in the Supreme Court on 30 September 2019.
pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a
divided panel of the Court of Appeals, 822 S.E.2d 489 ( N.C.
Ct. App. 2018), vacating a judgment entered on 4 October 2016
by Judge James E. Hardin, Jr. in Superior Court, Alamance
H. Stein, Attorney General, by Kristin J. Uicker, Assistant
Attorney General, for the State-appellant.
Ferguson, Geeta N. Kapur, and James D. Williams, Jr., for
Rontel Vincae Royster was convicted by a jury on 30 September
2016 of trafficking in cocaine by possession pursuant to N.C.
G.S. § 90-95(h)(3)(c). Here we consider whether
defendant waived appellate review of his sufficiency of the
evidence argument by failing to raise it in the trial court
and whether the trial court erred in denying defendant's
motion to dismiss on the basis of insufficient evidence. The
Court of Appeals concluded that the State failed to present
substantial evidence that defendant possessed 400 grams or
more of cocaine and vacated defendant's conviction.
State v. Royster, 822 S.E.2d 489 ( N.C. Ct. App.
2018). We conclude that defendant did not waive his
sufficiency of the evidence argument by failing to raise it
in the trial court. As to the issue of whether the State
presented sufficient evidence that defendant possessed 400
grams or more of cocaine on the date in question, the members
of this Court are equally divided; accordingly, the holding
of the Court of Appeals with respect to this issue is left
undisturbed and stands affirmed without precedential value.
December 2013, at around 7:00 p.m., eighteen-year-old
Humberto Anzaldo was visiting friends at the Otter Creek
Mobile Home Park in Green Level, North Carolina, when he saw
two acquaintances, Polo and Scrappy, having an argument.
According to Anzaldo, Polo was "mad" and "was
screaming and arguing at Scrappy about losing $150,
000." Shortly thereafter, Anzaldo observed Polo,
Scrappy, and another man, Hector Lopez, leave the mobile home
park in a gray two-door BMW.
approximately 8:30 p.m. that evening, defendant's father,
Ronald Royster, was at his apartment in Burlington, North
Carolina, when, hearing a knock on his door, he opened it to
find several men outside, one of whom he recognized. Upon
entering the apartment, one of the men asked Mr. Royster
whether he had spoken with defendant. According to Mr.
Royster, after he responded that he had not spoken with
defendant, the man stated, "[w]ell, if you haven't
talked to your son, come on with us," and proceeded to
point a gun at Mr. Royster's head and bind his hands with
a cord. The men then walked Mr. Royster to a grey, two-door
BMW, blindfolded him, and drove him to the Otter Creek Mobile
Home Park. Upon arrival, Mr. Royster heard a phone being
placed by his ear and recognized defendant's voice on the
other end of the call. Mr. Royster told defendant, "I
don't know what's going on; you need to come and talk
following morning, 29 December 2013, Anzaldo, having left the
Otter Creek Mobile Home Park the previous evening not long
after Polo and Scrappy departed, returned to the mobile home
park at around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. After ten or fifteen
minutes, Anzaldo was walking toward his car to leave when he
heard a whistle and saw Polo standing in front of a nearby
mobile home. Anzaldo spoke with Polo and, through the door of
the mobile home, saw Mr. Royster inside tied up with what
appeared to be rope. According to Anzaldo, he told Polo
"[y]ou can't be doing this; this ain't
Mexico." Anzaldo was still speaking with Polo outside of
the mobile home when a white Acura arrived at the mobile home
defendant and another man, Demarcus Cates, got out of the
Acura, Polo, Anzaldo, and Lopez went to meet them. Meanwhile,
Scrappy led Mr. Royster, now untied and with his blindfold
removed, out from behind the mobile home. Defendant told Mr.
Royster to "get in the car" and Mr. Royster got in
the back seat of the Acura. Defendant then handed Cates a
black box, which was in turn passed to Polo, Scrappy, and
Anzaldo, before being passed back to Scrappy. Anzaldo
described the box as "pretty heavy" and testified
that no one looked inside the box during the encounter and
that he did not know what was in it.
this exchange, Cates and Polo began arguing and then started
yelling and shoving each other. Anzaldo turned around to
leave, at which point he heard approximately four or five
gunshots and ran behind a nearby mobile home. Anzaldo saw
Scrappy, still holding the black box, run into the woods.
After defendant, Cates, and Mr. Royster drove away in the
Acura, Anzaldo saw Polo lying dead on the ground. Polo had
been shot four times, including multiple gunshot wounds to
approximately 9:30 on the following morning, officers from
Alamance County's K-9 unit performed a grid search for
guns and drugs in the woods behind the mobile home park.
Behind a tree located about fifty to seventy-five yards into
the wooded area, officers discovered a black box containing a
large amount of cocaine. Although there was heavy rain the
previous evening, the box was completely dry. In the woods,
about seventy-five yards away, officers also discovered a dry
mason jar containing an additional amount of cocaine.
Defendant presented evidence tending to show that the grid
search was prompted by a police interview with Anzaldo on the
morning of 30 December 2013, during which Anzaldo gave the
"precise location" of the black box and stated
that the box contained "two (2) kilos of cocaine."
July 2015, defendant was indicted pursuant to N.C. G.S.
§ 90-95(h)(3)(c) for trafficking in cocaine by
possession of 400 grams or more on 29 December 2013.
Defendant moved to dismiss the trafficking charge based on
insufficient evidence. The trial court denied defendant's
motion. At the close of all evidence, defendant renewed his
motion to dismiss, which was again denied. After the jury
returned a ...