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State v. Mumma

Supreme Court of North Carolina

May 10, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
WILLOUGHBY HENEREY MUMMA

          Heard in the Supreme Court on 4 March 2019.

          On writ of certiorari pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-32(b) of a divided decision of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 811 S.E.2d 215 (2018), finding no prejudicial error upon appeal from a judgment entered on 10 June 2016 by Judge Marvin P. Pope, Jr. in Superior Court, Swain County.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by Sherri Horner Lawrence, Assistant Attorney General, for the State.

          Meghan Adelle Jones for defendant-appellant.

          ERVIN, JUSTICE.

         The issues before us in this case concern whether the Court of Appeals erred by determining that the trial court did not commit prejudicial error by allowing the jury, without the consent of the parties, to review certain photographs that had been admitted into evidence in the jury room and did not commit plain error by instructing the jury concerning the effect of a determination that defendant Willoughby Henerey Mumma was the "aggressor" upon defendant's right to act in self-defense. After carefully considering the record in light of the applicable law, we hold that defendant was not prejudiced by the trial court's decision to allow the jury to review the photographs in the jury room without his consent and that the trial court's decision to include an "aggressor" instruction in its discussion of the law of self-defense did not constitute plain error. As a result, we modify and affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

         I Factual Background

         A. Substantive Facts

         On 9 November 2011, defendant lived with his wife, Amy Chapman, and her fifteen-year-old son, Christopher Robinson. At approximately 5:30 p.m. on that date, when Mr. Robinson came home after visiting his girlfriend following school, he discovered that defendant and his mother were consuming Clonopin and drinking alcohol. Between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m., Ms. Chapman got a ride to the store, where she purchased more alcohol.

         From 8:11 until 8:21 p.m., defendant had a text message exchange with his friend, Dewayne Bradley, during which defendant stated that:

Defendant: Im goin 2 kil her.
Mr. Bradley: Please dont.
Defendant: Im goin 2 I cant take.
Mr. Bradley: Man just walk down the road.
Defendant: Do u have ne lime?
Mr. Bradley: Noooooo just chill.
Defendant: No Im over it I cant take no more I luv u bro.
Mr. Bradley: Please lessen to me.
Defendant: Im sorry I have 2.
Mr. Bradley: Man, Ill. come and get 2morr my word.
Defendant: Line wil get rid of the body.

         Subsequently, Ms. Chapman purchased additional pills from an acquaintance who came to the residence in which she, defendant, and Mr. Robinson resided.

         At approximately 9:45 p.m., Mr. Robinson awoke; heard an argument between defendant and Ms. Chapman; entered their bedroom, in which the couple was sitting adjacent to each other on the bed; urged them to stop arguing; and then went back to bed himself. Defendant claimed that, later on the same evening, Ms. Chapman, who had taken a shower while he was still sitting on the bed, emerged from the bathroom with a knife and attacked him with it. After gaining control of the knife, defendant stabbed Ms. Chapman to death.

         The next morning, defendant sent several text messages to Mr. Bradley in which he requested Mr. Bradley to drive Mr. Robinson to school. After Mr. Bradley and his wife, who was driving the couple's vehicle, arrived, Mr. Bradley entered the house. At that time, defendant showed Mr. Bradley the body of Ms. Chapman, which was lying on the floor of a closet in the bedroom that the two of them had shared. Upon seeing Ms. Chapman's body, Mr. Bradley quickly left the residence, reentered his vehicle, and told his wife and Mr. Robinson to lock the doors to prevent defendant from accessing the vehicle. After his wife had driven away from the residence, Mr. Bradley informed Mr. Robinson that his mother was dead and called for emergency assistance. Defendant, who had entered the woods behind the residence, was taken into custody at approximately 5:18 p.m.

         B. Procedural History

         1. Trial ...


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