Before Tillery, Judge, at the 2 March 1981 Session of Superior Court, Lenoir County. Defendant was convicted of arson and appeals as a matter of right from the sentence of life imprisonment.
Defendant confessed to the crime with which he was charged in a statement to law enforcement authorities approximately three hours after a statement to the same officers in which he denied committing the crime. He was given his Miranda warnings prior to his first statement, but they were not repeated prior to the second statement. The sole assignment of error presented by this appeal is whether the trial court erred in admitting the second statement, in which defendant confessed to arson, into
evidence over his objection. Defendant contends that the admission of his purported confession was error because the Miranda warnings were not repeated prior to his second statement. At trial, defendant denied that he made the second statement.
Defendant was tried on an indictment, proper in form, alleging that he feloniously set fire to and burned the dwelling house inhabited by his wife, Melba Jean Williams Artis, and others on 2 January 1981. Evidence for the State tended to show that defendant went to the home of his estranged wife at 608 North East Street in Kinston on the night of 1 January 1981. He brought some Christmas presents for his two sons and stayed about thirty minutes. While he was there, defendant and his wife began arguing and he pulled a knife and threatened her. She fled to an adjacent apartment and asked a neighbor to call the police. Defendant left his wife's residence, and, in doing so, struck and damaged her automobile. His wife reported the hit-and-run accident to the police and she and the children thereafter retired for the evening. Mrs. Artis awoke around 4:00 a.m. the following morning and realized that the house was on fire. She awakened the other occupants and they escaped without injury.
Later that morning, defendant was apprehended near his wife's burning residence and was taken to the police station in Kinston for questioning. A police officer advised him of his Miranda rights and defendant signed a waiver of his rights at approximately 6:35 a.m. on 2 January 1981. At that time defendant gave the officers a statement detailing his activities that evening, including an admission that he hit his wife's car, but he did not admit any act of arson. According to defendant, the reason he was near his wife's home at the time of the fire was that he was returning to tell her that he had hit her car. When he got near the hourse, he saw the fire engines. A policeman stopped him and he was arrested for the hit-and-run. His statement was completed at approximately 7:35 a.m.
Officer Heath, the officer who took defendant's statement, then left defendant at the police station in the custody of other officers and returned to the scene of the fire for further investigation. He detected an odor of gasoline in the soil underneath the house, obtained soil samples for analysis by the state laboratory,
and, after further investigation, returned to the police station. Officer Heath advised defendant that the fire had been set with gasoline and that he detected an odor of gasoline on the defendant's hands. This was approximately three hours following the defendant's first statement, and he was not again advised of his Miranda rights. Defendant then gave a second statement to Officer Heath. The second statement recounted some of the details included in the first and included an admission that he had set the fire by placing a rag in the top of a gasoline-filled plastic jug, lighting the rag, and throwing the jug underneath the house.
The State also presented evidence that the fire had been started underneath the house by igniting gasoline contained in a plastic jug.
Defendant himself took the stand and explained his activities that evening and early morning. His testimony essentially corroborated the version of events contained in his first statement. He denied setting the fire and also denied ...