in the Court of Appeals 29 November 2018.
by defendant from judgment entered 22 February 2016 by Judge
Paul C. Ridgeway in Wake County No. 13 CRS 211979 Superior
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Derrick C. Mertz, for the State.
Miles for defendant-appellant.
Smith ("Defendant") appeals from judgment entered
following a jury's verdict finding him guilty of
first-degree murder. We find no error.
evening of 13 May 2013, the day following Mother's Day,
Defendant, Ronald Anthony ("Anthony"), and Sarah
Redden ("Redden") were together in the vicinity of
North Hills shopping center in Raleigh. The trio had been
walking around several neighborhoods in the area, breaking
into unlocked cars and stealing GPS devices, headphones, cell
phones, and other valuables. Eventually they arrived at the
Allister Apartments complex. The Allister Apartments
consisted of several unoccupied buildings that were under
construction and one occupied building.
Huggins-Jones ("Huggins-Jones") and her
eight-year-old daughter lived in one of the second-floor
apartments of the occupied building. Huggins-Jones had
recently moved to Raleigh from Tennessee to start a new job
as a branch manager at a bank and to be closer to her mother,
who lived in Wilmington. The front entrance of
Huggins-Jones' apartment was located at the top of a set
of stairs and down a breezeway. The back of the apartment had
a balcony with a sliding glass door. The apartment located
directly below Huggins-Jones' was being used as a
temporary leasing office by the owner.
air conditioning had not been working properly on 13 May and
the previous weekend. Huggins-Jones had called the apartment
building's maintenance worker several times to have the
AC unit repaired. The night of 13 May, Huggins-Jones kept
"the windows in the bedrooms" and the "sliding
[glass] door to the balcony" "wide open" to
try and keep the apartment cool. Huggins-Jones' daughter
also had a large box fan operating in her bedroom.
breaking into several cars, Defendant, Anthony, and Redden
went to one of the unoccupied buildings of the Allister
Apartments to look through their back packs at the items they
had stolen. While Redden was charging her cell phone,
Defendant and Anthony told her "they were going to go
check something, and told [her] to wait there." Redden
testified that she could not see where Defendant and Anthony
waiting about ten minutes, Redden walked outside the
unoccupied building to look around for Defendant and Anthony.
Redden did not see Defendant and Anthony, so she went back
inside the unoccupied apartment to continue charging her cell
phone. After waiting five more minutes, Redden stepped
outside the apartment and observed Defendant and Anthony
walking from the direction of the occupied apartment
and Anthony again told Redden to stay at the unoccupied
building, and they walked back in the direction of the
occupied building. After waiting another ten minutes, Redden
walked over to the occupied apartment. While Redden was
outside the occupied apartment, a police car drove by and she
hid in the breezeway of the building under the stairwell.
Redden waited a minute until after the police car had left
the area. She left the stairwell and heard a noise "like
a shuffle" that made her look up.
observed Defendant standing on the second-floor balcony of
Huggins-Jones' apartment. Defendant was using his shirt
to wipe off the balcony railing. Redden told Defendant they
needed to leave and asked him where Anthony was. In response,
Defendant indicated to the sliding glass door behind him.
minutes later, Redden saw lights from a car and she hid under
the stairwell again. Redden observed a police car drive up
and stop in the driveway of the apartment building for a
"minute or so" and then leave. About five minutes
later, Redden left the stairwell and walked to the other side
of the apartment building. As she arrived at the other side
of the building, Anthony ran up to her. Anthony told her
"to just go" and that he was going to find
ran to a fence that was bordering the apartment complex and
shortly thereafter observed Anthony and Defendant running
towards her. Anthony was carrying water bottles and Defendant
carrying two laptop computers. The three jumped the fence and
ran along Six Forks Road to a parking lot at North Hills
parking lot, Redden observed Anthony and Defendant wash their
hands off with water from one of the water bottles. Anthony
then called and asked an acquaintance to pick them up.
