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State v. Young

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

July 19, 2017

The State, Respondent,
v.
Lorenzo Bernard Young, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2014-002548

          Heard April 17, 2017.

         Appeal From Richland County Robert E. Hood, Circuit Court Judge

          Appellate Defender David Alexander, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General Susannah Rawl Cole, and Solicitor Daniel Edward Johnson, all of Columbia, for Respondent.

          HILL, J.

         After a joint trial, Lorenzo Young and Trenton Barnes were convicted by a jury of murder, kidnapping, second-degree burglary, and attempted armed robbery. On appeal, Young argues the trial court abused its discretion in (1) admitting a letter written by Barnes as a statement against penal interest, Rule 804(b)(3), SCRE; and (2) failing to grant his motion for mistrial. We find the letter was admitted in error, and the error was not cured by the trial court's instruction to disregard the letter. We conclude, however, that the error in admitting the letter and any error in failing to grant a mistrial was harmless. We therefore affirm Young's convictions and sentences.

         I.

         Kelly Hunnewell worked for Carolina Cafe in Columbia as a baker and cook. Hunnewell's shift started early in the morning, and she baked at a remote kitchen located at 93 Tommy Circle. The kitchen was next door to the Ale House Lounge, and both buildings were equipped with video surveillance.

         According to the surveillance video and other evidence, Hunnewell arrived at the kitchen at 3:00 a.m. on July 1, 2013. It was raining hard outside, and she left the door to the kitchen propped open. At 3:40 a.m., while Hunnewell was stirring potatoes, a man wearing a red-hooded sweatshirt entered the open door, followed closely by a man wearing a gray-hooded sweatshirt. Both men had their sweatshirts pulled tightly around their faces. Each held a gun in what appeared to be a gloved hand. At the same time, a third man, wearing a dark-hooded sweatshirt, appeared at the door. The man in the red sweatshirt immediately ran up behind Hunnewell and placed his gun to her head. The man in the gray sweatshirt ran to the other side of Hunnewell, blocking any means for her escape. A brief struggle ensued, and Hunnewell attempted to fend off her assailants with a large spoon. During the struggle, both men fired their weapons. Hunnewell fell to the ground, and at 3:41 a.m., the men fled.

         A neighbor who heard the gunshots and Hunnewell's screams called the police. Officer Jonathan Brayboy received the call from dispatch at 3:44 a.m., and arrived promptly to find Hunnewell lying on the floor. It was later determined she had died almost instantly from a .40 caliber gunshot wound to her chest and neck. Police officers discovered six bullet casings at the scene-four .45 caliber GAP casings and two Smith & Wesson .40 caliber casings. Police swabbed for DNA, canvassed the neighborhood for information related to the crime, and released portions of the surveillance video to the media.

         Tips began to trickle in. Mary Brown, a resident of the neighborhood where Barnes and Young lived, called the police tip line after seeing the surveillance video on the news. Brown testified that on the afternoon before the shooting, she was at a cookout also attended by two young men: one was wearing a gray-hooded jacket or hoodie, the other a red one. At the time, she did not know who the men were but later identified them to police.[1]

         Donald Moore, who knew Young "from the street" and described Barnes and Troy Stevenson, Barnes' brother, as his friends, approached the police on July 2nd. In his statement, Moore informed the police that a few days before the shooting, he was present when Troy and Young were discussing a plan to rob the Ale House. He stated Young had acquired a Glock 40 and was showing it on the street. Moore stated Young wore the red-hooded sweatshirt seen on the video, and Troy often wore the gray one. Finally, Moore stated that after viewing the surveillance video, he believed Troy and Young were the shooters. At trial, Moore recanted his entire statement, testifying he had lied to police.

         On July 5th, Investigators executed a search warrant at Young's house and recovered five gloves from Young's closet that later tested positive for gunshot residue, two unfired .45 caliber GAP rounds of ammunition, an empty Glock magazine, and a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson unfired round. Police searched Barnes' home pursuant to warrant the same day, recovering a "soaking wet" dark hoodie. Barnes, who was sixteen at the time, was arrested at his home, which was within walking distance of the scene. Young was arrested later that evening, found hiding in an upstairs closet of his cousin's home.

         Latoya Barnes, Barnes' mother, testified she was home the night of the shooting and her two sons, Barnes and Troy, were there as well. According to Latoya, around 11:00 p.m. or midnight, Barnes and Young left the house together, while Troy had departed earlier with another group of friends. Latoya testified Young was wearing a red sweatshirt, Troy was wearing a dark sweatshirt, and Barnes was wearing a gray one. Troy eventually returned home with his friends, but Barnes and Young had still not returned at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. Around that time, Latoya stated Young called and asked to speak with one of Troy's friends who was present at Latoya's home; she gave the friend the phone. Later, Latoya received another call from Young, asking for that same friend. Latoya testified she asked Young, "Where is [Barnes]?" Young replied Barnes was with him "right down the street." Latoya asked Young to tell Barnes to come home. When Barnes did not immediately return home, Latoya told Troy to go "get your brother." Troy then left the house and Latoya went to bed. Latoya testified that when she awoke at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, Barnes, Young, and Troy were all at her home. Shortly thereafter, someone came by and picked Young up.

