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State v. Southerland

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 2, 2019

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
EDWARD HAMILTON SOUTHERLAND

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 10 April 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 21 February 2018 by Judge Richard Kent Harrell in New Hanover County, No. 17 CRS 51701 Superior Court.

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

          Sarah Holladay for defendant-appellant.

          BRYANT, JUDGE

         Where the evidence, when taken in the light most favorable to the State, was sufficient to show defendant attempted to engage in indecent liberties with a minor child, the trial court did not err in denying defendant's motion to dismiss.

         On 21 February 2018, defendant Edward Hamilton Southerland, an elderly man, was tried by a jury and convicted in New Hanover County Superior Court before the Honorable R. Kent Harrell, Judge presiding, on the charge of taking indecent liberties with a child, eleven-year-old A.G.

         The State presented evidence that A.G. and her grandmother went to University Arms Apartments to visit a relative. Defendant, who lived in the apartment across from A.G.'s relative, frequently interacted with A.G. and her grandmother, when they came to visit the relative.

         On 27 February 2017, defendant gave A.G.'s grandmother a sealed envelope and directed her to deliver it to A.G. A.G.'s name was written on the front of the envelope. In the letter, defendant stated to A.G.:

Dear [A.G.],

Have you ever been offered something and not followed up on "it," only to wonder what would have happened "if" I had? That's how I have felt about the three balloons you gave me for my birthday, last year.

When you moved, every day I think of you and those balloons. I miss you so much, yet the only thing I have are my memories of you. That makes me feel like the lonely old man that I am. I don't want to feel that way and the only thing that makes me feel young and alive is to wonder what "it" would be like to have sex with you. I'm within sight of being seventy years old and in good health. The only thing I need is a very pretty girl who knows me and likes me. Therefore, the only girl I could possibly like is you.

         Defendant wrote at the bottom of the letter to A.G., "[p]lease do me the honor of having sex with me and help me to feel young again. Love, Mr. Ed[.]"

         The next day, A.G.'s grandmother read the letter and immediately called the police. Detective Justin Ovaska of the Wilmington Police Department read the letter and went to defendant's apartment where defendant admitted that he wrote the letter to A.G.

         At the close of the State's evidence, defendant moved to dismiss arguing that the State did not present substantial evidence that he was actually or constructively in the presence of A.G. Defendant's motion was denied. Defendant took the stand and testified that he "was so tired and lonely from trying to get help [for his post-traumatic stress disorder] that [he] just sat down and wrote [A.G.] a letter." After defendant rested his case, he renewed his motion to dismiss which the trial court denied.

         Defendant was found guilty of taking indecent liberties with a child. The trial court sentenced defendant in accordance with the jury verdict, and defendant was ordered to register as a sex offender for thirty ...


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