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State v. Broyhill

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 18, 2017


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 19 April 2017.

         Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 19 March 2015 by Judge Paul C. Ridgeway in Wake County Nos. 13 CRS 209228, 13 CRS 209337 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Mary Carla Babb, for the State.

          Rudolf Widenhouse, by M. Gordon Widenhouse Jr., for defendant-appellant.

          ELMORE, Judge.

         Defendant Jonathan Broyhill was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of Jamie Hahn, and attempted first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury against Nation Hahn. Defendant appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of his psychiatrist, Dr. Badri Hamra, on the basis that Dr. Hamra's proffered testimony constituted expert opinion testimony which had not been disclosed pursuant to a reciprocal discovery order; (2) the trial court unduly restricted defendant's voir dire of prospective jurors concerning their ability to fairly assess the credibility of witnesses; and (3) the trial court erred in excluding defendant's two prior custodial statements while admitting the third statement into evidence at trial. Upon review, we conclude that defendant received a fair trial, free from error.

         I. Background

         On 20 May 2013, a Wake County Grand Jury indicted defendant on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. A jury trial was held at the 23 February 2015 Criminal Session of the Superior Court for Wake County, the Honorable Paul C. Ridgeway presiding. The State's evidence at trial tended to show the following:

         Defendant was a close friend to Nation and Jamie Hahn. He and Nation became friends after a church trip, when Nation was entering his freshman year of high school in Lenoir. Defendant had just graduated from the same school but Nation would often visit him at his job in a local paint store. After high school, Nation attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he met Jamie while both were volunteering for a presidential campaign. Nation and Jamie started dating and were eventually married. As with Nation, defendant and Jamie quickly became friends. Defendant even served as Nation's best man at the Hahns' wedding.

         In April 2010, Jamie hired defendant at her political consulting firm, Sky Blue Strategies. Sky Blue provided clients with a variety of campaign services, including strategy, fundraising, and compliance. U.S. Congressman Brad Miller hired Sky Blue the following year for his re-election campaign. Jamie focused on fundraising and strategy, while defendant handled Federal Elections Commission (FEC) compliance, managed campaign donations, and disbursed funds for campaign expenses. Defendant was a signatory on the campaign's bank account.

         In fall 2011, Congressman Miller suspended his re-election campaign, leading Sky Blue to shift its focus from fundraising toward issuing refund checks to donors. Due to the change in circumstances, defendant became primarily responsible for the remaining work on the campaign. Unbeknownst to Jamie, defendant wrote checks to himself out of the campaign account from June 2011 to March 2013. The checks totaled more than $46, 500.

         Near the end of his employment with Sky Blue, defendant started to complain of various health issues. In August 2012, he told the Hahns he had Multiple Sclerosis and was seeking treatment. Defendant also reported problems with his gallbladder, claiming he had scheduled surgery to remove gallstones. In November or December 2012, defendant expressed to Jamie that, in light of his health problems, he would need to find a less stressful job. Recognizing that Sky Blue could no longer afford to pay defendant without revenue from the Miller campaign, Jamie agreed to help defendant find a job elsewhere.

         Jamie soon discovered that certain Miller campaign expenses had not been paid. Although he was no longer employed by Sky Blue, defendant continued to manage campaign finances and FEC quarterly reports. In early 2013, Jamie received inquiries from campaign staffers concerning delays in refund check disbursements. Defendant avoided Jamie's requests for information on the campaign finances, citing his preoccupation with the upcoming gallbladder surgery.

         Defendant eventually agreed to meet with Jamie at the Hahns' home on 8 April 2013 to draft the quarterly report due the following week. When he failed to show, defendant claimed he was working late at his new job with LabCorp, a job he did not have. Defendant agreed to reschedule their meeting for the next evening. Upon his arrival, defendant appeared "very weak, sort of white faced." He told Nation that doctors had discovered a spot when they removed his gallstones, a spot which they believed was pancreatic cancer. Stunned by the news, the Hahns spent the evening comforting defendant rather than drafting the report.

         Two days later, the Hahns arranged to take defendant to Duke Cancer Hospital to confirm his diagnosis. When defendant failed to meet at their home as planned, Nation and Jamie became concerned and drove to defendant's house. He answered the door "in a daze, " claiming he overslept. At this point, defendant realized he would certainly miss the appointment. He pretended to call the hospital to reschedule for the next day and, at Jamie's suggestion, agreed to help with the quarterly report for the rest of the afternoon. Moments after arriving at the Hahns' home, defendant informed Jamie that he forgot to bring his computer. He left to retrieve it but never returned. Jamie made repeated attempts to contact defendant to no avail.

         When the Hahns finally heard from defendant the next morning, he told them he was at the beach. He said he had been fired from LabCorp, and with his "presumed cancer diagnosis, " he "just needed to get away." Defendant apologized and assured Jamie that he would be back in time to prepare the quarterly report. The Hahns, meanwhile, had planned a week-long vacation at the beach to celebrate their anniversary and Nation's birthday. Jamie asked defendant to reschedule his doctor's appointment for 15 April 2013, so that she and Nation could attend before leaving for the beach.

