testified to the following: On the afternoon of 1 April 2017, Defendant attended a child's birthday party on Lincoln Street in Wilson, North Carolina, with his girlfriend, Jatoria Grice, and his friend, Devanta Battle. After the birthday party was over, some of the attendees went down the street to the home of Veronika Locus and began to play cards. A dispute over the card game arose between Defendant and Harry Beecher, and they got into a fistfight. Defendant told Mr. Beecher, "I'm going to kill you" and "you better not be here when I get back," and additionally threatened that "he was going to f*** him up[.]" Defendant then left with Ms. Grice in her car. Ms. Locus and Mr. Battle told Mr. Beecher to leave as well, but he did not.

¶ 3 When they left Ms. Locus's house, Defendant drove Ms. Grice's car; she testified that "[h]e drove really fast, like ... 120" miles per hour, despite her request that he slow down. After Defendant ran a red light, Ms. Grice told him to stop the car. Defendant pulled over at a gas station, and Ms. Grice exited the car. Defendant drove off in the direction of his grandfather's house, where he was residing at the time.

¶ 4 Shortly thereafter, Defendant returned to Ms. Locus's house. When Mr. Beecher saw Defendant, Mr. Beecher repeatedly said, "I'm going to get him now." As Mr. Beecher started to walk toward Defendant, Defendant shot him and then left. Mr. Battle, Alex Umstead, and Elliot Santiago witnessed the shooting. Mr. Beecher died at the scene.

¶ 5 Defendant's cousin, William Saxton, testified for the State at Defendant's trial. He testified that on the morning of 1 April 2017, he and Defendant used Mr. Saxton's gun to practice target shooting in the yard. Defendant asked if he could buy the gun from Mr. Saxton; Mr. Saxton refused, but allowed Defendant to borrow it. The gun had six bullets in the cartridge when Defendant took it. When Defendant returned the gun to Mr. Saxton the next day, 2 April 2017, the cartridge was empty.

¶ 6 Defendant's account at trial differed from that of the State's witnesses. In his opening statement, Defendant's counsel asserted that he "expect[ed] the evidence to be clear that William Saxton ... pull[ed] the trigger on that gun that killed" Mr. Beecher. Defendant testified that, after letting Ms. Grice out of the car at the gas station, he drove to Mr. Saxton's home, which was near Defendant's residence. He told Mr. Saxton about the fight with Mr. Beecher, and Mr. Saxton "got real mad [that Mr. Beecher] put his hands on" Defendant. Mr. Saxton said, "I'm going to show you how to handle stuff." Defendant testified that Mr. Saxton dropped off Defendant at the home of someone named "Old School" with whom Defendant gambled until Mr. Saxton returned. Defendant then asked Mr. Saxton what happened, and Mr. Saxton responded that "he handled that and don't ask him all these crazy questions." Defendant testified that he did not shoot Mr. Beecher, and that his "gut" told him that Mr. Saxton did.

¶ 7 Defendant was arrested on 15 December 2017 on the charge of first-degree murder for the death of Mr. Beecher. When detectives spoke with Defendant upon his arrest, Defendant told them that he did not shoot Mr. Beecher and he did not know who did.

¶ 8 Mr. Battle testified at trial to circumstances after the shooting. In February of 2018, defense counsel received discovery from the State. The discovery included the videotape of a December 2017 interview of Mr. Saxton, in which he told law enforcement officers that he had lent Defendant his gun from 1 to 2 April 2017. Mr. Battle testified that Defendant phoned him in May 2018, after Defendant became aware of the Saxton videotape:

Basically [Defendant] mad like.... [S]o I asked him like, Elliot [Santiago] told me about Saxton. He like, yeah, blah, blah, blah, Saxton ain't right. ... He was like how you going to tell on me; you the one that gave him the gun.... I ain't got nothing to prove but I know it's him; like I know it's him, got to be him. That's what
863 S.E.2d 663
he kept saying; got to be him, bro, I need you.

Mr. Battle then testified that Defendant told him, "You need to get rid of Saxton[,]" which Mr. Battle understood to mean, "Kill him." Defendant and Mr. Battle then planned the killing of Mr. Saxton.

¶ 9 On 20 May 2018, Mr. Battle called Mr. Saxton and arranged a meeting. Mr. Battle picked up Mr. Saxton, with Mr. Battle's friend, Sabrina Presley, driving the car. Mr. Battle instructed her to turn onto a dead-end road and stop at a stop sign. When she did, Mr. Battle shot Mr. Saxton in the face. Mr. Saxton quickly exited the car and ran toward the woods; Mr. Battle jumped out after him and shot him again in the back. Mr. Saxton hid in the woods, and ultimately survived his injuries.

