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2008-UP-424 - State v. Jones

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.

Damon Jacquise Jones, Appellant.


Appeal From Spartanburg County
Paul M. Burch, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-424
Submitted June 2, 2008 – Filed July 23, 2008


AFFIRMED


Deputy Chief Attorney for Capital Appeals Robert M. Dudek, South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, of Columbia, for Appellant.

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

PER CURIAM:  Damon Jacquise Jones (Jones) appeals his conviction for murder, contending the trial court erred by not admitting his videotaped interrogation into evidence.  We affirm.

FACTS

In late 2005, Jones stood trial for the murder of Sigida Long (Sigida).  Jones testified to the events surrounding this incident.  According to his testimony, on February 25, 2005, Jones, Ben Foster (Foster), and Gregg Hardy (Hardy) were at Hardy’s sister’s house drinking beer.  Subsequently, Jones drove Hardy and Foster to Jones’ grandmother’s house to drop off Foster.  Upon arrival, Hardy helped Foster, who was intoxicated, to the door.  While Jones remained in the car, the victim, Sigida, and his brother, Atiba Long (Atiba), drove into their driveway next door.[1] Sigida and Atiba then exited their vehicle and knocked on the door of Jones’ grandmother’s house in an attempt to get Foster to come outside.  Unable to get Foster outside, Sigida walked over to Jones’ vehicle and pulled Jones out of the car.   

Sigida hit Jones in the head a few times, causing Jones to fall back into his vehicle.  Jones then grabbed a gun out of the glove compartment, exited the vehicle, cocked the weapon and told Sigida and Atiba to back up.  Sigida rushed Jones, and a struggle ensued.  During the struggle, the gun discharged, striking and fatally wounding Sigida.  Jones then ran into his grandmother’s house and instructed his aunt to call the police. 

Following the shooting, Sergeant Christopher Taylor, of the Spartanburg Public Safety Department, questioned Jones about the incident, and this interrogation was videotaped.  After Jones testified about the events of the incident and his distraught and overwhelmed emotional state following the shooting, Jones’ counsel attempted to admit the videotaped interrogation into evidence.  The State objected to the videotape’s admission, characterizing the evidence as self-serving hearsay.  Additionally, the State argued because it did not introduce any statements from the videotape, Jones could not introduce it to bolster his testimony.  The trial court sustained the State’s objection, finding Jones’ statements on the tape “exactly or quite similar” to his testimony.   

Defense counsel later called Hardy to testify.  Hardy gave his recollection of events and also described Jones as being “in shock” and “hysterical” following the shooting. 

The jury found Jones guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.  This appeal follows.

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).  “The admission of evidence is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion.”  State v. Pagan, 369 S.C. 201, 208, 631 S.E.2d 262, 265 (2006).  An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court’s conclusions either lack evidentiary support or are controlled by an error of law.  Id.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Jones contends the trial court erred by excluding his videotaped interrogation from evidence.  In the alternative, Jones argues the portion of the videotape prior to his interrogation is not hearsay and was, therefore, improperly excluded.  We disagree.

The improper exclusion of evidence is harmless when it is cumulative to other testimony in the record.  State v. Sapp, 366 S.C. 283, 294, 621 S.E.2d 883, 888 (2005).  Thus, even if the exclusion of cumulative evidence is erroneous, it will not warrant a reversal by this Court.  State v. Pipkin, 359 S.C. 322, 328, 597 S.E.2d 831, 834 (Ct. App. 2004).

At trial, Jones argued the shooting took place while he was acting in self-defense.  Jones testified as to the events surrounding the incident as well as his mental state following the shooting.  Additionally, Hardy gave his recollection of the incident and testified Jones was “in shock” and “hysterical” following the shooting. 

Due to this testimony, the videotape would have been merely cumulative to evidence in the record.  The statements on the videotape were found to be “exactly or quite similar” to Jones’ testimony, and the jury was told multiple times about Jones’ mental state following the shooting.  Jones’ counsel sought to admit the videotape into evidence to corroborate Jones’ testimony rather than to present any new evidence to the jury.[2]  Because of its cumulative nature, even if the evidence was improperly excluded, the error was merely harmless.  See Sapp, 366 S.C. at 294, 621 S.E.2d at 888 (finding the exclusion of evidence is harmless if it is cumulative to other testimony in the record). 

We find no reversible error in the exclusion of the videotape and, therefore, do not address whether each portion of the videotape was inadmissible hearsay.  See Hughes v. State, 367 S.C. 389, 408-09, 626 S.E.2d 805, 815 (2006) (finding appellate courts need not address remaining issues when determination of prior issue is dispositive).         

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, the decision of the trial court is

AFFIRMED.[3]

WILLIAMS, THOMAS, and PIEPER, JJ., concur. 


[1] The Longs lived beside Jones’ grandmother. 

[2] We additionally note the State never made an issue of Jones’ statements on the videotape or his mental state following the shooting. 

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