THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
The State, Respondent,
Stephen Andrew Beckham, Appellant.
Appeal From Newberry County
Henry F. Floyd, Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 24906
Heard December 15, 1998 - Filed February 22, 1999
John Delgado, of Columbia, for appellant.
Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Chief Deputy
Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant
Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and
Assistant Attorney General Robert E. Bogan, all of
Columbia; and Solicitor W. Townes Jones, IV, of
Greenwood, for respondent.
MOORE, A.J.: Appellant was convicted of murder, kidnapping,
and conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to life for the murder,
30 years for the kidnapping, and 5 years for the conspiracy to commit
murder, all to run concurrently.1 We affirm.
On June 12, 1994, Victoria Lander Beckham (Vickie) was murdered.
In July 1995, Richard Anderson was arrested for her murder. He gave police
a statement implicating appellant Stephen Beckham, Vickie's husband.
Anderson, a bouncer from a Myrtle Beach strip bar (Smugglers), testified
that appellant hired him to dispose of Vickie's body.
On June 12th at 6:15 p.m., Vickie dropped off the children at
appellant's mobile home. Appellant and Vickie were separated and Vickie
was returning the children to appellant for a scheduled visitation. Appellant
got into the car to talk with Vickie as the children went into the home.
At the same time, Anderson waited beside a dirt road not far from
appellant's driveway for appellant. Anderson testified that as appellant
drove up in Vickie's car, he saw appellant beat Vickie with a gun. Vickie was
rendered unconscious. Anderson testified appellant told him to break
Vickie's neck by striking her with a pair of bolt cutters. He then told
Anderson to drive her car to Little Mountain Road, wait until it was dark,
and drive the car off of the mountain road in attempt to make it look as if
Vickie had died in a car accident. The car, however, rolled to the wrong side
of the road into a ditch and Vickie's body was discovered that same night at
approximately 9:15 p.m.
1) Reference to Sister Care
Bonnie Malasky testified about Vickie's whereabouts on June 8, 1994,
at 6:30 p.m. Malasky was with Vickie when Vickie delivered the children to
appellant that night. Anderson had testified he and appellant had
attempted to murder Vickie on that night but they did not go through with
the plan. Malasky testified that Vickie was at Sister Care between 6:30 and
9:30 p.m. on June 8th. Appellant objected and a sidebar was held. The trial
judge overruled the objection. Later, on the record, appellant noted his
aggravating circumstances, they recommended a sentence of life.
235 (1996). Relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is
substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Rule 403, SCRE.
Anderson testified that appellant ran from the murder scene through
the woods back to his home. Following an in camera hearing, the trial judge ruled
whether appellant received these scratches running through the woods
from the crime scene back to his home went to the weight of the evidence and
not its admissibility. Accordingly, the pictures were relevant and their
probative value was not outweighed by any unfair prejudice. State v.
Asbury, 328 S.C. 187, 493 S.E.2d 349 (1991)(because victim's hands and feet
were bound with cut electrical cord ' testimony concerning appliances and
severed electrical cords found at defendant's home was relevant and
probative value of testimony was not outweighed by danger of unfair
Furthermore, whether the scratches were "fresh" or not merely goes to
the weight of the evidence not its admissibility. State v. Sullivan, 277 S.C.
35, 282 S.E.2d 838 (1981)(arguments raised by appellant go toward weight of
evidence not its admissibility on whether or not evidence was left by
appellant at crime scene). Accordingly, we find no error.
3) Life insurance
Appellant contends the trial judge erred in admitting evidence that
appellant was the beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy on Vickie.
Appellant contends the probative value of this evidence was outweighed by
unfair prejudice. Rule 403, SCRE. We disagree.
Evidence of insurance is properly admitted when it tends to establish
motive. State v. Williams, 321 S.C. 327) 468 S.E.2d 626 (1996). See also
State v. Vermillion, 271 S.C. 99, 245 S.E.2d 128 (1978)(even if defendant is
not beneficiary, evidence of life insurance policy admissible if defendant
derives a benefit). Evidence of a life insurance policy is properly admitted
when there is evidence of the defendant's knowledge of the policy's existence,
its validity, or believed validity, and that the defendant will benefit from it.
State v. Cole, 54 Wash. App. 93, 772 P.2d 531 (1989).
