State v. Weston, No. 26099.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtWaller
Citation625 S.E.2d 641
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Jeffrey J. WESTON, Appellant.
Decision Date17 January 2006
Docket NumberNo. 26099.
625 S.E.2d 641
The STATE, Respondent,
v.
Jeffrey J. WESTON, Appellant.
No. 26099.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard November 3, 2005.
Decided January 17, 2006.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Assistant Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey A. Jacobs, Senior Assistant Attorney General William Edgar Salter, III, and Solicitor Warren Blair Giese, of Columbia, for Respondent.

Justice WALLER:


Appellant, Jeffrey Weston, was convicted of murdering his mother, whose body was never found. He was sentenced to forty years in prison. We affirm.

FACTS

In late 1997, at age 38, Weston went to live with his mother, Frances Franchey, at her Harbison apartment. Franchey, in her late seventies, was a retired educator. According to Franchey's friends, during the months Weston lived with her, she became "very depressed, down, sad, agitated, nervous, very upset." The manager of the apartment complex testified that Franchey did not want Weston to live with her and was terrified of him. Shortly before her disappearance, Franchey talked about having Weston move out of her apartment. On Tuesday, August 4, 1998, Franchey told her bridge partner, Suzanne Allen, she was going to ask Weston to leave.

Franchey was last seen alive on August 6, 1998. That same day, Mark Jordan, the maintenance supervisor for the apartment complex, noticed that the trunk to Mrs. Franchey's car was open, and was lined with clear plastic.1 Jordan testified he had never seen Weston driving Franchey's vehicle prior to her disappearance, but that Weston was driving it on Monday, August 10th.2 Jordan also testified that Franchey did not want bumper stickers on her car but that, shortly after her disappearance, a new bumper sticker appeared on the car which read, "My kid beat up your honor roll student."

Randy Myers, a resident of the apartment complex, testified that, at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 8th, he saw Weston loading garbage bags into the trunk of Franchey's car. The same day, Leslie Fuller, the apartment complex manager, received a phone call from a concerned friend of Franchey. Fuller went to check on Franchey and, receiving no answer, she went around back to the patio where she saw that all of Franchey's plants were turned over, and there was an empty bleach bottle on the porch. The next day, Fuller called Kathy Jarvis, a Richland County sheriff's deputy who lived at the complex

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and worked as its courtesy officer. Fuller and Jarvis went to the apartment and found Weston home. They saw Franchey's purse and glasses on her bed and were told by Weston that Franchey had "met some man and run off with him" leaving him a note on the coffee table.3 According to Fuller, Weston came into her office a day or two later, very disheveled, sweating profusely, his eyes huge, and stated, "I was really angry with my mother and now I'm just scared."

On Monday, August 10th, Kathy Jarvis filed a missing person's report. The same day, a Richland County sheriff's deputy, Michael Kalec, went to the apartment and spoke with Weston. At that time, Kalec noticed there was no curtain in Franchey's bathroom. Weston advised Kalec that his mother's purse and keys were missing. Kathy Jarvis went to the apartment with police investigators on August 12th and noticed Franchey's purse was on the bed; she also noticed a brand new shower curtain was hanging in Franchey's bathroom.

The sheriff's department continued its investigation throughout the month of August. On September 4th, they returned to the apartment, which Weston had since vacated, and saw that the linoleum in the kitchen had been torn out, as well as a piece of the living room carpet. An area rug was covering the hole in the carpet.4 It was not torn out by either the sheriff's department or apartment complex personnel. Police tested the floor where the linoleum had been removed and found blood; blood was also found on drag marks leading from the hole in the carpet. Investigators subsequently tested a piece of blood-stained molding from the apartment; the blood on the molding was Franchey's.

On August 9, 2000, Weston was indicted for the murder of his mother; he was apprehended in Seattle, Washington in October 2000. The defense put up no evidence at trial. The jury found Weston guilty, and he was sentenced to forty years imprisonment.

