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State v. Hughes

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

January 18, 2017

The State, Respondent,
Walker Manning Hughes, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2014-000294

          Heard September 21, 2016

         Appeal From Greenville County J. Michael Baxley, Circuit Court Judge


          Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, 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 Caroline M. Scrantom, all of Columbia; and Solicitor William Walter Wilkins, III, of Greenville, for Respondent.

          MCDONALD, J.

         Walker Manning Hughes appeals his convictions for murder, first-degree burglary, grand larceny, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, arguing the circuit court erred in (1) admitting prejudicial hearsay testimony and (2) denying his motion to require the State to open fully on the law and the facts during closing arguments. We affirm.


         Hughes's mother, Karen Hughes (Victim), was the beneficiary of two trusts which were to be divided between Hughes and his brother, Larry Hughes, upon her death. Two days before Victim's murder, Hughes was released from the Greenville County Detention Center after pleading guilty to forging checks written on Victim's trust account. Hughes received a probationary sentence and was ordered to have no contact with Victim.

         Victim's coworker, Kim Jones, testified that on Friday, April 8, 2011, Victim left work early to meet a repairman and reapply for a restraining order against Hughes. Victim was last seen alive by a neighbor that afternoon. At that time, Victim was wearing a brown track suit. Neighbors reported the lights at Victim's home were off that Friday night and remained off throughout the weekend. On Monday, April 11, neighbor Max Few went to Victim's house after learning from Jones that Victim had not arrived at work. Few called police after noticing Victim's car was gone, Victim's dog was uncharacteristically locked on the back porch, and the screen door to the porch had been cut. Police forced entry onto the property by cutting a padlock off the front gate and breaking through the front door, which had been secured by a deadbolt.

         Inside, police discovered Victim's badly beaten body[1] surrounded by bloody footprints.[2] Police also discovered a bloody knife on the kitchen counter, as well as a washed claw hammer and brush in the washing machine.[3] In Victim's bedroom, police found the contents of her purse spread out on the bed and several drawers that had been opened and stacked on the floor.[4] Sergeant Chris Miller of the Greenville County Sheriff's Office testified the crime appeared to be personal because neither jewelry nor electronics were taken and many of the rooms were undisturbed. The only items missing from the home were Victim's car, her car keys, and a garage door opener.

         On the evening of April 11, police found Hughes in Victim's car at a gas station in Laurens County. When police searched the car, they discovered the missing car keys and Victim's garage door opener in the driver's side door pocket. Additionally, they found Hughes's blood around the driver's seat as well as on a pair of Conair electric clippers and their box. Police found a small cut on one of Hughes's index fingers.

         DNA testing at Victim's home revealed that a swab of blood taken from the upstairs bedroom closet and a swab of blood from the living room contained Victim's blood mixed with that of someone else. Specifically, the State's forensic DNA analyst, Brian Browning, testified the bedroom closet swab contained a mixture of three individuals, with Victim as a major contributor and two minor trace alleles identified with Hughes and an unknown individual. Browning explained that alleles are "individual pieces of a DNA profile" and cautioned that he was "not speaking about a [complete] profile." Browning further explained that the unknown contributor could be the result of instrument limitations in detecting individual pieces of a DNA profile or "the possible masking of certain alleles due to a mixture sample where several contributors can overlap each other." On cross-examination, Browning clarified that minor trace alleles were detected and "they included some of the alleles of Walker Manning Hughes as well as [an] unknown individual."

         Concerning the living room swab, Browning testified Victim was a major contributor to the sample and there was also a minor male contributor. He opined there was "a high probability of it being a mother/son mixture" and was able to exclude Hughes's brother as a donor. Conversely, the expert stated he could not exclude Hughes and the probability of including someone at random as a minor contributor was one in two hundred forty-one among the Caucasian population.

         Michael Isakson, who knew Hughes from their time at the Greenville County Detention Center, testified Hughes was angry that Victim had obtained a restraining order against him and that Hughes offered him $70, 000 to beat Victim to death. Isakson stated that when he declined the offer, Hughes indicated he would have to do it himself. According to Isakson, Hughes further claimed that, despite the restraining order, he planned to go to Victim's house when he was released to "collect some money and stuff."

         Sheryl Slavensky, Hughes's friend and past romantic interest, testified that sometime in 2009 or 2010, she had a conversation with Hughes, during which he was furious and blamed Victim for his parents' divorce. According to Slavensky, Hughes stated he wanted to kill Victim and "bash her head in." He said he "wanted it to be slow and he wanted ...

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