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State v. Harry

Supreme Court of South Carolina

July 19, 2017

The State, Respondent,
v.
Kareem Harry, Petitioner. Appellate Case No. 2015-002161

          Heard November 30, 2016.

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         Appeal from Horry County Steven H. John, Circuit Court Judge

          Meliah Bowers Jefferson, of Wyche, P.A., of Greenville, and Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

          Attorney General Alan M. Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, and Assistant Attorney General J. Anthony Mabry, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Jimmy A. Richardson, II, of Conway, for Respondent.

          KITTREDGE JUSTICE.

         Petitioner Kareem Harry was convicted of murder, under the theory that the "hand of one is the hand of all, " for his role in a failed attempt to recover a television. The court of appeals affirmed, holding the trial court properly denied Petitioner's motion for a directed verdict. State v. Harry, 413 S.C. 534, 776 S.E.2d 387 (Ct. App. 2015). We issued a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision and now affirm.

         I.

         This tragic story culminates with an attempt by Petitioner and his enlisted cohorts to retrieve Petitioner's forty-seven-inch plasma-screen television from Kevin Bowens (Victim). Victim was shot and killed on his property by one of Petitioner's accomplices during the confrontation. The State contends the evidence demonstrates that Petitioner intended to retrieve his television by any means necessary, including the use of force. According to the State, Victim's death was therefore a natural and foreseeable consequence of Petitioner's plan to retrieve his television and, under the theory of accomplice liability that says the hand of one is the hand of all, Petitioner is guilty of murder. Petitioner counters that he only wanted to peacefully reclaim his television, he had no idea his accomplice was armed, and he actually tried to be a calming influence when the situation became tense. In light of the differing inferences that may be drawn from the evidence, we emphasize that because we are reviewing a directed verdict motion, we are required to "'view[] the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the State.'" State v. Bennett, 415 S.C. 232, 235, 781 S.E.2d 352, 353 (2016) (quoting State v. Butler, 407 S.C. 376, 381, 755 S.E.2d 457, 460 (2014)).

         A.

         The chain of events leading to Victim's death began about nine months before the murder. During this time, Petitioner had an abusive, on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Ashley Bledsoe, with whom he temporarily resided in Surfside Beach. The weekend before the shooting, police responded to Bledsoe's residence to investigate allegations that Petitioner had assaulted Bledsoe during an argument. Petitioner fled through a bedroom window, leaving behind a coat in which the police found cocaine. Petitioner also left behind personal belongings, including his television.

         The day after her argument with Petitioner, Bledsoe met Victim, a drug dealer who lived in Murrells Inlet, and the two spent the night together at Bledsoe's apartment. The following morning, Bledsoe agreed to give Petitioner's television to Victim in exchange for $400. Before leaving Bledsoe's apartment, Victim loaded the television into the backseat of his car, promising to return shortly with the cash. Victim did not return and never paid Bledsoe for the television.

         By all accounts the television was lightweight. Victim was able to lift it, load it into the backseat of his sedan, and unload it at his home without any assistance. Victim's girlfriend also testified that the television was not heavy, it did not require more than one person to lift, and she had been able to move it by herself. As for how Victim had obtained the television, he explained to his girlfriend that "he had bought it off of somebody. . . . [H]e had given them a little bit of money for it and that he had bought an ounce of weed at a really good price to make up the difference and that he still owed a little bit of money on it . . . ."

         At some point, Bledsoe's landlord learned police had found drugs in Bledsoe's apartment and terminated the lease. Bledsoe was required to vacate the premises and remove all belongings. Bledsoe relayed the fact of the lease termination to Petitioner, who had personal property in the apartment. Petitioner asked Sage McPhail, a drug customer of his who owned a pickup truck, to help move Petitioner's belongings from Bledsoe's apartment.[1] The day before the shooting, Bledsoe met McPhail at her apartment and gave McPhail all of Petitioner's belongings-except, of course, for Petitioner's television, which she had sold to Victim.[2]

         When Petitioner discovered his television was not among the items recovered from Bledsoe's apartment, he contacted Bledsoe and demanded that she return the television or pay him for it. Frightened that Petitioner might become violent toward her if he learned of her romantic encounter with Victim, Bledsoe lied and told Petitioner she had sold the television to a female friend for $400. Petitioner reiterated his demand that Bledsoe return the television or give him the $400.

