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2008-UP-029 - State v. Beck

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.

Arthur Shane Beck, Appellant.


Appeal From Cherokee County
Roger L. Couch, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-029
Submitted January 2, 2008 – Filed January 10, 2008


AFFIRMED


Appellate Defender Kathrine H. Hudgins, 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, of Columbia; and Solicitor Harold W. Gowdy, III, of Spartanburg; for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In February 2006, Arthur Shane Beck was tried and convicted of murder.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  Beck timely appeals his conviction contending the trial court erred by refusing to give the jury a charge on self-defense.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS

On July 6, 2004, Appellant Beck went to the Kangaroo Truck Stop in Gaffney, bought a six-pack of beer, and proceeded to the side of the establishment where he lay in wait for Ray VonCannon (VonCannon). As Ray VonCannon got off work at the truck stop and exited the building, Beck confronted him.

Beardslee, a customer at the truck stop, noticed the two men arguing as he went into the store.  As Beardslee exited the store he again noticed the two men arguing and pushing. Beardslee continued to his automobile but turned around when he heard one man yell “stop, quit, don’t do that again, stop.” Beardslee turned to see Beck stabbing VonCannon with a long aluminum knife. VonCannon died as a result of the stab wounds.

Beck fled the scene but was followed by Beardslee and eventually apprehended close to the truck stop by the police. Beck gave a statement to the police in which he indicated VonCannon’s wife and her daughter, Beck’s former girlfriend, made him stab VonCannon.  A long aluminum knife, closed box cutter, and keys were found at the scene. In addition, blood samples taken from Beck’s jeans matched VonCannon’s DNA.

Beck was indicted for murder. Before trial commenced, medical experts found Beck had a low IQ and mild mental retardation but was competent to stand trial.  Beck requested the trial court instruct the jury on the law of self-defense.  The trial court denied the request for a self-defense charge. A jury found Beck guilty of murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.  Beck now appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

On review of a jury charge, an appellate court considers the charge as a whole in view of the evidence and issues presented at trial. State v. Lee-Grigg, 374 S.C. 388, 406, 649 S.E.2d 41, 50 (Ct. App. 2007).  The evidence presented at trial determines the law to be charged. State v. Wigington, 375 S.C. 25, 30, 649 S.E.2d 185, 187 (Ct. App. 2007).  “A trial court commits reversible error if it fails to give a requested charge on an issue raised by the evidence.” Lee-Grigg, at 406, 649 S.E.2d at 50.  If there is any evidence in the record to support self-defense, the issue should be submitted to the jury. State v. Burkhart, 350 S.C. 252, 260, 565 S.E.2d 298, 302 (2002).  “A self-defense charge is not required unless the evidence supports it.” State v. Bryant, 336 S.C. 340, 344, 520 S.E.2d 319, 321 (1999).

LAW/ANALYSIS

Appellant Beck argues the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the law of self-defense.  Specifically, Beck argues mutual shoving and a closed box cutter found on the scene could allow the jury to conclude that after Beck confronted VonCannon, VonCannon pulled out a box cutter and Beck responded by pulling out a knife and stabbing VonCannon.  We disagree.

To establish self defense in South Carolina, there must be evidence: (1) appellant was without fault in bringing on the difficulty; (2) appellant actually believed he was in imminent danger of losing his life or sustaining serious bodily injury; (3) a reasonable, prudent person of ordinary fitness and courage would have entertained the same belief; and (4) appellant had no other probable means of avoiding the danger. State v. Santiago, 370 S.C. 153, 159, 634 S.E.2d 23, 26 (Ct. App. 2006); State v. Chatman, 336 S.C. 149, 153, 519 S.E.2d 100, 102 (1999).

Here, the record does not support a charge of self-defense for several reasons.  First, the evidence does not support a finding that Beck was without fault in bringing on the difficulty.  In a statement Beck gave to the police the night he was apprehended, Beck explained he agreed to stab VonCannon at the request of VonCannon’s wife and her daughter.  Armed with a long knife, Beck went to the truck stop where VonCannon worked, bought beer, and went behind dumpsters to the side of the store where he drank four beers and smoked cigarettes while waiting for VonCannon. As VonCannon exited the store at nine o’clock, Beck approached VonCannon. A witness testified he saw the two men arguing and pushing before VonCannon yelled out as he was being stabbed by Beck.  “One who provokes or initiates an assault cannot escape criminal liability by invoking self-defense.” State v. Bryant, 336 S.C. 340, 345, 520 S.E.2d 319, 322 (1999), quoting Ferdinand S. Tinio, Comment Note: Withdrawal, After Provocation of Conflict, As Reviving Right Of Self-Defense, 55 A.L.R. 3d, 1000, 1003 (1974).  Beck’s conduct in arming himself with a knife and laying in wait to confront VonCannon could be reasonably understood as calculated to create the volatile and ultimately deadly situation.  State v. Cabrera-Pena, 361 S.C. 372, 383-84, 605 S.E.2d 522, 528 (2004).

The record does not support a finding that Beck believed he was in imminent danger of losing his life or sustaining serious bodily injury.  Beck argues “the jury could take the view of the case that Mr. Beck confronted Mr. VonCannnon, that Mr. VonCannon responded by pulling out a box cutter, and that Mr. Beck responded by pulling out a knife.” The box cutter found at the scene of the stabbing was closed “with the blade still inside.” Although a witness saw Beck stab VonCannon with a long knife, there was no evidence VonCannon ever pulled out a box cutter or that the box cutter even belonged to VonCannon.

Lastly, the record does not support a finding that Beck had no other means of avoiding the danger.  Beck confronted VonCannon in the parking lot of a truck stop. If Beck truly wanted to withdraw from the confrontation, he could have easily left the open parking lot. Bryant at 346, 520 S.E.2d at 322. 

Accordingly, the trial court correctly found Beck was not entitled to a self-defense charge.

AFFIRMED.

HEARN, C.J., KITTREDGE and THOMAS, JJ., concur.


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