Heard June 25, 2014
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
Appeal From Horry County Benjamin H. Culbertson, Circuit Court Judge.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and Assistant Attorney General Brendan Jackson McDonald, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Jimmy A. Richardson II, of Conway, for Petitioner.
Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, and Reid T. Sherard, of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP, of Greenville, for Respondent.
TOAL, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Richard Bill Niles, Jr. was convicted of murder, armed robbery, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The court of appeals reversed Respondent's murder conviction and remanded for a new trial, finding the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. State v. Niles, 400 S.C. 527, 735 S.E.2d 240 (Ct. App. 2012). We reverse.
This case arises from the shooting death of James Salter (the victim) in a Best Buy parking lot in Myrtle Beach. It is undisputed that Niles, his fiancé, Mokeia Hammond, and Ervin Moore met the victim at the parking lot to purchase marijuana from him. Niles and Moore testified at trial,  and Niles's version of events matched Moore's version, except as to whose idea it was to rob the victim and whether Niles or the victim fired the first shots. Thus, the evidence at trial focused on whether Niles was the aggressor in the deadly encounter.
On the afternoon of April 9, 2007, Niles and Hammond encountered Moore at a convenience store in Trio, South Carolina, and invited Moore to accompany them to Myrtle Beach. Niles and Moore were acquaintances, having known each other through various family members. On the way to Myrtle Beach, the trio smoked all of the marijuana that they had brought with them.
Therefore, Niles contacted the victim via telephone and arranged to meet him at the Best Buy parking lot to purchase marijuana. Niles testified that his conversation with the victim had a dual purpose. Not only was he meeting with the victim so that Moore could purchase a pound of marijuana from him, but he claimed that the victim owed him $5, 000 as payment for other drug transactions. According to Moore, however, Niles subsequently decided to rob the victim instead.
Once in Myrtle Beach, the trio made several stops at various motels so that Niles could sell crack cocaine before meeting the victim at the designated meeting spot at approximately 7:00 p.m. Hammond was driving Niles's rental vehicle, with Niles riding in the front passenger's seat and Moore riding in the back seat. Hammond parked the rental vehicle next to the victim's vehicle. Moore testified that his role in the robbery was "to identify the weed" for Niles. Therefore, Moore approached the victim's vehicle first. Moore joined the victim in the victim's vehicle, and the victim produced the bag of marijuana for Moore to inspect.
Moore testified that as he returned to Niles's vehicle, Niles had already exited his vehicle, and Moore told Niles that the victim had the drugs. Moore testified that as he returned to his place in Niles's vehicle, Niles was leaning inside the passenger-side door of the victim's vehicle and was speaking to the victim.
Moore testified he heard two shots and saw Niles leap into the back seat of his vehicle behind Hammond.  Moore then heard the victim fire a weapon in response. Niles and the victim shot back and forth multiple times. Niles ...