The State v. Mattison

Decision Date09 August 2010
Docket NumberNo. 26853.,26853.
Citation388 S.C. 469,697 S.E.2d 578
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent,v.Amos Lamont MATTISON, Petitioner.

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Chief Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, all of Columbia, Robert Mills Ariail, of Greenville, for Respondent.

Justice BEATTY.

The Court granted Amos Lamont Mattison's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals in State v. Mattison, 380 S.C. 326, 669 S.E.2d 635 (Ct.App.2008), affirming Mattison's convictions for murder, assault and battery with intent to kill (ABWIK), and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. In so ruling, the Court of Appeals found the trial judge did not err in refusing Mattison's request to charge that “prior knowledge of the commission of a crime is insufficient to establish guilt” and that “mere association with a person who commits a crime is insufficient to establish guilt.” We affirm as modified.

I. Factual/Procedural History

On the morning of August 21, 2003, Jose Garcia was injured in a shooting that left his brother, Roberto Garcia, and their cousin, Jorge Lemus-Patricio, dead. In its opening statement, the State advanced the theory that Mattison and Britney Ervin schemed to lure all three men to a remote location to murder them and steal Jose's 1964 black Chevy Impala.1

Jose, the State's primary witness, testified that his cousin Jorge woke him up on the morning of August 21, 2003, and told him that someone wanted to buy Jose's Chevy Impala. Shortly thereafter, a “black skinny man,” whom Jose later identified as Ervin, came to his home to discuss the purchase price of the car. After this discussion, Ervin left and returned approximately five to ten minutes later requesting to test drive the car. Jose and Ervin then left the house in the car. As they approached a street corner, Jose saw Mattison wave at them, but they did not pick him up. Jose and Ervin continued driving and then returned to Jose's home at which time Ervin left. Approximately five minutes later, Ervin returned to Jose's house and told him that he wanted to purchase the car but had to go to his grandfather's house to get the money.

Jose then drove Ervin to the home of Ervin's grandfather. Roberto and Jorge followed in their Honda Passport vehicle in order to bring Jose home after he sold the car. As Jose and Ervin were driving, they saw Mattison at the same street corner as before. This time, they stopped the car and picked up Mattison as a passenger. Although Jose could not completely understand their conversation due to a language barrier, he testified that Ervin and Mattison talked during the ride and appeared to know each other.

Upon arrival at the destination, Mattison and Ervin exited the car and walked around the house. After about ten minutes, Mattison returned to the car and began talking with Jose. Mattison told Jose that he did not want to go back around the house because Ervin's grandfather did not like him.

After waiting for approximately fifteen minutes, Jose was about to leave, but Ervin returned to the front of the house and told Jose that he was getting the money from his grandfather. Ervin also said that he needed help with a tire. Roberto complied with this request and went around the house with Ervin to assist him. Jorge exited the Honda Passport and asked Jose what was happening when they heard a gunshot. Mattison told Jose that Ervin's grandfather “was crazy and he was shooting.”

Jose, Jorge, and Mattison then went around the house where Jose observed Ervin with a gun in his hand, coming toward the three men. When Jorge saw Ervin with the gun, he tried to run. As Ervin chased Jorge, Mattison told Jose not to worry because he also had a gun and that he would help them. Mattison then pulled out a handgun, which Jose described as “not like” the one that Ervin brandished. Ervin caught Jorge and the four men then continued walking toward the back of the house with Jose and Jorge in front followed by Ervin and then Mattison.

As they reached the corner of the house, Jose heard Roberto moaning and then saw him face down on the ground. Jose then pled with Mattison and Ervin to just take the cars and let him get his brother to a hospital. As Ervin raised the gun to shoot Jose, Jorge jumped on top of Ervin and Jose joined in the struggle. Jose looked up and saw Mattison standing in the same corner as before with the gun in his hands.

During the struggle over the gun with Ervin, the gun fired but did not hit Jose. As Ervin was trying to shoot Jose, he told Mattison more than once to shoot Jose. Jose then heard a gunshot from Mattison's direction, felt his shirt fly up, and then turned to see Mattison running away. Jose noticed Jorge “getting weaker in fighting” and saw him fall to the ground. Jose eventually obtained control of the gun. Ervin then fled the scene.

