State v. Stuckey, 3404.

Decision Date05 November 2001
Docket NumberNo. 3404.,3404.
Citation556 S.E.2d 403,347 S.C. 484
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Charles M. "Rickey" STUCKEY, Jr., Appellant.

Assistant Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of SC Office of Appellate Defense, of Columbia, for appellant.

Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General S. Creighton Waters, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Jay E. Hodge, Jr., of Darlington, for respondent.


In this consolidated appeal, Charles "Rickey" Stuckey, Jeffery Walls, Martin McIntosh, and Leroy Staton appeal their convictions for murder, kidnapping, first degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC), and criminal conspiracy, and Alfonzo Staton appeals his convictions for murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy. Each appellant challenges the trial court's denial of his severance and directed verdict motions. Additionally, McIntosh argues the trial court erred in allowing the prosecutor to improperly comment on his silence during police questioning. In this opinion, we affirm the trial court's decision to try appellants jointly and affirm its denial of Stuckey's directed verdict motions.1


Stuckey and his co-appellants were each indicted on charges of murder, kidnapping, first degree CSC, and criminal conspiracy. Appellants were tried jointly with Robert Graham, who was indicted for the same charges with the exception of murder.2 The State presented the following evidence at trial.

State's Case

On the evening of November 12, 1994, Victim's sister picked her up to go shopping. Victim's car was inoperable, and she had hired Ringo Pearson to repair it. Victim and Pearson were outside Victim's home talking when the sister arrived. Sister brought Victim home an hour or so later. The two were supposed to talk on the telephone at 10:00 p.m., but Victim never called and Sister's calls went unanswered. Victim's family attempted unsuccessfully to reach her throughout the evening, and after Victim failed to attend a planned event the next day, Sister called the police and filed a missing person's report.

Police discovered Victim's body floating in a creek near Burnt Factory Road on November 24, 1994. Her wrists and ankles were bound together behind her back with duct tape. With the exception of her forehead, part of her chin, and a small area at the tip of her nose, her face was entirely covered with duct tape which was wrapped around her head. Her pants were pulled down below her knees. Her body was bloated and in a state of decomposition. A preliminary identification was made based on the clothing Victim was last seen wearing, but the condition of the body prevented further visual identification. Police used fingerprints and palm prints to positively identify the body.

Doctor Sandra Conradi, who performed Victim's autopsy, concluded the cause of death was asphyxiation caused by encasement of Victim's head with duct tape. Victim could not breathe enough to remain alive despite a small opening in the duct tape near the tip of her nose because the tape was applied to her face so tightly that it severely compressed her nose. Doctor Conradi opined Victim died within minutes of having her face bound with duct tape, but could not completely rule out the possibility that she drowned because drowning is a difficult diagnosis to eliminate. Doctor Conradi testified she believed Victim died before she was placed in the creek, but did not offer any opinion as to how long she had been dead at that time. She did conclude, however, that Victim died several days before her autopsy and may have died as early as November 12. Doctor Conradi found no seminal fluid or injury in the genital area but explained the water and decomposition may have affected those findings.

The investigation led police to an abandoned house where Stuckey formerly lived. There officers discovered duct tape, Victim's prescription safety eyeglasses, and an earring matching one found on her body.

Officers approached Jeffery Walls' brother, Sam, asking him about duct tape. Sam told them he had a partial roll of duct tape underneath his car seat and, at their request, turned it over to them. At trial, Sam explained he obtained the tape from his mother's home, where Jeffery lived, to use on some electrical wires in the car. He testified that at the time of Victim's disappearance, Pearson was performing body work on his car. On cross-examination, however, Sam stated he did not take the tape out of his mother's home until after Pearson finished working on his car in late October or early November.

John Barron, a SLED expert in trace evidence analysis, testified the duct tape Sam Walls provided was identical in structure and composition to the tape removed from Victim's body and the tape discovered at the abandoned house. Upon further investigation, Barron discovered the tape was manufactured by an English company which does not directly market or sell it in the United States. The company sells the tape primarily in England, exporting only one percent of the total production to other European countries.

