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2004-UP-105 - State v. Knight
PER CURIAM:

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State,        Respondent,

v.

Jeremy Jerome Knight,        Appellant.


Appeal From Spartanburg County
J. Derham Cole, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion N0. 2004-UP-105
Submitted December 23, 2003 – Filed February 18, 2004


AFFIRMED


Deputy Chief Attorney Joseph L. Savitz, III, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General Melody J. Brown, all of Columbia; and Solicitor  Harold W. Gowdy, III, of Spartanburg, for Respondent.


PER CURIAM:  Jeremy Jerome Knight was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Knight appeals, arguing the circuit court erred by refusing to charge the jury on the law of voluntary manslaughter.  We affirm.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Knight and Miranda Aull were friends.  Together, they attended a small party at the apartment of Bryant Cheeks and Jeremy Petty. During the evening, they went to Pacolet, S.C., to attend another party and then returned in the early morning hours to continue the party at the first residence.  Everyone was drinking alcohol, and some were using drugs.  Knight consumed both alcohol and drugs.

Aull spent the rest of the night in Bryant Cheeks’ bedroom, where the two had sexual relations.  Knight slept on the living room couch, but according to Cheeks, he frequently knocked on the bedroom door, pestering Cheeks and Aull.  The next morning Cheeks arose, dressed, and left for work.  Aull told him she was going to her grandmother’s house to change and shower but would return later in the afternoon when Cheeks got off work at 3:00 p.m.  Cheeks attempted to arouse Knight to send him home, but Knight said he was too drunk to go home and asked to remain on the couch until later in the day.  Petty was asleep in his bedroom with his door closed.

Petty’s mother subsequently arrived to awaken Petty.  As she walked by the slightly opened door to Cheeks’ bedroom, she saw Knight laying spread-eagled on the bed.  She awoke Petty, and as she was leaving the home, Knight came out of the bedroom with scratches on his face.  The wounds were white, with fresh blood coming from them.

When Cheeks returned from work in the afternoon, he found Aull lying dead on the bed.  She was stiff and cold.  Lying on the bed around her were pieces of a necklace, including a shark’s tooth witnesses testified was always worn by Knight.  DNA samples taken from Aull’s fingernail scrapings matched the DNA of Knight with a probability of 6.3 trillion to one. 

When Knight was arrested, he gave two, conflicting statements.  The first read as follows:

Around dusk on Sunday night (2/24 of ’02) I drove my blue Toyota Cressida to Jerome Petty’s duplex.  When I got there, Jerome was there, and his roommate, Bryant Cheeks.  Also there was Miranda Aull and several other people.  Everybody was drinking.  Later on Miranda went into one of the bedrooms and changed clothes.  She came out half naked and walked around.  Later on someone said something about going to a liquor house in Pacolet.  Me and Jerome rode in my, my car, and Bryant, Miranda and the rest of the folks rode with Bryant.  We stayed at the liquor house until a fight broke out.  Miranda rode back with me and Jerome.  When I got back to the duplex it was me, Jerome, Bryant and Miranda.  I started watching a video in the living room.  Miranda went Jerome - - went with Jerome to his bedroom.  Less than an hour later Miranda came out of Jerome’s bedroom.  She was naked.  She knocked on Bryant’s door and told him to unlock the door.  He let her in.  I knew that they were having sex - - that they were having sex with her.  At some point I remember knocking on Bryant’s door.  Finally he came.  I told him to tell her to come up there because I wanted to talk to her.  She never came out.  I passed out.  The next thing I know I am waking up.  I’m face down on the floor at the foot of Bryant’s bed.  I remember hearing Bryant, but never saw him.  This is when I got up on the bed with Miranda.  Miranda was in and out of sleep.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I was trying to tell her that her actions did not look good that preceded her.  I tried to set her up behind.  She became upset and started cursing me.  She said basically that it was her life and she could do whatever she wanted to.  She came at me with her hand and scratched me in the eye.  I got physical in a defensive way.  I was trying to get neutral control.  I used one of my forearms to hold her down on the bed and across her neck.  She was still fussing and cussing.  She got up again, and I think that’s when she scratched me on the neck.  I held her down for a couple of moments.  I got off of her and told her that I was leaving.  I saw that she had a tear running down her cheek.  I didn’t hear her crying.  I remember seeing Jerome’s mother.  I was not laying on - - I was not laying on Miranda when I saw her.  I walked outside and in my car.  I left and went to Walker’s house, but he wasn’t up.  So I left and went back to Jerome.  Jerome was there, and I talked to him for a couple of minutes.  I left and went back to Walker’s house.  I spoke with him about my car and then went home.  Later that afternoon I got a phone call from Mr. Wingo.  He said M. F. why did you kill my niece, or did you kill my niece.  I asked what are you talking about.  He asked me if I was over there last night, and I told him I was there all night.  This statement written by Investigator Yown as I, Jeremy Jerome Knight, directed him what to write.  End of Statement.

