March 8, 2017
from Richland County Robert E. Hood, Circuit Court Judge.
Campbell Williams, of Lexington; and Chief Appellate Defender
Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant Courtney
Matthew G. Gerrald, of Barnes, Alford, Stork & Johnson,
LLP; and Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, both
of Columbia, for Appellant Robert Antonio Guinyard.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Special Assistant
Attorney General Amie L. Clifford; and Solicitor Daniel E.
Johnson, all of Columbia, for Respondent.
Courtney Shante Thompson (Mother) and Robert Antonio Guinyard
(Father), were tried jointly and convicted of homicide by
child abuse (HCA) and unlawful conduct toward a child. They
now seek review of their convictions, arguing the trial court
erred in denying their respective motions for a directed
verdict on each charge because the State failed to present
substantial circumstantial evidence of guilt. Appellants also
challenge the admission of photographs of their son (Victim)
pursuant to Rule 403, SCRE, arguing any probative value the
photographs may have had was substantially outweighed by the
danger of unfair prejudice. We affirm.
approximately 6:15 p.m. on July 1, 2013, Richland County
Emergency Medical Services received a call to respond to a
cardiac arrest at Appellants' home. When first responders
arrived at the home, they found Victim, a four-year-old boy,
lying on the floor in the living room. He was wearing jeans,
but no shirt. Victim was not moving or breathing, he had no
pulse, and he was cold to the touch. A paramedic checked
Victim's heart for electrical activity, but tragically,
she found none. Subsequently, investigators from the Richland
County Sheriff's Department found Victim's blood on
the walls of the living room, hallway, and rear bedroom as
well as on a white metal pipe that also had Father's
blood on it.
gave her first statement to police at 9:45 p.m. on July 1,
2013. In her statement, she indicated that she went to
Richland Memorial Hospital on June 29, 2013 to give birth to
another child and was discharged from the hospital on July 1,
2013 in the early afternoon. She further indicated that after
she arrived home, she discovered Victim had wet the floor in
the play room. She alleged Victim was autistic and would soil
and wet his surroundings. She also alleged she got in the
shower and started washing off when she "heard a loud
noise like a tumbling fall." She stated she got out of
the shower and found Victim on the floor in the play room
with his feet toward the dresser. She further stated,
He was crunched up and his body was stiff. His butt was up in
the air[, ] and he was [kind of] on his head. . . . He was
biting his lip hard. . . . When I popped his lip out from his
teeth to keep him from biting it off[, ] he went flat on me.
He just dropped. . . . He was not responding. . . . I picked
[Victim] up like he was a baby and took him to the front room
(living room). Blood was coming from his lip. I had blood on
my hand and went to my room to get my phone off the floor. I
called 911. They told me how to do CPR. I did what he told
me. . . . When [the ambulance] got there[, ] they put
something on his chest[, ] and they did not do nothing. They
just said that he was gone.
also gave a statement to police on July 1, 2013. He alleged
he was cooking dinner earlier that evening when he heard a
"boom." Mother allegedly came down the hallway with
Victim in her arms and Victim "was in and out."
Father further alleged that after Mother called 911, he hid
in a closet with the new baby because he was afraid the baby
would be taken away.
2, 2013, Dr. Amy Durso, a forensic pathologist, performed
Victim's autopsy and reported the cause of death as
"[e]xtensive soft tissue hemorrhage and bleeding . . .
due to multiple acute and healing blunt force injuries due to
non-accidental trauma." Later that day, police
investigators went over the autopsy results with Mother, who
then gave a second statement, explaining to investigators
that her first statement "was not the truth."
Mother alleged that when she came home from the hospital, she
found Victim naked, lying in a puddle of urine, and
"very weak." Victim allegedly was drinking water
"like he had not had water in days. . . . His feet,
legs, knee, butt, and arms were swollen and kind of blue.
[Victim] was just out of it." Mother further alleged
that after she went to take a shower, she heard Victim
crying like he was in pain and getting hit. I jumped out of
the shower. [Victim] was stretched out on the floor in my
room. I stood [Victim] up and he dropped to his knees.
[Victim] was breathing funny. [Victim] fell to the floor. . .
. [Victim] was walking down the hall[, ] and he collapsed
after taking about three steps. [Victim] balled up[, ] and it
looked like he was having a seizure. . . . I talked [to
Victim] that morning at around 11 [a.m.] and my son told me
that he was beaten with a pole. . . . When I got home[, ] I
saw blood flecks on the walls in the play room[, ] [o]n the
walls in the [hallway, ] and on my room door. There was blood
on the closet door in my room[, ] and the door had a hole in
the middle. There was blood in the carpet.
that evening, Appellants were arrested and charged with HCA
and unlawful conduct toward a child.