Anthony referred to this acquaintance as "Reese."
Reese arrived and picked up Defendant, Anthony, and Redden,
and drove them to a nightclub called "Flashbacks."
Redden testified that during the car ride, Anthony showed
Reese an iPhone in a "woman's colored case" and
a bloody knife. Redden stated that Defendant was not
surprised by Anthony displaying the bloody knife. Redden
observed Defendant "looked [to have] specs (sic) of
blood on his shirt."
arriving at the nightclub, Anthony and Reese went inside
while Redden and Defendant waited outside. Redden asked
Defendant, "What is going on?" Defendant told her
"to let it go, don't ask questions, just forget
leaving the nightclub, Defendant, Anthony, and Redden checked
into a Super 8 Motel at approximately 3:25 a.m. At the motel,
Redden observed Defendant remove the two laptop computers
from his back pack. Defendant kept a silver one and gave the
other orange-colored one to Anthony. Redden testified that
Defendant asked Anthony, "What the hell just
happened?" Defendant then said, "Man, I got a
son." Redden described Defendant as "nervous about
not seeing his son."
also testified that Defendant and Anthony had a conversation
about "being happy that the little girl did not wake
up." Huggins-Jones' daughter testified she kept a
large, loud box fan in her bedroom to help her sleep and that
she had it on that night. Huggins-Jones' daughter
recalled "hear[ing] a screaming noise" that night,
but went back to sleep because "[i]t didn't sound
like it was in our apartment."
never observed what Defendant and Anthony did with the knife,
iPhone, or clothes they had worn earlier in the evening.
approximately 7:00 a.m., Huggins-Jones' daughter
discovered her mother's body. She went outside the
apartment building and sought help from two construction
employees working in the vicinity of the apartment complex.
The two construction workers accompanied Huggins-Jones'
daughter into the apartment unit and called 911. One of the
construction workers observed Huggins-Jones dead upon the bed
in her bedroom. He described her appearance in the bedroom:
"I could tell she had blood all over her face and blood
was everywhere, and I put three fingers on her wrist and
there was no pulse, and she was cold as a block of
thereafter, emergency personnel arrived at the scene and
confirmed Huggins-Jones had died from unnatural causes. Dr.
Lauren Scott of the North Carolina Office of the Chief
Medical Examiner performed the autopsy of Huggins-Jones and
verified she had suffered at least eighteen separate blows to
her face, neck, and upper chest area consistent with both
blunt and sharp force trauma, in addition to multiple
injuries included, in part: a fractured skull, a broken jaw,
a broken nose, a severed carotid artery, four dislodged
teeth, "a chop wound" into her left shoulder, and
puncture wounds in the left and right sides of her chest and
shoulders. There were multiple bruises on her arms consistent
with defensive wounds, in addition to several bruises on her
face, back, and legs. Dr. Scott testified it took
Huggins-Jones "anywhere from several minutes to an hour
responders and police investigators testified to the state of
disarray in Huggins-Jones' apartment. Various items had
been overturned on her dresser, her nightstand door had been
torn off, window blinds had been pulled off the wall, a purse
had been emptied on the kitchen table, a drawer from a
jewelry armoire had been pulled out and blood found on one of
the jewelry boxes.
discovered Huggins-Jones' blood on her bedroom doorknob,
her daughter's bedroom doorknob, Huggins-Jones'
purse, her wallet, two checkbooks, and a book cover in the
hallway. A droplet of Huggins-Jones' blood was found on
the apartment balcony, and a swabbing of the balcony railing
tested positive for her blood.
investigators also discovered that the leasing office in the
apartment unit immediately below Huggins-Jones' unit had
been robbed. Various items were in disarray in the office and
two Lenovo laptop computers, one silver and the other orange,
were missing along with a Canon digital camera, charger, and
a week later, on 20 May 2013, police found an orange Lenovo
laptop bearing the same serial number as the one stolen from
the leasing office beneath Huggins-Jones' apartment
listed for sale on the Craigslist website. Detective Zeke
Morse of the Raleigh Police Department posed as an interested
buyer and contacted the seller of the laptop, Mike McCollum
("McCollum"), who lived in Wake Forest. Detective
Morse offered to pay the listed price for the laptop and
arranged to meet McCollum the afternoon of 20 May at a
Wal-Mart store parking lot located in Wake Forest. McCollum
became suspicious of the high offer price for the laptop.