Subsequently, Knight gave the following statement:

On 2/25/02 everything that I told the detectives up until the time of the incident is true.  As far as the incident goes, I tried to conversate with Miranda Aull about things I felt she was doing that she didn’t need to do. She didn’t want to hear it.  When I tried to talk to her, she kept turning her back.  As a friend, I tried to get her to listen.  She basically told me to stay out of it, that from past conversations about similar matters I felt like I couldn’t let it go, because I didn’t want to see her get treated the way she has been treated in the past.  When she wouldn’t listen and turned her back, I tried to turn her around so she couldn’t turn her back again so she could hear what I had to say.  I held her shoulders down.  She got physical back.  That’s when the matter got out of hand.  At that point I began to choke her with one hand.  When she scratched me, she began squeezing my face.  I began to use both hands to choke her.  I wanted her to hear what I had to say.  I felt disappointment, let down.  I had put so much into the friendship.  I let her go before she stopped breathing.  She took a deep breath.  She was gasping for air.  At that point I was scared.  I realized she was not breathing.  I then began to pray and use C.P.R.  I didn’t know if I was doing it right.  I tried.  I covered her all the way up except her head.  I was very scared.  I didn’t know what to do.  I kept asking myself over and over again,  please, God don’t let this be.  I left the house.  It wasn’t long at all after she died.  I drove to Cowpens to see my friend Walker.  He wasn’t there.  I still felt I need to do something.  I didn’t know what I was so - - I didn’t know what I was so scared.  When I went back to Jerome’s house where Miranda’s body was, I wanted to do something.  I wanted to call the police, but I was too scared.  I talked to Jerome there.  I asked him for some water for the car.  He let me fill it up, and then I left.  Before I left, I did stick my head in the door to see if she was still dead.  She was still lying in the same position.  I left and went back to Cowpens to Walker’s house.  He wasn’t home.  I sat with him and his wife.  I wanted to tell them and ask them what to do.  I was too scared.  I left there.  I went home.  I got home and laid down to bring myself together so I could do something.  I needed to do something.  Miranda’s uncle called and asked me if I, why did I do this to my niece, why did you kill my niece.  I told him what are you talking about.  I got even more scared.  I knew I had to do something.  I had to tell somebody.  I went to my girlfriend’s house.  Her name is Tawnya Hamilton in Chesnee.  I was going to tell her everything.  I was also trying to call the detective who left his number for me to call with my mother.  He didn’t answer the phone.  I didn’t leave a message.  I wanted to talk to him.  I told my girlfriend some of what happened.  My brother came by and I spoke to him.  He told me what people are saying, and then the detective showed up.  I had never felt like this before.  I never felt anger, just disappointment.  We would talk a certain way about things, and then her actions were different.  This upset me she was carrying herself like that.  I always respected her.  I always took time out for her if she needed me to show her I cared.  We never argued, just small disappointments about view points.  I went – I want her family to know I never meant to hurt her.  I only wanted her to listen to me.  I felt like what I had to say would have helped her to do the right things I know she really wanted to do in life.  I swear all this is true.  I gave this statement voluntarily.  I asked detective Steve Denton to write this for me as I gave it to him. 

Both statements were introduced during the trial of the case.  Knight did not testify.  At the conclusion of the evidence, the defense requested a charge on the lesser-included offenses of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, [1] arguing the statements provided a basis for allowing the jury to consider them.  The circuit court declined to charge voluntary manslaughter on the grounds that, neither of Knight’s statements provided a basis for establishing the crime resulted from heat of passion with sufficient legal provocation, both of which are elements of the offense.  Knight appeals.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Knight argues his statements lead to an inference Knight killed Aull while the two were fighting, and thus, the circuit court erred by refusing to charge the jury on the law of voluntary manslaughter.  We disagree.

“Voluntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being in sudden heat of passion upon sufficient legal provocation.”  State v. Locklair,  341 S.C. 352, 359-360, 535 S.E.2d 420, 424 (2000) (quoting State v. Johnson, 333 S.C. 62, 65, 508 S.E.2d 29, 31 (1998)).  Both heat of passion and sufficient legal provocation must be present at the time of the killing to constitute voluntary manslaughter. State v. Locklair,  341 S.C. at 359-360, 535 S.E.2d at 424 (quoting State v. Walker, 324 S.C. 257, 260, 478 S.E.2d 280, 281 (1996)).  Sudden heat of passion upon sufficient legal provocation that mitigates a felonious killing to manslaughter must be such as would naturally disturb the sway of reason, and render the mind of an ordinary person incapable of cool reflection, and produce what, according to human experience, may be called “an uncontrollable impulse to do violence.” State v. Locklair,  341 S.C. at 360, 535 S.E.2d at 424 (quoting State v. Gardner, 219 S.C. 97, 104-105, 64 S.E.2d 130, 134 (1951)). 

It is proper for a trial judge to refuse to charge voluntary manslaughter in a murder case where it very clearly appears there is no evidence whatsoever tending to reduce the crime from murder to manslaughter. State v. Locklair,  341 S.C. at 360, 535 S.E.2d at 424 (citing State v. Davis, 278 S.C. 544, 546, 298 S.E.2d 778, 779 (1983)).

Knight argues his statements provide evidence of fighting between himself and the victim, thereby establishing a factual basis for concluding he acted in the sudden heat of passion with sufficient legal provocation.

Considering either version of events as stated by Knight, no facts exist indicating Knight and Aull were fighting.  Rather, the evidence indicates Knight attempted to physically and verbally restrain Aull, while she attempted to defend herself.  This evidence, without more, is insufficient to establish facts or inferences demonstrating a legal provocation for reducing the crime from murder to voluntary manslaughter.  Thus, the circuit court did not err by denying Knight’s motion to charge the jury on the law of voluntary manslaughter. 

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Knight’s conviction is

AFFIRMED.

GOOLSBY, HOWARD, and KITTREDGE, JJ., concurring.


[1] Knight does not appeal the denial of his request to charge involuntary manslaughter.