State v. Stokes, No. 26603.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtWaller
Citation673 S.E.2d 434
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Samuel STOKES, Appellant.
Decision Date17 February 2009
Docket NumberNo. 26603.
673 S.E.2d 434
The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Samuel STOKES, Appellant.
No. 26603.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard May 6, 2008.
Decided February 17, 2009.

[673 S.E.2d 435]

Tricia A. Blanchette, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Harold W. Gowdy, III, of Spartanburg, for Respondent.

Justice WALLER:


Appellant Samuel Stokes appeals his convictions for murder, first degree burglary, and assault with intent to kill. Appellant argues the trial court erred by admitting a State witness's prior inconsistent statement as well as evidence of prior bad acts. We find no error and therefore affirm.

FACTS

On the night of October 6, 2003, Spartanburg police responded to a 9-1-1 call that someone had been shot at a home on Briarcliff Road. When police arrived, they found Catrina Cohen hysterical on her front porch. In the master bedroom, the police found Nicholas Thomas with his head in the lap of his mother, Brenda Nelson. Nicholas had been shot through the head; he later died at the hospital.1

Appellant was tried in August 2006.2 Catrina, who was Nicholas's fiancée,3 testified that on October 6, 2003, she was at home with Nicholas, Brenda, and her three children when intruders kicked in the door. Catrina, who was in the bedroom with Nicholas at the time, heard shots being fired, then heard someone ask where the money and car keys were, and Brenda reply, "we don't have anything." Nicholas reached for a gun from under the mattress, and Catrina hid in the closet. She could see people enter the room and go through shoe boxes, but she could not see their faces.4 When she came out of the closet, Nicholas was lying on the floor in a puddle of blood.

The crime scene was processed that night, but police also went back to the scene on October 23, 2003. At that time, they retrieved a bullet that fell on the floor from the bedroom curtain. The bullet appeared to have blood and hair on it.

On December 21, 2003, appellant was apprehended in North Carolina while pumping gas into a rental car. The North Carolina narcotics agent who made the arrest found a .357 Ruger pistol under the front driver's side seat. A SLED firearms expert testified at trial that the bloody bullet found in Catrina's bedroom definitively matched the .357 pistol found with appellant.

673 S.E.2d 436

Prior Inconsistent Statement

At trial, the State called appellant's uncle, Kenneth Brown. Brown acknowledged he was serving a 62-year federal sentence for armed bank robbery. The State attempted to elicit testimony from Brown regarding a statement he made to police on November 26, 2003, after police had apprehended him. Brown admitted he was taken to the hospital by police after a car chase, but he specifically denied having a conversation at the hospital with Detective John Parris.

Brown escaped from police custody while in the hospital.5 He was later captured in Florida and extradited to South Carolina. On January 2, 2004, while housed in the Lexington County jail, Brown gave Detective Parris a written statement. While on the stand, the State presented this three-page statement to Brown for his review; Brown, however, denied making this statement as well.6

Although defense counsel cross-examined Brown about his prior criminal record, he did not ask Brown any questions about his alleged statements to police.

The State subsequently called Detective Parris to the stand and offered Brown's written statement under Rule 613(b), SCRE, as extrinsic evidence of a prior inconsistent statement.

Appellant objected. During the discussion on appellant's objection—out of the presence of the jury—the trial court noted that Brown had been on the stand and available for cross-examination. Moreover, the trial court specifically offered defense counsel the opportunity to recall Brown for further cross-examination or as a witness in the defense case. Counsel rejected the trial court's offer, contending that this would force appellant to ask about the substance of the statement prior to the State bringing up the details of the statement. Counsel further argued that if he questioned Brown and he continued to deny making the statement, appellant would be denied "effective cross-examination." When the trial court again offered to produce Brown because he was still under subpoena, counsel declined, stating that Brown was "a loose cannon," and therefore counsel had "no idea what he will say once he takes that stand."

The trial court allowed the statement to be admitted as evidence and published to the jury. Essentially, Brown relayed to Detective Parris that on November 26, 2003, appellant told Brown that he (i.e., appellant) was involved in the October 6, 2003, shooting.

