Appeal of right by the defendant pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-27(a) from a judgment imposing a life sentence for first-degree murder, entered on 2 July 1991 by Freeman, J., in Superior Court, Alexander County, upon a jury verdict of guilty.
The defendant was indicted by the grand jury of Davie County on 8 October 1990 for the first-degree murder of Misti Ann Mathena. The defendant's motion for a change of venue was allowed, and the case was transferred to Alexander County. The defendant was tried capitally, and the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Following the capital sentencing proceeding, the jury recommended that the defendant be sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial court sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment on 2 July 1991.
Before trial, the defendant moved to suppress certain incriminating statements which he had made to law enforcement officers. Following a hearing, the trial court made findings of fact and denied the defendant's motion to suppress.
The defendant presented no evidence at trial. The State's evidence tended to show the following. The fourteen-year-old victim, Misti Ann Mathena, was found dead in her family's mobile home in Mocksville, North Carolina, at approximately 4 p.m. on 4 September 1990. Law enforcement officers found the victim lying on her back on the living room floor. She had been shot three times: once in the head, once in the upper back, and once in the elbow. In their search of the residence, investigators discovered two .22-caliber shell casings, a live .22-caliber round, the victim's diary, and several love notes which referred to the defendant, Richie Hicks, and the victim.
Special Agent William R. Foster of the State Bureau of Investigation testified that he and Detective Lieutenant John Stephens of the Davie County Sheriff's Department interviewed the seventeen-year-old defendant in Foster's car, near the defendant's residence, at 12:08 a.m. on 5 September 1990. The defendant's family lived near the victim's family in the La Quinta trailer park. During this interview, the defendant stated that he and the victim had dated for about eight months and that they had broken up on Saturday, 1 September 1990, because they had been spending too much time together. The defendant explained that he had shared a bedroom with the victim in her parents' trailer until 31 August 1990, when the victim's mother had "kicked him out." He stated that he had returned to the victim's home on 3 September 1990 in order to collect his belongings. He talked to the victim at that time. He also told Agent Foster that the victim had started dating another boy a few days before her death. The defendant stated that he did not walk past the victim's trailer on the morning of her death, that he returned home from school that day at about 3 p.m., and that he knew nothing of the killing until a neighborhood child reported it to him. When asked if he knew of anyone who might want to hurt the victim, he indicated that an ex-boyfriend of the victim's sister had threatened the family in the past and that the ex-boyfriend had been seen in the trailer park on the day before the killing.
Agent Foster next saw the defendant at 6 p.m. on 5 September 1990. The defendant was standing outside the victim's trailer at this time, and Agent Foster asked him to retrace the path that he had taken on his way to the school bus the day before. The defendant agreed. After the defendant showed Agent Foster where he had walked on the morning of the killing, Agent Foster took the defendant back to the trailer where he had picked him up and let him out of the car.
At about noon on Thursday, 6 September 1990, Agent Foster and Lieutenant Stephens located the defendant at a funeral home in Mocksville. The defendant was with Bobby Mathena, the victim's brother. The officers asked the defendant and Bobby Mathena to come to the sheriff's department for further questioning, and the two boys agreed. About ten minutes later, the defendant and Bobby Mathena arrived at the sheriff's department in Bobby Mathena's car. The defendant repeated his earlier account of his whereabouts and contacts with the victim in the days preceding her death,
again stating that he had gone to school as he normally did on the day of her death and that he did not go anywhere near the victim's trailer on the morning of 4 September 1990.
During this interview at the sheriff's department, Agent Foster told the defendant that, because he and the victim had just broken up before the murder, he was a possible suspect. Agent Foster asked the defendant if he would cooperate by taking a polygraph test to eliminate himself as a suspect. The defendant stated that he wanted to cooperate, but that he wanted to talk to his father before agreeing to take the polygraph test. Agent Foster told the defendant that, because he was a minor, the officers would have to get his parents to sign a parental consent form before he could take the polygraph test. The defendant agreed that they should talk to his father. The officers took the defendant to his family's home, where the defendant's father signed a polygraph consent form at approximately 1 p.m.
