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State v. Bennett

Supreme Court of South Carolina

January 6, 2016

The State, Petitioner,
v.
Kevin Tyrone Bennett, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2014-001544

Heard October 7, 2015

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

Appeal from Spartanburg County The Honorable John C. Hayes, III, Circuit Court Judge,

Attorney General Alan M. Wilson and Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Spencer, both of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Appellate Defender David Alexander, of Columbia, for Respondent.

HEARN JUSTICE

Kevin Tyrone Bennett was convicted of petit larceny, malicious injury to property, and second degree burglary. He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for each offense, to be served concurrently. The court of appeals reversed his convictions, finding the trial court erred in denying Bennett's motion for directed verdict because the State failed to present substantial circumstantial evidence of guilt. State v. Bennett, 408 S.C. 302, 758 S.E.2d 743 (Ct. App. 2014). We reverse and take this opportunity to more clearly articulate the standard governing whether the State has presented sufficient evidence to overcome a motion for directed verdict.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Officers responded to an alarm activated at the C.C. Woodson Community Center in Spartanburg at 3:30 a.m., and found a window shattered into "thousands of pieces" with the door next to it ajar. The officers noticed that a mounted television on the wall in the community room appeared to have been tampered with, as if someone had been attempting to remove it. A fingerprint was lifted from the manipulated television that matched Bennett's fingerprints. No other prints processed from the community room were sufficient for identification.

Officers also discovered a computer and a television were missing from the computer room. An initial inspection of the computer room revealed no blood or fingerprint evidence, but when officers returned later that morning, two drops of blood were located beneath the stand where the stolen television had been. The DNA profile from the blood droplets matched that of Bennett, with the likelihood of an unrelated individual having a matching profile being one in seventeen trillion.

Bennett was indicted for petit larceny, second degree burglary, and malicious injury to property. At trial, the director of the Center, Olivia Sartor, testified Bennett was a frequent visitor. She stated that whenever Bennett was in the Center, she would monitor him. Bennett spent most of his time in the computer room, and did not use the other rooms, such as the community room. Sartor further testified that the community room was scheduled for group meetings and generally open for public use; she did not know Bennett to be involved in any of the groups that met in that room, though she stated she was not there all hours of the day. Sartor also acknowledged the door to the room was not always locked.

At the close of the State's case, Bennett moved for a directed verdict, arguing the only evidence presented was that his fingerprint and his blood were found in a public building he was known to frequent. The trial court denied the motion, holding there was substantial circumstantial evidence from which the jury could infer guilt. Bennett was ultimately convicted on all three counts and sentenced to ten years' incarceration on each, to run concurrently. Bennett appealed and the court of appeals reversed, finding the evidence created only a suspicion of guilt, and therefore, a directed verdict should have been granted in Bennett's favor. Bennett, 408 S.C. at 307, 758 S.E.2d at 746. The State petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which this Court granted.

ISSUE PRESENTED

Did the court of appeals err in reversing the trial court's denial of Bennett's ...


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