State v. Walls

Citation463 S.E.2d 738,342 N.C. 1
Decision Date03 November 1995
Docket NumberNo. 42A93,42A93
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
PartiesSTATE of North Carolina v. Robert William WALLS.

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General, by Valerie B. Spalding, Assistant Attorney General, for the State.

North Carolina Resource Center, Office of the Appellate Defender, by Henderson Hill, Director, and Gretchen Engel, Staff Attorney, Durham, for defendant-appellant.

LAKE, Justice.

Defendant was indicted on 20 July 1992 for the offenses of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury and the first-degree murder of three-year-old James Christopher Bainbridge. Defendant was tried capitally, and the jury returned verdicts of guilty of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury and guilty of first-degree murder on the basis of premeditation and deliberation and under the felony murder rule. Following a capital sentencing proceeding pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-2000, the jury recommended a sentence of death. Judge Brown sentenced defendant to death for the murder conviction and a consecutive term of twenty years' imprisonment for the assault conviction. For the reasons stated herein, we find no prejudicial error in the guilt/innocence and sentencing phases, and we conclude the sentence of death is not disproportionate.

Alice Bainbridge, who was separated from her husband, lived with their three-year-old son, Christopher Bainbridge, and the defendant in Roanoke Rapids. On 23 May 1992, Alice, Christopher and defendant left for Richmond, Virginia, sometime around 10:00 a.m. to visit defendant's son. Alice drove, and Christopher was buckled in his car seat in the back. During the drive, defendant began hitting Alice in the face, knocking her glasses off, and calling her foul names. The second time Alice's glasses were knocked off, they fell out of the car window and landed on the highway. Alice was forced to pull over and retrieve them. After picking the glasses up from the road, Alice returned to the car and heard Christopher scream. The physical assault against Alice continued. Alice had put a drink for the child in a cooler, and every time Christopher tried to get the drink out of the cooler, defendant would hit and curse him. Defendant also threw an almost full beer can at Christopher and threatened to kill him. Once they reached defendant's son's house in Richmond, defendant kicked Alice in the face and took the car keys out of the ignition. He then went inside, leaving Alice and the child stranded in the car. When defendant's son's wife came outside the house and saw Alice's bloody nose and swollen lip, she threatened to call the police. Defendant made Alice drive to another house, where defendant said he had friends who would kill Alice and Christopher. No one was home. On the way back to Roanoke Rapids, defendant continued to strike Alice. Her glasses flew out of the window again, but this time defendant would not let her stop to get them. Alice drove to a welcome center, and defendant got behind the wheel because Alice could not see to drive anymore. Feeling weak, Alice slumped down in the passenger seat; defendant continually struck her on the chest to keep her awake. Alice testified the next thing she remembered was defendant parking the car at a boat landing by the Roanoke River. Defendant opened the back door of the car and got Christopher out of his car seat. Christopher let out one cry and one grunt. Defendant, holding Christopher by one hand and one foot, threw the child into the river. Alice ran to the water begging for defendant to help her. Defendant refused.

Melvin McMichael and Shirley Floyd were fishing at a spot not far from the boat ramp. They heard a splash and a cry for help. McMichael ran to investigate and saw Alice feeling around under the water. Her face was swollen, and she was bleeding from the nose and mouth. She asked McMichael to help her find her baby, but defendant told McMichael that only an old dog fell in the river and that he had his baby. Defendant then reached into the car and pulled out a puppy and began to pet it. Defendant refused McMichael's request that he move his car so McMichael could go get help. Only when McMichael drew his gun did defendant comply. McMichael and Floyd drove away and called the police. On their way back, they saw defendant quickly driving away from the boat landing, and it did not look as though Alice was in the car with him. McMichael Alice and Christopher were transported to different hospitals. One nurse testified that Alice's face was so swollen it looked as though she had one head with a smaller head on either side of her face. She was so bruised that it was impossible to tell what race she was. Alice could not talk because she was intubated, so she mouthed to investigators that it was defendant who had attacked her and Christopher. Medical personnel pumped foul-smelling, brown water out of her lungs for several days. Alice remained in the hospital until 28 May 1992.

Floyd and Police Chief Eugene Norwood found Alice floating face-down in the river. About ten minutes after the rescue squad arrived, Christopher was discovered on the river bottom.

When Christopher arrived at the hospital, he was unresponsive and comatose. The upper part of his abdomen was red. This area increased in discoloration and swelling during the hours Christopher survived. Dr. Dale Newton testified he believed Christopher had been struck with a hard object on the upper part of his abdomen. Christopher was also hypothermic and showed signs of edema, or swelling of the brain. Christopher's condition worsened, and he was eventually declared clinically brain dead. He was maintained only on life support. Alice gave permission to discontinue life support, and the child died. In the opinion of Dr. Newton, Christopher's brain death was caused by lack of oxygen to the brain which, in turn, was caused by near-drowning.

Further evidence for the State came from Karen Tucker and Suzanne White, who testified that on 22 May 1992, the day before the murder, they, along with Alice, Christopher and defendant went to look at a trailer for rent in Gaston. Defendant had a cooler full of beer in the trunk. During the trip, defendant cursed at Alice and Christopher. On the way back from Gaston, defendant asked Alice to make a turn, and when Alice refused, he hit her on the head and jerked the steering wheel, turning the car down a road that led to a boat landing at the river. Defendant then grabbed Christopher under the arms and swung him out over the water, as the child cried. Alice noticed two fishermen in a boat watching them. One of the men said something, and defendant put Christopher down and remarked that he would do what he wanted to do later. It was at this same boat landing, the very next day, that defendant threw Christopher into the river and also tried to drown Alice.

