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State v. Baker

Supreme Court of North Carolina

June 9, 2017


          Heard in the Supreme Court on 22 March 2017.

         On discretionary review pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-31 of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 781 S.E.2d 851 (2016), vacating in part defendant's convictions after appeal from a judgment entered on 8 August 2014 by Judge Paul C. Ridgeway in Superior Court, Wake County, and remanding for resentencing.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Anne M. Middleton, Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State-appellant.

          Jennifer Harjo, Public Defender, New Hanover County, by Brendan O'Donnell, Assistant Public Defender, for defendant-appellee.

          ERVIN, Justice.

         The issue presented for our consideration in this case is whether the record contains sufficient evidence to support defendant's conviction for attempted first-degree rape of a child in violation of N.C. G.S. § 14-27.2A(a).[1] In vacating defendant's attempted rape conviction, the Court of Appeals held that "[t]he State failed to present substantial evidence of all elements of" that offense. State v. Baker, __ N.C.App. __, __, 781 S.E.2d 851, 856 (2016). After examining the record in light of the applicable legal standard, we conclude that the evidence adequately supported the jury's determination that defendant had committed the offense of attempted first-degree rape of a child in violation of N.C. G.S. § 14-27.2A(a) and reverse the Court of Appeals' decision with respect to this issue.

         According to the State, defendant committed two specific sexual assaults against Amanda[2] between the dates of 1 April 2008 and 21 October 2009, one of which allegedly occurred in Amanda's bedroom and the other of which allegedly occurred on a couch in the family residence. At the time of these incidents, defendant, who had been born in 1981, was the boyfriend of Amanda's mother and lived in the family home with Amanda, her mother, and Amanda's two brothers, the younger of whom was defendant's son.

         Amanda claimed that, during the summer of 2009, defendant entered her bedroom, in which she was lying on the bed; removed his own shorts and Amanda's shorts and underwear; and began touching her vagina. Although Amanda was "kicking and screaming" as he did so, defendant "put his penis in [her] vagina." Defendant's assaultive conduct ended when Amanda's mother, who had been sleeping downstairs, entered the bedroom and discovered defendant, who was unclothed, with Amanda, whose shorts and underwear were around her knees. After making this discovery, Amanda's mother told Amanda to keep her door locked.

         Amanda's mother described the bedroom incident in somewhat different terms. While sleeping on a downstairs couch during the summer of 2009, Amanda's mother heard what she believed to be her youngest child falling out of bed, as he had a habit of doing. After checking on the child and his brother, who were both asleep, Amanda's mother opened the door to Amanda's bedroom, in which she found defendant, who was asleep and clad in nothing other than his underwear, lying partially on Amanda's bed. Amanda's mother could not determine whether Amanda was clothed because she was lying face down on the bed beneath a blanket. According to Amanda's mother, defendant had a history of "blood sugar" problems and would, on occasion, get up in the night, act in an angry or disoriented manner, and pass out. Amanda's mother thought that defendant's presence in Amanda's room on the occasion in question resulted from just such a "low blood sugar" episode. Although Amanda told her mother that defendant had hurt her, she understood Amanda's statement to be focused upon the fact that defendant had collapsed on top of her, and she told Amanda to lock her bedroom door to prevent the recurrence of such an injury. Defendant, on the other hand, told Amanda's mother that he had no memory of what had caused him to be in Amanda's bedroom or what had happened there.

         In the autumn of 2009, Amanda arrived home from school to find defendant in an intoxicated condition. As Amanda sat down on the couch to do her homework, defendant began touching Amanda's chest. Although defendant attempted to have Amanda lie down on the couch, she was able to move away from him after he appeared to have fallen asleep. When defendant sat up, Amanda grabbed a phone, fled to her bedroom, entered the closet, and telephoned her mother with a request that her mother have someone come get her. Amanda was subsequently picked up by her grandparents.

         Amanda's mother, on the other hand, remembered that Amanda had called her at work in the autumn of 2009 and told her that defendant's conduct was frightening her. Although Amanda did not specify what defendant had done to frighten her, Amanda's mother honored her daughter's request that she be picked up.

         Amanda claimed that, prior to the bedroom incident, defendant had committed repeated sexual assaults against her. According to Amanda, defendant had touched her, put his penis in her vagina, and "grabbed [her] from [her] arms and told [her] not to tell anybody." Although Amanda could not recall how old she was when these earlier incidents occurred, she knew that she "was little."

         Amanda initially disclosed that she had been sexually abused during a conversation with some school friends during the fall of 2009. Even though a school counselor reported Amanda's allegations to Wake County Child Protective Services, Amanda told both Danielle Doyle, an investigator with Wake County Child Protective Services, and Detective Peggy Marchant of the Cary Police Department that no sexual abuse had occurred. After receiving a new report that defendant had abused Amanda, Ms. Doyle and Detective Marchant spoke with Amanda again. Although she was initially hesitant to discuss sexual abuse-related issues during this interview, Amanda admitted that she was having nightmares, that she had not been sleeping well, and that her level of nightmares, including flashbacks about being touched, had been increasing as the date upon which defendant was scheduled for release from prison (in which he was serving a sentence based upon an unrelated conviction) neared. When Amanda disclosed incidents involving attempted penile-vaginal contact and the fondling of her breasts and genital area, Ms. Doyle terminated the interview and made an appointment for Amanda to be evaluated by SafeChild Advocacy Center.

         On 21 November 2011, Sara Kirk, a child abuse evaluation specialist at the Center, interviewed Amanda. During that interview, Amanda stated that, a couple of years earlier, defendant had touched her in an inappropriate manner and attempted to put his penis in her vagina. In describing the bedroom incident, Amanda replied, "I don't think it did, " when asked if defendant's penis had entered her private part. Amanda did not claim that defendant's penis had penetrated her vagina at the time of the bedroom incident until a 14 July 2013 meeting with investigating officers and representatives of the District Attorney's office.

         Holly Warner, a nurse practitioner at the Center, found "no signs of acute, meaning recent, or healed trauma to [Amanda's] vaginal area." However, Ms. Warner also stated that such results were not uncommon even if vaginal penetration had occurred.

         Jeanine Bolick, a licensed clinical social worker, conducted counseling sessions with Amanda from 8 May 2012 through 11 June 2013. In light of Amanda's reluctance to discuss sexual abuse-related issues and her tearful affect when the subject of sexual abuse was mentioned, Ms. Bolick diagnosed Amanda as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, Ms. Bolick admitted that she had not observed specific ...

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