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State v. Stewart

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

July 15, 2015

The State, Respondent,
v.
Thomas Stewart, Appellant

Heard April 14, 2015.

Page 417

Appeal From Chesterfield County. J. Michael Baxley, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2012-213655.

Jarrett O'Connor Coco, of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP, and Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, all of Columbia, and Solicitor William Benjamin Rogers, Jr., of Bennettsville, for Respondent.

SHORT, J. LOCKEMY and McDONALD, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 418

SHORT, J.

Thomas Stewart appeals his convictions for murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. He argues the trial court erred in (1) finding the State's use of preemptory challenges did not violate Batson v. Kentucky [1]; (2) overruling his objection and failing to correct the State's remarks to the jury that use of a deadly weapon implied malice because the jury was charged with the lesser included offenses of murder and self-defense; and (3) allowing the State to enter unfairly prejudicial character evidence. We reverse and remand.

FACTS

Stewart was involved in an extra-marital affair with Bellanie Clyburn for eight years.[2] In April 2009, Clyburn violently attacked Stewart's wife, Melissa, with a lug wrench. Clyburn pleaded guilty to assault and served several weeks of jail time. She was released from jail mid-December 2009, and Stewart spent several days with Clyburn after her release. On December 29, 2009, Clyburn filed a petition for a restraining order against Stewart and signed an affidavit for an arrest warrant for Stewart for trespassing.

During the morning of January 1, 2010, Stewart went to Clyburn's house. Stewart testified he and Clyburn argued, and she stabbed him with a knife.[3] Stewart also said Clyburn sprayed him with pepper spray. Stewart testified he was able to get a knife, and Clyburn attacked him outside the house as he was trying to get away.[4] As a result of the struggle, Clyburn was stabbed 39 times and later died from her injuries. After the fight, Stewart fled to a nearby park, and police arrested him there shortly afterwards. Police found two knives and a can of pepper spray in Clyburn's yard.

A trial was held December 3-6, 2012. The jury found Stewart guilty of murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The court sentenced him to life in prison plus five ...


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