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2008-UP-081 - State v. Hill

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.

Robert Orlando Hill, Appellant.


Appeal From Abbeville County
Wyatt T. Saunders, Jr, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-081
Submitted February 1, 2008 – Filed February 6, 2008


AFFIRMED


Appellate Defender Eleanor D. Cleary, of Columbia and Ernest Charles Grose, Jr., of Greenwood, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Salley W. Elliott, Assistant Attorney General Shawn L. Reeves, all of Columbia;  and Solicitor Jerry W. Peace, of Greenwood, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In July 2005, Robert Orlando Hill (Hill) was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. He was sentenced to a total of thirty-five years in prison.  Hill appeals this conviction contending the trial court erred by refusing to admit testimony regarding prior threats in connection with the deceased victim.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS

Appellant Hill was charged with shooting Artell Hill[2] (Artie) while Artie sat in the passenger seat of a parked car.  The shooting occurred shortly after Odell Tillman, Jeffrey Tatum, and Artie rode in Tillman’s car to Eastgate Apartments in Calhoun Falls.  Tillman parked the car and entered an apartment while Tatum exited the rear of the car and stood next to the passenger side window to talk to Artie.  Shortly thereafter, Hill rode into the Eastgate Apartments’ parking lot on a bike.

At trial the State presented testimony from five witnesses who were present at the shooting.[3]  Hill and three of the State’s witnesses testified Tatum said, “What’s up?” to Hill as he rode into the parking lot.  Hill responded, “Nothing,” at which point Artie said “ I heard you been looking for me,” to Hill.  Two witnesses testified Hill responded, “Stay right there,” as he disembarked from the bike, walked towards the parked car, pulled his shirt up, removed a gun from his pants, and shot Artie six times.

Hill testified he began shooting when he saw Artie reach over as though he were going to open the car door.  None of the State’s five witnesses saw Artie move towards the car door or attempt to open the car door.  Hill also testified Artie had raised a stick-like bat towards him.  After the shooting Artie was found clasping a stick-like bat, however, witnesses never saw the stick until after Artie had been shot.

Hill shot Artie six times, including four shots to the head.  After the shooting, Hill got back onto his bike and rode away.  He turned himself into the police the following morning. Hill was indicted for murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.  During his July 2005[4] trial, Hill admitted to shooting Artie but claimed he did so in self-defense as he felt he was in danger.  A jury found Hill guilty of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.  Hill appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In criminal cases, the appellate court sits to review errors of law only.  State v. Baccus, 367 S.C. 41, 48, 625 S.E.2d 216, 220 (2006).  An appellate court is bound by the trial court’s factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous.  Id.  This same standard of review applies to a trial court’s determination of the admissibility of certain evidence in criminal cases.  State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 6, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001).  “The admission or exclusion of evidence is a matter addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court and its ruling will not be disturbed in the absence of a manifest abuse of discretion accompanied by probable prejudice.” State v. Wise, 359 S.C. 14, 21, 596 S.E.2d 475, 478 (2004).

LAW/ANALYSIS

I.  Shannon Hill’s Testimony

At trial Hill unsucessfully sought to introduce testimony from Shannon Hill[5] (Shannon) that she had heard of Artie chasing her brother with a stick-like bat.  Since Shannon had no first hand knowledge of the incident, the trial court sustained a hearsay objection.  Hill then proffered Shannon’s testimony from his first trial in which Shannon testified she heard Artie had chased her brother with a bat but denied that Artie frequently carried bats.  Hill argues Shannon’s testimony regarding this incident should have been admitted into evidence as he could have taken it into account when he decided to defend himself by shooting Artie.  We disagree.

“In the murder prosecution of one pleading self-defense against an attack by the deceased, evidence of other specific instances of violence on the part of the deceased are not admissible unless they were directed against the defendant or, if directed against others, were so closely connected at point of time or occasion with the homicide as reasonably to indicate the state of mind of the deceased at the time of the homicide, or to produce reasonable apprehension of great bodily harm.” State v. Day, 341 S.C. 410, 419-420, 535 S.E.2d 431, 436 (2000).  Whether a specific instance of conduct by the deceased is so closely connected in time as to be admissible is in the trial court's discretion and will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. Id. at 420, 535 S.E.2d at 436.