5, 2013, Victim's paternal grandmother, Patricia
Guinyard, asked police to accompany her to Appellants'
home to collect some clothes for Father and Appellants'
newborn child. According to the police investigators
accompanying Mrs. Guinyard, she was going through a large
pile of clothing in Appellants' master bedroom closet
when she found a child's size 5 shirt, still wet with
blood, buried in the pile. DNA testing indicated the blood on
the child's shirt was Victim's blood.
were tried together on May 19-28, 2014. At trial, the State
presented the testimony of Dr. Olga Rosa, a forensic
pediatrician who was qualified as an expert in child abuse
pediatrics. Dr. Rosa reviewed Victim's medical records
from his birth on April 18, 2009 through September 11, 2012,
his last known doctor visit. Dr. Rosa also reviewed
Victim's developmental records and genetic counseling
records, photographs relating to Victim's death, and Dr.
Durso's autopsy report. Dr. Rosa testified that the
Department of Social Services (DSS) placed Victim in foster
care on June 19, 2009, when he was only two months old, and
DSS returned Victim to Appellants' care on April 6, 2012.
According to Mother, DSS placed Victim in foster care because
of an incident in which Victim almost fell out of the vehicle
she was driving.
the exception of some initial instability, Victim thrived
during his time in foster care. Dr. Rosa stated that Victim
was not autistic. She explained that Victim failed an autism
screening test at his eighteen-month well-child checkup
merely because he was having speech difficulties at the time,
which is common for children in foster care. Dr. Rosa also
stated that by March 2012, Victim was "growing
well." Dr. Rosa reported,
His growth parameters [were] great. . . . He [was] toilet
trained, and he [was] speaking . . . in two to three word
sentences, complete sentences. He [was] interacting. He [was]
socialized . . . he [had] what we call social [adaptive]
skills, so he [could] interact with same age peers, with
adults, with his teachers at the level of almost a
soon after DSS returned Victim to Appellants in April 2012,
he began regressing. Denise Jones, Victim's last foster
mother, testified she spoke to Mother over the telephone a
couple of days after DSS returned Victim to Appellants.
Mother told Jones that Victim would not use the bathroom.
Jones told Mother that Victim was using the bathroom when he
was living with her and asked Mother to let her know if she
needed any help. However, Jones never heard from Mother
again. Similarly, Dr. Monica McCutcheon, who saw Victim for
his three-year-old well-child checkup in September 2012,
testified Mother reported Victim "was having some issues
with wetting and soiling himself" and complained that
his speech "was not as good as his two-year-old
members gave several eyewitness accounts of Appellants'
abuse of Victim. Two of Mother's sisters, Natalie and
Maria, testified and indicated that except for "a couple
of weeks" when Victim lived with Natalie,  Victim lived with
Appellants from April 2012 until his death. Natalie explained
that she took Victim into her own home for a while because
Mother was frustrated with Victim soiling and wetting the
floors in the house. Natalie and Maria also witnessed Mother
beating Victim. Natalie took photographs of the resulting
bruises to show to DSS.
also testified that Mother told her she wanted Victim
"to go back to DSS so they could give him a beating and
a killing and a raping." Natalie stated she had seen
Father hit Victim, but "in the way  a father should,
he smacked him in the back of the head, but not to hurt
him." However, she admitted she told police that Father
"would beat [Victim]." Natalie also stated
Appellants would hit Victim because he had problems with
wetting and soiling himself and his surroundings.
Additionally, Natalie recounted stories of Appellants
depriving Victim of food and Victim having to be careful not
to get caught eating anything.
Metze, the grandmother of Victim's half-sister, testified
she observed Victim shortly after DSS returned him to
Appellants in April 2012, and he appeared to be a happy,
healthy, well-nourished child. However, she noticed that over
the course of the following year, Victim lost a significant
amount of weight and became withdrawn. In February 2013,
Metze received photographs showing bruises and scars on
Victim's back. She contacted DSS several times, and she
shared the photographs with a pediatrician, who also
other sister, Crystal, lived with Appellants from April 2012
to October 2012. According to Crystal, during this period,
Mother once asked her to hold Victim's legs so Mother
could "whoop him" for soiling his surroundings and
"playing in it." Crystal refused to do so and left.
Additionally, Crystal witnessed Father punch Victim and make
Victim sit on the toilet for three hours. Crystal also
recounted an occasion when Mother stated that she did not
care "if the retarded bastard died" and if DSS did
not take Victim, "she was going to kill him and bury him
so DSS would not take her other baby."
spoke to Mother over the telephone on the afternoon of July
1, 2013 after Mother returned from the hospital with her
newborn, and Mother told her she was going to take a shower.
