April 12, 2017
From Spartanburg County Roger L. Couch, Circuit Court Judge
Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Deputy Attorney General
Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General Caroline M.
Scrantom, all of Columbia, and Solicitor Barry Joe Barnette,
of Spartanburg, for Respondent.
Sandy Lynn Westmoreland appeals his convictions for murder
and hit and run involving a death. He argues the trial court
erred by allowing the coroner to testify as a lay witness
that the cause of the victim's death was a homicide and
instructing the jury that voluntary intoxication was not a
defense. We affirm Appellant's conviction for hit and run
and reverse his murder conviction.
jury indicted Appellant in October 2012 for murder and hit
and run involving a death. The indictments alleged Appellant
purposefully hit Michael Daniels (Victim) with his vehicle
and failed to remain at the scene to give information or
render aid. The murder indictment claimed Victim died due to
his injuries. The solicitor called Appellant's case to
trial in December 2014.
Haney testified he was a security guard at Mary Black
Hospital and was on duty on March 14, 2012. Haney testified
he was walking down a hallway when Victim
"stumbled" out of a room crying and with a bloody
nose. Haney asserted Appellant was inside the room. Haney
testified he contacted the sheriff's office per hospital
policy. According to Haney, Victim did not want to press
charges against Appellant but wanted to gather his things and
leave. Haney asserted he and a deputy walked Appellant to his
automobile following his discharge from the hospital and
watched him drive away alone.
Jeffery Valentine testified he responded to a report of
Appellant assaulting Victim inside the hospital.
Valentine's testimony was consistent with Haney's
testimony. Additionally, Valentine testified that when he and
Haney escorted Appellant to his vehicle after the initial
altercation, Appellant noticed Victim had forcibly entered
Appellant's vehicle and absconded with some of
Victim's possessions. Valentine claimed Appellant became
"pretty upset" when Valentine declined to charge
Victim with breaking into the vehicle. The following morning,
someone discovered Victim dead in the bushes in the hospital
trial court qualified Dr. John Wren as an expert in
pathology. Wren testified Victim died almost immediately due
to a "vehicle versus pedestrian encounter." Wren
asserted Victim was standing and facing away from the vehicle
at the time of the collision.
Bryant testified he was a sergeant and supervisor in the
violent crime division and he went to Appellant's house
shortly after the incident to question him. According to
Bryant, during his initial conversation with Appellant,
Appellant claimed he left the hospital without incident and
hit a deer on his way home from the hospital. However, Bryant
testified that, after he discussed "discrepancies"
with Appellant, he admitted he hit Victim with his vehicle
when leaving the hospital. Appellant explained to Bryant he
did not "drive well at night" and attempted to pull
the vehicle over to allow Victim to get inside when he
accidently hit him with the vehicle. According to Bryant,
Appellant claimed he stopped and checked on Victim but, after
realizing Victim was not breathing, became scared and left
Duncan testified he was a trooper for the highway patrol and
was a member of the Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation
Team (MAIT). He asserted the MAIT's primary job was
reconstructing traffic incidents, and the trial court
qualified Duncan as an expert in "accident
reconstruction." Duncan claimed he responded to the
scene of Victim's death and performed an investigation.
Duncan asserted he found "tire tracks going off into the
grass at a sharp angle" and there were no "skid
marks" leading to where the tire tracks entered the
grass. Duncan concluded the vehicle did not attempt to stop
based on his observation that there were "acceleration
marks in the grass" beyond where Victim's body was
found. He contended the vehicle did not decelerate at the
point of impact or after; "[i]t was one continuous
motion." Duncan estimated the vehicle's speed at a
range of twenty-nine and thirty-seven miles per hour. Duncan
also surmised there was "severe steering input" to
maneuver this vehicle into the grass to strike Victim. He
explained this meant the vehicle "did not just drift off
the road" and it was more akin to taking a right hand
turn into the grass.
Clevenger testified he was the coroner for Spartanburg
County. Following some preliminary testimony regarding his
experience, the State offered Clevenger as an "expert in
determining the manner of death." Appellant objected to
admitting Clevenger as an expert based on his qualifications.
After a short colloquy between the trial court and counsel,
the State withdrew its attempt to admit Clevenger as an
expert. However, Clevenger proceeded to testify his
responsibilities as coroner included determining any
deceased's manner of death. He explained any death
presents five options when deciding the manner of death:
natural, accident, homicide, suicide, and undetermined.
Clevenger also explained the process of determining the
manner of death included considering the pathologist report
and the findings of investigators and law enforcement.
Clevenger testified a homicide was "the intentional act
of you taking the life of another." In a situation when
one person takes the life of another person, he admitted he
cannot always determine whether the act was intentional.
Clevenger then asserted he "ruled this case a
homicide." Appellant objected and claimed Clevenger gave
improper opinion testimony. The trial court responded,
"I think coroners are required to give rulings on death
by law" and "[h]e's stating what his ruling is.
I'll overrule the, the objection."
the State's case, Appellant testified he was involved in
a romantic relationship with Victim for approximately
eighteen years. Appellant claimed he and Victim went to the
hospital on the day in question because he was experiencing
stomach pains and bleeding. Appellant claimed his argument
with Victim in the hospital room began because Victim spent
their last $20 purchasing what he thought was a crack rock
but turned out to be a piece of soap. He asserted his walking
cane hit Victim's nose by accident during the argument.
Appellant contended he was "high" when the hospital
discharged him due to all of the medication he had taken.
Appellant testified he was driving away from the hospital
when he "saw a glimpse of [Victim] way off the
road." Appellant claimed he "jerked the car to pull
over and pick him up" and he "felt a bump."
Appellant admitted he realized what happened so he
"turned around and came back" to check on Victim
but realized he was dead. Appellant claimed he did not seek
help for Victim because he was already dead and he "just
flipped out." Appellant asserted it was an accident.
both parties rested, they discussed a potential jury charge
regarding voluntary or involuntary intoxication with the
trial court. Appellant objected to a charge on voluntary
intoxication because he was taking prescribed medication.
Following the discussion, the trial court indicated it would
give Appellant time to research case law supporting his
argument and would issue its ruling later. Subsequent to
closing arguments, the trial court reopened the discussion on
intoxication. Appellant maintained his position that a charge
on voluntary intoxication would be improper because
everything Appellant took was prescribed. The following
colloquy then took place:
THE COURT: Well, I mentioned to all of you the possibility of
me charging the jury that they will have to make a finding of
[Appellant's Counsel]: And that will be fine.
THE COURT: -as to whether or not this was a voluntary or