         The following day, Petitioner called and texted Bledsoe on ten separate occasions to inquire about the television, but Bledsoe never answered or responded. Petitioner thereafter sent Bledsoe a text message stating, "I'm going to call the police if you don't give me my TV." Desperate to appease Petitioner, Bledsoe texted Victim numerous times asking for the money and explaining that the television belonged to a friend, who was demanding payment and threatening to call the police. At some point, Victim texted Bledsoe, "Stop letting that police shit scare you, " but eventually Victim stopped responding to Bledsoe's text messages and telephone calls. Unable to get any response from Victim, Bledsoe told Petitioner the truth about the person to whom she sold the television and provided Petitioner with Victim's telephone number.

         Around 7:00 p.m. on the evening of the shooting, Bledsoe was running errands with her roommate in Murrells Inlet when she received a call from Petitioner, who demanded that she pull over immediately so he could pick her up and she could show Petitioner where Victim lived. Petitioner's plan, as noted, was to retrieve either the television or the $400 Victim promised to pay for it.[3] Bledsoe's roommate, who was driving, pulled over in the parking lot of Waccamaw Hospital, located just 2.9 miles from Victim's home, and a few moments later, Petitioner, who was driving McPhail's truck, picked up Bledsoe.[4] Instead of proceeding directly to Victim's nearby home, Petitioner instead drove 16.3 miles to the Myrtle Beach home of his friends, and fellow drug dealers, Tommy Byrne and Saire Castro.

         Upon arriving at Byrne and Castro's apartment, Petitioner went inside while Bledsoe waited in the car. When Petitioner entered the home, Byrne and Castro were at the kitchen table, while Byrne's father was cooking dinner. Petitioner summoned Castro into the living room and the two had a five- to eight-minute conversation, which Byrne could not overhear because he remained seated at the kitchen table.[5] Castro was told that, along with Petitioner's television, Victim had also stolen some drugs belonging to Petitioner that Petitioner had stored in Bledsoe's apartment (of which it appears Bledsoe was unaware). Immediately following the conversation with Petitioner, Castro returned to the kitchen, asked Byrne if he wanted to "take a ride, " and retrieved his (Castro's) handgun from above a kitchen cabinet. Although there is no direct evidence that Petitioner or Byrne saw Castro retrieve his handgun, they both saw him go into the kitchen, and the evidence established it was well-known that Castro carried a gun.[6]

         Petitioner then returned to the pickup truck where Bledsoe was waiting, and Byrne and Castro got into Castro's sedan, with Castro behind the wheel. With Petitioner leading the way in the pickup, the two vehicles caravanned 11.6 miles to Victim's home in the Burgess area of Murrells Inlet. During the car ride, Castro informed Byrne the purpose of the ride was "to go collect a TV."

         At some point prior to arriving at Victim's home, Petitioner sent Victim a text message stating, "Meet me in Burgess." Several minutes later, Petitioner called Victim's cell phone and the two had a brief conversation during which Petitioner made clear his intention to retrieve the television. According to Victim's girlfriend, after receiving Petitioner's telephone call Victim became agitated and was unable to finish eating dinner. Instead, Victim got up from the dinner table and went into the master bedroom.

         A few minutes later, Victim's girlfriend looked out the window and saw Petitioner's caravan arriving at the couple's home. She immediately rushed to the master bedroom to tell Victim that two vehicles had pulled into the yard. Victim tucked a handgun in the front of his pants and told his girlfriend he "would take care of it." Victim walked out into the driveway, leaned up against the side of his parked car, and stood with his arms crossed and the gun visible in his waistband. Although Victim was visibly armed, Petitioner and his cohorts exited their vehicles and ...


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