¶ 10 Afterward, Mr. Battle spoke to Defendant by phone again and told him, "boy got away, bro." Mr. Battle testified that Defendant sounded "disappointed" to hear this news.

¶ 11 On 16 July 2018, a Wilson County grand jury returned an indictment charging Defendant with first-degree murder in the death of Mr. Beecher. Following a trial, on 16 August 2019, the jury returned a verdict finding Defendant guilty of first-degree murder. The trial court entered judgment upon the verdict and sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

¶ 12 Defendant gave notice of appeal in open court.

II. Discussion

¶ 13 Defendant raises two arguments on appeal. First, Defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his objections to two instances of improper lay-witness opinion testimony. Second, he argues that the trial court committed plain error by permitting the State to elicit testimony from Detective Justin Godwin regarding Defendant's post-arrest silence. We address each argument in turn. After careful review, we conclude that the trial court did not commit prejudicial error by allowing the lay-witness opinion testimony, and that the trial court did not err by permitting the State to question Det. Godwin regarding Defendant's statement upon his arrest.

A. Admission of Lay-Witness Opinion Testimony

¶ 14 At trial, Mr. Battle testified, over Defendant's objection, that he believed that, after Defendant left Ms. Grice at the gas station, he was driving to Mr. Saxton's house because he knew that Mr. Saxton had guns. Defendant argues that the trial court erred by permitting Mr. Battle to testify to his opinion regarding where Defendant was driving or why.

¶ 15 In addition, Mr. Saxton testified, over Defendant's objection, that he believed that Defendant had set him up to be shot by Mr. Battle. Defendant argues that the trial court erred by permitting Mr. Saxton to speculate as to whether Defendant planned Mr. Saxton's shooting.

¶ 16 We agree that the trial court erred by admitting each of these lay-witness opinions; however, because the State presented ample other evidence upon which the jury could have relied in finding Defendant guilty of first-degree murder, we conclude that these errors were not prejudicial.

1. Standard of Review

¶ 17 Defendant objected to both Mr. Battle's and Mr. Saxton's testimony at trial; we therefore review the trial court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. State v. Belk , 201 N.C. App. 412, 417, 689 S.E.2d 439, 442 (2009), disc. review denied , 364 N.C. 129, 695 S.E.2d 761 (2010). "In determining whether a criminal defendant is prejudiced by the erroneous admission of evidence, the question is whether there is a reasonable possibility that, had the evidence not been admitted, the jury would have reached a different verdict." State v. Shaw , 106 N.C. App. 433, 441, 417 S.E.2d 262, 267, disc. review denied , 333 N.C. 170, 424 S.E.2d 914 (1992).

2. Analysis

¶ 18 Rule 701 of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 practice notes
  • Nielson v. Schmoke, COA 20-701
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • 3 Agosto 2021
    ...more than a mere procedural device for the collection of the foreign judgment. We feel that registration provides, so far as enforcement 863 S.E.2d 659 is concerned, the equivalent of a new judgment of the registration court.").¶ 23 For his part, Defendant contends we need not look to other......
  • State v. Mason, COA22-216
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • 18 Octubre 2022
    ...possibility that, had the evidence not been admitted, 18 the jury would have reached a different verdict." State v. Malone-Bullock, 278 N.C.App. 736, 2021-NCCOA-406, ¶ 17 (citation omitted), disc. review denied, 379 N.C. 682, 865 S.E.2d 863 (2021). "Further, if certain evidence is admitted ......
  • State v. Moore, COA22-220
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • 1 Noviembre 2022
    ...possibility that, had the evidence not been admitted, the jury would have reached a different verdict." State v. Malone-Bullock, 278 N.C.App. 736, 2021-NCCOA-406, ¶ 27 (citation omitted). ¶ 27 During Snow's testimony, the following colloquy took place: STATE: Regarding the discussions that ......
2 cases
  • Nielson v. Schmoke, COA 20-701
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • 3 Agosto 2021
    ...more than a mere procedural device for the collection of the foreign judgment. We feel that registration provides, so far as enforcement 863 S.E.2d 659 is concerned, the equivalent of a new judgment of the registration court.").¶ 23 For his part, Defendant contends we need not look to other......
  • State v. Mason, COA22-216
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • 18 Octubre 2022
    ...possibility that, had the evidence not been admitted, 18 the jury would have reached a different verdict." State v. Malone-Bullock, 278 N.C.App. 736, 2021-NCCOA-406, ¶ 17 (citation omitted), disc. review denied, 379 N.C. 682, 865 S.E.2d 863 (2021). "Further, if certain evidence is admitted ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT