State v. Steen

Decision Date13 July 2000
Docket NumberNo. 530A98.,530A98.
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Patrick Joseph STEEN.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General, by William B. Crumpler and Robert C. Montgomery, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State.

Paul M. Green, Durham, for defendant-appellant.

LAKE, Justice.

On 12 January 1998, defendant was indicted for first-degree murder and for felonious breaking and entering and common law robbery as a habitual felon. On 16 March 1998, he was also indicted for first-degree rape. Defendant was tried capitally to a jury at the 20 July 1998 Mixed Session of Superior Court, Mecklenburg County. Prior to the jury's consideration of the charges, the first-degree rape charge was reduced to attempted first-degree rape. On 21 August 1998, the jury found defendant guilty of first-degree murder on the basis of premeditation and deliberation and under the felony murder rule. The jury also found defendant guilty of felonious breaking and entering and common law robbery, but the jury found defendant not guilty of attempted first-degree rape. Following a capital sentencing proceeding, the jury recommended a sentence of death for the first-degree murder conviction. The jury also found defendant guilty of being an habitual felon upon both the breaking and entering and robbery convictions. On 28 August 1998, the trial court sentenced defendant to death. The trial court also sentenced defendant to consecutive sentences of 145 to 183 months' imprisonment for the breaking and entering conviction and 145 to 183 months' imprisonment for the common law robbery conviction. Defendant appeals his conviction for first-degree murder and his sentence of death to this Court as of right. On 31 August 1999, this Court allowed defendant's motion to bypass the Court of Appeals as to his appeal of the remaining convictions.

At trial, the State's evidence tended to show that on 29 February 1996, shortly before 4:00 p.m., Officer Gordon Ogilvie of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department responded to a report of a broken window at 2626 Tanglewood Lane. The victim, eighty-year-old Virginia Frost, had resided at the residence for forty years. When Officer Ogilvie arrived at Mrs. Frost's residence, a neighbor, Susan Bankson, met him. She explained that her children had been playing in Mrs. Frost's yard and found some broken glass. Ms. Bankson went to Mrs. Frost's house and saw that the glass door leading to the sunroom was shattered. Ms. Bankson called Mrs. Frost's daughter, Ann Copeland, and also the police.

Officer Richard Stahnke also arrived at the scene. The officers entered the victim's house to determine if a break-in had occurred. Once inside, the officers noticed that the house appeared to have been ransacked. The officers then observed the lifeless body of Virginia Frost lying in a bathroom. Mrs. Frost was nude except for a shirt pulled up around her neck. The officers also observed what appeared to be dried blood on Mrs. Frost's face and on one of her hands. There was a pool of blood around her head, and there appeared to be an indentation on her head as though she had been struck with some object. A pair of pantyhose was underneath Mrs. Frost's body.

An autopsy performed on 1 March 1996 revealed contusions over the bridge of the victim's nose, around her left eye and over the left side of her cheek; a laceration on the right side of her scalp; bruising over her head, neck, left arm, shoulder, chest and buttocks; and a broken tooth. The autopsy also revealed areas of hemorrhage around the brain, swelling and bruising of the brain, sixteen separate fractures to ten different ribs, and small tears in the inner lining of the chest. The autopsy report described the head injuries as blunt-trauma injuries caused when the body was impacted by something blunt. The report also stated that none of the blows would have been immediately fatal, and that Mrs. Frost would have survived for three to four hours. The cause of Mrs. Frost's death was determined to be blunt-trauma injuries to her head due to an assault.

On the same day that the police discovered Mrs. Frost's body, Officers A.J. Mullis and P.M. Ensminger of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department responded to a call concerning a man on a bicycle weaving on Randolph Road, which is less than two miles from the victim's residence. The officers discovered the defendant, Patrick Joseph Steen, on a bicycle on the roadway, weaving back and forth through heavy traffic. The officers pulled defendant over on the side of the road and observed a large contusion running across defendant's forehead and what appeared to be dried blood on his left cheek. The officers also noticed an odor of alcohol about defendant. After obtaining consent to search defendant, the officers found a driver's license issued to a William H. Maynard and numerous credit cards with the same name. The officers also found a crack pipe and a marijuana pipe on defendant's person. The officers arrested defendant for possession of drug paraphernalia and theft of the credit cards. Officer Mullis subsequently sent information about defendant to a homicide investigator looking into the murder of Mrs. Frost.

