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State v. Wright

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

April 27, 2016

The State, Respondent,
Marcus Dwain Wright, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2013-001406

Heard: November 10, 2015.

Appeal From Horry County John C. Hayes, III, Circuit Court Judge

J. Falkner Wilkes, of Greenville, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and Assistant Attorney General J. Anthony Mabry, of Columbia; and Solicitor Jimmy A. Richardson, II, of Conway, for Respondent.


A jury convicted Marcus Dwain Wright of murdering Jerome Green, Jr. (the Victim), trafficking in cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. On appeal, Wright argues the trial court erred (1) in admitting evidence from the search of his residence, (2) in admitting South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records without a proper foundation, (3) in admitting evidence that was the fruit of an illegal search of his motel room, (4) in excluding evidence of his co-defendant's prior inconsistent statement, (5) in denying his request to testify at trial, (6) in sentencing him to a statutory sentence of life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) without making express factual findings and where the record did not clearly support a sentence of statutory LWOP, and (7) in refusing to give his requested jury charges on voluntary manslaughter and self-defense. We affirm.


Wright was charged with fatally shooting the Victim on the evening of April 30, 2012, at the residence of Roy Sinclair, where Wright was selling drugs. At trial, Wright sought to show that (1) he shot the Victim in self-defense because he believed the Victim was reaching for a gun or (2) he shot the Victim in a sudden heat of passion because of comments the Victim made upon entering Sinclair's residence.

Before trial, Wright moved to suppress shell casings and an ammunition receipt seized during the search of the residence at 3635 Kate's Bay Highway where he and his wife, Jacinda, lived. Wright challenged the validity of the search warrant that law enforcement obtained on May 2, 2012, to search 3635 Kate's Bay Highway. Detective David Weaver's search warrant affidavit stated one of Wright's co-defendants, Lanard Powell, informed law enforcement that Wright was the shooter, fled the crime scene in a black BMW, switched getaway vehicles to a dark Escalade, drove to 3635 Kate's Bay Highway, and left the vehicle at that address. According to the affidavit, Powell also informed law enforcement that Wright obtained the murder weapon from Jacinda at 3635 Kate's Bay Highway, that he believed Wright transported the murder weapon back to 3635 Kate's Bay Highway, and that the weapon might still be in the residence or in one of the vehicles at the residence. Detective Weaver testified he did not speak with Powell but rather prepared the search warrant affidavit based on information Detective Todd Cox provided to him. Detective Weaver also testified he told the magistrate that law enforcement tracked Wright's cell phone signal and the signal "pinged" in the "general area" of 3635 Kate's Bay Highway.

Detective Cox testified Powell did not mention the exact numerical address Wright drove to but rather described the general area; thus, the statement in the affidavit that Powell told law enforcement that Wright drove to 3635 Kate's Bay Highway was not accurate. In addition, according to Detective Cox, Powell stated the murder weapon belonged to Jacinda but did not say where Wright obtained the murder weapon. Thus, according to Detective Cox, the affidavit incorrectly stated Powell said that Wright got the weapon from 3635 Kate's Bay Highway. Nevertheless, the trial court found the search warrant for 3635 Kate's Bay Highway valid. The trial court noted that, although the affidavit appeared to be a little "salted" and contained some information the record did not support, the affidavit had "at least enough verifiable information to support the warrant" and was supported by Detective Weaver's oral testimony that Wright's cell phone "pinged" in the area of 3635 Kate's Bay Highway.

Wright also moved to suppress drugs and money found during the May 2, 2012, search of a motel room occupied by Wright and Powell, both of whom were suspects in the Victim's murder. Detective James Chatfield testified law enforcement tracked Wright and Powell to a Sleep Inn in Conway. The motel clerk telephoned their motel room, and one of the men stepped outside of the room. Detective Chatfield identified the man as one of the two suspects, the officers identified themselves as police officers, the man tried to close the door on them, and the officers held the door open and "forced" their way into the motel room. The officers saw drugs and money in plain view in the motel room and obtained a search warrant at that time. The trial court denied Wright's motion to suppress.

The jury convicted Wright, and the trial court sentenced him to "life imprisonment" for murder and concurrent sentences of five years' imprisonment for possession of a weapon, twenty-five years' imprisonment for trafficking in cocaine, and fifteen years' imprisonment for possession with intent to distribute, all to be served consecutively with the murder sentence.[1]


"In criminal cases, an appellate court sits to review only errors of law, and it is bound by the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous." State v. Brown, 401 S.C. 82, 87, 736 S.E.2d 263, 265 (2012).


I. Search of 3635 Kate's Bay Highway

Wright argues the trial court erred in finding the search warrant valid and admitting the evidence seized during the search of 3635 Kate's Bay Highway. We disagree.

"The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures and provides that no warrants shall be issued except upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized." Id. at 88, 736 S.E.2d at 266; see U.S. Const. amend. IV.

"An appellate court reviewing the decision to issue a search warrant should decide whether the magistrate had a substantial basis for concluding probable cause existed." State v. Dupree, 354 S.C. 676, 683, 583 S.E.2d 437, 441 (Ct. App. 2003). "This review, like the determination by the magistrate, is governed by the 'totality of the circumstances' test." Id. "The appellate court should give great deference to a magistrate's determination of probable cause." Id. "In determining the validity of the warrant, a reviewing court may consider only information brought to the magistrate's attention." State v. Martin, 347 S.C. 522, 527, 556 S.E.2d 706, 709 (Ct. App. 2001).

"A sworn oral statement may be sufficient to satisfy the 'oath or affirmation' requirement of both federal and state constitutions." State v. Dunbar, 361 S.C. 240, 247, 603 S.E.2d 615, 619 (Ct. App. 2004). However, "[t]he General Assembly has imposed stricter requirements than federal law for issuing a search warrant." State v. Jones, 342 S.C. 121, 128, 536 S.E.2d 675, 678 (2000). Section 17-13-140 of the South Carolina Code (2014) mandates, "A warrant . . . shall be issued only upon affidavit sworn to before the magistrate . . . establishing the grounds for the warrant. If the magistrate . ...

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