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State v. Phillips

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 20, 2016

The State, Respondent,
v.
Donna Lynn Phillips, Petitioner. Appellate Case No. 2015-000351

Heard December 3, 2015

Appeal from Pickens County The Honorable D. Garrison Hill, Circuit Court Judge.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

E. Charles Grose, Jr., of Grose Law Firm, of Greenwood, for Petitioner.

Attorney General Alan M. Wilson and Assistant Attorney General J. Benjamin Aplin, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

ORDER

After careful consideration of the cross-petitions for rehearing, the Court grants the State's petition for rehearing, dispenses with further briefing, and substitutes the attached opinion for the opinion previously filed in this matter. With regards to Phillips's petition for rehearing, the Court is unable to discover that any material fact or principle of law has been either overlooked or disregarded, and hence, there is no basis for granting a rehearing. Accordingly, Phillips's petition for rehearing is denied.

Costa M. Pleicones, C.J., Donald W. Beatty, J., John W. Kittredge, J., Kaye G. Hearn, J., Jean H. Toal, A.J.

HEARN, JUSTICE

Donna Lynn Phillips was convicted of homicide by child abuse and sentenced to twenty-five years' imprisonment in the death of her grandson (Child). The court of appeals affirmed her conviction. State v. Phillips, 411 S.C. 124, 767 S.E.2d 444 (Ct. App. 2014). Phillips now argues the court of appeals erred in affirming the denial of her motion for directed verdict because it considered the testimony offered by a co-defendant as well as Phillips' own testimony in its analysis. Although we agree the court of appeals erred in disregarding State v. Hepburn, 406 S.C. 416, 753 S.E.2d 402 (2013), we ultimately find the denial of Phillips' directed verdict motion was proper and we affirm as modified.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On Monday, March 17, 2008, paramedics responded to a 911 call reporting a child not breathing. Upon arriving at the house, paramedics encountered Latasha Honeycutt, Child's mother, outside on the porch. After entering the home they discovered twenty-one-month-old Child lying on the floor of his bedroom "all alone, cold, not breathing, no pulse, just laying [sic] there." Child was transported to Baptist Easley Hospital and was determined to be in an opiate-induced cardiac arrest. After resuscitation, Child was taken by helicopter to Greenville Memorial Hospital. Ultimately Child was pronounced brain dead and removed from life support; the cause of his death was documented as a hydrocodone[1] overdose.

During the course of the police investigation, it was discovered that Child had been in the care of his father, Jamie Morris, and his paternal grandmother, Phillips, the weekend preceding his death. At that time, Phillips had a prescription for Tussionex[2], which contains hydrocodone and she was eventually arrested and charged with homicide by child abuse. The State proceeded to trial against Phillips, who was tried jointly with Morris, who was charged with aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse, and Honeycutt, who was likewise charged with homicide by child abuse.

At trial, the State presented the testimony of Detective Rita Burgess of the Pickens County Sheriff's Office, who interviewed and took statements from the three defendants. Honeycutt told her Child was with Morris and Phillips from the afternoon of Friday, March 14, 2008, until the evening of Sunday, March 16, 2008. She stated that when Child arrived home around 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m., he was fussy and extremely sleepy; therefore, Honeycutt immediately put him to bed. She checked on him when she woke up around 8:30 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. the following morning, but he was still ...


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