State v. Morgan

Citation596 SE 2d 244
Decision Date03 December 2004
Docket NumberNo. 182A00,182A00
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

596 SE 2d 244


No. 182A00

Supreme Court of North Carolina

Filed December 3, 2004

Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by David Roy Blackwell, Special Deputy Attorney General, and Robert C. Montgomery, Assistant Attorney General, for the State.

David G. Belser for defendant-appellant.

EDMUNDS, Justice.

On 5 January 1998, defendant James Lewis Morgan was indicted for the murder of Patrina Lynette King (King). He was convicted of first-degree murder on the basis of premeditation and deliberation. Following a capital sentencing proceeding, the jury recommended a sentence of death, and the trial court entered judgment accordingly.

The State's evidence at trial showed that defendant and his nephew, Kenneth Cato (Cato), were living at 13 Ridge Street in Asheville. On the evening of 25 November 1997, Cato arrived home around midnight to find defendant and King sitting in the living room. They appeared to him to have been smoking crack cocaine, and Cato heard defendant tell King that he wanted a"head job." When King refused and tried to depart, defendant started shouting and smacked her. Defendant also grabbed a beer bottle by the neck, threatened Cato with it, and ordered him to leave. Although Cato stepped out of the room, defendant continued hitting King. Cato told defendant to stop, then reentered the room and began to wrestle with defendant. During their struggle, defendant hit Cato on the head with the beer bottle, then chased Cato outside and around a vehicle parked on Ridge Street. According to Cato, defendant was holding a knife during the chase. Meanwhile, King emerged from the house and started down the street. When defendant began to follow her, Cato ran for help to the home of defendant's brother, Richard Morgan (Rick), about a half mile away.

The two drove back to Ridge Street, where Cato saw a broken bottle in the street and King lying between two cars. Rick knocked on the door of Stacey Miller's home at 12 Ridge Street and asked him to call 911. Unable to comply because he did not have a telephone, Miller stepped outside to see what was happening. Defendant returned to the scene, carrying a knife. Miller saw defendant, Rick, and Cato standing together, engaged in conversation. Defendant said, "You-all are the reason why this happened to me," and chased Cato around the car shouting either "I'll kill you, too" or "I should have killed you." Someone called 911, and defendant walked away when police arrived at the scene.

Shortly before 2:00 a.m. on 26 November 1997, Sergeant Mike Hahn of the Asheville Police Department, driving a ChevroletBlazer, responded to a call requesting police assistance on Ridge Street. As Sergeant Hahn approached the scene, he observed a black male in dark clothing walking in the opposite direction. Sergeant Hahn then came upon a Chevrolet Monte Carlo parked on the wrong side of the road. He exited his vehicle and found King lying on her stomach with her shoulders and head under the rear of the Monte Carlo. Her jeans and underwear were pulled down and a sheet or curtain partially covered her body. The entire area behind the car was covered with blood and broken glass, although no knife was found at the scene. As Sergeant Hahn began to assess King's condition, he noticed Cato and Rick and heard Cato say, "You just drove right by him." EMS personnel arrived at the scene and King was transported to a nearby hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery in an unsuccessful attempt to save her life.

Forest Weaver, a detective in the Criminal Investigations Division of the Asheville Police Department, went to Ridge Street around 9:00 a.m. on 26 November 1997. He found defendant hiding in the basement of 20 Ridge Street. Once defendant emerged, he was handcuffed and transported to the Asheville Police Department.

Willie Albert Jones, an inmate at the Buncombe County Jail, shared dormitory space in the jail with defendant. Jones testified that defendant told everyone in earshot about the murder, saying the victim used his drugs but would not give him sex. Defendant also wrote and sang a rap song about the murder. Jones recalled that the words of the song were "You shouldn'thave done what you done . . . smoke my rock, wouldn't give me none, you know, and I went and did what I did . . . I told you once, I told you twice, that you are going to have to pay the sacrifice . . . with your life." Another inmate, Eddie Oglesby, similarly testified that defendant sang about the killing and told Oglesby that he slashed the victim. According to Oglesby, defendant told him that the victim would not give him oral sex after smoking defendant's cocaine and that, in frustration, defendant hit the victim on the back of the head with a bottle and stabbed her.