         On Sunday, 14 April 2013, defendant purchased a large chef's knife before driving to the Hahns' residence to finalize the quarterly report with Jamie. He and Jamie met downstairs while Nation worked upstairs in his office. During their meeting, Jamie received a message from Nation informing her that, according the FEC website, the Miller campaign's 2012 fourth quarter report had never been filed. When pressed by Jamie, defendant assured her that he filed the report and had received confirmation via facsimile from the FEC.

         The next morning, Jamie and defendant met with Congressman Miller's campaign treasurer, John Wallace, to review the completed draft of the quarterly report. The report revealed a continuing indebtedness to Congressman Miller, a debt which Wallace believed had been retired. He requested that the draft be amended to reflect the debt as paid before the report was submitted to the FEC. At the time, a separate discrepancy in the draft report was overlooked. The report indicated that the campaign had $62, 914.52 in cash at the end of the first quarter when, in fact, the campaign account had a negative balance of $3, 587.06.

         After the meeting with Wallace, Nation and Jamie drove defendant to Duke Cancer Hospital for his appointment. Upon their arrival, the Hahns dropped defendant off at the entrance to check in while Nation and Jamie parked the car. When they reconvened inside, defendant said he had to go in for tests and the nurses would call the Hahns if needed. Nation and Jamie sat down in the lobby while defendant went through a set of double doors behind the reception desk. Defendant admitted to police that he did not have a doctor's appointment that day. He walked around the hospital for nearly two hours while the Hahns waited in the lobby. When he returned, defendant told them "he did indeed have pancreatic cancer but the doctors were hopeful."

         The Hahns drove defendant back to Raleigh before leaving for the beach. On the way out of town, Jamie received a call from Congressman Miller's office informing her that a check written from the campaign account had bounced. Based on the first quarter report, Jamie believed the campaign account had more than sufficient funds. She decided that the returned check must have been a mistake.

         On Wednesday, 17 April 2013, Wallace e-mailed Jamie and defendant about recent communications between the FEC and the Miller campaign. The FEC had requested additional information to address concerns over suspicious disbursements from the campaign account. The FEC had also informed the campaign that it had failed to timely file a report covering the last quarter of 2012. Defendant responded on the e-mail thread: "Good afternoon, John. I am working on this now, and I will be in touch." In light of defendant's prior assurances and his e-mail response, Jamie assumed that defendant had the issues under control. Defendant never followed up with Wallace.

         The Hahns returned from the beach the following Sunday. Shortly after midnight, defendant used Nation's credit card to purchase a one-way airline ticket from Charlotte to Las Vegas, departing Monday afternoon. He canceled his flight reservation one hour before take-off. Defendant opted instead to purchase a one-way train ticket from Raleigh to Charlotte, departing Tuesday morning.

         On Monday, 22 April 2013, defendant and Jamie met at the Hahns' home to finalize matters with Congressman Miller's campaign. In his backpack, defendant concealed the chef's knife he had recently purchased. Nation arrived home around 5:00 p.m. Jamie, he noticed, was on the phone in her office downstairs and defendant was walking through the kitchen. Nation greeted defendant with a hug and invited him to stay the night before another doctor's appointment in the morning. Defendant answered equivocally but added that "he had his clothes packed with him in case he did." After their brief conversation, Nation proceeded upstairs to change out of his work clothes and into his running gear.

         Shortly thereafter, Nation heard Jamie screaming from downstairs. He threw open the bedroom door and ran down the stairs shouting, "What's happening?" Jamie cried out, "He's trying to kill me." Nation rounded the corner of the staircase when he saw blood on the floor and defendant standing over Jamie with a knife. Nation shouted, "What the fuck are you doing?" Defendant said nothing as he turned and came at Nation, raising the knife in the air as he moved closer. Nation grabbed the blade with one hand and started striking defendant in the face with the other. As the struggle continued, Nation yelled at Jamie to get out of the house. Jamie, covered in blood, ran out the side door and collapsed in a neighbor's yard. After gaining separation from defendant, Nation followed Jamie out of the house while shouting for someone to call 9-1-1. Neighbors tended to Nation and Jamie until the ambulance arrived.

         Police surrounded the Hahns' home and ordered defendant to come outside. He exited the house calmly with his hands in the air. Officer Roy Smith observed self-inflicted knife wounds on defendant's wrists and a stab wound to his stomach. To Officer Smith, defendant's self-inflicted wounds were indicative of an attempted suicide. Officer Smith rode in the ambulance transporting defendant to the hospital. As EMS workers spoke with defendant, he became visibly upset and started weeping. He told them, "It's been a long time coming, " and said repeatedly, "I just want to die."

         Jamie died in the hospital two days later as a result of her injuries. An autopsy revealed multiple stab wounds, including one to her torso which penetrated her liver, and another to her chest which penetrated her lung and severed an artery. Nation survived the attack with injuries to his hands, including a deep laceration which transected an artery, tendons, and nerves in two fingers on his left hand.

         While defendant was hospitalized, police conducted three custodial interviews on 23, 25, and 26 April 2013, respectively. The State introduced the recording and transcript of the 26 April interview, which were published to the jury. Over defendant's objection, the court declined to admit transcripts of the 23 and 25 April interviews.

