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Putnam v. State

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 8, 2016

Martina R. Putnam, Petitioner,
State of South Carolina, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2012-212396

          Heard October 13, 2015


         Appeal From Sumter County George C. James, Trial Judge W. Jeffrey Young, Post-Conviction Relief Judge

          Appellate Defender Benjamin John Tripp, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General Daniel Francis Gourley, II, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

          LOCKEMY, J.

         In this post-conviction relief (PCR) action, Martina R. Putnam contends the PCR court erred in dismissing her application for PCR and finding trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to adequately prepare her case and call witnesses to testify in her defense. We affirm.


         Putnam was charged with homicide by child abuse in the death of her thirteen-month-old son (the Victim). At trial, the State sought to prove Putnam willfully and unlawfully killed the Victim by abuse or neglect. Putnam attempted to shift suspicion to her husband, Patrick, and her older children-Sibling One, age nine, and Sibling Two, age six (collectively, the Children)-who were also in the house when the Victim's fatal injuries occurred.

         When Putnam awoke on the morning of the Victim's death, Patrick and the Children were already awake; Patrick was in the kitchen preparing food, and the Children were playing outside. Putnam testified she fed the Victim breakfast, took him to the bathroom for his bath, and laid him on the bathroom floor. Putnam stated she went to the bedroom to get a towel and when she returned to the bathroom, the Victim was not moving and felt like a "rag doll" in her hands. Officer Gwen Herod of the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, who interviewed Putnam, testified that Putnam claimed she did not know how the Victim's injury happened and admitted she was the only person with the Victim during that time.

         Officer Herod conducted a videotaped forensic interview with the Children. Her understanding was Sibling One had interacted with the Victim before Putnam did on the morning of the Victim's death. Officer Herod testified Sibling One said he picked the Victim up from his crib that morning before going outside to play, hugged him, and then put him back in the crib. Additionally, Officer Herod stated Sibling One described picking the Victim up and holding him upside down by his feet two days before the Victim died. The trial court allowed this testimony after the parties stipulated to its admissibility. Outside the presence of the jury, trial counsel asked Officer Herod whether Sibling One reported seeing Patrick pick the Victim up in a similar manner. Without reviewing the videotaped interview, Officer Herod could not recall whether Sibling One said someone else also picked the Victim up by his feet. Trial counsel noted that in the videotaped interview, Sibling One described holding the Victim by his feet and went "into this whole process about how [Patrick] used to do this and how they would hold his head and everything else." The trial court ruled Sibling One's comments concerning Patrick's alleged conduct were inadmissible hearsay under section 17-23-175 of the South Carolina Code (2014) because Sibling One did not testify at trial and were beyond the scope of the stipulation.[1]

         Outside the presence of the jury, trial counsel proffered Officer Herod's testimony that on the day the Victim died, Patrick allegedly threatened to kill her and another officer. Trial counsel argued Patrick's threat was relevant because it demonstrated Patrick, who had access to the Victim before Putnam awoke on the day he died, had a tendency to express violence. The trial court excluded the proffered testimony because the threat was not relevant.

         To demonstrate Sibling One's propensity for violence, Putnam proffered testimony that while in foster care following Putnam's arrest, Sibling One kicked Sibling Two so hard that the kick left a shoe print on Sibling Two's chest. The trial court refused to admit the testimony under Rule 404(b), SCRE, and determined the testimony did not survive the analysis set forth in State v. Gregory[2] because it merely cast a bare suspicion of guilt on Sibling One.

         The State presented testimony from three doctors who explained the Victim's medical history and injuries. Dr. Joel Sexton, the pathologist who conducted the Victim's autopsy, concluded the cause of death was a subdural hematoma resulting from an abusive head trauma like a shaking or impact injury and ruled the death a homicide. Dr. Sexton opined the Victim could have experienced a lucid period after his impact injury but before he lost consciousness; however, the other two doctors disagreed with Dr. Sexton's opinion. Dr. Sexton testified the Victim was born premature and suffered from delayed development. In addition, Putnam testified the Victim suffered from severe apnea, reflux, digestive problems, breathing problems, and retinopathy.

         The jury found Putnam guilty, and the trial court sentenced her to twenty-five years' imprisonment. Putnam filed a direct appeal, and this court affirmed her conviction and sentence. State v. ...

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