According to data retrieved from Mother's cell phone,
this call occurred at 5:05 p.m., a little over an hour before
Mother made the 911 call. After Mother and Crystal ended
their call, Mother's cell phone inadvertently dialed
Crystal's phone number, and Crystal overheard Victim
"getting beat" and crying out "Lord, help me,
" along with Mother telling Victim, "Hush."
Crystal then heard Mother and Father talking to each other.
Crystal subsequently ended the call.
Durso testified that during Victim's autopsy, her
external examination revealed several scars over Victim's
head; orbital contusions (a/k/a black eyes); lacerations to
his lips; deep injuries on the inside of his lower lip;
several scars on his arms; several abrasions on his torso,
buttocks, and lower legs; a healing bite mark on his back,
which, based on the size of the mark, was inflicted by a teen
or adult; and a swollen knee. Dr. Durso's internal
examination revealed a pale thyroid gland, which indicated
heavy blood loss; two rib fractures, one occurring between
ten days and six weeks prior to Victim's death and the
other occurring within twenty-four hours prior to death; and
a healing fracture to his upper left arm, one to two weeks
old, overladen with an acute hemorrhage, indicating a site of
injuries revealed in the internal examination were multiple
bruises to Victim's head, an indicator of
abuse; a subdural hemorrhage,  indicating a
significant blunt force impact and dating from five to seven
days prior to death; and profuse "bleeding and
hemorrhage" in the soft tissues of Victim's lower
back, his buttocks, the backs of his legs, and the backs of
his arms, which confirmed suspected multiple bruises Dr.
Durso noticed in these areas during the external examination.
The soft tissue injuries with bright red or dark red
hemorrhaging were "probably less than eighteen to
twenty-four hours old" and the injuries with yellow
hemorrhaging were older and could not be dated. Dr. Durso
explained that the combined new and old soft tissue
hemorrhaging "contributed to the blood loss of [Victim]
so . . . he [was] no longer able to circulate enough blood to
give [whatever oxygen] he need[ed] to his brain to maintain
his vital functions in his body."
Durso stated that in the one to two weeks prior to his death,
Victim would not have been able to use his left arm due to it
being fractured and he would have been guarding that arm
because it would have been extremely painful. Dr. Durso also
stated any caregiver would have noticed that (1) Victim was
not using that arm, (2) he was in pain, and (3) he was not
acting "like a normal four-year-old." Additionally,
the subdural hemorrhage that occurred five to seven days
before Victim's death would have placed enough pressure
on Victim's brain to cause lethargy, possible vomiting,
and possible temporary unconsciousness "after the
blow." According to Dr. Durso, a parent would notice
these symptoms and recognize that his or her child "was
not acting right."
Durso concluded that Victim's injuries had been
intentionally inflicted; Victim had been chronically abused;
anyone coming in contact with Victim would have noticed the
excruciating pain Victim experienced as a result of the
multiple soft tissue injuries; and if he had received medical
attention before his final beating, his life could have been
saved. She further explained, "You have a limit on how
much blood you can lose. When you go over that limit and your
brain is no longer getting that blood supply, that's when
he would have died, that last bit of blood that came out into
his soft tissues after that beating."
Rosa largely corroborated Dr. Durso's findings. Dr. Rosa
stated that from seventy-two hours to a week before
Victim's death, he would have shown symptoms of the
subdural hemorrhage and a subarachnoid hemorrhage,
including nausea, vomiting, lethargy, drowsiness, headaches,
possible seizures, and abnormal limb movements. Dr. Rosa also
stated Victim would have vocalized his pain from his two rib
fractures, one of which was ten days to six weeks old and the
other occurring within twenty-four hours before his death.
Further, Victim's arm fracture would have prevented him
from appropriately using his arm.
Rosa opined that the physical abuse inflicted on Victim
during the last two months of his life caused his death. She
also explained that in the days leading up to his death, it
would have been obvious to anyone that something was wrong
with Victim and he needed medical treatment, even if his
bruising and scars were not easily visible. If Victim had
been taken to a doctor during the several days before his
death, ultimately, Dr. Rosa would have been consulted and
Victim could have been saved.
conclusion of the State's case-in-chief, Appellants made
their respective directed verdict motions, and they renewed
these motions at the appropriate times. However, the trial
court denied the motions, and the jury ultimately returned
guilty verdicts against Appellants on the charged offenses.
Both were sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for
HCA and ten years for unlawful conduct toward a child. The
trial court ordered Mother's ten-year sentence to run
consecutively to her life sentence and Father's ten-year
sentence to run concurrently to his life sentence. These
there substantial circumstantial evidence of Mother's
guilt to justify the trial court's denial of her directed
there substantial circumstantial evidence of Father's
guilt to justify the trial court's ...