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State v. Faulk

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 7, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA,
v.
TIFFANY FAULK, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 22 August 2017.

         Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 4 August 2016 by Judge Douglas B. Sasser in Columbus County Superior Court No. 10 CRS 53880.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Richard L. Harrison, for the State.

          Massengale & Ozer, by Marilyn G. Ozer, for Defendant-Appellant.

          INMAN, JUDGE.

         When the evidence relevant to a defendant's motion to suppress is undisputed, a trial court denying the motion need not make findings of fact, but it must explain its rationale. Failure to do so precludes meaningful appellate review and requires remand.

         Tiffany Faulk ("Defendant") appeals from a judgment following a jury verdict finding her guilty of first degree murder on the basis of malice, premeditation and deliberation. Defendant argues that: (1) the trial court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury on the defense of duress; (2) the trial court abused its discretion by allowing into evidence photographs depicting the victim's injuries and the crime scene; and (3) the trial court erred by denying her motions to suppress other evidence. After careful review, we remand to the trial court to make the necessary conclusions of law regarding Defendant's motions to suppress.

         Factual and Procedural History

         The evidence at trial tended to show the following:

On 6 November 2010, Defendant and Kenneth Gore ("Gore") were staying with a friend in the Berry Court Apartments in Chadbourn, North Carolina. On occasion, and twice on 6 November 2010, Defendant would knock on Ms. Bonnie Fowler's door to use her phone. Ms. Fowler, a 77-year-old woman, lived alone in the apartment next door to where Defendant and Gore were staying, and would oblige Defendant's request to make calls.

         At some point in the late afternoon or early evening of 6 November 2010, Ms. Fowler was attacked in her kitchen. She suffered repeated blows to the head and multiple stab wounds, and died as a result of her injuries. Security footage from the apartment complex showed Ms. Fowler's car leaving the parking lot that same evening at approximately 8:13 p.m.

         The next day, 7 November 2010, around 9:00 a.m., Ms. Fowler's daughter arrived at her mother's apartment to pick her mother up for church. When Ms. Fowler did not answer her door, her daughter retrieved an extra key and let herself into Ms. Fowler's apartment. Upon entering, Ms. Fowler's daughter found the apartment ransacked and her mother's body in the kitchen; she immediately called 9-1-1.

         Police arrived and secured the crime scene. Detectives found several bloody footprints in the kitchen. Police also found a hammer in one of the closets, which later tested positive for the presence of Ms. Fowler's blood. The medical examiner documented numerous injuries, which included several defensive wounds and stab wounds. The medical examiner concluded that the cause of death was from multiple stab wounds to Ms. Fowler's chest.

         On 9 November 2010, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (the "SBI") contacted the Maryland State Police regarding Defendant's and Gore's outstanding arrest warrants in connection with Ms. Fowler's death. The SBI provided Maryland police with copies of the arrest warrants and a description of the homicide and apparent theft of Ms. Fowler's car. Maryland police contacted Defendant's sister, who was living in Baltimore. Defendant's sister took police to a row house in Baltimore where Defendant and Gore were staying.

         Maryland police converged on the row house, and as officers knocked on the front door, Gore fled out the back door where he was immediately apprehended by police. Gore told police that Defendant was upstairs, and two officers entered the row house, performed a protective sweep, and arrested Defendant. The officers secured the house while a search warrant was obtained. While the officers were waiting for the warrant, the owner of the house arrived.

         Once the warrant was issued, the owner of the row house led police to items identified as belonging to Defendant and Gore. The police recovered various items from the basement, including the following: clothing, a steak knife, a pair of Jordan tennis shoes, a pair of Adidas tennis shoes, a cell phone, and a pill bottle with Ms. Fowler's name on it. Crime lab results from the items revealed that the two pairs of shoes were consistent with the shoes that made the bloody shoeprints in Ms. Fowler's apartment. The Adidas tennis shoes also tested positive for Ms. Fowler's DNA.

         On 17 November 2010, Defendant provided police with a voluntary statement concerning the events leading up to her arrest. During the interview, Defendant told police that she had used Ms. Fowler's phone twice on 6 November 2010, witnessed Gore stab Ms. Fowler while Ms. Fowler was bleeding on the kitchen floor, and drove Ms. Fowler's car to Baltimore with Gore. Defendant explained that she had not attempted to flee from Gore because she was afraid of how he would react.

         Defendant was indicted on 10 February 2011 for one count of first degree murder and on 6 October 2011 for one count of robbery with a dangerous weapon. A hearing was held on 25 July 2016 to address Defendant's various pre-trial motions, including three motions to ...


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