As Jose went to seek help, he discovered both the Chevy Impala and Honda Passport were gone. Ultimately, Jose found a neighbor who called 911 to report the incident.

Jose suffered a bullet graze injury to his shoulder during the struggle. Roberto and Jorge were transported to the hospital where both were eventually pronounced dead. According to the autopsies, Roberto died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen and another to the pelvis. Jorge died from a gunshot wound to the head. Ballistic evidence revealed that the two bullets recovered from Roberto were fired from the nine millimeter Luger gun that Jose had taken from Ervin during the struggle. The bullet recovered from Jorge was a thirty-two caliber, fired from a gun that authorities never recovered.

Later in the day, Jose gave a statement to investigating officers wherein he described his assailants as “the skinny guy and the fat guy.” He identified Ervin as “the skinny guy” from a photographic lineup after Ervin was arrested while driving Jose's Chevy Impala. Jose made an in-court identification of Mattison as the other man who rode in the back of his car that day and ultimately shot in his direction.

Following his arrest, Ervin gave two statements to the investigating officers. In his first statement, Ervin claimed Mattison asked him to set up “some Mexicans” so that Mattison could rob them of their drugs. In describing the incident at his grandfather's shop, Ervin claimed that Mattison used a nine millimeter gun to shoot “the Mexicans.”

Ervin asserted he gave a second statement in order to correct his first statement “regarding how the shooting went down.” In contrast to his first statement, Ervin admitted to shooting one of the victims in the chest and the neck. However, he claimed his gun discharged when the other men struggled with him over the weapon. Ervin further stated that when his gun discharged, Mattison fired his weapon.

At trial, Ervin denied telling the investigating officers much of what was in his two prior statements. He also gave a different version of the events in that he claimed Mattison brought “some Mexicans” to his home that day to see if Ervin wanted to buy a Chevy Impala. Ervin testified that when they arrived at his grandfather's property, Mattison shot one of the Mexicans. After hearing these gunshots, Ervin claimed to have driven away in the Chevy Impala.

Although Mattison did not testify at trial, a statement made by Mattison was read into the record. In his statement, Mattison claimed Ervin brought a Mexican to his house who tried to buy Mattison's car in exchange for drugs. According to Mattison, he rode with Ervin and the Mexican in a black car while a “short black guy named Chuck or Bud” followed in a gray car with two other Mexicans. Mattison stated that Ervin and the Mexican then exited the car and went around the house while the Mexicans from the gray car remained with Mattison.

Mattison claimed that “Chuck” remained in the gray car. Mattison then heard a “pop, pop,” and said “let's go,” but one of the Mexicans refused because of his brother. They then ran to the back of the house. When Mattison heard “pop, pop” again, he took off running in the other direction. As he ran up the driveway, Mattison claimed to have seen Ervin drive off in the “black car.”

Prior to closing arguments, Mattison's counsel submitted eight requests to charge involving “mere knowledge,” “mere association,” and “mere presence.” In response, the trial judge stated he would cover the requests, but “not exactly” as counsel requested. Counsel then asked whether the trial judge would instruct the jury that “prior knowledge is not sufficient, mere association.” Mattison's counsel took exception to the trial judge's refusal to charge this request.

During his jury instructions, the trial judge charged in part:

Ladies and Gentlemen, a principal in a crime is one who either in person perpetrates the crime or who being present aides and abets and assists the commission of that crime. I charge you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that mere presence at the scene of a crime is not sufficient to convict.
However, when one does an act in the presence of or with the assistance of another, the act is done by both. Where two or more acted with a common design or intent is present at the commission of a crime, it does not matter by one who the crime is committed, for all are guilty.
Intent, however, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a necessary element of the offense. There must have been a common design or attempt to commit the crime. The crime must have been committed pursuant to the person aiding and abetting by some overt act. Now, presence at the commission of a crime means to be sufficiently near so as to be able to aid and abet in its commission.
Stated somewhat differently, Ladies and Gentlemen, is several, two or more persons [pursu
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