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1. Criminal Law_self-defense_omitted from final mandate_reversed
The failure to include not guilty by reason of self-defense in the final mandate was prejudicial error requiring a new trial in a prosecution for discharging a firearm into occupied property.
2. Homicide_self-defense_no duty to retreat_not included in instruction
The failure to instruct the jury that defendant had no duty to retreat when met with deadly force was plain error in a prosecution resulting in a second-degree murder conviction where there was evidence that defendant was not the initial aggressor. In the absence of the instruction, the jury may have believed that defendant acted with malice.
3. Evidence_victim impact_guilt/innocence phase
In a case remanded on other grounds, it was noted that victim impact evidence is generally inadmissible during the guilt-innocence phase of a trial.
Roy A. Cooper, III, Attorney General, by Diane A. Reeves,
Special Deputy Attorney General, for the State.
Staples S. Hughes, Appellate Defender, by Kelly D. Miller, Assistant Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellant.
MARTIN, Chief Judge.
Defendant was charged with first degree murder and discharging a firearm into occupied property. A jury convicted him of second degree murder and discharging a firearm into occupied property. He appeals from a judgment entered upon the verdicts sentencing him to an active term of imprisonment of a minimum of 189 months and a maximum of 236 months. The State presented evidence at trial which tended to show that on 28 September 2002, Donnie Moose (Moose), Jeremy Stowe (Stowe), Chris Bumgardner (Bumgardner) and Johnny Lowery (Lowery) were riding together in Moose's car. The four men decided they wanted to purchase some marijuana and drove to Cleveland Avenue in Gastonia, North Carolina. While the others remained in the car, Lowery approached two black men and purchased a bag of grass. As they were driving away, Lowery looked into the bag and discovered the contents consisted of lawn grass instead of marijuana. The men returned to Cleveland Avenue where Lowery confronted Kareem Craig, the smaller of the men who had sold them the counterfeit marijuana. According to Moose, he heard a shot and saw Lowery holding a gun. Lowery got back into the car, telling Moose to go. They drove up Cleveland Avenue to make a U-turn at the end of a cul-de-sac and, as they were returning down the street, they saw Lou Brice, the other man who had sold them the counterfeit marijuana, coming out of the woods. Lowery told Moose to stop the car and got out and confronted Brice. The two men conversed and then Lowery jumped into the car and said go. Moose testified that he heard shots and drove away.
Moose further testified that as they were driving away, Lowery had his arm out the passenger-side door, and Moose was pretty sure and believed that Lowery had fired back. They drove to the apartments where Lowery resided, where they discovered that Stowe had been shot and appeared dead. After the police were notified, Lowery was transported to the hospital where he wastreated for a gunshot wound to the hand. A pathologist testified that Stowe died as a result of a gunshot wound which severed his spinal cord and damaged his brain and that the wounds were consistent with someone crouching in the backseat of a vehicle when a bullet entered through the trunk. There were bullet holes on the trunk, spoiler, passenger side door, and rear passenger seat of Moose's vehicle.
Eyewitnesses Kendra Powell and Timothy Byrd also testified. Powell recounted how she watched Brice arguing with another man on the street in front of her house. She saw a third man walk by and go towards the apartments behind her house. He returned shooting but prior to his return, at least two shots were fired. The person from the apartments fired back at the ground, and before the car took off, one more shot was fired from the car. Powell testified that she had never seen defendant before, and while she knew Kareem Craig, she did not recall seeing him on the night of the shooting. Timothy Byrd testified that he witnessed the argument as well, that he did not know either man, and that the man from the car shot first, and the other man fired back.
Brice testified that he was defendant's uncle, that he sold Lowery the lawn grass on the night of 28 September, and then left Cleveland Avenue. When he was returning to Cleveland Avenue, he heard Lowery talking to his cousin, Kareem Craig, and also heard a couple of gunshots. As Brice stayed behind a house, Lowery got back into the car, and the men began to pull away. However, they apparently saw him and stopped. Lowery again got out of the carand demanded his money, waving his gun around. Brice heard some more shots, saw Lowery jumping into the car, and Brice ran away. At some point, Brice saw defendant and asked him for his gun, but defendant told him that Johnny [Lowery] ain't going to do nothing. However, Brice testified that Lowery had his hand out the window shooting and then defendant shot back.
Neal Morin, special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, testified that there were strong characteristics between the gun defendant provided to police and the bullet removed from Stowe, but there was insufficient detail to make a conclusive determination.
Defendant testified in his own behalf that on the night of the shooting, he was sitting in his automobile when he heard a gunshot and saw the white car. He explained that he kept a gun with him because his neighborhood was violent and people frequently are mistaken for others. He spoke with his cousin, Kareem Craig, who told him that Lowery had just shot at him. Defendant watched the white car begin to leave, but it stopped as he saw Brice, his uncle, come from behind a house. Lowery jumped out of the white car and appeared to be waving his gun and arguing with his uncle.
Defendant testified that when Brice asked him for his gun, I told him hell, no, he couldn't have my gun. Johnny wasn't going to do that. As defendant and Brice walked off, [Lowery] jumped in[to the white car] and fired a shot back. I fell over, shot back at him. Defendant stated that he was approximately 15 to 20 feet to the rear of the car when Lowery shot at him. He explained thathe believed Lowery was trying to shoot me. That's why the gun was pointed at me. I was the only person walking there.
Defendant further testified that he did not intend to kill Lowery and did not even know there were other passengers in the car, but that once he did, he fired at the ground in order to avoid hitting them. Defendant stated that he shot at Lowery because he was afraid that Lowery was going to shoot him, and he had never been shot at before. He explained that the first he heard of Stowe's death was when he learned about the arrest warrant, and he voluntarily turned himself in and made a statement to police because he had nothing to hide.
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