ISSUES

1. Did the court err in allowing Suzanne Allen to testify as to the change in Franchey's demeanor after Weston came to live with her, and in allowing Franchey's daughter to testify as to her mother's fear of Weston?

2. Did the court err in allowing the solicitor to question the apartment manager, Fuller, as to whether anyone other than Weston had any animosity toward Franchey?

3. Did the court err in allowing a police officer to testify that, other than Weston, she had never had anybody blankly stare at her and not respond to her questions?

4. Did the court err in allowing testimony to the effect that Weston stated, "I need a lawyer" upon finding a search warrant the police had left inside his storage unit?

5. Did the court err in refusing to grant a directed verdict of acquittal to the charge of murder since the evidence raised only a suspicion of his guilt?

1. TESTIMONY RE FRANCHEY'S CHANGE OF DEMEANOR

Weston asserts the testimony of Suzanne Allen and Toni Franchey was improper under this Court's opinion in State v. Garcia and under Rule 803(3), SCRE. We disagree.

Suzanne Allen, a friend of Franchey, testified that, during the time period before Weston moved in with her, Franchey was a happy person, cheerful, and fun to be with. When the Solicitor asked Allen what was Franchey's state of mind concerning Weston, defense counsel's objection pursuant to State v. Garcia, 334 S.C. 71, 512 S.E.2d 507 (1999) was overruled. Allen testified "She was very unhappy." The colloquy continued as follows:

Q. She was unhappy?

A. Very unhappy.

Q. Had her demeanor changed as she lived with her son?

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A. Oh, yes.

Q. That summer of 1998, had you given her any advice about her son?

A. Yes, I encouraged her to ask him to leave by maybe providing some funds for him to get a place of his own because she seemed so miserable having him live with her....

. . . . . . .

Q. Did you have a conversation with Ms. Franchey on that Tuesday?

A. Yes....

Q. Did she tell you that she intended to do something? ...

A. Yes .... she said, I'm finally going to ask him to leave, I want my home back.

Q.... Did you ever talk to her after that Tuesday, August the 4th?

A. No I did not.

Thereafter, the state called Weston's sister, Toni Franchey, from whom Weston had been estranged for many years. Toni Franchey was living in Australia at the time of her mother's disappearance, but had come to Columbia for a family reunion in the summer of 1997. She testified that "at that time, I discussed with the family the fact that I became aware that Jeff was planning to move in with my mother and I strongly opposed it. I was afraid." Toni Franchey went on to testify about her July 1998 visit at which time she advised her mother that she should find Weston alternate housing. The state queried as follows:

Q. During that two week period just before your mother's disappearance, what was her—I need to be specific. What was her state of mind about Jeff?

Defense counsel: I object to that. That is not a proper state of mind question. Foundation is not proper and I submit it's hearsay.

The court: Overruled.

A. She was—she seemed—she seemed more nervous and—

Defense counsel objected that this was not within the Garcia exception. The court overruled the objection and Toni Franchey continued:

She seemed much more nervous and anxious than normal. My mother is very vivacious, outgoing and loves to, you know, have a laugh and, you know, go out and get something to eat and she just seemed more anxious and just uncertain. I know that while we were doing the house we — she said, well, please don't touch anything in Jeff's room and we didn't because she was afraid.

Weston contends the testimony of Suzanne Allen and Toni Franchey was improper. We disagree.

In Garcia, the defendant was charged with the murder of his girlfriend. He admitted shooting her, but claimed it had been an accident.5 At trial, Garcia objected to the testimony of two witnesses who testified that the decedent was scared of him. These witnesses were allowed to go further and state that the day before her death, the victim had told her grandmother that Garcia kicked her, causing a bruise below her knee, and that, a week before her death, Garcia had told the victim that if she ever left him, he would kill her. 334 S.C. at 73-74, 512 S.E.2d at 508.

We held, "the victim's state of mind—that she was scared of appellant—was relevant because it-tended to disprove appellant's contention the shooting was an accident; the victim's fear suggests appellant may have intended the shooting." Id. at 74, 512 S.E.2d 507, 512 S.E.2d at 608. We then went on to hold:

Consequently, while the present state of the declarant's mind is admissible as an exception to hearsay, the reason for the declarant's state of mind is not. United States v. Cohen, 631 F.2d 1223, 1225 (5th Cir.1980) ("But the state-of-mind exception does not permit the witness to relate any of the declarant's statements as to why he held the particular state of mind, or what he might have believed that would have induced the state of mind.) If the reservation in the text of the rule is to have any effect, it must be understood to narrowly limit those admissible statements to declarations of condition — `I'm scared'— and not

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belief—`I'm scared because [someone] threatened me.'"

334 S.C. at 76, 512 S.E.2d at 508 (emphasis supplied).

We find the testimony in...

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387 practice notes
  • State v. Moore, No. 4247.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 18, 2007
    ...verdict, the trial judge is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not its weight. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 625 S.E.2d 641 (2006); Sellers v. State, 362 S.C. 182, 607 S.E.2d 82 (2005); State v. Cherry, 361 S.C. 588, 606 S.E.2d 475 (2004); State v. Rosemond, 356 S.C.......
  • State v. Brannon, No. 4428.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 18, 2008
    ...verdict, the trial court is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not its weight. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 292, 625 S.E.2d 641, 648 (2006); State v. Stanley, 365 S.C. 24, 41-42, 615 S.E.2d 455, 464 (Ct.App.2005); State v. Padgett, 354 S.C. 268, 271, 580 S.E.2d 159,......
  • Brown v. State, No. 4297.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 5, 2007
    ...occurred as a result of the State's cross-examination of Bell. Id. at 271, 554 S.E.2d at 437. Cf. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 625 S.E.2d 641 (2006) (holding Doyle inapplicable to defendant's statement made to a friend prior to arrest and prior to Miranda warnings); State v. Hill, 360 S.C......
  • State v. Lee-Grigg, No. 4237.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • April 16, 2007
    ...verdict, the trial court is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not its weight. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 292, 625 S.E.2d 641, 648, (2006); State v. Stanley, 365 S.C. 24, 41-42, 615 S.E.2d 455, 464 (Ct.App.2005); State v. Padgett, 354 S.C. 268, 271, 580 S.E.2d 159......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
387 cases
  • State v. Moore, No. 4247.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 18, 2007
    ...verdict, the trial judge is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not its weight. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 625 S.E.2d 641 (2006); Sellers v. State, 362 S.C. 182, 607 S.E.2d 82 (2005); State v. Cherry, 361 S.C. 588, 606 S.E.2d 475 (2004); State v. Rosemond, 356 S.C.......
  • State v. Brannon, No. 4428.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 18, 2008
    ...verdict, the trial court is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not its weight. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 292, 625 S.E.2d 641, 648 (2006); State v. Stanley, 365 S.C. 24, 41-42, 615 S.E.2d 455, 464 (Ct.App.2005); State v. Padgett, 354 S.C. 268, 271, 580 S.E.2d 159,......
  • Brown v. State, No. 4297.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 5, 2007
    ...occurred as a result of the State's cross-examination of Bell. Id. at 271, 554 S.E.2d at 437. Cf. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 625 S.E.2d 641 (2006) (holding Doyle inapplicable to defendant's statement made to a friend prior to arrest and prior to Miranda warnings); State v. Hill, 360 S.C......
  • State v. Lee-Grigg, No. 4237.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • April 16, 2007
    ...verdict, the trial court is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not its weight. State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 292, 625 S.E.2d 641, 648, (2006); State v. Stanley, 365 S.C. 24, 41-42, 615 S.E.2d 455, 464 (Ct.App.2005); State v. Padgett, 354 S.C. 268, 271, 580 S.E.2d 159......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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