April 17, 2017
From Richland County Robert E. Hood, Circuit Court Judge
Appellate Defender Susan Barber Hackett, of Columbia, for
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,
joint trial, Trenton Barnes and Lorenzo Young were convicted
by a jury of murder, kidnapping, second-degree burglary, and
attempted armed robbery. We set forth the relevant facts in
State v. Young, Op. No. 5501 (S.C. Ct. App. filed
July 19, 2017) (Shearhouse Adv. Sh. No. 27 at 96-101). On
appeal, Barnes argues the trial court erred in (1) denying
his motions for severance; (2) admitting the testimony of two
jailhouse informants as statements against interest under
Rule 804(b)(3), SCRE; and (3) allowing the State to
improperly impeach the testimony of his mother, Latoya
Barnes. We affirm.
first contends the trial court abused its discretion in
denying his motion to sever his trial from Young's.
Denial of a severance motion is an abuse of discretion if
unsupported by the evidence or controlled by an error of law.
State v. Spears, 393 S.C. 466, 475, 713 S.E.2d 324,
328 (Ct. App. 2011).
in a murder case are not automatically entitled to separate
trials. State v. Kelsey, 331 S.C. 50, 73, 502 S.E.2d
63, 75 (1998). They are entitled to a severance "only
when there is a serious risk that a joint trial would
compromise a specific trial right of a codefendant or prevent
the jury from making a reliable judgment about a
codefendant's guilt." State v. Dennis, 337
S.C. 275, 282, 523 S.E.2d 173, 176 (1999). See also
Hughes v. State, 346 S.C. 554, 559, 552 S.E.2d 315, 317
(2001); see also Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S.
534, 540 (1993) ("[I]t is well-settled that defendants
are not entitled to severance merely because they may have a
better chance of acquittal in separate trials."). We
will only reverse the denial of a severance motion when it is
reasonably probable the defendant would have received a more
favorable outcome had he been tried separately.
Hughes, 346 S.C. at 559, 552 S.E.2d at 317.
argues being tried with Young compromised his right to
effectively cross-examine Young's girlfriend, Rolanda
Coleman. Barnes believes Coleman was a key witness whose
credibility was central, as she identified him as the gunman
in the gray sweatshirt on the surveillance video, and also
testified she had seen him with a gun on another occasion.
Barnes claims in a separate trial he would have been able to
elicit that Coleman and Young were codefendants in an
unrelated pending burglary charge. Barnes believes this would
have allowed him to better portray to the jury that
Coleman's testimony lacked credibility because she was
seeking to protect Young, with whom she shares two children.
record reveals the trial court only prohibited Barnes from
telling the jury Young was charged in the pending burglary
case, presumably because to do so would have introduced
improper evidence of Young's character and prior bad
acts, transgressing Rule 404, SCRE. Nothing stopped Barnes
from confronting Coleman about her bias in favor of Young
based on their relationship or her willingness to testify in
hopes of reducing her exposure to substantial prison time on
the burglary charge. In fact, these areas were explored
during her testimony. Being tried with Young did not hamper
Barnes' right to cross-examine Coleman effectively;
consequently, no prejudice accrued to him. Moreover, we do
not believe exclusion of this singular point of impeachment
prevented the jury from making a reliable judgment about
Barnes' guilt. See Dennis, 337 S.C. at 282, 523
S.E.2d at 176. Coleman's testimony was cumulative to
other evidence, including Barnes' letter to his mother
and his mother's identification of him in the video.
also claims the joint trial prevented him from
cross-examining Young about the statements he made to Alfred
D. Wright and Michael Schaefer identifying "Trigg"
and "Trap" as his accomplices. Because Young did
not take the stand, Barnes maintains he could not confront
Young and consequently Bruton v. United States, 391
U.S. 123 (1968), required Barnes be granted a separate trial.
a closer issue. As we noted in Young, the
State's decision to try Barnes and Young together was
fraught with risk. It also placed the trial court in
difficult positions throughout the almost three week trial.
Yet, as we concluded in Young's appeal, the trial was
fundamentally fair and we can confidently say the jury was
not prevented from making a reliable judgment about
Barnes' guilt. As more fully explained in Section II,
infra, the evidence of Barnes' guilt was
overwhelming. The probability Barnes would have fared better
in a separate trial is remote. Accordingly, even if the
denial of severance compromised Barnes' right to confront
Young, the error was harmless. See State v.
McDonald, 412 S.C. 133, 142, 771 S.E.2d 840, 844 (2015)
("In some cases the properly admitted evidence of guilt
is so overwhelming, and the prejudicial effect of the
codefendant's admission is so insignificant by
comparison, that it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that
the improper use of the admission was harmless error."
(quoting Schneble v. Florida, 405 U.S. 427, 430
next argues the trial court erred in admitting the testimony
of Wright and Schaefer under the hearsay exception for
statements against penal interest, Rule 804(b)(3), SCRE. We
criminal cases, an appellate court reviews only errors of
law. State v. Baccus, 367 S.C. 41, 48, 625 S.E.2d
216, 220 (2006). The admission of evidence is within the
discretion of the trial court, and we may only check that
discretion if it is abused. State v. Saltz, 346 S.C.
114, 121, 551 S.E.2d 240, 244 (2001). An abuse of discretion
occurs when the decision of the trial court is controlled by
an error of law or lacks evidentiary support. State v.
Pagan, 369 S.C. 201, 208, 631 S.E.2d 262, 265 (2006).
Barnes' objections, Wright testified in part:
Q: . . . . What did [Young] tell you about ...