State v. Smith

Citation300 S.C. 216,387 S.E.2d 245
Decision Date02 October 1989
Docket NumberNo. 23101,23101
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Grover Lee SMITH, Appellant. . Heard

William N. Epps., Jr., Anderson, for appellant.

Attorney Gen. T. Travis Medlock, Asst. Attys. Gen. Harold M. Coombs, Jr. and William Edgar Salter, III, Columbia, and Sol. George M. Ducworth, Anderson, for respondent.

GREGORY, Chief Justice:

Appellant was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

Appellant was indicted for the murder of Ricky Burdette whose body was found August 4, 1987. Before trial, appellant was also indicted for the murder of Mary Zou Pressley, who was discovered dead in her home on May 4, 1987. During appellant's trial for the Burdette murder, the State was allowed to introduce evidence regarding the murder of Mrs. Pressley in order to prove motive and common scheme or plan. Throughout trial, appellant objected to the admission of this evidence on the ground its prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value. He now appeals on this ground.

Ricky Burdette's body was found lying on a dirt road next to his white Ford Mustang with a shotgun lying at his feet. A handwritten note regarding the Pressley murder was found on the dashboard of the car.

The following evidence was admitted at trial concerning the Pressley murder. Mrs. Pressley was appellant's ex-wife's grandmother. Appellant's wife left him in April 1987 to live with a man named Howard Kirkland at 608 Edgemont Avenue in Greenville, South Carolina. On May 4, 1987, Mrs. Pressley was found dead. She had been struck twice in the head with an ax blade.

The next day, the sheriff's dispatcher received a telephone call from an anonymous male stating the man who killed Mrs. Pressley lived at 608 Edgemont Avenue and drove a black Buick with license tag number SKB-528. When detectives went to that address, they found Howard Kirkland's black Buick and obtained his consent to search it. Under the driver's seat was an ax which was later analyzed as having unidentified blood on it and hair consistent with that of Mrs. Pressley. The sheriff's dispatcher testified the voice of the anonymous male caller sounded like appellant's voice which she heard when he came to the sheriff's department the next day.

A neighbor of Howard Kirkland testified on May 5th she saw a man reaching into the black Buick through the driver's seat window. A faded blue car was parked nearby. Appellant was known to drive a faded blue car.

The evidence purportedly linking Mrs. Pressley's murder to that of Ricky Burdette is the handwritten note found in the victim's white Mustang at the scene of his death. The note states, "I killed Mary lou [sic] Pressley." It describes in detail the murder and subsequent planting of the ax in Howard Kirkland's Buick, concluding, "This [will] get my girl back for me." The note was signed "Victor Latham." It is undisputed the note was handwritten by the victim. Victor Latham, whose name is signed to the note, is not otherwise connected to any of the events relating to these murders.

The State's theory at trial was that appellant forced the victim to write the note before killing him in order to exculpate appellant for the Pressley murder.

Evidence of prior bad acts is admissible under State v. Lyle, 125 S.C. 406, 118 S.E. 803 (1923), if it tends to show motive or a common scheme or plan and its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect. 1...

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19 cases
  • Smalls v. State
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • February 7, 2018
    ...and convincing evidence Smalls committed the prior burglary; in fact, Mead admitted the case was unsolved. See State v. Smith , 300 S.C. 216, 218, 387 S.E.2d 245, 247 (1989) (holding "proof of prior bad acts must be clear and convincing"). The court of appeals correctly ruled trial counsel ......
  • State v. Warren
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • April 13, 1998
    ...If not the subject of a conviction, indictment, or arrest, proof of prior bad acts must be clear and convincing. State v. Smith, 300 S.C. 216, 387 S.E.2d 245 (1989); State v. Blanton, 316 S.C. 31, 446 S.E.2d 438 (Ct.App. 1994). 8. The majority opinion sets out the instances in which the que......
  • State v. Terrazas
    • United States
    • Arizona Supreme Court
    • August 14, 1997
    ...State v. Spaeth, 552 N.W.2d 187, 193 (Minn.1996); State v. Wilson, 5 Neb.App. 125, 556 N.W.2d 643, 652 (1996); State v. Smith, 300 S.C. 216, 387 S.E.2d 245, 247 (1989); State v. McCary, 922 S.W.2d 511, 514 (Tenn.1996); see also State v. Cohen, 634 A.2d 380, 386 (Del.Super.1992); People v. O......
  • State v. Aaron L.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • February 15, 2005
    ...125, 136, 556 N.W.2d 643 (1996) (same); State v. Hernandez, 170 N.J. 106, 120, 784 A.2d 1225 (2001) (same); State v. Smith, 300 S.C. 216, 218-19, 387 S.E.2d 245 (1989) (same); State v. Parton, 694 S.W.2d 299, 302-303 (Tenn.1985) (same); Harrell v. State, 884 S.W.2d 154, 159 (Tex.Crim.App.19......
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