In this instance, Artie was allegedly violent toward Shannon’s brother, not Hill.  The record fails to state when the incident took place or how it was closely connected with the shooting.  Accordingly, we find the trial court did not err in refusing to admit testimony from Shannon regarding an incident between her brother and Artie. 

II.  Appellant Hill’s Testimony

The trial court refused to allow Hill to testify that Artie’s friend, Sammy, had sent word through Artie’s girlfriend, Glenrissa, that when Sammy saw Hill, Sammy “was going to handle the business.”  Hill argues this testimony should have been admitted to illustrate he believed Artie had threatened him and show Hill’s state of mind when he shot Artie.  We disagree.

At trial Hill testified to prior threats from Artie.  Hill also recounted an incident in which a bunch of their peers were chasing each other with stick-like bats and Artie hit the car Hill was in, denting it twice.  Hill further testified that Artie and Sammy conveyed threats to him through other people which caused Hill to avoid being in close proximity with Artie.  After the trial court would not allow further testimony regarding instances in which Hill learned of threats through a third person, Hill proffered the following testimony:

Q: When you were testifying in front of the jury, I asked you about having received threats through other people, right?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And you were getting ready to talk about something that Sammy had said to you?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: All right.  What was it that Sammy had said to you?

A: Sammy had sent word from Glenrissa Gates, Artie’s girlfriend at the time, that when he seen me, me and him was going one on one, when he see me, he was going to handle the business.

Q: Who did you understand was going to handle the business?

A: Sammy at the time, that is what he said.

Q: About who?

A: About me, sent the word, tell me that.

Q: Who sent the word?

A: Sammy.

Q: All right.  Was Artie connected with that?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: How was Artie connected with that?

A: Well, Artie and Sammy, they were like best friends.

Q: Okay.  And who were you worried about handling the business with you?

A: Well, Artie….

It is a well-settled rule that in homicide cases, the defendant is permitted to introduce testimony concerning previous difficulties with the decedent.  State v. Atchison, 268 S.C. 588, 593, 235 S.E.2d 294, 296 (1977).  “The rationale for allowing such evidence is that it is relevant to the issue of the animus of the parties as it relates to the demeanor each party had reason to expect from the other when they met at the time of the fatal difficulty.” Id. at 593-94, 235 S.E.2d at 296. 

In this instance, Hill is attempting to introduce testimony concerning a threat from a friend of the decedent, not Artie himself.  The admission or exclusion of evidence is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion.  State v. Saltz, 346 S.C. 114, 121, 551 S.E.2d 240, 244 (2001).  We find no such abuse occurred by refusing to admit Hill’s testimony regarding a threat from Sammy delivered via Glenrissa.  Although Sammy was Artie’s friend, Sammy was not present at or in anyway involved with the shooting.  In addition, we note the record already contained evidence of Artie’s direct threats towards Hill.  Any error in excluding Hill’s testimony regarding Sammy’s threat was harmless and could not have reasonably affected the result of the trial since evidence of Artie’s threats was already in the record. State v. Adams, 354 S.C. 361, 380-81, 580 S.E.2d 785, 795 (Ct. App. 2003). 

Accordingly, the trial court is

AFFIRMED.

ANDERSON, SHORT, and THOMAS, JJ., concur.


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

[2] The victim, Artell Hill, is not related to Appellant Robert Orlando Hill.

[3] Although the testimony of the five witnesses varies depending on what each heard Hill, Tatum, and Artie say, all agree on the pattern of events preceding the shooting.

[4] The trial held in July 2005 was Hill’s second trial. Hill’s first conviction was reversed after a successful appeal regarding the State’s comments on Hill’s post-arrest silence. See State v. Hill, 360 S.C. 13, 598 S.E.2d 732 (Ct. App. 2004).

[5] The witness, Shannon Hill, is not related to Appellant Robert Orlando Hill or the victim, Artell Hill.