After the defendant's father had signed the polygraph consent form, Agent Foster and Lieutenant Stephens took the defendant to the S.B.I. office in Hickory to take the polygraph test. They arrived in Hickory at 3 p.m., and the defendant waited in the lobby of the S.B.I. office while the officers went through a security door and into the area where individual offices were located. At about 5 p.m., Agent Foster asked the defendant to follow him through the security door and into the office of Special Agent J. L. Jones, the polygraph officer.
Agent Foster left the defendant in that office and next saw him at about 6:15 p.m., when the defendant walked down the hall and asked to speak to Agent Foster privately. The defendant told Agent Foster that Special Agent Jones had called him a liar and had made him mad. The defendant then stated that he was sorry and asked to speak to Agent Jones again. Agent Foster asked Agent Jones to come into the room and talk to the defendant, and Agent Foster left.
Agent Foster next saw the defendant at approximately 6:55 p.m., when he saw Agent Jones and the defendant walk outside into the parking lot. Jones and the defendant talked and then came back into the building, and Agent Foster followed them into the computer room. Over the defendant's objection, Agent Foster testified that at this time, the defendant was stating that he wanted to take the blame and that he was "responsible for it." He said
that he had shot the victim and told the officers that he would sign whatever they wanted him to and that he wanted to die and be with the victim. Agent Foster and Lieutenant Stephens told the defendant that they could not just write out a statement and have him sign it, and they told the defendant that they wanted the truth about what had happened. The defendant asked if he could take a polygraph test to prove that he had killed the victim, and Agent Foster left to see if he could find someone other than Agent Jones to administer a polygraph test.
At approximately 8:40 p.m., Agent Foster walked back into the computer room, and Lieutenant Stephens informed him that the defendant had confessed to the killing and had stated that his brother, Danny Hicks, had known that the defendant had planned to commit the murder and that he had carried out those plans. The defendant had told the officers that he took a rifle and hid it in the woods the day before the murder. On the morning of 4 September 1990, he went into the trailer, shot the victim, threw the rifle into some weeds outside the trailer, and then went on to school. After school that afternoon, he and Danny Hicks buried the rifle case and the rest of the ammunition.
Agent Foster asked the defendant if he wanted to tell the complete truth, and the defendant stated that he did. Lieutenant Stephens then advised the defendant of his constitutional rights. After waiving his rights, the defendant made the following statement.
The defendant said that he and the victim broke up on Saturday, 1 September 1990. He called her on Sunday at about noon, and she told him that she was dating someone else. When he hung up the telephone, he hit a wall in the kitchen and made a hole in it.
The defendant stated that on Monday, 3 September 1990, he went to the victim's trailer to gather up some of his belongings. After he left her trailer, he went home and called the victim. She told him not to call her any more; when he asked her if making love meant anything to her, she said yes, and again told him not to call her any more. The defendant told the officers that at that point, he started thinking about another boy touching her, and he "went to pieces." He went into his brother Danny's bedroom and told Danny that he could not handle it and that he was going to have to get rid of her. Danny said that he "didn't give a sh--."
The defendant stated that Danny and the victim had never gotten along.
The defendant said that he told Danny that he was going to leave the gun in the woods, and Danny went with him. They left the gun in the woods behind the victim's house at about 9:45 or 10:00 p.m. The defendant told Danny that he was going to shoot the victim at her home the next morning.
The defendant stated that on the morning of 4 September 1990, he and Danny left the house at about 6:15 a.m. Before they got to the victim's trailer, they split up. The defendant turned and went into the woods, and Danny went to the bus stop. The defendant walked into the woods behind the victim's home and waited for her sisters to leave. He knew the sisters were gone when he heard the bus go by. He then picked up the rifle and entered the Mathenas' trailer through the back door. He turned on the stereo in the victim's room and started to walk toward the living room, where he met the victim. The defendant stated that they looked at each other without saying anything, and he shot her. She looked at him and turned around, and he shot her in the back. She fell to the floor and put her hands ...