On 6 March 1996, defendant gave written consent for the search of the clothes he was wearing when he was arrested. Defendant was released from custody on 14 March 1996. On 16 March 1996, two of the murder investigators went to his home and asked defendant to accompany them to the Law Enforcement Center. Defendant was told he was not under arrest and was questioned about his whereabouts from 26 February to 29 February 1996. Defendant was subsequently placed under arrest for Mrs. Frost's murder and was advised of his Miranda rights.

At trial, Henrietta Doster, an acquaintance of defendant's, testified that in late February 1996, defendant showed her and her boyfriend, Charlie Davis, a small red television. Defendant also emptied the contents of a small blue tote bag which contained coins, buttons and a lady's wallet. Doster looked at the wallet and saw an elderly lady's driver's license with the name "Virginia" on it. Davis gave defendant thirty dollars for the television.

Ann Copeland testified that on 10 March 1996, she was allowed to enter her mother's residence. She noticed that a small red television that she had given her mother was missing from the kitchen. Ann Copeland identified the red television collected from Charlie Davis as the one she had given her mother. Mrs. Copeland also identified pieces of silverware collected from Davis as belonging to her mother.

In his first assignment of error, defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence. Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress several categories of evidence. Defendant subsequently filed an amendment to that motion. From 20 July 1998 to 24 July 1998, the trial court conducted a suppression hearing on defendant's motion and the amendment. During jury selection on 31 July 1998, the trial court ruled that the "motion to suppress is denied in each and every respect." On 28 August 1998, the trial court stated its findings and conclusions in support of its denial of defendant's motion to suppress. Because defendant challenges on various grounds the trial court's rulings for several separate categories of evidence under this single assignment of error, we will separately address the trial court's findings and conclusions for each individual category of evidence.

As a preliminary matter, we note that this Court has long held that the following rules apply when reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence:

When the competency of evidence is challenged and the trial judge conducts a voir dire to determine admissibility, the general rule is that he should make findings of fact to show the basis of his ruling. State v. Silver, 286 N.C. 709, 213 S.E.2d 247 (1975). If there is a material conflict in the evidence on voir dire, he must do so in order to resolve the conflict. State v. Smith, 278 N.C. 36, 178 S.E.2d 597, cert. denied, 403 U.S. 934, 91 S.Ct. 2266, 29 L.Ed.2d 715 (1971). If there is no material conflict in the evidence on voir dire, it is not error to admit the challenged evidence without making specific findings of fact, although it is always the better practice to find all facts upon which the admissibility of the evidence depends. State v. Ladd, 308 N.C. 272, 302 S.E.2d 164 (1983); State v. Phillips, 300 N.C. 678, 268 S.E.2d 452 (1980); State v. Riddick, 291 N.C. 399, 230 S.E.2d 506 (1976); State v. Biggs, 289 N.C. 522, 223 S.E.2d 371 (1976). In that event, the necessary findings are implied from the admission of the challenged evidence. State v. Whitley, 288 N.C. 106, 215 S.E.2d 568 (1975).

State v. Vick, 341 N.C. 569, 580, 461 S.E.2d 655, 661 (1995). Furthermore, a trial court's resolution of a conflict in the evidence will not be disturbed on appeal, State v. Braxton, 344 N.C. 702, 709, 477 S.E.2d 172, 176 (1996), and its findings of fact are conclusive if they are supported by the evidence, State v. Robinson, 346 N.C. 586, 596, 488 S.E.2d 174, 181 (1997). Once this Court concludes that the trial court's findings of fact are supported by the evidence, then this Court's next task "is to determine whether the trial court's conclusion[s] of law [are] supported by the findings."

State v. Hyde, 352 N.C. 37, 45, 530 S.E.2d 281, 287 (2000).

Defendant first contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from the stop and seizure of defendant on 29 February 1996. Defendant argues that, under the totality of the circumstances, the police did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that defendant was engaged in criminal activity and, therefore, defendant's stop was unconstitutional. Defendant also argues that the trial court's conclusion that the stop was justified is...

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