Defendant presented no evidence during the guilt/innocence phase. During the sentencing phase, defendant presented evidence through Dr. Robert Brown, a psychiatrist, who testified that defendant had, at different times in his life, carried various diagnoses including depression with psychosis; schizoaffective disorder; general high anxiety disorder; mixed personality disorder, some of which included antisocial features; and severe substance abuse of alcohol, cocaine and heroin. Additional facts will be discussed at later points in this opinion where pertinent.

The jury found all three aggravating circumstances submitted: (1) that this murder was committed while defendant was engaged in the commission of a kidnapping; (2) that this murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; and (3) that this murder was part of a course of conduct including the commission of other crimes of violence against other persons. The trial court submitted four statutory mitigating circumstances, five nonstatutory mitigating circumstances and the catchall circumstance. No juror found any of these mitigating circumstances to exist. The jury recommended a sentence of death, and the trial court sentenced defendant accordingly.

PRETRIAL ISSUES

Defendant begins by arguing that the trial court violated defendant's rights to effective assistance of counsel and to present a defense by denying defendant's motion for a continuance.

Just prior to the beginning of jury selection, defendant moved for a continuance. In support of his motion, defendant made numerous arguments, including that he was still in the process of obtaining certain mental health documents regarding Alice Bainbridge and that he had not been provided with In response, the State contended that defendant had previously been granted one continuance in order that pertinent documents might be received and reviewed. The prosecutor represented to the trial court that he was only aware of one statement made by defendant, a copy of which was in defendant's possession. The State also pointed out that defense counsel had made, and kept, an appointment to review the physical evidence at the Sheriff's Department. Photographs were shown and explained to defense counsel during this meeting. Defense counsel were informed that if they wished to have any blood testing performed on the clothing, they should notify the State, but the prosecutor had heard nothing further. Regarding the hit-and-run incident, the prosecutor had given defendant the telephone number and name of the highway patrolman who investigated the incident, as well as the telephone number, name and a brief synopsis of the expected testimony of an eyewitness to the incident. The State informed the trial court that defendant had two investigators working on his case and had been given between $2,000 and $3,000 to fund an additional third investigator. The prosecutor also told the trial court that two of the investigators working on behalf of defendant had interviewed many witnesses, including Alice Bainbridge...

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  • State v. Cummings
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 24, 1997
    ...mind, there existed a plan, scheme or design involving the murder of the victim and the other crimes of violence." State v. Walls, 342 N.C. 1, 69, 463 S.E.2d 738, 775 (1995), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 1694, 134 L.Ed.2d 794 (1996). This Court has refused to require a conviction ......
  • State v. Gray
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    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • October 3, 1997
    ......Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). In this instance, there was not an interrogation. The question by Mr. Heath as to whether he could do anything else for the defendant was not designed to elicit incriminating evidence. See State v. Walls, 342 N.C. 1, 463 S.E.2d 738 (1995), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 1694, 134 L.Ed.2d 794 (1996). The testimony was properly admitted. .         This assignment of error is overruled. .         The defendant next assigns error to the admission into evidence during the ......
  • State v. Kandies
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    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • February 9, 1996
    ...703 (1983). We find the instant case distinguishable from each of these. None involved the murder of a child. State v. Walls, 342 N.C. 1, 71, 463 S.E.2d 738, 776-77 (1995). Further, we have never found a death sentence disproportionate in a case involving a victim of first-degree murder who......
  • State v. Lemons
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    • July 9, 1998
    ...The new evidence to which defendant refers is the confessions that accomplice Larry Leggett made to two cellmates. In State v. Walls, 342 N.C. 1, 463 S.E.2d 738 (1995), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1197, 116 S.Ct. 1694, 134 L.Ed.2d 794 (1996), this Court stated as Once the jury determines at tria......
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12 books & journal articles
  • Repetitive Questions
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Is It Admissible? - 2015 Part I - Testimonial Evidence
    • July 31, 2015
    ...the very same evidence that defendant sought to elicit. State v. Murillo , 349 N.C. 573, 509 S.E.2d 752 (1998). See also State v. Walls , 463 S.E.2d 738, 342 N.C. 1 (1995). For repetitious questions in a criminal case concerning the motives of co-conspirators, see State v. Jaynes, 464 S.E.2......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Is It Admissible? - 2017 Testimonial evidence
    • July 31, 2017
    ...the very same evidence that defendant sought to elicit. State v. Murillo , 349 N.C. 573, 509 S.E.2d 752 (1998). See also State v. Walls , 463 S.E.2d 738, 342 N.C. 1 (1995). For repetitious questions in a criminal case concerning the motives of co-conspirators, see State v. Jaynes, 464 S.E.2......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Is It Admissible? - 2014 Part I - Testimonial Evidence
    • July 31, 2014
    ...the very same evidence that defendant sought to elicit. State v. Murillo , 349 N.C. 573, 509 S.E.2d 752 (1998). See also State v. Walls , 463 S.E.2d 738, 342 N.C. 1 (1995). For repetitious questions in a criminal case concerning the motives of co-conspirators, see State v. Jaynes, 464 S.E.2......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Is It Admissible? Part I. Testimonial Evidence
    • May 1, 2022
    ...the very same evidence that defendant sought to elicit. State v. Murillo , 349 N.C. 573, 509 S.E.2d 752 (1998). See also State v. Walls , 463 S.E.2d 738, 342 N.C. 1 (1995). For repetitious questions in a criminal case concerning the motives of co-conspirators, see State v. Jaynes, 464 S.E.2......
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