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2004-UP-632 - State v. Ford

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State,        Respondent,

v.

William E. Ford,        Appellant.


Appeal From Dorchester County
Diane Schafer Goodstein, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-632
Submitted December 1, 2004 – Filed December 15, 2004


AFFIRMED


Assistant Appellate Defender Robert M. Pachak, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Senior Assistant Attorney General Harold M. Coombs, Jr., all of Columbia; and Solicitor Robert Douglas Robbins, of Summerville, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  William Ford appeals from his convictions for burglary and kidnapping, arguing the trial court erred in refusing to grant a directed verdict because the State failed to present substantial evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the offenses.  We affirm. [1]   

FACTS 

On January 30, 2002, at approximately 9:30 p.m. in Knightsville, South Carolina, Ford and a friend, John Long, were riding in a sport utility vehicle with the headlights off.  Long was driving the vehicle.  Deputy Randy Botten was traveling in the opposite direction when the vehicle ran him off the road.  Botten turned his car around and activated his blue lights to conduct a traffic stop.  The vehicle did not stop and instead increased its speed to about 80 to 85 miles per hour.  Botten followed the vehicle until it turned into a driveway on Central Avenue, near Orangeburg Road, and stopped behind a shed.  Ford and Long jumped out of the vehicle and fled.  Area residents found Long in a yard behind the Countryside Mobile Home Park and he was arrested.  Ford ran to Elaine Mizell’s house on the corner of Central Avenue and Orangeburg Road and stole her brown 1982 Toyota truck.  At 10:47 p.m., a trooper spotted Ford driving Mizell’s truck with the headlights off and traveling 85 miles per hour in a 25 mile an hour zone. 

At approximately 9:50 p.m., at 953 Orangeburg Road, the home of David and Jennifer Stover, a man entered their house and carried their daughter, Trinity, outside.  David thought the man was his wife, so he went outside to see if she needed help carrying groceries into the house.  Once outside, David did not see his wife’s car, but did notice that the interior light was on inside his Mustang.  David then heard Trinity screaming and saw her with a white male.  The man tried to run, but fell over a picnic table and dropped Trinity.  The man then ran towards the woods.  David called 911 and his brother-in-law, Donald Short. 

As Deputy Joli Murray was responding to David’s 911 call, a small brown pickup truck drove out of the Countryside Mobile Home Park and nearly hit her car head-on.  She testified the truck was driving erratically.  Short also drove to the Stovers’ house after receiving the phone call from David.  After leaving the Stovers’ house, Short drove around looking for a white male and noticed a white male standing next to a small dark Toyota truck, looking toward the Stovers’ residence.  When he turned in to ask the man what he was doing, the man jumped into the truck.  Short backed into the truck to stop it, but the truck managed to escape.  Short then followed the truck, which did not have its headlights on and was traveling at about 80 miles per hour.  Trooper Curtis Burns also pursued the truck until it pulled into a yard.  The driver exited the truck and ran into the woods.  Burns followed the man, who was identified as Ford, and caught him in the woods.  The truck belonged to Mizell.  While Ford was at the detention center he took a breathalyzer test, which determined he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the collision.

The police found footprint impressions in the Mizell’s and the Stovers’ yards, so officers took Ford’s boots from him at the detention center for evidence.  The impressions were consistent with the general design of Ford’s boot’s outsole.  SLED Agent Steven Derrick testified Ford’s boots or another boot with the same combined class characteristics could have left the impressions.  However, he also testified that Ford’s boot is unique and is sold by Sears exclusively.  Tim Stephenson, an expert in tracking, followed the tracks from the picnic table near the Stover’s house to Mizell’s backyard where her truck was parked.  Stephenson testified the person took the path of least resistance, which is consistent with a person fleeing from the police.  Stephenson also testified the tracks indicated that the person was unfamiliar with the area and was in a hurry.  Additionally, he stated it takes about 7 minutes and 19 seconds to walk the distance from the picnic table to Mizell’s truck when walking at a rate of 2.9 miles an hour.

Ford moved for a directed verdict at the conclusion of the State’s case, arguing there was no eyewitness testimony or physical evidence that placed Ford in the Stovers’ house.  The court denied the motion, finding there was sufficient evidence to be submitted to the jury.  The same motion was renewed at the close of the evidence and again denied.            

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When reviewing a denial of a motion for directed verdict, we use the same standard as the trial court by viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.  Welch v. Epstein, 342 S.C. 279, 299, 536 S.E.2d 408, 418 (Ct. App. 2000).  “When a motion for a directed verdict is made in a criminal case where the State relies exclusively on circumstantial evidence, the lower court is concerned with the existence or nonexistence of evidence, not with its weight.”  State v. Mitchell, 341 S.C. 406, 409, 535 S.E.2d 126, 127 (2000).  The trial judge must submit the case to the jury if there is “any substantial evidence which reasonably tends to prove the guilt of the accused, or from which his guilt may be fairly and logically deduced.”  State v. Edwards, 298 S.C 272, 275, 379 S.E.2d 888, 889 (1989).  We will reverse the trial court only when there is no evidence to support the ruling below.  Creech v. South Carolina Wildlife & Marine Resources Dep’t, 328 S.C. 24, 29, 491 S.E.2d 571, 573 (1997).    

LAW/ANALYSIS

Ford argues the trial court erred in refusing to grant a directed verdict because the State failed to present substantial evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of burglary and kidnapping.  We disagree.

The State’s evidence against Ford was entirely circumstantial. In such cases, in order to survive a motion for directed verdict, our supreme court has held the State must present substantial circumstantial evidence that “reasonably tends to prove the guilt of the accused or from which guilt may be fairly and logically deduced.”  Edwards, 298 S.C at 275, 379 S.E.2d at 889. 

The State presented substantial circumstantial evidence that reasonably tended to prove Ford entered the Stovers’ home and abducted their child, and from which a jury could fairly and logically deduce his guilt of those crimes.  An expert testified that tracks lead from the site where Ford stole Mizell’s Toyota to the picnic table where he allegedly fell and dropped Trinity.  Another expert testified that footprint impressions found by the Stovers’ Mustang and behind Mizell’s house were consistent with Ford’s boots.  Additionally, Short and a trooper both saw a truck consistent with Mizell’s stolen Toyota within minutes of the time Ford allegedly walked from the Stovers’ home to Mizell’s home and Ford was apprehended after he exited Mizell’s truck.  See State v. Cherry, Op. No. 25902 (S.C.Sup.Ct. filed Nov. 29, 2004) (Shearouse Adv.Sh. No. 46 at 29); cf. Mitchell, 341 S.C. at 409, 535 S.E.2d at 127.  The evidence supports the inference that, while fleeing from the police and in need of transportation, Ford opened the door to the Stovers’ Mustang, as indicated by the lit interior light, entered the Stovers’ home looking for the keys and abducted Trinity Stover.  Thus, there was ample evidence to warrant submitting the case to the jury.

AFFIRMED.

ANDERSON, STILWELL, and SHORT, JJ., concur.


[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.