Donald Jason, M.D., the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on King, testified that she suffered a total of forty-eight wounds to the face, head, back, buttocks, and upper back of her legs. Dr. Jason was of the opinion that King bled to death because of multiple stab and incised wounds caused by "a sharp object. These wounds are not consistent with typical knife wounds. They are all different sizes, shapes, irregular, fairly shallow. But some other type of sharp object such as something made out of glass that has a broken, sharp edge, or broken sharp edges of varying sizes and shapes."

Defendant testified on his own behalf and claimed that he acted in self-defense. According to defendant, he and King drank beer and smoked cocaine the evening of 25 November 1997. When Cato arrived later that evening, he gave defendant some crumbs of crack cocaine. King, who wanted more, began "screaming and hollering" when defendant declined to share the crumbs. Cato offered to let King use his pipe, and then both she and Catoasked defendant to buy more cocaine. Defendant refused because he wanted to save the rest of his money for his daughter. Defendant pulled his money out of his pocket and Cato snatched it away from him. When defendant attempted to retrieve it, King hit defendant over the shoulder with a beer bottle. As defendant turned to grab the bottle away from King, Cato approached defendant from behind and put him in a choke hold. Defendant hit Cato with the beer bottle in an unsuccessful attempt to free himself. Cato pulled a .25 automatic pistol from his pocket, placed it against defendant's head, and pulled the trigger. When the gun failed to fire, defendant reached for a knife that was on the table in front of him and Cato ran out the door. Defendant followed Cato and chased him around a car but could not catch him. Defendant stopped to catch his breath, and King hit him from behind with a beer bottle. The two began to fight in the middle of the street. According to defendant, "[King] would swing the bottle, I would swing the knife. It was rough." Defendant claimed that the incident had nothing to do with sex and denied that he ever sang a song about the murder while in custody.


Defendant raises several issues pertaining to the pretrial proceedings in his case. Because two of the issues are intertwined, we address them together. First, defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to continue the pretrial hearing held pursuant to Rule 24 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts and in denying hismotion to continue his trial. Second, defendant contends the court improperly removed his second chair counsel, Carol Andres.

The record establishes that attorney Faye Burner was originally appointed to represent defendant. When the trial court was notified on 20 January 1998 that defendant would be tried capitally, Assistant Public Defender Calvin Hill was appointed to serve as co-counsel. On 10 March 1998, the trial court allowed motions to withdraw filed by both Hill and Burner and, to replace them, appointed attorney Stan Young as lead counsel and attorney Carol Andres as second chair counsel.

Defendant's Rule 24 hearing was set for 5 April 1999. Several weeks before the hearing, the State informed defendant of its intention to schedule the trial for 21 June 1999. On 1 April 1999, defendant filed a motion to continue the Rule 24 hearing and the trial. The motion stated that attorney Andres had recently undergone surgery to remove a pituitary tumor and would, in 30 days, begin five weeks of radiation therapy that could "cause some cognitive disruption that may affect [her] ability to engage in Defendant's serious and complicated case." During the 6 April 1999 hearing on that motion, lead counsel Young opposed appointment of a new second chair because attorney Andres had been involved in the case for over a year. Attorney Young asked the court instead to allow the motion to continue in anticipation that attorney Andres would be able to resume representation of defendant once the radiation regimen was completed. However, attorney Andres acknowledged that her treatment might result in short-term memory loss, which could cause additional issues toarise if the case had to be appealed. The court removed attorney Andres from the case and appointed attorney Bruce Elmore, Jr. as second chair. Because of the new appointment, the court recalendared the Rule 24 hearing for the following week and elected not to rule on the motion to continue the trial date.

On 13 April 1999, the rescheduled date for defendant's Rule 24 hearing, defendant filed a second motion to continue the hearing and to continue the trial until late September or October 1999. The motion was based on the complexities of the case, attorney Elmore's unfamiliarity with the file and facts, and possible scheduling conflicts arising from attorney Elmore's civil practice. Attorney Elmore, however, consented to proceeding with the Rule 24 hearing as scheduled, and the court thereafter denied defendant's motion to continue the trial.

On 4 June 1999, defendant filed a...

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