in the Court of Appeals 19 September 2019
by defendant from judgments entered 30 August 2017 by Judge
Douglas B. Sasser in Columbus County Nos. 06 CRS 6250-51,
6257-59, 6261-62, 6254-67 Superior Court.
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Jonathan P. Babb, for the State.
Widenhouse, by M. Gordon Widenhouse, Jr., for defendant.
Lamont Thomas ("defendant") appeals from judgments
sentencing him to four consecutive life sentences without
parole and additional sentences totaling a minimum of 385
months to a maximum of 623 months in prison. On appeal,
defendant contends the trial court erred in denying his
motion to suppress, motion to dismiss, and in admitting
certain evidence under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule
404(b). After careful review, we affirm.
was originally tried and convicted of a number of crimes on 5
May 2011. State v. Thomas, 230 N.C. 127, 748 S.E.2d
620 (2013). On appeal, we reversed and remanded for a new
trial upon concluding defendant was denied his right to
remove a juror with a peremptory challenge. Id. at
133, 748 S.E.2d at 624. Defendant was re-tried and then
convicted on 30 August 2017 of four counts of first-degree
murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, one count
of robbery with a firearm, one count of attempted robbery
with a dangerous weapon, three counts of second-degree
kidnapping, one count of assault with a deadly weapon with
intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and one count of
first-degree burglary for a string of offenses committed on
20 August 2005, 10 September 2005, and 5 November 2005.
State's evidence at trial tended to show the following
facts. The Durham Police Department issued an arrest warrant
for defendant in connection with a homicide committed in
Durham in July 2005. After noticing similarities between the
Durham homicide and three homicides committed in Columbus
County, the Columbus County Sheriff's Office and North
Carolina SBI agents also began searching for defendant. U.S.
Marshals assisted Durham police officers in tracking a phone
number associated with defendant that was listed under the
name "Markeeta Crutchfield." On 8 December 2005,
Deputy Steven Warden of the El Paso County Sheriff's
Office in Colorado went to 2305 Lexington Village Lane in
Colorado Springs to assist the U.S. Marshals in apprehending
a fugitive from North Carolina. Deputy Warden and other law
enforcement set up surveillance of the residence, which was
owned by Yvette Jurnett ("Jurnett"). When Jurnett
arrived home, the deputies asked if they could speak to her
and she agreed. They showed her a picture of defendant and
asked if he was in her home. She told them it looks like the
man staying in her house but she knew him as
"Santana." Jurnett gave Deputy Warden consent to
search her house, adding "[i]f this person is inside of
my home, I want them out." Jurnett also told the
officers no one other than defendant was in her home, and she
had not seen any weapons.
Warden and other deputies entered the residence through a
garage to locate defendant. Upon reaching a stairwell that
led down to a basement, they heard a male voice speak in the
basement. The deputies announced their presence and ordered
the man to come out. Those commands were repeated a few
times, with no response. Deputy Warden then called defendant
by name, to which defendant responded he was not coming out.
Deputy Warden exited the residence and requested the Colorado
Springs Police Department Tactical Unit be sent to the scene.
Sergeant Jason Hess, still standing in the hallway near the
basement, used a mirror to look into the basement and saw
defendant holding a rifle. Defendant then yelled, "Back
the f*** up; Don't come down here; It's going to be a
bloodbath if you guys try to come get me." He also
informed the deputies he was loaded with ammunition. The
Tactical Unit later arrived to relieve the Sheriff's
Office and was able to apprehend defendant.
having the homeowner's consent to search the premises,
the officers sought and obtained a search warrant. Upon
searching the basement, officers found an SKS rifle, a .45
caliber Ruger handgun, loose bullets, and a backpack which
contained 9mm and other bullets, two rolls of duct tape, and
a two-way radio. In a bedroom on the second floor of the
home, the officers found a duffel bag containing a black
stocking cap, a blue-and-white bandana, a red-and-white
bandana, and a white-red-and-black foam hockey mask. In
addition, they also found a North Carolina driver's
license with defendant's name on it in a suitcase.
was arrested and charged with a string of crimes committed in
Columbus County. These included the attempted murder of
Terrence Rowell ("Rowell") on 20 August 2005; the
murder of Craig Williams ("Williams") and
kidnapping of Centia McLeod ("McLeod") on 10
September 2005; and the murders of Dennis Inman, Regina Inman
(collectively, "Inman"), and Anthony Martin
("Martin") on 5 November 2005. Testimony about the
Rowell and Williams crimes revealed one of the perpetrators
was a black man wearing a Jason-style hockey mask with holes
in it, similar to the one seized from defendant in Colorado.
