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2008-UP-587 - State v. Jeter

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.

Joshua Jeter, Appellant.


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


Unpublished Opinion No.  2008-UP-587 
Heard September 16, 2008 – Filed October 15, 2008


AFFIRMED


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

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

PER CURIAM:  A jury convicted Joshua Jeter of murder, attempted burglary in the first degree, armed robbery, and possession of a pistol by a person under the age of twenty-one.  The charges against Jeter arose from a shooting death on December 8, 2004.  Lance Lyles, Jeter’s co-defendant, was tried with Jeter and convicted of similar offenses.[1]  Jeter appeals, arguing the trial judge erred in (1) refusing to allow him to present corroborating evidence of drug activity in which the victims were allegedly involved, and (2) failing to direct a verdict in his favor on the murder charge.  We affirm.

1.  Jeter first argues the trial judge committed reversible error in granting the State’s motion in limine to prevent him from presenting evidence other than his own testimony suggesting the victims were engaged in drug activity and from mentioning such evidence during his opening argument.  The disputed evidence included (1) testimony from a former neighbor of the victims that several months before the incident someone coming from the apartment where the shooting took place approached him about buying drugs, and (2) testimony that material in a partially smoked cigarette found near the murder victim’s body tested positive for marijuana.  Jeter argues on appeal that these witnesses’ statements were essential to his defense in that they corroborated his own testimony that he went to the victims’ apartment complex on the day of the incident to purchase drugs from the victims.  The trial judge, however, refused to admit either statement, noting that the witness who allegedly had been offered a chance to buy drugs could not identify the individual who approached him and also that neither statement was relevant to the issues in the case.  We agree.  See State v. Lyles, ___ S.C. ___, 665 S.E.2d 201, 207 (Ct. App. 2008) (affirming the appeal of Jeter’s co-defendant and noting that the disputed testimony, even if factually correct, “does not serve as a defense to any of the offenses charged in this case nor does it excuse or mitigate Lyles’ actions”).  We further uphold the trial judge’s exclusion of the disputed statements on the ground that they would have been unduly prejudicial to the State.  See Holmes v. South Carolina, 547 U.S. 319, 326 (2006) (holding that although a defendant has a constitutional right to present a complete defense, “well-established rules of evidence permit trial judges to exclude evidence if its probative value is outweighed by other factors, such as unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or potential to mislead the jury”); State v. Frazier, 357 S.C. 161, 165, 592 S.E.2d 621, 623 (2004) (stating a trial judge’s admission or rejection of evidence is generally reviewed for an abuse of discretion); Lyles, ___ S.C. at ___, 665 S.E.2d at 207 (“By potentially insinuating a key witness for the State is a drug dealer and drugs were present next to the victim, the testimony could impugn the character of [the victims] and cloud the issues.”).

2.  Jeter also argues he was entitled to a directed verdict of acquittal on the murder charge, arguing (1) there was no evidence that he acted with malice aforethought; and (2) testimony form his co-defendant implicating him as the more culpable of the two was not substantial circumstantial evidence of his guilt.  We reject these arguments.  At trial, Jeter did not dispute that he had accompanied Lyles to the apartment where the shooting took place, and the State’s chief eyewitness testified at length about Jeter’s participation at the scene.  We therefore hold the State presented both direct as well as substantial circumstantial evidence on which the jury could convict Jeter of murder.  See State v. Weston, 367 S.C. 279, 292-93, 625 S.E.2d 641, 648 (2006) (stating that when reviewing the denial of a directed verdict motion, the appellate court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the State, and, if there is any direct or substantial circumstantial evidence reasonably tending to prove the guilt of the accused, the court must find the case was properly submitted to the jury); State v. Crowe, 258 S.C. 258, 265, 188 S.E.2d 379, 382 (1972) (“[I]f two or more combine together to commit an unlawful act, such as robbery, and, in the execution of that criminal act, a homicide is committed by one of the actors, as a probable or natural consequence of the acts done in pursuance of the common design, all present participating in the unlawful undertaking are as guilty as the one who committed the fatal act.”).

AFFIRMED.

SHORT, THOMAS, and PIEPER, JJ., concur.


[1]  This Court recently affirmed Lyles’s convictions, rejecting similar arguments concerning evidence of drug activity at the location of the incident.  State v. Lyles, ___ S.C. ___, 665 S.E.2d 201 (Ct. App. 2008).