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State v. Huckabee

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

March 15, 2017

The State, Respondent,
Alexander Carmichael Huckabee, III, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2013-001409

          Heard October 12, 2016

         Appeal From Marlboro County J. Mchael Baxley, Circuit Court Judge

          Appellate Defender John Harrison Strom, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Assistant Attorney General Mary Williams Leddon, and Assistant Attorney General William Frederick Schumacher, IV, all of Columbia; and Solicitor William Benjamin Rogers, Jr., of Bennettsville, for Respondent.

          GEATHERS, J.

         Appellant Alexander Huckabee, III seeks review of his convictions for homicide by child abuse (HCA), inflicting great bodily injury upon a child, unlawful conduct toward a child and first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor. Appellant assigns error to the trial court's admission of the testimony of a witness proffered as an expert in criminal behavioral analysis, arguing the witness's criminal profiling testimony (1) was excludable under Rule 403, SCRE, (2) was based on an unreliable methodology, (3) was given by an unqualified witness, and (4) usurped the jury's role as sole fact finder. Appellant also challenges the admission of his third statement to police because (1) law enforcement did not "re-Mirandize"[1] him after a three-day lapse following his previous custodial interrogation and (2) the interrogation was given under additional coercive conditions. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


         Atelia Hunt was living with Appellant in Bennettsville on October 6, 2011, when Hunt took her three-year-old daughter (Victim) to the local hospital's emergency room at approximately 9:45 p.m., complaining that Victim was not breathing. Linda Hooper, one of the nurses on duty, called a "code team" to attempt to revive Victim, but tragically, the attempt was unsuccessful. Hooper noticed Victim had several bruises and burn marks all over her body and her head had been shaved. Dr. Cynthia Schandl performed Victim's autopsy and reported the cause of death as a "massive" blood infection that started as a urinary tract infection, traveled to Victim's bladder and kidneys, and ultimately entered into her blood.

         Sergeant John Hepburn and Lieutenant Larry Turner of the Bennettsville Police Department conducted videotaped interviews of several witnesses, including Hunt and Appellant. Appellant's interview lasted approximately thirty to forty minutes, beginning on October 7, 2011, at 12:42 a.m. At that time, Appellant was not a suspect in Victim's death or injuries. Sergeant Hepburn, nonetheless, provided Appellant his Miranda rights in writing prior to questioning him, and Appellant signed the waiver of rights near the bottom of the form. Hunt and Appellant were later arrested in connection with Victim's death and injuries.

         Lieutenant Turner also assisted Lieutenant Kathy Bass, an agent with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), in conducting a second interview of Appellant at the Bennettsville Detention Center on October 10, 2011, at approximately 10:45 a.m. Lieutenant Bass went over a Miranda form with Appellant, reading him his rights, and Appellant signed the waiver of rights near the bottom of the form. This interview, which was not recorded, lasted approximately one and one-half hours. Near the conclusion of the interview, Lieutenant Bass asked Appellant to submit a voluntary handwritten statement. Appellant began writing but stopped after two or three sentences. Lieutenant Bass then asked Appellant if he would be willing to meet with her at a later date at the Bennettsville Police Department so that his statement could be videotaped in lieu of being handwritten. Appellant agreed and met with Lieutenant Bass again on October 13, 2011.

         At the beginning of the October 13 interview, Lieutenant Bass reminded Appellant that she had given him written Miranda warnings at their previous meeting. She also gave verbal Miranda warnings but skipped over the right to counsel. According to the prosecutor, this third interview lasted approximately four hours.[2]

         Appellant was indicted for HCA, [3] inflicting great bodily injury upon a child, unlawful conduct toward a child, and first-degree CSC with a minor. Prior to Appellant's trial, Hunt pled guilty to unlawful conduct toward a child and to HCA under the aiding and abetting provision of the HCA statute.

         At Appellant's trial, Dr. Schandl testified that when she examined Victim, she discovered areas of Victim's brain in which blood clots had cut off the blood supply, ultimately causing brain death. Dr. Schandl explained that this process began approximately one week prior to Victim's death and would have caused Victim to feel fatigued. Victim also would have been difficult to arouse, she might have had a suppressed appetite, and she might not have walked as comfortably as she normally would have. Dr. Schandl stated it was highly unlikely that Victim would not have had those symptoms during her last week. Dr. Schandl also stated Victim might have experienced seizures and would have eventually fallen into a coma.

         Dr. Schandl then described the symptoms Victim might have exhibited at the beginning of her urinary tract infection: burning upon urination, urinating more often, leakage, and blood in the urine. As the infection spread to Victim's kidneys, she might have experienced back pain, and as the infection went into Victim's blood, she would have experienced fever, chills, and sweating. Dr. Schandl stated that based on the progression of symptoms, it would have become obvious that Victim was very sick.