McCollum removed the listing for the orange laptop from
Craigslist, did not appear at the agreed upon location, and
did not return further calls from Detective Morse.
began surveillance of McCollum's residence that same day
and later obtained a warrant to search the residence on 21
May. During the execution of the search warrant, police
discovered the stolen silver Lenovo laptop and arrested
cooperated with the police and explained to them how had he
obtained the silver laptop. Anthony had called and asked him
to sell two Lenovo laptops that Anthony "was trying to
get rid of" but had told him "they weren't
stolen." Anthony text messaged McCollum pictures of the
orange laptop, which McCollum used to list the laptop on
Craigslist. Anthony used his girlfriend's, Amber
Alberts' ("Alberts"), cellphone to send the
text messages to McCollum. On 20 May 2013, McCollum posted
the listing for the orange laptop, but he did not yet have
possession of either the orange or silver laptops.
stated that on the morning of 21 May, he had received a phone
call from Defendant. Defendant informed McCollum that he was
at the Wal-Mart store in Wake Forest and had the silver
laptop for McCollum to sell. McCollum sent his fiancée
and her friend to pick up Defendant and bring him to
McCollum's residence. Defendant provided McCollum with
the silver laptop in exchange for McCollum giving him $50 up
front. McCollum's girlfriend drove Defendant back to the
Wal-Mart store in Wake Forest.
police officers conducting surveillance of McCollum's
residence observed a person, who was later determined to be
Defendant, leave the residence. The officers followed
McCollum's fiancée's car as she drove
Defendant back to the Wal-Mart store. McCollum's
fiancée dropped Defendant off at the Wal-Mart store.
One of the officers, Detective Gory Mendez of the Raleigh
Police Department, remained behind at the Wal-Mart store to
determine Defendant's identity. The other undercover
officers followed McCollum's fiancée back to
Mendez lost sight of Defendant for approximately thirty
minutes, but eventually found him sitting inside a car with
Anthony, Alberts, and another woman, in a parking lot near
the Wal-Mart store. Detective Mendez observed the four
individuals get out of the car and walk over to the Wal-Mart
store. Detective Mendez made arrangements to have law
enforcement officers with the Raleigh Police Department come
pick up Defendant and Anthony and take them to the police
station for questioning. During the time Detective Mendez was
following Defendant, other officers were executing the search
warrant for McCollum's residence.
officer requested Alberts to give him her phone for
examination. The officer discovered pictures of the orange
laptop on Alberts' phone and the text messages Anthony
had sent McCollum. Law enforcement officers obtained a search
warrant for Alberts' residence. The officers discovered a
large bag that Alberts identified as Anthony's bag.
Inside the bag were GPS devices, phone chargers, cords, and
other items that were consistent with items reported stolen
from cars in the neighborhood surrounding the Allister
Apartments complex the night of 13 May 2013. When police took
Defendant in for questioning, they requested he hand over his
shoes, a pair of red and black Nike tennis shoes. A grand
jury returned a true bill of indictment for the first-degree
murder of Huggins-Jones against Defendant on 3 June 2013.
capital murder trial began on 4 January 2016. Prior to
Defendant's trial, Anthony pled guilty to first-degree
murder and received a sentence of life imprisonment without
the possibility of parole. Defendant stipulated at trial to
being "involved with the other co-defendants in breaking
into cars and was with the co-defendants before and ...