Appellant contends he was unaware that the policy on Vickie listing
him as beneficiary was in effect when Vickie died. Appellant contends that
there were policies taken out on both he and Vickie in 1990 but he believed
her policy had lapsed. Clearly, appellant knew of the existence of the policy
at one time. Appellant's argument that he thought Vickie's policy had lapsed
does not prevent evidence of the policy from being admitted. It was a jury
question as to whether at the time of the murder appellant had knowledge of
the existence of a valid policy with him - as the beneficiary. State v. Leuch,
198 Wash. 331, 88 P.2d 440 (1930). Accordingly, we find no error.
4) Tax Liens
Appellant contends the trial court erred in allowing the State to
introduce evidence that two tax liens in the amounts of $27,539 and $37,864
had been filed against appellant and Vickie. Appellant objected on the
grounds of relevance and that the probative value was outweighed by
prejudice, pursuant to Rules 402 and 403, SCRE. We disagree.
The State introduced the tax liens to show appellant had a financial
motive for Vickie's murder. Appellant contends the tax liens were too remote
in time as one of them was filed in 1989, five years prior to Vickie's death.
The other lien was filed in 1992. Appellant also contends once Vickie died,
he became liable for the entire amount, rather than just 50%. At the time of
the murder, there were two tax liens filed jointly against appellant and
Vickie. The State introduced evidence that appellant knew he was the
beneficiary of a life insurance policy on Vickie which would have enabled him
to pay off the liens and leave him approximately $35,000. Accordingly, we
hold appellant's poor financial condition was relevant to motive. State v.
Sack, 210 Or. 552, 300 P.2d 427 (1956)(evidence as to financial condition of
defendant as well as evidence tending to show that defendant would profit
financially from death of his wife is relevant on issue of motive). The trial
judge did not err in admitting this evidence.
5) Failure of State to give notice of witness
Appellant contends the trial erred in ruling there was no prejudice by
the State's failure to give notice of a witness, Elsie Fields. We disagree.
Rule 5(e), SCRimP, provides the defendant is to provide notice of his
intention to offer an alibi defense and "the prosecution shall serve upon the
defendant or his attorney the names and addresses of witnesses upon whom
the State intends to rely to establish defendant's presence at the scene of the
alleged crime." (emphasis added).
There is no dispute that Fields was not listed as a witness who might
testify to refute appellant's alibi defense. Fields was visiting Bishop
Beckham and his wife on June 12th. Fields testified that she saw appellant
coming from the pond on the Beckham property around 7:00 p.m. on June
12th. Fields' testimony did not place appellant at the crime scene.
Accordingly, the trial judge did not err in not excluding her testimony.
6) Chastising witness
Appellant contends the trial judge'erred when he chastised a defense
witness, appellant's father, in the presence of the jury. We disagree.
Appellant's father, Bishop Beckham, testified for appellant. During
cross-examination, he was openly hostile to the Solicitor on several occasions.
At one point, the trial judge held a bench conference and admonished the
Bishop to respond to the questions and cautioned him about editorializing.
With the jury out of the courtroom, appellant's counsel talked privately with
the Bishop about his "style" or demeanor on the stand. Cross-examination
continued and the solicitor asked the Bishop whether appellant was with the
Bishop during a conversation with the coroner. The Bishop answered:
"You're saying, I really don't recall Stephen being with me. You're saying
that." Another bench conference was held after which the trial court again
admonished the Bishop:
I've warned you the last time. Now next time you
make an editorial comment to the attorney examining
you, I'm going to hold you in contempt. . . . Now just
answer the question without any editorial comment.
Whether people believe it or not, when they're on the
witness stand, lawyers have some latitude about asking
questions and you've got to respond to it. A
cross-examination is always a more intense period for
everybody. But nevertheless, you editorialize again,
I'm going to hold you in contempt.
Appellant did not make a contemporaneous objection. State v. Johnson, 324
S.C. 38, 476 S.E.2d 681 (1996)(a contemporaneous objection is required at
trial to preserve an issue for appellate review). After the Bishop completed
his testimony, appellant objected to this admonition on the ground that a
negative feeling towards the Bishop was conveyed to the jury. The trial
court offered to give a curative instruction. However, nothing further was
requested. Accordingly, there is no issue preserved for review. See Johnson,
supra; State v. George, 323 S.C. 496) 476 S.E.2d 903 (1996)(no issue is
preserved for appellate review if objecting party accepts judge's ruling and
does not contemporaneously make additional objection to sufficiency of
curative charge or move for a mistrial). Further, appellant did not later
object to the trial court's failure to give a curative instruction.
In any event, a trial judge has the inherent power to maintain order
and decorum in his courtroom. See, e.g., State v. Shelton, 270 S.C. 577, 243
S.E.2d 455 (1978)(trial judge has inherent power to maintain order in his
court). "'Generally, the act of a judge in a criminal case in admonishing,
rebuking, or warning a witness because of the latter's language or conduct is
not such misconduct as to require a new trial. The court may reprove or
rebuke a witness for levity or profanity, and it is proper for him to correct the
volubility of a witness and admonish those who show hesitation, reluctance,
or evasion."' State v. Tuckness, 257 S.C. 295, 185 S.E.2d 607 (1971)(quoting
58 Am.Jur.2d New Trial § 54). Accordingly, we find no error.
7) Evidence of Fire
Appellant contends the trial judge erred in allowing the State to
present evidence that an extinguished fire was found behind appellant's
mobile home the day after the murder. Appellant contends there was no
evidence retrieved from the fire and therefore any testimony about it was
speculative and irrelevant. We disagree.
Under Rule 401, SCRE, relevant evidence is defined as "evidence
having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence
to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it
would be without the evidence." Rule 402, SCRE, provides that all relevant
evidence is admissible. Here, the State's theory was that appellant had
destroyed some evidence by burning it.
The attempted destruction of evidence is regarded as a relevant
incriminating circumstance. See State v. Epes, 209 S.C. 246, 39 S.E.2d 769
(1946). Appellant's argument that there was nothing retrieved from the fire
would go its weight rather than admissibility. State v. Sullivan, 277 S.C. 35,
282 S.E.2d 838 (1981)(arguments raised by appellant go toward weight of
evidence not its admissibility on whether or not evidence was left by
appellant at crime scene). Accordingly, we find no error.
8) Evidence of Flight
Appellant contends the trial judge erred in allowing evidence of flight.
An arrest warrant was issued for appellant on July 11, 1995.
Appellant and his family had left early that morning for a vacation to
Florida. Appellant and his children checked into a Daytona Beach hotel room
for one hour. Appellant then checked out and drove all night to Kentucky.
Evidence of flight has been held to constitute evidence of guilty
knowledge and intent. State v. Thompson, 278 S.C. 1, 292 S.E.2d 581
(1982)(evidence of flight admissible to show guilty knowledge, intent, and
that defendant sought to avoid apprehension). The critical factor to the
admissibility of evidence of flight is whether the totality of the evidence
creates an inference that the defendant had knowledge that he was being
sought by the authorities. State v. Brown, 528 A.2d 1098 (R.I. 1987). See
also Commonwealth v. Jones, 457 Pa. 563, 576, 319 A.2d 142, 150 (1974)(it is
sufficient that circumstances justify inference that accused's actions were
motivated as result of his belief that officers were aware of his wrongdoing
and were seeking him for that purpose). Flight or evasion of arrest is a
circumstance to go to the jury. State v. Turnage, 107 S.C. 478, 93 S.E. 182
Appellant attempted at trial to explain that his trip to Florida was a
planned family vacation. However, all of the testimony then establishes that
once in Florida appellant became aware that he was wanted and instead of
returning to South Carolina, he went to Kentucky. Appellant attempted to
counter with testimony that he planned to turn himself in after spending
some time with his children. However, whether he was going to eventually
return does not make the evidence of flight inadmissible. It merely goes to
its weight. State v. Sullivan, supra. Accordingly, we find no error.
9) Search Warrant
Appellant contends the search warrant issued on July 11, 1995, should
have been quashed and the latex gloves seized from his mobile home during
the execution of this warrant should not have been admitted into evidence.
First, appellant contends the search warrant was obtained based upon
stale information. The police submitted an affidavit to establish probable
cause to search appellant's mobile home for a gun after Anderson, in early
July 1995, told police that he saw appellant hit Vickie with a gun on the day
she was murdered. A probable cause affidavit must state facts so closely
related to the time of the issuance of the warrant as to justify a finding of
probable cause at that time. State v. Winborne, 273 S.C. 62) 254 S.E.2d 297
(1979). In State v. Corns, 310 S.C. 5462 426 S.E.2d 324 (Ct. App. 1992), the
Court of Appeals quoted the following language from United States v.
Steeves, 525 F.2d 33 (8th Cir.1975):
While the lapse of time involved is an important
consideration and may in some cases be controlling,
it is not necessarily so. There are other factors to
be considered, including the nature of the criminal
activity involved, and the kind of property for which
authority to search is sought. Obviously, a highly
incriminating or consumable item of personal property
is less likely to remain in one place as long as an item
of property which is not consumable or which is
innocuous in itself or not particularly incriminating.
