Copyright 1998 - N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts


STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA v. JOHN FRANCES HAYES

No. COA97-697

(Filed 21 July 1998)

1. Evidence -- motion in limine -- objection to denial -- preservation of evidentiary issues for appeal

An objection to the denial of a motion in limine is alone sufficient to preserve the evidentiary issues which were the subject of the motion in limine for review by the appellate court where (1) there has been a full evidentiary hearing at which the substance of the objection(s) raised by the motion in limine has been thoroughly explored; (2) the order denying the motion is explicit and definitive; (3) the evidence actually offered at trial is substantially consistent with the evidence explored at the hearing on the motion; and (4) there is no suggestion that the trial court would reconsider the matter at trial.

2. Evidence -- motion in limine -- appellate review -- statements by murder victim -- objection at trial not required

Defendant's failure to object at trial to evidence of a murder victim's statements to several witnesses did not constitute a waiver of his right to appellate review of the admissibility of those statements where defendant made a motion in limine to exclude such evidence; a thorough exploration of this evidence was made at a pretrial hearing on the motion; the trial court's order denying the motion was explicit and definitive in addressing the evidentiary questions raised by the motion; there was no suggestion in the order of the trial court that it would reconsider the matter at trial; and there was no substantial inconsistency between the evidence offered at the pretrial hearing and the evidence offered at the trial.

3. Evidence -- hearsay -- state of mind exception -- murder victim's statements    

Testimony by three witnesses about conversations they had with a murder victim in which she told them of defendant's threats to kill her, instances where he told her that she would be the next "Nicole Simpson," and that defendant urinated on the kitchen floor and wiped her hair in the urine were admissible under the state of mind exception to the hearsay rule; in each instance the victim's statements shed light on her state of mind, her emotions and her physical condition. N.C.G.S. § 8C-1, Rule 803(3).

4. Evidence -- hearsay -- residual exception -- unavailable declarant -- Confrontation Clause -- circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness

The residual hearsay exception of Rule 804(b)(5) for statements by an unavailable declarant does not qualify as a firmly rooted hearsay exception and thus will violate the Confrontation Clause unless it is supported by a showing of particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.

5. Evidence -- hearsay -- residual exception -- circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness -- corroborating evidence

Corroborating evidence cannot be relied upon to find the circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness required to protect defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause.

6. Evidence -- hearsay -- residual exception -- statements of murder victim -- circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness

A murder victim's statement to a witness that "she had run into the defendant's fist" possessed circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness so as to render the statement admissible under the residual exception to the hearsay rule set forth in Rule 804(b)(5) where the victim and the witness were friends who socialized with their husbands and with other friends at their country club; the victim never recanted the statement and had no reason to lie about the statement because she knew that the witness was familiar with the volatile relationship between the victim and the defendant; and the victim had not sought legal advice from her attorney at the time she made the statement. The victim's statements to a second witness about verbal and physical abuse she was receiving from defendant also possessed substantial guarantees of trustworthiness so as to render them admissible under the residual exception where the victim was motivated to speak the truth to the witness, her dance instructor and friend; the victim did not recant the statements; and the victim's statements were inconsistent with a calculated approach to create a pattern of abuse that may support domestic litigation. Furthermore, the trial court's findings indicating that it considered corroborative evidence to support its rulings under Rule 804(b)(5) constituted harmless error where the determination of trustworthiness was fully supported by other findings not based on corroborative evidence.

7. Evidence -- hearsay -- state of mind exception -- exclusion of evidence -- harmless error

Assuming that a statement made by a murder defendant that he loved the victim (his wife) was admissible under the then- existing emotion or state of mind exception to the hearsay rule, the trial court's exclusion of the statement was harmless error where the statement was made some eight years before defendant killed the victim and did not shed any light on his feelings for her at the time of her death, and the trial court allowed other evidence which showed that defendant provided for all of the victim's needs, was concerned about her health, did not threaten her even if she provoked him, and treated her well.

