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State v. Edmonds

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

October 7, 2014


Heard in the Court of Appeals August 27, 2014.

Page 553

Buncombe County. No. 11 CRS 64716, 64719.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney General Heather Freeman, for the State.

Appellate Defender Staples S. Hughes, by Assistant Appellate Defender Paul M. Green, for defendant James Ryan Edmonds.

Russell J. Hollers III, for defendant John B. Edmonds.

ELMORE, Judge. Judges CALABRIA and STEPHENS concur.


Page 554

ELMORE, Judge.

Appeal by defendants from judgments entered 25 July 2013 by Judge James U. Downs in Buncombe County Superior Court.

On 5 March 2012, the Buncombe County grand jury returned bills of indictment against defendant John Burton Edmonds, Jr. (" defendant John" ) for robbery with a dangerous weapon in 11 CRS 64719, and against his son, James Ryan Edmonds (" defendant James" ) for robbery with a dangerous weapon in 11 CRS 64716. On 18 April 2013, the State filed a Motion for Joinder, requesting that the trial court join the cases for trial. The motion was granted and the case came on for trial on 5 June 2013. The jury found both men guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon. Defendant John admitted the aggravating factor that he committed the offense while on pretrial release, and he was sentenced to 97 to 129 months imprisonment with a 28-day credit. Defendant James also admitted that he committed the offense while on pretrial release. He was sentenced to 73 to 100 months imprisonment with a 10-day credit. Both defendant John and defendant James (collectively " defendants" ) now appeal their convictions. After careful consideration, we find that defendant John received a trial free from error and defendant James received a trial free from prejudicial error. However, we remand for a correction of clerical errors in defendant John's Judgment and Commitment form.

I. Background

At trial, the State called Leslie Pruitt, customer service manager at Forrest Hills Commercial Bank. Ms. Pruitt testified that in September 2011, defendant John opened a bank account at Forrest Hills Commercial Bank that was funded by loan proceeds in the amount of $65,000.00. Ms. Pruitt testified that after this account was opened, large amounts of cash were withdrawn daily until the account was overdrawn. The bank's fraud detection system flagged the account as " a suspect of suspicious activity." Ms. Pruitt tracked the account activity and recommended it be closed. In November 2011, Forrest Hills Commercial Bank closed the account.

Anne Garrett, customer service representative at Forrest Hills Commercial Bank, testified that she was familiar with defendant John because he frequented the bank and called " all of the time" regarding his account. On 7 December 2011, one day before the robbery, defendant John and defendant James arrived together at the bank at 1:33 p.m. Ms. Garrett testified that the men approached her desk and defendant John took a seat. The surveillance video showed that defendant James stood to the side of Ms. Garrett's desk before moving behind it. Ms. Garrett testified that she particularly remembered defendant James that afternoon because he encroached on the personal space behind her desk.

On 8 December 2011, the day of the robbery, Ms. Garrett saw defendant John enter the bank on three separate occasions. At 11:00 a.m., defendant John first entered the bank and paced the lobby while talking on his cell phone. He did not speak to any bank employee. According to Ms. Garrett, it was customary for defendant John to be on his phone when he entered the bank. At 12:20 p.m., defendant John entered the bank once more. He adamantly asked bank personnel

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to open an account for him. He left after being informed that he could not open an account. Ms. Garrett testified that defendant John entered the bank for a third time at approximately 1:20 p.m. Defendant approached Ms. Garrett's desk, and she opened her cash drawer to put her work away. Defendant John took a seat despite the fact that Ms. Garrett was on the phone and there were other customer service representatives available to assist him. Shortly after defendant John sat down, Ms. Garrett testified that the bank door flung open and a masked man brandishing a gun ran directly to her with " no hesitation at all." The robber grabbed Ms. Garrett's cash drawer--forcing her hands off of it. He took the cash and ran out the door.

In a statement made to Detective Kevin Briggs after the robbery, Ms. Garrett noted that the robber wore a blue mask and was about 5'7" tall. She also stated she believed the gun was fake because it had an orange cap. At trial, Ms. Garrett testified that she no longer thought the gun was fake. Ms. Garrett testified that the robber's build resembled defendant James'. She testified, " [a]s soon as everything happened and we closed the doors, I said that's [] John's son." Ms. Garrett also recognized that the robber wore the same shoes that defendant James had worn to the bank the previous day.

Sergeant Mark Allen with the Town of Biltmore Police Department testified on behalf of the State at trial. On 8 December 2011, Sergeant Allen responded to a bank robbery at Forest Hills Commercial Bank at approximately 1:22 p.m. As he approached the bank, defendant John was leaving. Sergeant Allen ordered him to stop. Defendant John informed Sergeant Allen that he was a patron of the bank and that it had just been robbed. Defendant John stated that he chased the robber out of the bank, that the robber was Hispanic, wore a black shirt and black mask, and fled across the parking lot into the wooded area behind the bank. Based on the information defendant John provided, Sergeant Allen set up a perimeter and radioed for a tracking K-9 unit.

After viewing the surveillance video of the robbery, Sergeant Allen named defendant John a suspect because (1) the direction defendant John said the robber fled did not match the video, (2)the robber's mask was not black, and (3) defendant John acted eager to leave the scene.

Jamie Johnson, defendant James' former girlfriend, testified for the State over defense counsels' objections. Jamie Johnson stated she and defendant James were living together in December 2011, at which time she was eight months pregnant with his child. Jamie Johnson testified that she drove a gold 2001 Mazda Tribute in December 2011, which defendant James frequently borrowed. This testimony was relevant because the bank's surveillance video from 8 December 2011 showed a gold Mazda Tribute pass defendant John in the bank's parking lot after the robbery. The same vehicle was shown on the surveillance video on 7 December 2011 after the men left the bank. Jamie Johnson alleged that defendant James frequently borrowed her vehicle and that he had done so on 8 December 2011.

On 7 December 2011 at 1:15 p.m., defendant James sent Jamie Johnson the following text message: " Jamie, if you want me to have money in the morning, I have have [sic] all the gas that's in your car to be able to do everything I have to, so if you run any gas out we really will be f ." Jamie Johnson alleged that on the evening of 8 December 2011, defendant James and defendant John arrived at her home with $2,000 cash and pills. Jamie Johnson admitted that she was addicted to oxycodone. Jamie Johnson also admitted that she threw defendant James' shoes into the river the following day per his request. Jamie Johnson also stated that defendant James kept a black Taurus revolver in his night stand.

Sergeant John Thomas of the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department testified that he obtained search warrants for defendant James, defendant John, and Jamie Johnson's cell phone records. The records evidence multiple calls between defendants on 8 December 2011, including calls originating at 1:17 p.m., 1:18 p.m., and 1:19 p.m., each utilizing cell towers near the bank. The surveillance video shows the robber entering the bank at 1:22 p.m. The next call between

Page 556

defendants occurred at 1:31 p.m. There were subsequent calls exchanged at 1:36 p.m., 1:46 p.m., 1:52 p.m., and 1:53 p.m.

Beau Dean, a network switch engineer for U.S. Cellular, testified for the State regarding defendants' cell phone usage on the requisite dates. His testimony corroborated Sergeant Thomas' in that defendants exchanged numerous calls on 8 December 2011 while utilizing cell towers in close proximity to the bank.

II. Analysis

A. Objection to Jamie Johnson's testimony

Defendant James argues that the trial court erred in overruling his objection to the hearsay testimony of Jamie Johnson. Specifically, defendant James argues that Jamie Johnson's testimony regarding alleged statements that Detective Briggs made to her constitutes inadmissible hearsay opinion testimony of a law enforcement officer regarding defendant James' guilt. We disagree.

" The North Carolina Rules of Evidence define 'hearsay' as a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 801(c) (2013). " Out-of-court statements that are offered for purposes other than to prove the truth of the matter asserted are not considered hearsay." State v. Gainey, 355 N.C. 73, 87, 558 S.E.2d 463, 473 (2002). The erroneous admission of hearsay is not always so prejudicial as to require a new trial. State v. Sills, 311 N.C. 370, 378, 317 S.E.2d 379, 384 (1984).

At trial, Jamie Johnson testified on direct examination for the State as follows:

Q. On December 9th of 2011, did Detective Briggs attempt to have an interview with you?
A. I think that he came to my house. I think that's the day that he came to my house with my mother and his partner, and they told me that I should leave my house, that it probably wasn't safe and to come down--I think that he wanted me to come down to the station or somewhere and have an ...

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