The statement reads as follows, in pertinent part:

On 11/26/03 I was at the BP station. I pick up [appellant] and Tony, they got into the car and once they was in, [appellant] & Tony that is Tony ask Sam you do have everything right, and [appellant] said nigger everything is in the bookpack. Tony out the bookpack and pull out a black gun, and was playing with it, as he was checking it out. At this time [appellant] stated yes that's that nigger shit, he almost had me, but my nigger Tony took his ass out, shot his ass right in the fucking head. At this time I am wondering what are they talking about, and [appellant] say that dud[e] on [street], and I remember reading about it in the newspaper, and people was talking about it. At this time I said to them both I know you all didn't. At this time I just went into a panic state.

I remember reading about [it] in the newspaper in Oct. 2003. On the I saw them, I saw a black auto[matic] handgun and it cam[e] from the killing of the guy they killed. [Appellant] told me that the gun came from the killing of Nicklos, the nigger that they kill with the .357 gun. [Appellant] said that he almost kill him if Tony had not shot him with the .357 gun....

On cross-examination, defense counsel elicited testimony from Detective Parris which explained that while Brown was in the hospital

673 S.E.2d 437

on November 26, 2003, he volunteered information that the black gun used (by Brown) in the robbery committed that same day was taken from the Briarcliff Road residence on October 6, 2003, and that appellant was the person involved in the murder there. In other words, Brown told Detective Parris that appellant was responsible for the murder, and that he (i.e., Brown) was not connected to that crime.

Other Bad Acts Evidence

In addition to the evidence regarding the crimes committed on October 6, 2003, the following evidence associated with an October 18, 2003, shooting was also admitted at trial, over appellant's objection. The victim of this shooting, Chi Yeung, was shot in the leg. Yeung did not testify at trial, but several other witnesses connected appellant to the shooting.

First, Christina Phouachinth7 testified that appellant left her home with Yeung, Jorge Enrique Sihavong ("K"), and Tony Nguyen.8 K testified that he was driving a green Honda with appellant, Yeung, and Nguyen as passengers. Appellant directed him to an apartment house; when they arrived, appellant and Yeung exited the car and went into an apartment. Shortly thereafter, K was let in to the apartment by another man and saw Yeung looking "scared." K heard someone say "Don't move," and he ran out of the apartment. K testified that he heard gunshots; when he reached the car, he told Nguyen to run, and K continued running away. After a few shots, K turned around and saw appellant pointing "a big chrome shiny gun" at him. K later identified appellant to police as the person who shot at him.

In addition, Nguyen testified that he heard gunshots shortly after appellant, Yeung, and K went inside the apartment. He then saw K running out the door and heard K tell him to run for his life. Thereafter, Nguyen saw appellant pointing a pistol at K. Nguyen ran and hid in the woods, but later identified appellant to police.

As police responded to a report of gunshots fired, they were flagged down by Yeung who was driving the green Honda. Yeung's upper right leg was bleeding, and he was sent to the hospital. Just prior to Yeung's release from the hospital, a police officer was obtaining a statement from him. When Yeung got off the gurney he had been laying on, the officer found a bullet lying on the bloody sheets. This bullet was later matched to the .357 retrieved from the car appellant was filling up when police apprehended him in North Carolina.

When police searched the apartment that Yeung had been in, they found three prescription medicine bottles in appellant's name. The medicine bottles listed appellant's address as one that was different from the apartment in which they were found.

At the conclusion of testimony, the trial court instructed the jury on the "hand of one, hand of all" theory. The trial court refused appellant's request to instruct the jury that Brown's statement could be used only for impeachment.

The jury found appellant guilty of all charges. The trial court sentenced appellant to life for murder, life for burglary, and ten years for assault with intent to kill. The sentences were to run concurrent to each other, but consecutive to the sentences appellant was already serving.9

ISSUES

1. Was appellant's right to confrontation violated by the admission of Brown's prior inconsistent statement?

2. Did the trial court err by admitting evidence of the October 18, 2003, shooting pursuant to Rule 404(b), SCRE?

673 S.E.2d 438
DISCUSSION

The admission of evidence is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. E.g., State v. Pagan, 369 S.C. 201, 208, 631 S.E.2d 262, 265 (2006). An abuse of discretion occurs when the conclusions of the trial court either lack evidentiary support...