8. Constitutional Law -- presence at trial -- in-chambers conferences without defendant -- harmless error

Defendant's absence from in-chambers conferences in this capital trial constituted harmless error where the issue discussed at the first conference related to the confidentiality of an attorney's records and his availability as a witness and did not relate to the charges against defendant; at the second conference, the trial court allowed defendant's request to record the trial in its entirety and discussed with the attorneys the possible sequestration of certain witnesses, and these discussions did not relate in any material aspect to the charges against defendant; at the third conference, the attorneys and the judge discussed the identification and presentation of certain medical records, and these matters did not affect in any material aspect the charges against defendant; and the fourth conference involved a discussion to determine if there were any other matters that needed to be addressed before continuing with the trial on the next day.

9. Homicide -- self-defense -- duty to retreat -- failure to instruct -- harmless error

A defendant on trial for killing his wife with a baseball bat was not entitled to an instruction on self-defense, and any error in the instruction given from the trial court's failure to inform the jury that defendant had no duty to retreat in his own home was harmless, where the evidence showed that the sixty-year-old defendant was assaulted by his wife when she threw a hammer at him which struck him on the leg, kicked him and attempted to hit him with a baseball bat; defendant wrestled the bat from her and after obtaining sole possession of the bat proceeded to strike her multiple times about her body with the bat, causing her death; and there was no evidence in the record that the victim presented any threat to the defendant after he acquired the bat from her.

10. Criminal Law -- sentencing -- mitigating factors -- duress - - insufficient evidence

The trial court did not err by failing to find as a mitigating factor for defendant's second-degree murder of his wife that defendant acted under duress in killing his wife where defendant presented evidence of the wife's infidelity, her attempt to remove a large sum of money from defendant's bank account, and her attempt to attack defendant in the garage of their home, since this evidence did not establish that defendant was under duress and forced to do some act that he otherwise would not have committed.

11. Criminal Law-- sentencing -- mitigating factors--duress-- insufficient evidence

The trial court did not err by failing to find as a mitigating factor for defendant's second-degree murder of his wife with a baseball bat that defendant acted under duress in killing his wife where defendant presented evidence of the wife's infidelity, her attempt to remove a large sum from defendant's bank account, and her attempt to attack defendant in the garage of their home, since this evidence did not establish that defendant was under duress and forced to do some act that he otherwise would not have committed.

    Appeal by defendant from judgment dated 26 November 1996 by Judge Chase B. Saunders in Mecklenburg Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 17 March 1998.

    Attorney General Michael F. Easley, by Special Deputy Attorney General Alexander McC. Peters, for the State.

    Rudolf & Maher, P.A., by David S. Rudolf, Thomas K. Maher, and M. Gordon Widenhouse, Jr.; and Smith Helms, Mulliss & Moore, L.L.P., by James G. Exum, Jr., for defendant appellant.

    GREENE, Judge.

    John Frances Hayes (defendant) appeals a sentence of life imprisonment based upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of second-degree murder of his wife, Fran Hayes (Mrs. Hayes). This conviction came after the defendant's capital trial for first-degree murder.

    Prior to the trial the State gave notice, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 804(b)(5), of its intent to offer into evidence certain statements made by Mrs. Hayes. The notice provided the substance of those statements. The defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude the introduction of this evidence. At a pre-trial hearing conducted in response to the motion in limine eleven witnesses were tendered and examined by both the State and the defendant. At the conclusion of that hearing the trial court entered a detailed order addressing each of the statements included in the notice provided by the State. In each instance the trial court reviewed the evidence offered, provided an analysis and ruled on whether the evidence was admissible. The trial court determined that some of the evidence was admissible under Rule 803(3), some admissible under Rule 804(b)(5), and some admissible under Rule 404(b). In at least one instance (a portion of Jean Coffey's testimony) the trial court deferred ruling on the admissibility of the evidence until it was offered at trial. Finally, the trial court included in its order the following language: "[T]he Court reserves the right to reconsider its rulings on the admissibility of this evidence if the parties 'open the door' or subsequently seek to offer it under other Rules of Evidence not considered or noted at the hearing."

    At trial the State presented, without objection, and the trial court admitted the following testimony, which in substance was the same testimony tendered at the hearing on the motion in limine and which the defendant now assigns as error: