Heard February 4, 2015
Appeal from Florence County. The Honorable Thomas A. Russo, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2013-001208.
Appellate Defender Robert M. Pachak, of Columbia, for Petitioner/Respondent.
Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and Assistant Attorney General Brendan J. McDonald, all of Columbia and Solicitor Edgar Lewis Clements, III, of Florence, for Respondent/Petitioner.
[412 S.C. 506] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
Roger Bruce was convicted of murder for the death of his girlfriend, Laura Creel. On appeal, Bruce argued evidence [412 S.C. 507] offered at trial relating to the discovery of Creel's body was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The court of appeals found the record was incomplete for appellate review and remanded. State v. Bruce, 402 S.C. 621, 741 S.E.2d 590 (Ct.App. 2013). We granted both parties' petitions for certiorari. We now reverse the court of appeals' opinion and affirm his conviction.
Bruce and Creel were in a romantic relationship and lived together. One evening, Bruce called Creel's son, Shane Ritch, to ask whether he had spoken with Creel. Bruce told Ritch he had not seen her in a couple of days and did not know where she was. Bruce also informed Ritch that Creel's car was still parked outside of their garage apartment. Ritch was concerned because Creel never went anywhere without her car, her phone, and her dog. He immediately called his brother who told him they needed to figure out what happened. Ritch then called the police.
Ritch told the police that neither he nor Bruce had seen Creel in a few days and requested they check on her. He told the police what type of vehicle she drove and that she had left her car, phone, and dog at the house she shared with Bruce, which was uncharacteristic.
Officer Beckett, Officer Starling, and Corporal Hobgood responded to the call. Upon arrival, the officers informed Bruce they were there on a welfare check for Creel and asked if she was inside. Bruce said she was not, and the officers requested permission to look around for her inside. Bruce allowed them inside, and the officers did a quick scan of the rooms. Not finding anything, the officers began to question Bruce, who told them Creel had left after the two argued.
During the conversation, the officers noticed a cell phone and car keys on a table nearby. Bruce informed the officers they both belonged to Creel and Hobgood picked up the keys and went outside to the vehicle. Hobgood looked through the windows into the interior of the car and then attempted to open the trunk, but it would not open. He then asked Bruce which key opened the trunk and Bruce moved toward Hob [412 S.C. 508] good as if to grab the keys. Hobgood pulled the keys back, and Starling pressed the trunk release button. Inside the trunk, the officers discovered Creel's body.
Bruce was subsequently charged with murder and the case proceeded to trial. During the course of Beckett's testimony regarding how the police found Creel's body in the trunk, Bruce objected " to the discovery of the body in this fashion" on the basis that there was no consent and no search warrant was obtained. When the trial court asked what basis Bruce had to object, he responded that it was on his property and the keys were in his house. The solicitor argued it was Creel's car and Bruce therefore had no expectation of privacy. He further claimed Hobgood had testified the previous day that Bruce offered to open the trunk for them. Ultimately, the court denied the motion stating, " [i]t appears that this is inevitable discovery; but/for hitting ...