The man in the hockey mask who attacked Rowell and Williams
had a TEC-9 gun with holes in it. Police officers who
investigated the Rowell scene found a fired, 9mm Luger shell
casing, which was similar to a live round seized in Colorado.
Jacqueline Battle testified defendant visited her house on 3
September 2005, and was carrying a gun with holes in it.
examination showed some 9mm shell casings from the Rowell,
Williams, and Inman shootings were all fired from the same
gun. The .45 shell casings from the Inman murders also
matched a .45 cartridge found near Williams. In addition,
Rowell and Martin were both bound with duct tape similar to
the duct tape seized in Colorado. The DNA profile generated
from a bloody impression on the roll of duct tape seized in
Colorado matched the DNA profile of the bloodstain of Martin.
Expert testimony revealed a profile from bloodstain cuttings
from the hockey mask seized in Colorado matched the DNA
profile from Williams.
defendant's timely objection, evidence of two other
crimes believed to be committed by defendant on 26 December
2004 and 15 July 2005 was also presented at trial for
purposes of proving identity. Testimony about the incidents
revealed they were committed by a man in a white Jason mask
with holes in it, and that bullets from the two crime scenes
were fired from the same .45-caliber gun.
August 2017, defendant filed a motion to suppress all the
evidence seized in Colorado as a result of the installation
and use of a pen register device on the cell phone he was
using. On 14 August 2017, the court orally denied the motion
and signed a detailed written order nunc pro tunc on
5 October 2017. Defendant presented no evidence at trial, but
moved to dismiss all the charges at the close of all the
evidence. The jury found defendant guilty of all charges. He
was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences without
parole for the four murders; 127 months to 162 months for
assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting
serious injury and second-degree kidnapping; 117 months to
150 months for first-degree burglary and second-degree
kidnapping; and 251 months to 311 months for attempted
murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and first-degree
kidnapping. Defendant gave notice of appeal in open court.
appeal, defendant argues the trial court erred by: (1)
denying the motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to an
unconstitutional search based on cell phone information
showing defendant's location that was obtained without a
warrant; (2) denying the motion to dismiss the charge of
kidnapping McLeod where the evidence did not show she was
confined or removed beyond that necessary to rob her with a
dangerous weapon; and (3) admitting evidence about a prior,
violent incident for purposes of proving his identity, absent
any proof of the defendant's involvement. We address each
argument in turn below.
Motion to Suppress
first argues the trial court erred in denying the motion to
suppress evidence seized pursuant to an unconstitutional
search based on cell phone information showing
defendant's location that was obtained without a warrant.
For the following reasons, we reject defendant's
review of a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress
is 'strictly limited to determining whether the trial
judge's underlying findings of fact are supported by
competent evidence, in which event they are conclusively
binding on appeal, and whether those factual findings in turn
support the judge's ultimate conclusions of
law.'" State v. Jordan, 242 N.C.App. 464,
469, 776 S.E.2d 515, 519 (2015) (quoting State v.
Cooke, 306 N.C. 132, 134, 291 S.E.2d 618, 619 (1982)).
"The trial court's conclusions of law . . . are
fully reviewable on appeal." State v. Hughes,
353 N.C. 200, 208, 539 S.E.2d 625, 631 (2000).
August 2017, defendant filed a motion to suppress all
evidence obtained from the installation and use of a pen
register device on defendant's cell phone without a
warrant. He argued the warrantless location tracking
constituted an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. On 5 October 2017, the
trial court entered an order nunc pro tunc to 14
August 2017 ...