In Steeves, the court went on to note that the ski mask and clothing
sought in the warrant were not incriminating in themselves and that people
who own guns generally keep them at home or on their persons.
Considering the totality of the circumstances, the court in Corns concluded it
could not say the time lapse invalidated the warrant as a matter of law.
Whether "averments in an affidavit are sufficiently timely to establish
probable cause depends on the particular circumstances of the case." United
States v. Hershenow, 680 F.2d 847, 853 (1st Cir.1982). Here, Anderson's
statement was not obtained until his arrest one year after the murder. He
told the police that appellant had used a gun in the commission of the
murder. We hold that based upon the totality of the circumstances in this
case, the averments in the affidavit were not stale and the search warrant
Second, appellant contends the evidence seized pursuant to the search
warrant was beyond the scope of the warrant. We disagree. The search
warrant stated the police were looking for a gun. The police not only seized a
gun, but also a pair of latex gloves found in a night side table in appellant's
bedroom. Appellant contends the police should not have seized the gloves
because their incriminating nature was not immediately apparent. We
Under the "plain view" exception to the warrant requirement, objects
falling within the plain view of a law enforcement officer who is rightfully in
a position to view the objects are subject to seizure and may be introduced as
evidence. State v. Brown, 289 S.C. 581, 347 S.E.2d 882 (1986). In order for
evidence to be seized under the plain view exception, three things must be
shown: (1) the initial intrusion which afforded the authorities the plain view
was lawful; (2) the discovery of the evidence was inadvertent; and (3) the
incriminating nature of the evidence was immediately apparent to the
seizing authorities. State v. Culbreath, 300 S.C. 232, 237, 387 S.E.2d 255,
257 (1990). Here, the officers were lawfully searching appellant's mobile
home for a gun when they seized the latex gloves. In his statement,
Anderson asserted appellant wore gloves during the commission of the
murder. Appellant's contention that the gloves belonged to his daughter was
an issue for the jury; it does not make the seizure of the gloves improper.
Accordingly, the trial judge did not err in admitting the gloves.
10) Denial of fair trial and due process
Appellant contends the trial judge denied him a fair trial and due
process by excluding various defense evidence. We disagree.
Appellant contends the trial judge erred in not allowing him to admit
evidence of third party guilt. Evidence offered by a defendant as to the
commission of the crime by another person is limited to facts which are
inconsistent with the defendant's guilt. State v. Parker, 294 S.C. 465, 366
S.E.2d 10 (1988). Here, the evidence which appellant sought to introduce
regarding third party guilt would not exculpate him. See State v.
Southerland, 316 S.C. 377, 447 S.E.2d 862 (1994), overruled on other grounds
by State v. Chapman, 317 S.C. 302, 454 S.E.2d 317 (1995). Appellant
attempted to introduce evidence that there were two men on Little Mountain
Road on the night of the murder and that someone else had been with
Anderson. Accordingly, the exclusion of this evidence was not error.
Appellant then sought to introduce evidence that SLED agent "Spike"
McCraw during his investigation had been looking for two men who had
been seen on Little Mountain Road between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. on the night
of the murder as impeachment evidence. During cross-examination, McCraw
denied this. To impeach McCraw, appellant sought to introduce an affidavit
which McCraw had made to a magistrate in which McCraw stated he was
looking for two men seen on Little Mountain Road on June 12th. The State
objected and the trial judge sustained the objection. The trial judge stated
that the evidence was nothing more than an attempt by appellant to inject
third party guilt into the trial. Appellant proffered McCraw's testimony
during which McCraw admitted he had originally been looking for two men
and that a man named Michael Beatty had been a suspect. Beatty was the
owner of the car which Anderson borrowed to drive to Columbia. Appellant
contends the trial judge erred in not allowing him to impeach McCraw with
the affidavit which appellant contends is a prior inconsistent statement
under Rule 613 (b), SCRE.