         At trial, the State questioned Latoya about a statement she gave to police after her sons were arrested, identifying Barnes as the person in the video wearing the gray hoodie. Latoya denied identifying Barnes. Later in the trial, the State played a portion of Latoya's recorded statement to police in which she identified Barnes as the person in the video, stating, "Yeah, I mean it was [Barnes] with the gray on. Like I said, I know my kids' build. I know them from their fingers to their toes. I know my kids."

         Additionally, Latoya testified she received a letter from Barnes dated March 31, 2014, while he was in the detention center. Over Young's objection that it was inadmissible hearsay and violated Bruton v. United States, [2] the letter was entered into evidence. In the letter, Barnes admitted his role in the shooting and implicated Young. A handwriting expert testified the letter was written by Barnes. After an overnight recess, the trial court instructed the jury the letter could not be used as evidence against Young. Young objected to the instruction and moved for a mistrial.

         Young's girlfriend, Rolanda Coleman, testified that at the time of the shooting, she and Young were living together with their infant daughter. Speaking with police a week after the shooting, Coleman stated Young had acquired a gun a month or two before the incident. Coleman testified that on the night of the shooting, she was at her home and Young was at Latoya's home. According to her statement, Coleman received a call from Young the next morning asking for a ride home. Young's mother picked him up from Barnes' home, and when he returned, Young had a gun that he wrapped in a shirt and placed in the baby's crib.[3] Young described the gun to Coleman as a "45." Coleman and Young then went to work; when they returned home, the gun was gone. After Young and his mother saw the surveillance video of the shooting on the news, Coleman overheard Young's mother tell him to get rid of the gun. Coleman also testified Barnes often wore a gray-hooded sweatshirt, and she had previously seen Barnes with a gun. Upon seeing the video of the shooting, Coleman identified Barnes as the person wearing the gray sweatshirt. She testified she could not identify the person in the red sweatshirt. Coleman admitted that at the time of trial, she had pending charges for burglary in the first degree but claimed the State had made no promises to her in exchange for her testimony.[4]

         Evidence from Young's cell phone was also admitted. The call log corroborated Latoya's and Coleman's testimony regarding calls made by Young on the evening and morning of the shooting. The phone also contained several cached photographs from internet searches beginning the day of the shooting, including portions of the video and still pictures of the man in the red sweatshirt from the police media release. Investigators also discovered a video on the cell phone recorded five days before the shooting. This video, which was published for the jury, depicted Young in a gray sweatshirt displaying a gun-which he called a "Glock 4-5"-for the camera.

         Next, the State presented the testimony of three jailhouse informants. Alfred Dominique Wright testified Young approached him in the jail's law library asking for help with his case. According to Wright, Young told him what happened the night of the shooting, implicating both himself and two brothers nicknamed "Trigg and Trap." Wright testified he later learned Trigg and Trap were Troy and Barnes.

         Michael Peterson testified that while he and Young were housed in the same unit of the detention center, Young approached him to talk about his case. Peterson testified Young described the shooting incident, implicating himself and another person Young called "his little homey." Peterson further testified that later, while in the shower, he overheard a nervous-sounding Young "hollering back and forth" with Troy about evidence collected in the case, explaining that all the police had recovered were shell casings.

         Michael Schaefer testified he knew Young because they were housed in the same dorm in jail. Schaefer testified Young told him about the shooting, implicating himself and "Trap and Trigg." According to Schaefer, on one occasion, Young told him, "I shouldn't have shot that bitch."

         Finally, the State presented testimony from a firearms and tool marks examination expert and a DNA expert. The firearms expert testified GAP .45 bullets, like the ones found at the scene and at Young's house, were typically used by law enforcement rather than civilians and could only be fired by a Glock-manufactured gun. The DNA expert testified she could not exclude either Barnes or Young from a DNA sample recovered from the spoon Hunnewell used to hit her assailants. However, on cross-examination, the expert admitted one-third of the world population could not be excluded as contributors. Neither the guns nor the red and gray hoodies were ever found.

         Neither Barnes nor Young presented evidence, and instead challenged the State's proof. At the close of trial, the trial court charged "hand of one, hand of all" liability in addition to murder, kidnapping, second-degree burglary, and attempted armed robbery. After deliberating around three hours, the jury found Barnes and Young guilty of all counts. Young received consecutive sentences of life without the possibility of parole for murder, twenty years for attempted armed robbery, and fifteen years for burglary. Barnes ...


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