         During the 26 April 2013 interview, defendant admitted that he had embezzled money from the Miller campaign and had lied about his gallbladder surgery, his pancreatic cancer, and his appointments at Duke Cancer Hospital. Defendant also reported bouts with depression and thoughts of suicide, claiming he often heard voices telling him to hurt other people, he had bought the knife to hurt himself, and he had planned on traveling to Las Vegas to commit suicide. At his last meeting with Jamie, defendant anticipated a conversation about the discrepancies in the campaign account. When asked to describe his memory of that night, defendant recalled stabbing Jamie but did not recall attacking Nation or cutting himself.

         At trial, defendant offered testimony of his family members and a nurse psychotherapist, Susan Simon, who saw defendant for ten sessions between February and May 2012. Among other things, Ms. Simon testified that during the sessions defendant expressed feelings of worthlessness and depression. Upon the State's objections, the court refused to admit the proffered testimony of Dr. Badri Hamra, a psychiatrist with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, who treated defendant fifteen months after his arrest.

         At the conclusion of trial, the jury found defendant guilty of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. The trial court sentenced defendant to a term of life in prison without parole, and consecutive terms of 157 to 201 months and 73 to 100 months. Defendant entered notice of appeal in open court.

         II. Discussion

         A. Discoverable Expert Opinion Testimony

         Defendant first argues that the trial court erred in excluding the proffered testimony of Dr. Hamra. After voir dire, the court determined that Dr. Hamra was rendering expert opinion testimony, thereby triggering the discovery requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-905(c)(2). Because defendant failed to disclose Dr. Hamra as an expert witness pursuant to the reciprocal discovery order, the court did not allow Dr. Hamra to testify at trial. The court also concluded, in the alternative, that Dr. Hamra's testimony was not relevant, and if it was, the probative value of his testimony was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, and misleading the jury. Defendant maintains that Dr. Hamra was testifying as a fact witness, outside the scope of the reciprocal discovery order, and the testimony was relevant to the issue of premeditation and deliberation, such that the court's decision to exclude it constitutes reversible error.

         Rule 702(a) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence provides: "If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion, or otherwise . . . ." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 702(a) (2015). An expert's testimony relies upon "scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge" to "provide insight beyond the conclusions that jurors can readily draw from their ordinary experience." State v. McGrady, 368 N.C. 880, 889, 787 S.E.2d 1, 8 (2016). Lay testimony, by contrast, is based on personal knowledge of facts "which can be perceived by the senses." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 602 cmt. (2015); see also N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 701 (2015) (providing that lay opinion testimony is limited to opinions which are "rationally based on the perception of the witness"). A lay witness may state " 'instantaneous conclusions of the mind as to the appearance, condition, or mental or physical state of persons, animals, and things, derived from observation of a variety of facts presented to the senses at one and the same time.' " State v. Leak, 156 N.C. 643, 647, 72 S.E. 567, 568 (1911)[1] (emphasis added) (quoting John Jay McKelvey, Handbook of the Law of Evidence § 132 (rev. 2d ed. 1907)), quoted in State v. Stager, 329 N.C. 278, 321, 406 S.E.2d 876, 901 (1991).

         Our Supreme Court recently explained the threshold difference between expert opinion and lay witness testimony: "[W]hen an expert witness moves beyond reporting what he saw or experienced through his senses, and turns to interpretation or assessment 'to assist' the jury based on his 'specialized knowledge, ' he is rendering an expert opinion." State v. Davis, 368 N.C. 794, 798, 785 S.E.2d 312, 315 (2016) (footnote omitted) (quoting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 702(a)); see also David P. Leonard, The New Wigmore: Expert Evidence § 2.6 (2009) ("[W]hile an expert relies on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge, lay testimony is based solely on the perception of the witness. . . . Application of specialized knowledge from whatever source would bring the testimony within the sphere of expertise." (footnote omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         Ultimately, "what constitutes expert opinion testimony requires a case-by-case inquiry" through an examination of "the testimony as a whole and in context." Davis, 368 N.C. at 798, 785 S.E.2d at 315. We review de novo the trial court's conclusion that Dr. Hamra's proffered testimony constitutes discoverable expert opinion testimony. See id. at 797-98, 785 S.E.2d at 314-15 (applying de novo review to determine "whether the State's expert witnesses gave opinion testimony so as to trigger the discovery requirements under section 15A-903(a)(2)"). " 'Under a de novo review, the court considers the matter anew and freely substitutes its own judgment' for that of the lower tribunal." State v. Williams, 362 N.C. 628, 632-33, 669 S.E.2d 290, 294 (2008) (quoting In re Appeal of The Greens of Pine Glen Ltd. P'ship, 356 N.C. 642, 647, 576 S.E.2d 316, 319 (2003)).

         During voir dire, defendant elicited the following testimony from Dr. Hamra:

Q. As a psychiatrist, do you ever prescribe medication for an inmate if you believe that it will help them to deal with any mental health issues they may be dealing with?
A. Yes, ...

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