THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
The State, Respondent,
Michael Coffin, Appellant.
Appeal From Spartanburg County
J. Derham Cole, Judge
Opinion No. 24807
Heard May 12, 1998 - Filed June 22, 1998
Chief Attorney Daniel T. Stacey and Assistant
Appellate Defender Melody J. Brown, both of South
Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, for appellant.
Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Deputy
Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant
Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, all of
Columbia; and Solicitor Holman C. Gossett, of
Spartanburg, for respondent.
MOORE, A.J.: Appellant was convicted of murder, first degree
burglary, assault and battery with intent to kill, and two counts of
possession of a knife during the commission of a violent crime. At trial,
appellant admitted stabbing his girlfriend, Kelly Morris, and a friend,
Terry Wright, in the mobile home where the three of them had been
living. On appeal, appellant challenges only the burglary conviction. He
contends he was lawfully entitled to enter the dwelling where the crimes
were committed and therefore the trial judge erred in denying his motion
for a directed verdict on the burglary charge. We affirm.
Kelly Morris leased a mobile home at the Evans Mobile Home Park.
In November 1995, appellant moved in with her and Terry Wright who
was already staying there. Because Kelly's lease provided that a visitor
staying more that five days had to be approved by the landlord, appellant
went to the landlord for approval. The landlord affixed a copy of
appellant's driver's license to the lease which indicated he considered
appellant "a legal qualified person living in that mobile home." Appellant
did not sign the lease but, according to the landlord, he did pay the rent
On February 22, 1996, appellant and Kelly had an argument and
she threw him out. Appellant took his clothes and left. Appellant
testified he was upset because Kelly gave no explanation and he felt he
should not have to leave since he had paid rent.
Appellant returned to the mobile home two or three times that day
but Kelly told him to go away and refused to answer the door. When
appellant returned later that evening, he thought he could hear Kelly and
Terry having sex in the mobile home. He became enraged and pried the
front door open with a knife. Appellant found Terry in the bedroom and
stabbed him several times. When Terry fled the mobile home, appellant
returned to the living room where he stabbed Kelly, who was drunk and
lying on the couch., and left the scene. Kelly died later at the hospital.
Appellant turned himself in after hearing of her death on a news
broadcast that night.
The element of first degree burglary at issue here is the requirement
that the perpetrator enter a dwelling without consent. S.C. Code Ann. §
16-11-311(A) (Supp. 1997). The term "enter a building without consent" is
statutorily defined to mean "to enter a building without the consent of the
person in lawful possession." S.C. Code Am. § 16-11-310(a) (Supp. 1997).1
S.C. 455, 365 S.E.2d 731 (1988).
It is undisputed Kelly was a person in lawful possession and that she did
not consent to appellant entering the mobile home at the time of the
stabbings. Appellant claims, however, he too was a person in lawful
possession of the mobile home and therefore he did not need consent to
enter. Appellant points to the evidence he paid rent and was approved by
We find the motion for directed verdict was properly denied based on
evidence appellant was not in lawful possession of the mobile home at the
time of the stabbings. Terry Wright testified Kelly had the only key to
the mobile home. Her name was the only name signed on the lease;
apellant's identification was affixed to it pursuant to a clause requiring
that "visitors" be approved. Further, the landlord testified he had nothing
to do with a lessee's decision to evict an approved visitor.
This evidence supports the inference appellant was a guest in Kelly's
home and she was entitled to terminate appellant's lawful possession by
evicting him as she did before the stabbings occurred. Accordingly, this
evidence presents a jury issue whether appellant was in lawful possession
of the mobile home at the time of the stabbings. Accord State v. Tolbert,
488 N.W.2d 11 (Ct. App. Minn. 1992) (question for jury where defendant's
lawful possession turns on whether defendant was a guest whose tenancy
was effectively terminated by lessee). The charge of burglary was
therefore properly submitted to the jury. See State v. Long, ___ S.C. ___,
480 S.E.2d 62 (1997) (directed verdict properly denied where there is any
direct or substantial circumstantial evidence that reasonably tends to
prove the guilt of the accused or from which his guilt may fairly and
logically be deduced).
FINNEY, C.J., TOAL, WALLER and BURNETT, JJ concur.