State v. Wiggins, No. 24791.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtWALLER, Justice
Citation330 S.C. 538,500 S.E.2d 489
PartiesSTATE of South Carolina, Respondent, v. Willie WIGGINS, Appellant.
Decision Date18 May 1998
Docket NumberNo. 24791.

330 S.C. 538
500 S.E.2d 489

STATE of South Carolina, Respondent,
v.
Willie WIGGINS, Appellant

No. 24791.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard December 2, 1997.

Decided May 18, 1998.

Rehearing Denied June 17, 1998.


330 S.C. 540
Jack B. Swerling, Columbia, for appellant

Charles Molony Condon, Attorney General, John W. McIntosh, Deputy Attorney General, Salley W. Elliott, Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Charles H. Richardson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Columbia; and C. Gordon McBride, Solicitor, Fourth Judicial Circuit, Darlington, for respondent.

WALLER, Justice:

On January 2, 1995, Appellant Willie Wiggins was indicted for the murder of Robert Clayton Hood ("Victim"). Following a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter1 and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. We affirm.

FACTS

Appellant and his wife operate the Bennettsville Motel ("Motel"). Attached to Motel is a restaurant named the

330 S.C. 541
Launch Pad, and a bar named the Silver Moon. Victim was a frequent patron of these establishments. It is undisputed that on the night of October 13, 1994, Victim got into a fight with another patron. Appellant's wife asked Victim to leave and permanently barred him from the premises. Appellant was not present. Victim was very reluctant to leave and had to be persuaded to do so by a family member

Sometime around mid-day on October 14, 1994, Victim returned to Motel. He first met with Appellant. Victim and Appellant had an ongoing arrangement where Victim would borrow money from Appellant using his gun as collateral. On this day, Victim repaid an outstanding debt to Appellant, who then returned Victim's gun.2 When Victim indicated he wanted to discuss the events of the night before, Appellant told him his wife had made the decision to bar him from the restaurant/bar and if he had a problem with it he would have to talk to her. Appellant then took Victim to speak to his wife and left. An argument developed between Victim and Appellant's wife because Victim was upset he was the only person who had been barred (not the person with whom he was fighting). When Appellant's wife stuck to her decision, Victim angrily left Motel.

A few hours later, Victim's sister ("Sister") arrived at Motel, demanding to speak with Appellant's wife. Appellant told Sister his wife was not there and asked if he could help her. Sister responded she had come to confront his wife regarding her decision to bar Victim from the premises. Appellant testified she was angry and threatened to physically attack Appellant's wife. He told her no one was going to attack his wife, and warned he would call the police if she came back to cause trouble. He also told her if she came back and tried to attack his wife, he would "kick her ass." Sister responded she was going to bring the "whole Hood family" back to Motel later that night to "shut the place down." 3

330 S.C. 542
As Sister was leaving, Victim's brother ("Brother") arrived, apparently to try to calm her down. Brother and Sister were in Motel's parking lot, preparing to leave, when Victim drove up. Victim was sitting in Sister's car, talking to her, when Appellant came out of Motel.4 Appellant walked over to the passenger side of Sister's car, where Victim was sitting. Victim had one foot in the car and one foot on the ground, with the door open. Testimony regarding the subsequent events was, unsurprisingly, highly contradictory

Sister testified Appellant was leaning into the car talking to her and Victim. He told them he was going to call the police if they did not leave. Victim replied he did not come looking for trouble; he had only come to get Sister.5 Sister, however, continued arguing with Appellant. She had informed Victim Appellant had threatened to kick her ass.6 Victim asked Appellant if he said that and Appellant denied it. Sister accused Appellant of lying. Appellant then stated, "`Yes, I said it. I'll kick both of your asses.'" Victim responded, "We'll settle this," and turned to get out of the car. When he turned, Sister saw a gun clipped to Victim's back (Victim's back was not to Appellant). She then saw Appellant had a gun in his hand. She had exited the car when Appellant began shooting.7 Victim did not reach for his gun until he had already been hit by Appellant with the first shot. Victim never was able to pull the gun out and fire it, however; the gun fell to the ground. After Victim was hit with the first shot, he exited the car and began running toward the rear, at which point his back was to Appellant, who continued firing the gun. Victim fell to the ground and was carried to the hospital by Sister, where he died. Sister unequivocally stated Victim never had a gun in his hand, or pointed a gun at

330 S.C. 543
Appellant, while he was sitting in the car or before Appellant began shooting.

Brother, who was standing outside of, but close to, Sister's car, testified he heard Victim tell Appellant he did not want any trouble and that they were leaving. He did not hear any other conversation besides Sister calling Appellant a liar. As Victim was getting out of the car, Appellant pulled a gun out of his right back pocket and began firing. Victim did not have a gun in his hand. Brother saw Victim reach for his gun after Appellant fired the first shot. Victim began staggering towards the back of the car as Appellant continued firing. At some point after the first shot, Brother shouted for Victim to shoot Appellant. Victim never raised his gun or pointed it at Appellant; the gun fell from Victim's hand as he was being shot. Before Victim reached for his gun, Brother did not know he had one (i.e. he could not see it from where he was standing—which was directly behind Appellant).8

Appellant gave a very different version of events. He testified he armed himself with a gun after Sister left Motel because he was going home, and it was his habit to take his gun home. When Victim showed up outside, he did not think there would be any problem because he thought they were on good terms. He had never had problems with him that could not be talked out. When he asked Victim to leave the first time, Victim ignored him (or did not hear him). He forthrightly told Victim he had threatened to "whip [Sister's] ass" (he testified he never denied saying it), but told Victim he did not mean it. He told Victim they did not need any problems, to which Victim responded, "Yeah, we've got problems." Victim got out of the car, took his sunglasses off with his right hand, and with his left hand pulled out a pistol.9 Victim cocked and pointed the gun at Appellant.10 As Victim was

330 S.C. 544
exiting the car, Brother was yelling, "Shoot him, Clay." Appellant got scared, pulled his own gun and fired.

An autopsy revealed Victim died of three "distant" gunshot wounds, two in the chest and one in the back. No powder burns were associated with the wounds. No gunpowder residue was found on Victim's hands. The trajectory of one of the chest wounds indicated it was fired from a downward angle. From the relative sizes of Victim and Appellant, the pathologist opined this downward angle was consistent with Victim getting out of a car and Appellant standing outside of the car when the shot was fired because Victim would have to be lower than the gun. Victim's blood alcohol level was .019%.

ISSUES

I. Did the trial judge err in refusing to direct a verdict of acquittal because Appellant was acting in self-defense as a matter of law?
II. Did the trial judge err in submitting the issue of voluntary manslaughter to the jury?
III. Did the solicitor's remarks during opening and closing argument prejudice Appellant's right to a fair trial?

DISCUSSION

I. Self-Defense

Appellant argues the trial judge should have directed a verdict of acquittal because the State failed to provide evidence sufficient to negate his claim of self-defense (i.e. because Appellant was acting in self-defense as a matter of law). We disagree.

At one time, self-defense was an affirmative defense in this State, and a defendant bore the burden of establishing it by a preponderance or greater weight of the evidence. State v. McDowell, 272 S.C. 203, 249 S.E.2d 916 (1978). However, current law requires the State to disprove self-defense, once raised by the defendant, beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Fuller, 297 S.C. 440, 443, 377 S.E.2d 328, 330 (1989); State v. Bellamy, 293 S.C. 103, 105, 359 S.E.2d 63, 64-65 (1987), overruled on other grounds, State v. Torrence, 305 S.C.

330 S.C. 545
45, 406 S.E.2d 315 (1991) ("It is clear that the defendant need not establish self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence but must merely produce evidence which causes the jury to have a reasonable doubt regarding his guilt.").

"When ruling on a motion for a directed verdict, the trial judge is concerned with the existence of evidence, not its weight. When this Court reviews the denial of a motion for a directed verdict, it views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and if there is any direct or substantial circumstantial evidence which reasonably tends to prove the guilt of the accused or from which guilt may be fairly and logically deduced, refusal by the trial judge to direct a verdict is not error." State v. Long, 325 S.C. 59, 480 S.E.2d 62 (1997). See also William S. McAninch & W. Gaston Fairey, The Criminal Law of South Carolina 483 (3d ed. 1996) (Supp. 1997 at 77) ("Reversal of a conviction because of the trial court's refusing to give a directed verdict on the ground of self-defense is rare").