Recently, in State v. Fossick, Op. No. 24849 (S.C. Sup. Ct. filed
November 9, 1998)(Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 35 at 3), we held the trial judge
erred in not admitting impeachment evidence under Rule 613(b), SCRE. In
Fossick, we concluded the error was harmless. We applied the factors set
forth in Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. at 684, 106 S.Ct. at 1438, 89
L.Ed.2d at 686 (1986) for determining whether an issue of witness credibility
is harmless error:
"Whether such an error is harmless in a particular case depends upon
a host of factors . . . . The factors include the importance of the witness's
testimony in the prosecution's case, whether the testimony was cumulative,
the presence or absence of evidence corroborating or contradicting the
testimony of the witness on material points, the extent of cross-examination
otherwise permitted, and of course, the overall strength of the prosecution's case."
Likewise, here, the trial judge erred in not admitting the impeachment
evidence but we find the error was harmless. McCraw's testimony was not
that important to the State's case. Much of McCraw's testimony was merely
cumulative to Anderson's testimony2 and corroborated by other evidence.
The majority of McCraw's testimony was about the phone records of
appellant, appellant's father, Vickie's father, Anderson, Anderson's employer
(Smuggler's), and several pay phones, and appellant's bank records.
McCraw also testified as to Anderson's statement and how he had
investigated the information contained in the statement. Appellant was
permitted to extensively cross-examine McCraw. Lastly, the State's case was
fairly strong. Anderson's testimony and the evidence of flight were very
damning. After considering the Van Arsdall factors in light of the evidence
against appellant, we hold the exclusion of this impeachment evidence was
Appellant then contends the trial judge erred in excluding a composite
drawing of the second man. The composite drawing depicted an individual
other than Anderson or appellant and was drawn based upon the statement
of Sam Martin. Martin allegedly saw two men by a car on the side of Little
Mountain Road on the night of June 12th. Martin did not testify at trial.
Appellant attempted to introduce the composite drawing during the cross-
examination of Jerry Wright, a deputy with the Newberry County Sheriff's
Office. The State objected on the grounds that the composite was improper
third party guilt evidence and hearsay. The trial judge sustained the State's
objection. Appellant contends he was attempting to impeach Anderson's
testimony that there was not a third person involved in the murder.
We find the exclusion of this impeachment evidence was harmless as it
bolstering Anderson's testimony.
was cumulative. Robert Bowers testified that he and Johnnie Hawkins
drove by Little Mountain Road on the night of June 12th. Bowers testified
that Hawkins had told him he saw two persons by the side of Little
Mountain Road on June 12th.3 Thus, there was some impeachment evidence
admitted at trial to support appellant's theory that there were two people on
the side of Little Mountain Road on June 12th. See State v. Merriman, 287
S.C. 74, 337 S.E.2d 218 (Ct.App.1985)(admission of the results of witness's
polygraph examination would have been merely cumulative to other
evidence impeaching his credibility; thus its exclusion was harmless). Thus
the admission of the composite as impeachment evidence would have been
cumulative and therefore any error in its exclusion was harmless.
Appellant contends the trial judge erred in excluding the proffered
testimony of Jamie Suber, appellant's nephew. During the early morning
hours of June 13th, appellant and Suber were questioned by the police.
Appellant sought to introduce Suber's testimony that the police had told him
that appellant had confessed and named Suber as an accomplice. The State
objected to this testimony on the ground of hearsay. Appellant wanted to
offer this testimony to illustrate the police tactics. Further, appellant argued
the statements were an exception to hearsay under Rule 803(3), SCRE, as
going to the police officer's state of mind or as a statement made by a party-
opponent under Rule 801(d)(2), SCRE. The trial judge ruled this evidence
We find no error in excluding this evidence. The police tactics and
police officers' state of mind were not relevant as this evidence did not make
anything of consequence to the action more or less probable. See Rule 401,
Appellant also contends the trial judge erred in excluding
impeachment evidence of phone calls from the residence of Rick Mitchell, a
bouncer at Smuggler's, to the Myrtle Beach area and one collect call from an
unidentified Anderson, South Carolina phone to Smuggler's. Mitchell lived
in Anderson at the time of the trial. Mitchell testified that appellant had
approached him about killing his wife. Mitchell also testified that he had not
been in contact with anyone from Smuggler's in Myrtle Beach for a year or
more prior to the trial. Appellant wanted to impeach Mitchell with these
When a witness denies an act involving a matter collateral to the case
in chief, the inquiring party is not permitted to introduce contradictory
evidence to impeach the witness. State v. Dubose, 288 S.C. 226, 341 S.E.2d
785 (1986). Thus, we hold the trial judge did not err in excluding evidence
of these calls
FINNEY, C.J., WALLER, BURNETT, JJ., and Acting Associate
Justice George T. Gregory, Jr., concur.