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State v. Corbett

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

February 19, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
RONALD T. CORBETT

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 18 October 2018.

          Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 11 May 2017 by Judge Reuben F. Young in Wake County Superior Court Nos. 14 CRS 5670, 215577.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Josephine N. Tetteh, for the State.

          Mark L. Hayes, for defendant-appellant.

          DAVIS, JUDGE

         In this appeal, we address the question of when charges of statutory rape and sexual exploitation are properly submitted to a jury. Ronald T. Corbett ("Defendant") appeals from his convictions for statutory rape of a person who is 13, 14, or 15 years old, first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, and five counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. Because we hold that the evidence - when viewed in the light most favorable to the State - was sufficient for a reasonable juror to have found Defendant guilty of these charges, we conclude that he received a fair trial free from error.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The State introduced evidence at trial tending to establish the following facts: "Amy"[1] was born in October 2001 in Toledo, Ohio to Defendant and Simone Hamilton. Amy lived with her mother and younger brother in Ohio until she was nine years old when the family moved to Raleigh. At that time, Defendant was living in Nebraska.

         During the 2013-14 school year when Amy was in the sixth grade, Defendant moved to Fayetteville to live with his mother. Following Defendant's move to North Carolina, Amy began staying at his residence on weekends. During the summer of 2014, Defendant began living with Hamilton and her children in their apartment.

         Within a month after moving into the apartment, Defendant became verbally and physically abusive toward Hamilton. He also sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions by forcing her to have sexual intercourse with him and to perform oral sex on him. In addition, Defendant began disciplining Amy by beating her. These punishments occurred frequently in response to "[a]nything little" such as when Amy "forgot something at school or didn't take a shower." Defendant also forced Amy to read and memorize passages from the Bible and punished her if she did not remember everything she had read.

         On several occasions during 2014, Defendant took Amy into his room while Hamilton was at work and ordered her to remove her clothes. The first time this occurred, Amy initially refused to remove her clothing but ultimately acceded to Defendant's demand because she was scared he would hurt her if she refused. After taking off her clothes, Amy stood in front of Defendant for approximately an hour reading the Bible and listening to him read the Bible to her. During this incident, Defendant was wearing only a towel. Although Amy did not actually observe Defendant photographing her on this occasion, she identified at trial a photograph introduced into evidence by the State showing her standing naked in her father's room that was taken on that same day.

         On multiple occasions that year, Defendant took Amy into his bedroom and forced her to rub Vaseline on his penis. The first time this occurred, Amy did not understand what Defendant wanted her to do and he "kept explaining it over and over" and "ended up . . . saying it step-by-step." Defendant threatened Amy by telling her that if she did not "do this now something else will happen. I'll do something harder. I'll do something worse." He also told Amy that if she wanted a boyfriend she would "have to learn how to please him."

         During one such instance, Defendant became upset with Amy because she was not "doing it correctly." He pushed her down onto his bed and got on top of her, which resulted in Vaseline getting onto Amy's pants. Defendant then ordered Amy to take her pants off and began touching her and "telling [her] to stop covering [herself]." He also tried "to put his penis inside [Amy] but [she] screamed loud and he got up because he wanted [her] to be quiet."

         On another occasion, Defendant told Amy that he would return a cell phone that he had confiscated from her if she opened her legs for him. Amy was naked at the time. When she refused, he "grabbed [her] legs open" and "tried to touch [her] vagina." Although Defendant was able to touch Amy between her labia, he was unable to "get much further" because Amy continued to push his hand away.

         On 27 July 2014, Defendant asked Amy to bring him lotion that he had previously purchased for her. Upon learning that Amy had left the lotion at school, Defendant became very upset. He told Amy to go to her room and began physically abusing Hamilton. Because she was upset that Defendant was hitting her mother, Amy ran out the front door and went to the apartment complex's leasing office. Defendant attempted to chase Amy but eventually gave up. Amy called the police from the leasing office, and law enforcement officers subsequently arrived at the apartment complex and arrested Defendant.

         Defendant was indicted by a Wake County grand jury for statutory rape of a person who is 13, 14, or 15 years old, first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, and five counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. On 17 September 2014, Defendant's counsel filed a motion to have him examined for the purpose of determining his capacity to stand trial. Following an examination by the medical staff of the Forensic Services Unit of Central Regional Hospital, Defendant was found to be competent. After requesting leave to proceed pro se at trial, Defendant was allowed to represent himself. On 15 January 2015, an order was entered appointing standby counsel for Defendant.

         A jury trial was held beginning on 8 May 2017 before the Honorable Reuben F. Young. Amy, her mother, and several law enforcement officers testified for the State. Defendant did not present any evidence. At the close of the State's evidence, Defendant's standby counsel moved to dismiss both sexual exploitation charges and the statutory rape charge based on insufficiency of the evidence. The trial court denied these motions. Defendant renewed his motions to dismiss at the close of all the evidence and the trial court once again denied them.

         On 11 May 2017, the jury convicted Defendant of all charges. The trial court sentenced him to consecutive terms of 16-29 months imprisonment for each charge of taking indecent liberties, 73-148 months for the first-degree sexual exploitation charge, 25-90 months for the second-degree exploitation charge, and 240-348 months for the charge of statutory rape. Defendant gave timely notice of appeal to this Court.

         Analysis

         On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred by denying his motions to dismiss, contending that (1) no evidence of penetration was presented to support the statutory rape charge; and (2) the photograph upon which the sexual exploitation charges were based did not depict Amy engaged in "sexual activity" as that term is defined in the North Carolina General Statutes. We address each argument in turn.

         I. ...


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