State v. Stroud

Citation557 S.E.2d 544,147 NC App. 549
Decision Date18 December 2001
Docket NumberNo. COA00-1153.,COA00-1153.
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Ronnie Wesley STROUD. and Bonnie Edwards Stroud.
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney General Norma S. Harrell; and Special Deputy Attorney General James C. Gulick, for the State.

Appellate Defender Malcolm Ray Hunter, Jr., by Assistant Appellate Defender Anne M. Gomez, for defendant-appellant Ronnie Wesley Stroud.

Don Willey, Jefferson, for defendant-appellant Bonnie Edwards Stroud.

McGEE, Judge.

Defendant Ronnie Wesley Stroud (Stroud) was indicted for conspiracy to commit murder and for the 6 July 1998 first degree murder of Darren Edwards. Defendant Bonnie Edwards Stroud, now known as Bonnie Edwards (Edwards), was also indicted for conspiracy to commit murder and for the first degree murder of Darren Edwards. The cases were joined for trial. A jury found both defendants guilty of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder on 10 February 2000. Both defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the first degree murder convictions, and both defendants were sentenced to 189 to 236 months in prison for the conspiracy to commit murder convictions. Defendants appeal.

Evidence presented by the State at trial tended to show that eighteen-year-old Darren Edwards (Darren) was stabbed at his home in Wilkes County during the early morning hours of 6 July 1998. Darren lived with Edwards, his mother, and with Stroud, his stepfather. Dr. Patrick Lantz, who performed an autopsy of Darren's body on 7 July 1998, testified Darren died of a stab wound about two and a quarter inches long between his spine and his right shoulder blade. A knife went into Darren's right lung and severed his breathing tube.

A neighbor of Stroud and Edwards, Raye Miller, testified that on 6 July 1998, Edwards came to her house asking her for help and to call "911." Ms. Miller saw Darren lying in her front yard with puddles of blood around him. She testified Stroud stated, "I'll be sent off forever." Another neighbor, Colbert Eller (Eller), testified Stroud had awakened him by ringing his doorbell. He looked out his door and saw a body in Ms. Miller's yard and heard someone say, "I think he's dead."

Deputy Eric Anderson of the Wilkes County Sheriff's Department testified that when he arrived at the scene, he asked Stroud what had happened and Stroud replied, "Oh, my God, I did it. I did it. He hit Bonnie." Sergeant Alan Flora of the Wilkes County Sheriff's Department approached Stroud and asked if he needed help. Stroud stated, "I threw it and I hit him with it, and now he's hurt bad." When Sergeant Flora asked what he threw, Stroud stated, "A knife."

Upon hearing Sergeant Flora confirm Darren was dead, Edwards became hysterical. As Sergeant Flora walked Edwards to her home, he observed blood across the driveway and a trail of blood towards the home of Edwards and Stroud. There was a significant amount of blood inside the home, especially in the kitchen. Edwards told Sergeant Flora, "I begged him not to bring that knife into this house." After unsuccessfully looking for the knife, officers asked Stroud for assistance, and he led them to where he had hidden the knife. Stroud kept saying, "I did it. I killed Darren."

Eller testified that about a week prior to Darren's death, he observed a fight between Darren and Stroud, in which Stroud was holding a baseball bat, and Darren was holding a piece of wood. Darren threw a rock at Stroud, and Stroud lost his footing. Darren took the bat from Stroud, and Stroud ran away with Darren chasing after him.

Darren's older brother, Bobby Edwards (Bobby), testified that the earlier death of his and Darren's father bothered Darren a great deal, and both Darren and Bobby were concerned about their mother dating Stroud soon after their father's death. Bobby testified that when he was at his mother's home, he saw problems between Darren, Edwards, and Stroud. Darren told Bobby about fights between Darren and Stroud, including one incident when Stroud allegedly hit Darren with a baseball bat.

Darren's fiancé, Angela Edgle, testified she observed a fight between Darren and Edwards about three weeks before Darren's death. Edwards chased Darren with a large piece of glass and told Darren to pack his things and leave the house.

Two social workers from the Wilkes County Department of Social Services testified there had been reports of violence at Darren's home involving Darren, Edwards, and Stroud. Their records indicated Darren was placed in the Ebenezer Garden Christian Children's Home in Wilkes County for a period of time because his mother's home was unsafe due to Stroud's presence. Edwards had agreed Darren needed to be out of her home because it was unsafe, but later she denied their problems after she learned she would not receive Darren's social security checks if he was not living in her home.

