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State v. Hairston

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

December 17, 2019


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 14 November 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from judgments entered 2 November 2018 by Judge L. Todd Burke in Guilford County Nos. 16 CRS 24127, 24130, 70665 Superior Court.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Anne J. Brown, for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Katy Dickinson-Schultz, for defendant.

          ARROWOOD, JUDGE.

         Henry Thomas Hairston ("defendant") appeals from judgments entered upon his convictions for voluntary manslaughter and possession of a controlled substance. For the following reasons, we find no error.

         I. Background

         On 18 April 2016, defendant was indicted on one count each of first-degree murder, possession of methamphetamine, and attaining habitual felon status. Defendant's charge for possession of methamphetamine was superseded by an indictment for possession of 4-chloromethcathinone on 25 June 2018. Defendant's case came on for trial in Guilford County Superior Court before the Honorable L. Todd Burke on 29 October 2018.

         At trial, Tashera Thaxton ("Ms. Thaxton"), Latoya Settle ("Ms. Settle"), and defendant's nephews Jerard and Charles McCollum ("Jerard" and "Charles") testified as follows. On the night of 13 March 2016, defendant and his nephews had driven from Reidsville to celebrate a friend's birthday at a Greensboro bar called Lucky 7's. They exited the bar when it closed at 2 a.m. and met Ms. Thaxton, Ms. Settle, and defendant's cousin Sharonda Irving ("Ms. Irving"), all of whom were friends from Reidsville. In the parking lot, an individual from another group of around five men approached Ms. Settle and asked if she would perform sexual acts for money. Defendant, his nephews, and the women rebuked the man's advances.

         The three groups then exited the parking lot in their respective automobiles, with Jerard driving himself, Charles, and defendant, and Ms. Irving driving the women in her silver minivan. At a red light, the other group of men pulled up alongside Jerard's vehicle, smashed a bottle against it, and proceeded to engage in a high-speed pursuit of defendant and his nephews. Ms. Irving followed the vehicles. Jerard feared for their lives and worried that the men would shoot at his car. Detective Stanley Marrow and Officer Camara Gosmon of the Greensboro Police Department were working an off-duty security detail in the parking lot of a Greensboro nightclub called Shooters on the night of 13 March 2016. Upon seeing a police car, Jerard pulled into a parking lot in hopes that the presence of law enforcement would de-escalate the situation. Ms. Irving's vehicle arrived shortly thereafter. Defendant and his nephews quickly exited the vehicle and were immediately met with an attack from the other group of men. In the parking lot, a large fight occurred in which Markos Leonard Jones ("Mr. Jones") was killed.

         Testimony from Detective Marrow, Officer Gosmon, and other responding officers tended to show that Detective Marrow and Officer Gosmon were engaged in conversation in the otherwise empty parking lot when, at approximately 2:30 a.m., they became aware of a brawl of fifteen to twenty people breaking out. This brawl consisted of up to four distinct fights between groups of several individuals. Neither officer observed a weapon being used by any of the combatants. The officers responded to the affray and, in the course of breaking up the first two fights, made separate contact with both defendant and Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones told Officer Gosmon that he was trying to break up a fight. Defendant told Detective Marrow that he was trying to get those he knew to disperse from the parking lot. The officers called for backup, because the brawl was too large for two officers to subdue.

         When the officers next saw defendant and Mr. Jones, the two were near each other and Mr. Jones turned away from defendant, bent over clutching his neck, and was bleeding profusely. Detective Marrow then asked two nearby individuals with "deep lacerations" on their lower arms who had a knife, and their response led Detective Marrow to believe it was defendant. Defendant was the closest person to Mr. Jones at this time. Defendant began to walk toward the silver minivan belonging to Ms. Irving and, ignoring Detective Marrow's repeated orders to halt, bumped aside a woman standing by an open door of the minivan and made a "furtive move" appearing to throw an item into the vehicle. Detective Marrow then arrested defendant and found a controlled substance commonly known as "bath salts" on his person. Officer Deon Carter then found a bloody knife in the driver's seat of the vehicle. Two investigating officers testified that defendant had blood on his shoes and clothing. Detective Tony Hinson testified that, during defendant's subsequent interview at the police station, he repeatedly stated that he suffered no injuries in the fight and did not need to go to the hospital.

         Private investigator Edward Cobbler ("Mr. Cobbler") testified that he interviewed defendant about the events in question on 31 March 2016. Defendant admitted to him that he had obtained a knife from his nephew's car. Defendant stated that during the fight several individuals were stomping and hitting him on the ground and he grabbed the knife from his pocket and "came out swinging[, ]" cutting several of his attackers. He then threw the knife in the silver minivan belonging to Ms. Irving.

         A forensic analyst from the State Crime Laboratory testified that Mr. Jones' DNA was present on swabs collected from the knife and from blood spots on the interior and exterior of the silver minivan. The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of Mr. Jones testified that his death was caused by a stab wound to his neck consistent with the bloody knife on which his DNA was found.

         At the close of the State's evidence, defendant moved to dismiss the charge of first-degree murder and its lesser-included offenses. The trial court denied the motion and defendant presented his own evidence as detailed above. Defendant renewed his prior motion to dismiss at the close of all evidence. The court again denied his motion. The trial court then held an off-the-record, in camera charge conference with counsel for defendant and the State. An agreement was reached to instruct the jury on, among other things, possession of the "bath salt" 4-chloromethcathinone, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter. The court instructed the jury on these offenses, and the jury subsequently returned a verdict finding defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter and possession of 4-chloromethcathinone.

         II. Discussion

         On appeal, defendant argues that: (a) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the charge of murder and the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter; (b) alternatively, if this issue has not been preserved for appellate review, defendant's counsel rendered ineffective assistance in failing to preserve the issue of evidentiary sufficiency; and (c) the trial ...

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