         Dr. Schandl also found a hemorrhage approximately one centimeter inside Victim's vagina, which made her suspicious of a sexual encounter. She noticed cigarette burns and bruises on Victim as well. The burns were in varying stages of healing, and some of them were "more round" than others, indicating Victim was still when she experienced those burns. Dr. Schandl further testified Victim was missing two front teeth. She found this to be strange because Victim was three years old and children "don't start losing their teeth until they are six or seven."

         The trial court admitted into evidence Appellant's third statement, in which he admitted that, on one occasion, he "popped" Victim for "messing with [a] wall socket" and the impact left a bruise. He also admitted he should have sought help for Victim and should have insisted that Hunt take Victim to the hospital earlier than she did. However, Appellant consistently denied inflicting the cigarette burns on Victim and instead implicated Hunt. He stated he asked Hunt about the burns and she told him they were blisters. He also stated Hunt performed an internet search on how to heal burns. When asked about the hemorrhage inside Victim's vagina, Appellant stated he did not know what caused the hemorrhage. Despite the lengthy questioning by Lieutenant Bass, Appellant remained strong-willed in his responses.

         Hunt testified Victim's bruising was caused by Appellant grabbing Victim by her ankles, as she was standing in front of him, and trying to separate her legs to "make her do a split." She asserted Appellant explained Victim's bruises by stating he and Victim were "playing too hard" and "she ran up against the table or she had [fallen]." Hunt also stated whenever she would try to take Victim to a doctor during the last week of her life, Appellant would tell her to wait until Victim's bruises healed so they could avoid being reported to the Department of Social Services (DSS).

         According to Hunt, when she noticed blood on a burgundy towel, Appellant explained it as an accident in which Victim had been climbing on a chair and hit her crotch on it. Hunt also claimed she asked Appellant about burn marks on Victim and Appellant told her to search the Internet to determine what to use on burns to heal them. Hunt further testified she lied to police during her interrogation because Appellant told her "to be quiet and that he'll take care of everything, and that he'll let them know what had happened."

         When Appellant testified, he characterized Hunt as dishonest and controlling. He stated Hunt lied to him about her financial circumstances when they first met.[4]He admitted he should have done something to help Victim. However, he later stated he did not know Victim was as sick as she was. He also stated he was afraid DSS would take his seven-year-old son away from him if he sought medical help for Victim. However, he denied ever touching the inside of Victim's vagina.

         SLED agent Paul LaRosa gave expert testimony concerning the characteristics of individuals who sexually abuse children. He focused specifically on the infliction of cigarette burns near Victim's vagina and on her buttocks, characterizing this behavior as sexual. The State proffered Agent LaRosa as an expert in "Crime Analysis and Crime Scene Reconstruction." The State clarified that the area of Crime Analysis included profiling: "[J]ust to make sure the record is clear[, w]hen I say Crime Analysis, that would be slash Profiler."

         The trial court qualified Agent LaRosa and admitted his testimony "in the area of Criminal Behavioral Analysis and Crime Scene Reconstruction." Agent LaRosa described his work as a criminal profiler at SLED in the following manner:

The bulk of the work that we do when it comes to violent crimes or cases like this, where we get the agency who comes to us and says, we have had a crime, and the crime is [sic]. We know who the potential suspects are. And we need some help because of the nature of the crime, the violence of the crime, and the bazaar [sic] behavior in the crime. We need help. We need help from [the] interview stand point [sic]. Evidence collection. How to prosecute this case. What to charge them with.[5]

         Agent LaRosa stated a person who inflicts well-defined cigarette burns on a three-year-old child would have to be someone who had complete control over the child over a long period of time. Notably, this specific testimony was based on Agent LaRosa's experience as a crime scene reconstructionist. He then gave his criminal profiling testimony, stating that the overwhelming majority of sexual offenders are male. His profile of an individual who would inflict cigarette burns near the victim's vagina was simply an adult male, approximately twenty-five to forty years of age. As of October 13, 2011, one week after Victim's death, Appellant was twenty-nine years of age.

         The jury returned guilty verdicts against Appellant on the charged offenses. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for HCA and concurrent terms of (1) life imprisonment for first-degree CSC with a minor, (2) twenty years for inflicting great bodily injury upon a child, and (3) ten years for unlawful conduct toward a child. This appeal followed.


         Rule 403, SCRE

         Appellant argues Agent LaRosa's criminal profiling testimony was excludable under Rule 403, SCRE, because the testimony suggested Appellant's guilt on an improper basis, and therefore, the danger of ...

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