Several of Edwards' former co-workers at Tyson's Foods testified regarding statements Edwards had made in the past that she hated Darren, wished he were dead, and wished she had never had children. One co-worker testified Edwards told her if someone did not kill Darren, she would. Another co-worker testified that a couple of months before Darren's death, Edwards had asked her where Edwards might obtain a gun to kill Darren and Stroud. A benefits counselor at Tyson's Foods testified Edwards had several life insurance policies through her employment, including policies which covered her husband and any children under the age of nineteen, including Darren. In the event Darren died before age nineteen, Edwards would receive $50,000. Darren's nineteenth birthday would have been 24 July 1998.

Sandra Osborne (Osborne) testified that on the morning of 5 July 1998, Edwards went to the mobile home park where Stroud was staying with a friend. Osborne saw Edwards leave the trailer with a hunting knife about twelve to fourteen inches long. Osborne testified Edwards told her, "I smell death tonight." Edwards told Stroud to "get the knife and come on," and "this is going to end once and for all."

Neither defendant presented evidence at the guilt/innocence phase of the trial.

I. Defendant Ronnie Wesley Stroud

Stroud first argues he must be granted a new trial because he was not afforded effective assistance of counsel. He specifically argues his counsel failed to move to sever his case from Edwards' case for trial, failed to object to irrelevant evidence and inadmissible hearsay, and failed to request limiting instructions for evidence admissible against Edwards but not against Stroud.

In general, claims of ineffective assistance of counsel should be considered through motions for appropriate relief and not on direct appeal. See State v. Dockery, 78 N.C.App. 190, 192, 336 S.E.2d 719, 721 (1985)

("The accepted practice is to raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in post-conviction proceedings, rather than direct appeal."); State v. Ware, 125 N.C.App. 695, 697, 482 S.E.2d 14, 16 (1997) (dismissing defendant's appeal because issues could not be determined from the record on appeal and stating that to "properly advance these arguments defendant must move for appropriate relief pursuant to G.S. 15A-1415."). A motion for appropriate relief is preferable to direct appeal because in order to

defend against ineffective assistance of counsel allegations, the State must rely on information provided by defendant to trial counsel, as well as defendant's thoughts, concerns, and demeanor. "[O]nly when all aspects of the relationship are explored can it be determined whether counsel was reasonably likely to render effective assistance." Thus, superior courts should assess the allegations in light of all the circumstances known to counsel at the time of representation.

State v. Buckner, 351 N.C. 401, 412, 527 S.E.2d 307, 314 (2000) (citations omitted).

However, Stroud states that in light of McCarver v. Lee, 221 F.3d 583 (4th Cir.2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1089, 121 S.Ct. 809, 148 L.Ed.2d 694 (2001), he has raised the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal. In McCarver, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the defendant's petition for writ of habeas corpus, filed after the defendant's motion for appropriate relief had been denied, because the court stated the defendant's claim was barred by N.C. Gen.Stat. § 15A-1419(a)(3). This statute provides for denial of a motion for appropriate relief if "[u]pon a previous appeal the defendant was in a position to adequately raise the ground or issue underlying the present motion but did not do so." N.C.Gen.Stat. § 15A-1419(a)(3) (1999). In State v. Fair, 354 N.C. 131, 557 S.E.2d 500 (2001), our Supreme Court, agreeing with the analysis set out in McCarver, stated that N.C.G.S. § 15A-1419 "is not a general rule that any claim not brought on direct appeal is forfeited on state collateral review. Instead, the rule requires North Carolina courts to determine whether the particular claim at issue could have been brought on direct review." Fair at ___, 557 S.E.2d at 525 (citing McCarver, 221 F.3d 583 (4th Cir. 2000)) (emphasis in original). Our Supreme Court has instructed that "should the reviewing court determine the IAC claims have been prematurely asserted on direct appeal, it shall dismiss those claims without prejudice to the defendant's rights to reassert them during a subsequent MAR proceeding." Fair at ___, 557 S.E.2d at 525. In order to determine whether a defendant is in a position to adequately raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, we stress this Court is limited to reviewing this assignment of error only on the record before us, without the benefit of "information provided by defendant to trial counsel, as well as defendant's thoughts, concerns, and demeanor[,]" Buckner at 412, 527 S.E.2d at 314, that could be provided in a full evidentiary hearing on a ...

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