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State v. Pearson

Supreme Court of South Carolina

March 23, 2016

The State, Petitioner,
v.
Michael Wilson Pearson, Respondent

Heard November 4, 2015.

Appeal From Clarendon County. R. Ferrell Cothran, Jr., Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2014-002741.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Ellis Roberts, both of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Appellate Defender Kathrine Haggard Hudgins, of Columbia, for Respondent.

JUSTICE BEATTY. KITTREDGE, HEARN, JJ., and Acting Justice Jean H. Toal, concur. PLEICONES, C.J., concurring in result only.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

BEATTY, JUSTICE:

Michael Wilson Pearson was convicted of first-degree burglary, armed robbery, kidnapping, grand larceny, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The trial judge sentenced Pearson to an aggregate sentence of sixty years' imprisonment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the circumstantial evidence presented by the State was insufficient to submit the case to the jury. State v. Pearson, 410 S.C. 392, 764 S.E.2d 706 (Ct.App. 2014). This Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals. For reasons that will be discussed, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirm Pearson's convictions and sentences.

I. Factual / Procedural History

Around 6:15 a.m. on May 15, 2010, Edward " Slick" Gibbons (" Victim" ) was attacked by three black males wearing masks as he exited his garage. According to Victim, he was putting on his shoes to get ready to go to work when the men ran out of a storage room in his carport and threw him on the ground. The three men robbed Victim of approximately $840, beat him, and wrapped duct tape around his head. One of the men called Victim by his nickname, " Slick," and said, " Slick, you know that we know that you got money," and the man asked him where the rest of the money was located. Victim told them he had already given them everything he had and begged them not to beat him anymore. Victim noticed one of the men appeared to have something in his hand that might have been a pistol, and he heard the men discuss whether to shoot him.

The three men then left in Victim's 1987 Chevrolet El Camino. As the men were driving away, Victim pulled himself up and observed one man, who was riding in the open back of the El Camino, yell to the two men seated inside the vehicle, " he's up, he's up." This man got out of the vehicle, ran back to Victim and hit him again, rendering him unconscious. When Victim regained consciousness, he alerted his wife by ringing the doorbell on the home. Victim's wife contacted her daughter who called 911 to report the attack.

At approximately 6:40 a.m., a local farmer, Cecil Eaddy, Jr., found the El Camino abandoned in the road with the keys still in it, the motor running, and the passenger door open. The car was located about a mile and half from the auto parts store that Victim owned and within a few miles of Victim's home. Eaddy pulled the vehicle out of the road, turned off the engine, took the keys to Victim's store, and drove Walter Bush, one of Victim's employees, back to the vehicle so that Bush could drive it to Victim's store. Bush testified he drove the vehicle " [s]traight back to the store."

Ricky Richards, an investigator with the Clarendon County Sheriff's Department, responded to the 911 call. After a few minutes at Victim's home, Richards was called to process the El Camino. Richards testified he lifted fingerprints from the driver's side " door jamb" and the " rear quarter on the driver's side." Richards acknowledged there was no way to tell when the fingerprints were left on the vehicle.

While Victim was being treated at the hospital, Thomas Ham, an investigator with the Clarendon County Sheriff's Department, assisted Investigator Kenneth Clark in his interview with Victim. Investigator Ham also took the duct tape that was removed from Victim's head and submitted it to SLED for processing.

Ultimately, a fingerprint recovered from the vehicle was identified as a thumbprint belonging to Pearson and DNA evidence on the duct tape was matched to Victor Weldon. Marie Hodge, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (" AFIS" ) examiner, testified that she was able to determine that the fingerprint matched Pearson's right thumbprint. However, Hodge admitted she could not " age" the fingerprint as it could have been " there from two years on up to two days."

Following his arrest, Pearson was interviewed by Investigators Clark and Ham. Investigator Clark testified that Pearson denied he knew Victim or where he lived. According to Investigators Clark and Ham, Pearson stated that he had never been to Victim's house or come in contact with Victim's vehicle. Investigator Clark also interviewed Victor Weldon, who denied having any ...


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