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State v. Coleman

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 18, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
MATTHEW ANDREW COLEMAN

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 May 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 14 December 2015 by Judge J. Thomas Davis in Clay County No. 13 CRS 50174 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General John P. Barkley, for the State.

          Parker Law Firm, PC, by James V. Parker, Jr., for defendant.

          DIETZ, Judge.

         Defendant Matthew Coleman appeals his conviction for voluntary manslaughter. At trial, Coleman admitted that he shot and killed his wife. But he argued that, as a result of diabetes, his blood sugar was dangerously low at the time of the shooting, causing Coleman to act in a manner that was not voluntary.

         On appeal, Coleman challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and argues that the trial court committed plain error in various evidentiary and instructional rulings. As explained below, there was sufficient evidence to send the charge of voluntary manslaughter to the jury and the trial court's rulings were well within the court's sound discretion. Accordingly, we find no error in the trial court's judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On 22 April 2013, Matthew Coleman and his wife went to the grocery store and returned home around 1 p.m. Soon after, Coleman's neighbor, Barbara Hardee, observed Coleman walking toward her house carrying three briefcases and an unidentified object. Coleman dropped the object (later discovered to be a gun) in a brush pile in the yard. Coleman then approached Ms. Hardee's house and told her that he killed his wife. Ms. Hardee told Coleman not to "kid that way, " but Coleman responded, "I'm not kidding, didn't you hear the shot?"

         Ms. Hardee called 911 while her husband, Roland Hardee, checked Coleman for weapons. Mr. Hardee was concerned about Coleman's blood sugar level and gave Coleman a granola bar. Mr. Hardee asked Coleman why he shot his wife and Coleman responded, "I don't know, something told me." When Mr. Hardee asked Coleman if it was an accident, Coleman stated "I just went to get my gun and couldn't find it, then I just shot her."

         Police and EMS were dispatched and arrived at approximately 1:40 p.m. In their initial investigation, law enforcement determined that Coleman shot his wife, picked up three briefcases and the gun, locked the house, walked past his truck, threw the gun into a brush pile, and then approached Ms. Hardee and told her that he shot his wife. In the three briefcases, the police found approximately $110, 000 in cash, savings bonds, and foreign currency, and various important documents. Coleman told a police officer that "he didn't know why he had done it, why did he kill the woman he loved, they had plans together, plans he made." Coleman also said, "Why did I kill the woman I loved? We never fought in 30 years. We had plans together, plans I made. How could I do such a horrible thing?" Coleman then told the officer that his blood sugar was dropping.

         On 31 May 2013, the State indicted Coleman for first degree murder. Coleman entered a plea of not guilty and gave notice of his intent to assert the affirmative defense of automatism based on his low blood sugar at the time of the shooting. Coleman was diagnosed as a Type I diabetic in 1981 and had a history of hypoglycemic episodes where his blood sugar dropped to very low levels. The evidence presented at trial included a glucometer reading of 39 from 1:22 p.m. on 21 April 2013, along with a handwritten log of corresponding glucose readings indicating that the glucometer's date stamps may have been one day behind, meaning the 39 reading could have been recorded the day Coleman shot his wife.

         At trial, Coleman presented expert testimony from Dr. George Corvin, a psychiatrist Coleman retained to evaluate him. Dr. Corvin testified that, in his opinion, Coleman was acting in a state of automatism due to hypoglycemia when he shot his wife. On cross-examination, over Coleman's objection, the State questioned Dr. Corvin about the amount of fees he was paid to testify as a defense expert in criminal cases from 2013-2015.

         The State presented expert testimony from Dr. Warner Burch, an endocrinologist, who testified that in his opinion, Coleman was not in a state of automatism due to hypoglycemia at the time of the offense. This testimony was admitted over Coleman's objection to Dr. Burch giving an opinion as to Coleman's state of mind.

         The jury found Coleman guilty of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. The trial court sentenced Coleman to ...


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