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70 practice notes
  • People v. Bryant, No. 4-05-1071.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • June 17, 2009
    ...the [c]onfrontation [c]lause does not bar the admission of a prior statement"); State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 403 n. 13, 673 S.E.2d 434, 440 n. 13 (2009); State v. Burr, 392 N.J.Super. 538, 568, 921 A.2d 1135, 1154 (2007); State v. Holliday, 745 N.W.2d 556, 566 n. 5 (Minn.2008) (the M......
  • State v. Cameron M., SC 18829
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 20, 2012
    ...856, 129 S. Ct. 124, 172 L. Ed. 2d 95 (2008); State v. Reid, 161 N.H. 569, 574, 20 A.3d 298 (2011); State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 402, 673 S.E.2d 434 (2009); State v. Toohey, 816 N.W.2d 120, 128, (2012); Abney v. Commonwealth, 51 Va. App. 337, 350-51, 657 S.E.2d 796 (2008); Woodall v. Stat......
  • State v. Cameron M., No. 18829.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 20, 2012
    ...U.S. 856, 129 S.Ct. 124, 172 L.Ed.2d 95 (2008); State v. Reid, 161 N.H. 569, 574, 20 A.3d 298 (2011); State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 402, 673 S.E.2d 434 (2009); State v. Toohey, 816 N.W.2d 120, 128 (2012); Abney v. Commonwealth, 51 Va.App. 337, 350–51, 657 S.E.2d 796 (2008); Woodall v. Stat......
  • State v. Rivera, No. 27220.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • April 3, 2013
    ...accused. Thus, we find it was error to exclude Appellant's testimony pursuant to Rule 403, SCRE. See State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 404, 673 S.E.2d 434, 441 (2008) (“ ‘Unfair prejudice [within the meaning of Rule 403, SCRE,] means an undue tendency to suggest a decision on an improper basis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
70 cases
  • People v. Bryant, No. 4-05-1071.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • June 17, 2009
    ...the [c]onfrontation [c]lause does not bar the admission of a prior statement"); State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 403 n. 13, 673 S.E.2d 434, 440 n. 13 (2009); State v. Burr, 392 N.J.Super. 538, 568, 921 A.2d 1135, 1154 (2007); State v. Holliday, 745 N.W.2d 556, 566 n. 5 (Minn.2008) (the M......
  • State v. Cameron M., SC 18829
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 20, 2012
    ...856, 129 S. Ct. 124, 172 L. Ed. 2d 95 (2008); State v. Reid, 161 N.H. 569, 574, 20 A.3d 298 (2011); State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 402, 673 S.E.2d 434 (2009); State v. Toohey, 816 N.W.2d 120, 128, (2012); Abney v. Commonwealth, 51 Va. App. 337, 350-51, 657 S.E.2d 796 (2008); Woodall v. Stat......
  • State v. Cameron M., No. 18829.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 20, 2012
    ...U.S. 856, 129 S.Ct. 124, 172 L.Ed.2d 95 (2008); State v. Reid, 161 N.H. 569, 574, 20 A.3d 298 (2011); State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 402, 673 S.E.2d 434 (2009); State v. Toohey, 816 N.W.2d 120, 128 (2012); Abney v. Commonwealth, 51 Va.App. 337, 350–51, 657 S.E.2d 796 (2008); Woodall v. Stat......
  • State v. Rivera, No. 27220.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • April 3, 2013
    ...accused. Thus, we find it was error to exclude Appellant's testimony pursuant to Rule 403, SCRE. See State v. Stokes, 381 S.C. 390, 404, 673 S.E.2d 434, 441 (2008) (“ ‘Unfair prejudice [within the meaning of Rule 403, SCRE,] means an undue tendency to suggest a decision on an improper basis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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