in the Supreme Court on 14 May 2019
pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a
divided panel of the Court of Appeals, 818 S.E.2d 718 ( N.C.
Ct. App. 2018), vacating a judgment entered on 27 July 2016
by Judge Richard S. Gottlieb in Superior Court, Forsyth
County, and remanding for a new trial. On 24 October 2018,
the Court allowed the State's petition for discretionary
review of additional issues. Heard in the Supreme Court on 14
May 2019 in session in the Pitt County Courthouse in the City
of Greenville pursuant to section 18B.8 of Chapter 57 of the
2017 Session Laws of the State of North Carolina.
H. Stein, Attorney General, by Joseph L. Hyde, Assistant
Attorney General, for the State-appellant.
Richard Croutharmel for defendant-appellee.
defendant Duval Bowman's trial for the 2014 murder of
Anthony Johnson, Lakenda Malachi was the only witness to
provide direct evidence of Bowman's presence at the
scene. Bowman sought to impeach Malachi's testimony by
introducing evidence that Malachi was in plea negotiations
over pending charges against her and that she would receive
favorable treatment for her testimony against Bowman, but the
trial court sustained objections to defense counsel's
questions. Bowman was found guilty of attempted robbery with
a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm by a felon, and
the first-degree murder of Anthony Johnson. He was sentenced
to life imprisonment without parole.
argued at the Court of Appeals that the trial court committed
reversible error by preventing his counsel from adequately
cross-examining Malachi regarding the pending charges. The
Court of Appeals' majority agreed with defendant, holding
that the trial court committed constitutional error by
restricting defendant's cross-examination of Malachi and
that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
State v. Bowman, 818 S.E.2d 718, 719 ( N.C. Ct. App.
2018). Judge Dillon agreed that the trial court erred by
limiting the cross-examination of Malachi but concluded the
error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at
722 (Dillon, J., dissenting). The State filed its appeal of
right based on Judge Dillon's dissenting opinion. We must
now determine whether the trial court violated
defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses
against him by limiting defendant's cross-examination of
the State's principal witness and whether that error was
harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Because we agree that the
trial court committed prejudicial error, we affirm the Court
of Appeals' holding and its order that defendant receive
a new trial.
and Procedural Background
Johnson, and Malachi were all involved in the illicit drug
business. Around the time of his murder, Johnson was engaged
to Malachi and they lived together with their four-year-old
son. At trial, the State presented no physical evidence
linking defendant to the shooting but argued that
Malachi's testimony established defendant's guilt.
Defendant also testified at trial, denying his involvement in
the murder, and raising the suggestion that Malachi may have
murdered Johnson. Necessarily either defendant or Malachi
must have been misrepresenting essential facts about
to Malachi's trial testimony, around 3:00 a.m. on 23
February 2014, defendant went to Malachi's house to
confront Johnson about money he owed defendant. Once in the
living room where Johnson and Malachi were on the couch,
defendant asked Malachi, "Where your gun at?"
Defendant was referring to Malachi's 9-millimeter,
semiautomatic pistol. Malachi told defendant she had her gun
on her, but she was lying to him. Malachi then looked on the
shelf in the living room where she normally kept her weapon,
but did not see it there. Malachi testified that she left the
living room to look for the gun but turned around and saw
defendant wearing white latex gloves and holding a gun in
each hand. Defendant was standing over Johnson and stated,
"Ya'll did me dirty." Malachi turned and ran to
her bedroom and heard shots being fired as she ran away. She
also heard defendant rattling things in the living room.
Malachi then ran to the couple's son's room, locked
the door, and hid in the closet. The couple's son was
asleep in his bedroom when defendant kicked in the door then
walked towards the son's bed. Upon seeing this, Malachi
came out of the closet and told defendant that she would find
the money for him. The couple's son continued to sleep
throughout the encounter.
asked Johnson where the money was before defendant began
stomping on Johnson as he lay motionless on the floor. As
Malachi looked for the money, defendant hit her with the two
handguns and threatened to shoot her in the feet. Defendant
said he was going to kill Johnson and walked into the
kitchen. Seeing her chance to escape, Malachi ran out of the
house and hid near her neighbor's house until she saw
what appeared to be a green station wagon drive away from her
house. Malachi then rang her neighbor's doorbell until
they responded. Once inside, Malachi asked to use their
telephone and made calls to two different male friends whom
she hoped would come pick up her son before police arrived.
The neighbors called the police after Malachi finished her
was pronounced dead when police arrived. He had been shot
once in the leg and twice in the back. A revolver was used in
the killing, as well as a 9-millimeter, semiautomatic pistol,
but the police found no guns. They did find a box for a
9-millimeter Glock handgun in a shoe box on the top shelf of
the closet in the master bedroom, along with various rounds
of ammunition, a handgun magazine, and a receipt for the
purchase of the gun. A gunshot residue test on Malachi's
hands showed some amounts of lead, antimony, and barium but
overall was an inconclusive result. However, Malachi had
washed her hands while at the neighbor's house. Bowman
was apprehended three weeks later in New York and denied any
involvement in Johnson's death.
trial, defendant denied murdering Johnson. Defendant also
testified that Malachi and Johnson had a violent relationship
and that Malachi carried a gun. Malachi was jealous of
Johnson because he cheated on her and she would become
physically violent with Johnson. She was particularly violent
when she drank alcohol. Malachi admitted that she drank
alcohol the night of Johnson's murder. A few weeks before
the murder, Malachi was upset with Johnson over another woman
who was at a liquor house with him.
night in question, defendant went to a liquor house around
11:00 p.m. Defendant then met a friend named Lorenzo Peace
around 11:30 p.m. Peace had defendant drop him off at a
friend's house before defendant drove back to the liquor
house in Peace's vehicle. Around midnight, defendant left
the liquor house to conduct a drug transaction with a man
named Jay. Afterwards, defendant returned to the liquor
house. Defendant met Peace at Bill's Truck Stop at about
5:00 a.m. before returning home. Sometime after arriving
home, defendant received a phone call alerting him that
Johnson was dead. Defendant fled to New York after receiving
threatening messages and learning he was accused of
State filed a motion in limine to preclude the defense from
questioning Malachi about her pending drug trafficking
charges in Guilford County. Defendant objected to the
State's request, arguing that there was an e-mail
exchange between the Guilford County prosecutor handling
Malachi's drug charges and the Forsyth County prosecutor
involved in defendant's murder trial. Based on the e-mail
exchange concerning a possible plea deal, the trial court
ruled that defendant could question Malachi about the pending
drug charges, as well as what she knew about any potential
deals or favorable treatment as a result of her testimony at
cross-examination, defense counsel questioned Malachi
regarding several drug charges pending against her including:
one count of trafficking in methamphetamine, one count of
conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine, one count of
trafficking in marijuana, and one count of conspiracy to
traffic in marijuana. Malachi admitted that these charges
were pending against her in Guilford County and admitted that
she was aware that each of the charges involving
methamphetamine carried a sentence of 90 months to 120 months
in prison. Similarly, Malachi acknowledged that each of the
charges involving marijuana carried a mandatory sentence of
25 to 30 months in prison. Defense counsel then questioned
Malachi about a possible plea deal.
Q. What, if anything, have you been offered from the State at
this point regarding those pending charges?
A. I don't know nothing about that.
Q. So nothing has been finalized in Guilford County?
THE COURT: Sustained.
Q. You're not aware of any current plea offer at this
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Have you - - are you aware that there are such things as
THE COURT: I'll allow that one question.
A. Yes, ...