The basic definition of when a person is justified in using deadly force in self-defense is comprised of four elements:

(1) The defendant was without fault in bringing on the difficulty;
(2) The defendant must have actually believed he was in imminent danger of losing his life or sustaining serious bodily injury, or he actually was in such imminent danger;
(3) If the defense is based
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63 practice notes
  • State v. Santiago, No. 4127.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 19, 2006
    ...341 S.C. 410, 416, 535 S.E.2d 431, 434 (2000); State v. Bryant, 336 S.C. 340, 344-45, 520 S.E.2d 319, 321-22 (1999); State v. Wiggins, 330 S.C. 538, 545, 500 S.E.2d 489, 493 (1998); State v. Long, 325 S.C. 59, 62, 480 S.E.2d 62, 63 (1997); State v. Bruno, 322 S.C. 534, 536, 473 S.E.2d 450, ......
  • Moulton v. Cartledge, Civil Action No. 6:14-2666-DCN-KFM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • April 21, 2015
    ...be accompanied by appearance of an assault by some overt threatening act—which could have produced heat of passion); State v. Wiggins, 330 S.C. 538, 549, 500 S.E.2d 489, 495 (1998) ("fear can constitute a basis for voluntary manslaughter" as the mind can be rendered incapable of cool reflec......
  • State v. Smith, Appellate Case No. 2015-001905
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 15, 2018
    ...the existence of evidence, not its weight." State v. Butler , 407 S.C. 376, 381, 755 S.E.2d 457, 460 (2014) (quoting State v. Wiggins , 330 S.C. 538, 545, 500 S.E.2d 489, 493 (1998) ). Likewise, on appeal, "this [c]ourt must affirm the [circuit] court's decision to submit the case to the ju......
  • In the Interest of Tracy B., a Juvenile Under the Age of Seventeen, Appellant., No. 4769.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 28, 2011
    ...by the defendant, beyond a reasonable doubt.” State v. Burkhart, 350 S.C. 252, 261, 565 S.E.2d 298, 303 (2002) (quoting State v. Wiggins, 330 S.C. 538, 544, 500 S.E.2d 489, 492–93 (1998)). “To establish self-defense in South Carolina, four elements must be present.” State v. Bryant, 336 S.C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
64 cases
  • State v. Santiago, No. 4127.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 19, 2006
    ...341 S.C. 410, 416, 535 S.E.2d 431, 434 (2000); State v. Bryant, 336 S.C. 340, 344-45, 520 S.E.2d 319, 321-22 (1999); State v. Wiggins, 330 S.C. 538, 545, 500 S.E.2d 489, 493 (1998); State v. Long, 325 S.C. 59, 62, 480 S.E.2d 62, 63 (1997); State v. Bruno, 322 S.C. 534, 536, 473 S.E.2d 450, ......
  • Moulton v. Cartledge, Civil Action No. 6:14-2666-DCN-KFM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • April 21, 2015
    ...be accompanied by appearance of an assault by some overt threatening act—which could have produced heat of passion); State v. Wiggins, 330 S.C. 538, 549, 500 S.E.2d 489, 495 (1998) ("fear can constitute a basis for voluntary manslaughter" as the mind can be rendered incapable of cool reflec......
  • State v. Smith, Appellate Case No. 2015-001905
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 15, 2018
    ...the existence of evidence, not its weight." State v. Butler , 407 S.C. 376, 381, 755 S.E.2d 457, 460 (2014) (quoting State v. Wiggins , 330 S.C. 538, 545, 500 S.E.2d 489, 493 (1998) ). Likewise, on appeal, "this [c]ourt must affirm the [circuit] court's decision to submit the case to the ju......
  • In the Interest of Tracy B., a Juvenile Under the Age of Seventeen, Appellant., No. 4769.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 28, 2011
    ...by the defendant, beyond a reasonable doubt.” State v. Burkhart, 350 S.C. 252, 261, 565 S.E.2d 298, 303 (2002) (quoting State v. Wiggins, 330 S.C. 538, 544, 500 S.E.2d 489, 492–93 (1998)). “To establish self-defense in South Carolina, four elements must be present.” State v. Bryant, 336 S.C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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