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State v. McDonald

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 22, 2015

The State, Respondent,
v.
Derrick McDonald, Petitioner

Heard December 11, 2014

Appeal from Kershaw County. G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2012-213686.

AFFIRMED AS MODIFIED.

Chief Appellate Defender Robert M. Dudek, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Attorney General Melody J. Brown, and Solicitor Daniel E. Johnson, all of Columbia, for Respondent.

JUSTICE KITTREDGE. TOAL, C.J., PLEICONES, BEATTY and HEARN, JJ., concur.

[412 S.C. 135]ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

Page 841

KITTREDGE, JUSTICE

Petitioner Derrick McDonald and two codefendants were convicted of murder and first-degree burglary. The court of appeals affirmed, rejecting McDonald's argument that his Confrontation Clause rights were violated when the trial court admitted the redacted confession of one of his nontestifying codefendants. We granted a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in State v. McDonald, 400 S.C. 272, 734 S.E.2d 167 (Ct. App. 2012). We find the court of appeals erred, for the jury would readily infer from the face of the codefendant's confession that it referred to and incriminated McDonald. We nevertheless affirm McDonald's conviction, for the error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of guilt.

[412 S.C. 136]I.

McDonald, Christopher Whitehead, Robert Cannon and Joshua Zoch (Victim) worked together at various times at a Sonic fast food restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina. On the evening of December 12, 2006, Victim was brutally murdered in his Kershaw County home. McDonald, Whitehead, and Cannon were charged, tried together, and convicted of burglarizing Victim's home and murdering him.

Earlier on the day of the murder, Whitehead called a co-worker looking for Victim. Whitehead wanted to know if Victim would be home that evening. According to the co-worker, Whitehead wanted to go over to Victim's home to fight him. Whitehead was upset because he believed Victim was a " snitch" who was cooperating with the police in various drug investigations.

At approximately 10:00 in the evening, Whitehead, McDonald and Cannon arrived together at Sonic in Whitehead's car. Cannon was wearing a ski mask, and the assistant manager on duty told all three men to leave the premises. The trio left Sonic together in Whitehead's car and drove to a Wal-Mart, where they purchased a ski mask and latex gloves.

Victim's brutally beaten body was discovered in his home the next day by his girlfriend. Victim was beaten to death by multiple objects. The forensic pathologist testified that he identified between six and eight injuries to Victim's head that were each independently capable of causing death.

The investigation quickly focused on Whitehead, McDonald, and Cannon (Defendants). Investigators spoke to Cannon, who gave a detailed confession implicating all of the Defendants in Victim's murder. Following Cannon's confession, McDonald and Whitehead were arrested. McDonald also confessed and admitted that the Defendants, after going to Wal-Mart, drove to Victim's home and broke in and killed him. Defendants punched and kicked Victim repeatedly and hit him with a baseball bat and a lamp.

II.

Defendants were indicted on charges of first-degree burglary and murder. The State chose to try the Defendants jointly [412 S.C. 137] and sought to introduce McDonald's and Cannon's confessions during its case-in-chief. Defense counsel and the State argued about how the confessions should be redacted in order to comply with the Confrontation Clause. The State contended redacting the confessions using the neutral phrase " another person" was sufficient, while defense counsel insisted on redacting all references to anyone other than the confessing defendant in each of the statements. The trial court overruled defense counsel's ...


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