Dwayne Sloan's Testimony

Dwayne Sloan testified he spent the evening of November 11 and the morning of November 12 with his brother, Lee, and Ringo Pearson, Jeffery Walls, and Alfonzo Staton. Sloan left the group on the afternoon of the 12th to go to work at Burger King. He arrived early for his 4:00 p.m. shift. During Sloan's break, Jeffery Walls, Pearson, and Alfonzo came to the Burger King, Walls and Pearson arriving together and Alfonzo by himself. The group stood outside and talked for a few minutes. When Pearson decided to leave, Sloan and Alfonzo asked him where he and Walls were going. Pearson responded he was "going to get [Victim]3 to suck his d* *k." Pearson and Walls then left together and Alfonzo left alone five or ten minutes later.

Sloan also testified that during a trip to North Carolina on November 29, Pearson confessed to killing Victim. On the trip, Pearson asked Sloan and Alfonzo whether the police had questioned either of them about a murder. When they both said they had not been questioned, Pearson stated the police did not have enough evidence to prove he committed the crime. He then recounted to them the following events: He and Victim, whose car he had worked on, had pulled alongside a dirt road and began having sex in the back seat. When Victim pulled away, Pearson slapped her and yelled at her. When she continued to resist, he tied her hands behind her back. Despite her pleas, Pearson drove down Burnt Factory Road and pushed her in the water.

Jeffrey Graham's Testimony

Jeffrey Graham testified about a visit Leroy Staton and Pearson made to the home he shared with his sister and father in November 1994. They wanted to see Jeffrey's sister and spoke with her in another room. Afterward, they invited Jeffrey to a party. In a statement to police, Jeffrey said Leroy and Pearson said somebody had a woman at the party and Leroy asked if he wanted to ride with them and "get a piece."4 Jeffrey told Leroy and Pearson he was not going to the party. At a federal grand jury proceeding, Jeffrey explained when he was invited to come "get a piece," he understood that "they had a woman that everybody was going to do something [to]."

Jeffrey and Stuckey worked at a garage for Stuckey's dad, Mack Stuckey. Jeffrey told police that the day after he was invited to the party, he overheard Stuckey tell Mack and Joe Stuckey at the garage, "I want that bitch out of my trailer." Mike Spears and Leroy were also there. Martin McIntosh was also present, but Jeffrey did not believe Martin could hear the conversation because he was outside at the time. The same day, Jeffrey rode with his cousin, Robert Graham ("Graham"), to the trailer where Graham and Stuckey lived. Jeffrey did not go inside, but saw Stuckey, Leroy, Alfonzo, and others in the yard drinking.

Danny Davis' Testimony

Danny Davis testified he went to a cookout at Graham and Stuckey's. Leroy, Stuckey, Graham, and others were present. When he went inside to get a beer he saw Victim lying on the couch. Her ankles and mouth were taped and her wrists were taped behind her back. He then returned to the cookout. When asked why he did not say anything about the woman to the others, Davis replied: "Because I didn't know what to think. I didn't know if it was a game or what was going on." After the food was cooked, Davis went home some seventy-five yards away while the others remained.

Davis returned to the trailer about dusk at Stuckey's invitation. Leroy, Alfonzo, Walls, McIntosh, and Pearson were at the party. Leroy, Stuckey, and Graham were inside the trailer. When he went to the bathroom, Davis saw Victim in the bedroom. She was on the bed and tied up in the same manner as before. About thirty minutes after Davis arrived, he and Robert Ransom, who also lived nearby and is disabled, asked Pearson for a ride home. Ransom and Davis were told to get in Pearson's car. Pearson and Stuckey then came from around the trailer with Victim, whose mouth, legs, and hands were still taped, and put her in the car. Walls also got in the car, and the group left. Instead of taking Ransom and Davis home, Pearson drove to an old abandoned house in the country where Stuckey previously lived. Stuckey and Pearson carried Victim onto the porch and placed her on a couch which they then carried inside the house. Ransom and Davis were then driven home.

The next evening, Davis met Stuckey and Pearson at Ransom's home. Stuckey said "we've got that girl and we've got to do something with her or all of us are going to be in trouble." Ransom asked if Stuckey and Pearson would take him and Davis to get something to drink, and they agreed. Pearson left...

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