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State of North Carolina v. Leslie Edward Smith

December 20, 2011


Wake County No. 09 CRS 048279

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elmore, Judge.

An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 1 September 2010 by Judge Paul C. Ridgeway in Wake County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 13 September 2011.

Leslie Edward Smith (defendant) was found guilty by a jury of first degree murder. He now appeals, alleging that the trial court erred by excluding evidence about the victim's medical and mental health history. Because we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the evidence, we hold that defendant received a trial free from error.

I. Background

On 26 July 2009, defendant shot Jackie Gore in the chest once, killing her. Defendant and Gore had known each other for several years, and Gore had lived with defendant in his trailer for several months beginning in December 2007. However, she moved out to live with another man in February 2008. She stayed in contact with defendant and moved back in with him in August 2008 after a third man, whom she hoped to live with, turned her away because he was married. Gore and defendant did not have a sexual relationship when she returned, but defendant supported Gore financially. When asked about this arrangement, defendant explained that he wanted Gore to be able to focus on overcoming her alcoholism, so he was glad to help provide for her.

By all accounts, Gore was an alcoholic who sometimes became violent when she was drunk. For example, in December 2007, Gore became drunk and, after threatening defendant with a knife, cut her own wrist with the knife, exclaiming that she was going to kill herself. According to defendant, she told him how many times she had cut herself, explaining that she had been cutting herself all her life. She also told him that she had been committed multiple times. Eventually, defendant subdued her and called the authorities. When deputies arrived, they asked defendant to let go of Gore's hands. As soon as he did, she punched defendant in the face. Then Gore began fighting with the deputies. The deputies eventually took Gore to Dorothea Dix where she stayed for about a week.

Gore stopped drinking for awhile, and defendant took her to meetings with Ellen Clemmer, a clinical social worker who worked as a therapist at Dorothea Dix. However, according to defendant, after the third meeting with Clemmer, Gore told defendant, "I don't need no damn help. I have been in and out of these places all my life and there ain't nobody been able to help me and I am not going any damn more." According to defendant, she left his home in February 2008 because he would not let her drink in his home anymore. When she returned that August, she had stopped drinking and remained sober for about six months.

Around the same time that Gore began drinking again, defendant suffered a series of unfortunate events in his own life. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, his mother died, and he lost the job that he had held for twenty years. On his way back from his mother's celebration of life ceremony, defendant heard that Gore had been hospitalized after another violent episode while she was drunk. Five days later, on 24 July 2009, defendant lost his job. When he came home, Gore was not sympathetic, which struck defendant as "cold." Eventually this led to another violent fight with Gore when defendant suggested that she cut back on drinking sodas sweetened with aspartame because he had read that the artificial sweetener could be one cause of her aches and pains. According to defendant, this comment set her off:

[S]he lit into me like [the] Devil himself trying to tell me I don't need your damn help, ain't nothing wrong with me, I can drink Mountain Dew ever since I was ten years old and stuff like that. And, you know, you can't tell me this and you can't tell me that.

Then Gore began calling defendant names, so he grabbed her by the throat and pushed her down on the couch. As soon as he let her go, she punched him in the face and threatened to call the authorities. Defendant responded that he didn't care, that she could have shot him and he wouldn't have cared. Gore called the authorities and then punched defendant again.

When deputies arrived, they suggested that Gore and defendant not live together anymore. Because Gore claimed not to have anywhere else to go, defendant offered to stay with his brother in the mountains. He packed some clothes, but he forgot to pack his diabetes medications, including his insulin. He also asked one of the deputies to take the handgun that was in his truck because he was afraid that he would kill himself if he kept the gun. The deputy removed the clip, which he left in the truck, and gave the gun to defendant's next door neighbor and friend, Russell. After defendant arrived at his brother's house, about two-and-a-quarter hours away, he realized that he had forgotten his insulin. He decided to go back home the next day to retrieve his insulin, with the intent of moving in with his brother permanently.

When defendant arrived in the trailer park that Sunday morning, he first went to Russell's house to retrieve his gun. He brought the clip with him from the truck and loaded the gun. While he was in Russell's home, Gore "busted in and started screaming and yelling," waving her arms "around like a banshee." He did not respond to Gore and instead left Russell's trailer and walked to his own, with the gun still in his hand. Although he had originally intended to return the gun to his truck, he said that he walked straight to his trailer because the neighbors were watching and he was embarrassed.

Gore followed him, screaming. He laid the gun down on his kitchen table and noticed that all of his guitars, which he described as his most precious possessions, were strewn about the floor. At that point, Gore was still screaming at him, calling him a "balless wonder," a "son of a bitch," and other expletives. He described her as looking as though "she had lost about 100 pounds and was strung out on crack or something." Defendant responded, yelling at her to shut up and get out of his house. She ...

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