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State v. Hawes

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

March 14, 2018

The State, Respondent,
Hank Eric Hawes, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2014-002288

          Heard April 11, 2017

         Appeal From Richland County DeAndrea G. Benjamin, Circuit Court Judge J. C. Nicholson, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

          Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek; and Allen Mattison Bogan and Nicholas Andrew Charles, both of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP; all of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody Jane Brown; and Solicitor Daniel Edward Johnson, all of Columbia, for Respondent.

          MCDONALD, J.

         Hank Eric Hawes appeals his murder conviction, arguing the circuit court erred in (1) admitting unnecessary and prejudicial photographic evidence, (2) allowing the State to recall Hawes to ask a single question intended to elicit testimony that would permit the State to call impeachment witnesses, (3) admitting testimony regarding a prior argument between Hawes and Jennifer Wilson (Victim), and (4) refusing to disqualify the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office from prosecuting the case. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Hawes and Victim met online in February 2011 and began dating shortly thereafter, though neither behaved as though the relationship was exclusive. In June 2011, Hawes moved from Simpsonville to Columbia to be closer to Victim, who was a professor at the University of South Carolina (USC).

         On August 27, 2011, Victim texted Hawes and offered to bring him breakfast on her way to yoga. Following her yoga class, Victim invited Hawes to her home for lunch. Hawes accepted and the two spent the afternoon together. Around 5:30 p.m., they departed for their respective evening plans.

         Hawes went to dinner with a friend at Cantina 76 on Devine Street. He believed Victim planned to attend a coworker's birthday party and then join him around 8:00 p.m. Over the course of the evening, however, Victim's itinerary kept "getting later and later." Hawes left Cantina 76 at approximately 10:30 p.m.

         Meanwhile, Victim and a former boyfriend (Friend) attended a surprise birthday party at Cowboy Steakhouse on Main Street. Shortly after 10:00 p.m., Victim and Friend traveled from the restaurant to another friend's house where the birthday celebration continued. They stopped at Friend's house around 12:30 a.m.; Victim then attended a party at a fellow USC professor's house, where she stayed until approximately 1:30 a.m.

         Hawes last texted and called Victim shortly after 2:00 a.m. on the morning of August 28, and then drove to her duplex. According to Hawes, he told Victim he wanted to end their relationship and an argument ensued. Ultimately, Hawes stabbed Victim twelve times, [1] unclothed her, washed her body, and placed her on a couch in the living room area.[2] Hawes then cut his own wrists and collected his blood in a cooler bag.

         Victim's next-door neighbor at the duplex, Kelly Smith, was awakened at 2:29 a.m. by sounds of "screaming and physical violence" and called 911. Two officers from the City of Columbia Police Department (CPD) arrived at the duplex at 2:47 a.m., but did not enter because they did not observe any lights, sounds of distress, or signs of a struggle.

         Over the next few hours, Hawes remained in Victim's home and placed several calls to two former girlfriends (Female 1 and Female 2, respectively). He also searched the internet for "criminal attorney[s] in Columbia, South Carolina." At 5:22 a.m., Hawes sent Female 1 an email with the subject line "Last Will, " in which he purported to leave her all of his assets. Around 9:00 a.m., Hawes called a local attorney and authorized him to report Victim's death. Thereafter, Hawes called Female 2 and confided he might be charged with murder and needed $25, 000 for legal representation. He also claimed he had attempted suicide. Female 2 told Hawes she did not have $25, 000 and encouraged him to seek medical attention. EMS subsequently transported Hawes to Baptist Hospital.

         CPD responded to Victim's home at approximately 11:30 a.m., where officers found her body on the living room couch.[3] Although they found blood at the rear entry to the duplex and in the kitchen, there was very little blood on Victim or the comforter covering her. Later that day, CPD officers arrested Hawes at Baptist Hospital and charged him with murder. On October 5, 2011, the Richland County Grand Jury indicted Hawes for murder.

         On December 12, 2012, Hawes moved to disqualify the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office from prosecuting the case because an assistant solicitor and her husband were fact witnesses. Following a hearing, the circuit court denied the motion. The case went to trial on October 6, 2014. The circuit court denied Hawes's motions for directed verdict and instructed the jury on the elements of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and self-defense. On October 16, 2014, after two days of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict finding Hawes guilty of murder. The circuit court sentenced Hawes to life in prison.

         Standard of Review

         "In criminal cases, the appellate court sits to review errors of law only." State v. Wilson, 345 S.C. 1, 5, 545 S.E.2d 827, 829 (2001). This court is "bound by the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous." Id. at 6, 545 S.E.2d at 829. As to evidentiary issues, "we are limited to determining whether the trial judge abused his discretion." Id. "An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is based on an error of law or, when grounded in factual conclusions, is without evidentiary support." State v. Black, 400 S.C. 10, 16, 732 S.E.2d 880, 884 (2012) (quoting State v. Jennings, 394 S.C. 473, 477-78, 716 S.E.2d 91, 93 (2011)). "To warrant reversal, an error must result in prejudice to the appealing party." Id. at 16-17, 732 S.E.2d at 884.

         Law and Analysis

         I. Photographs

         Hawes argues the circuit court erred in allowing the State to use "unnecessary and prejudicial photographic evidence" during closing argument to arouse the passions and prejudices of the jury. He asserts the crime scene photographs of Victim's unclothed body were unfairly prejudicial because the State juxtaposed them with an irrelevant smiling photograph of the Victim. Hawes contends the erroneous admission of State's Exhibits 46 (right neck and breast wounds), 202 (close-up of neck wound), and 322 (birthday party photograph) suggested an improper, emotional basis for the jury to consider, resulting in his conviction.

         Hawes objected under Rule 401, SCRE, to the introduction of two photographs of Victim and other guests at the birthday party Victim attended on the night she was murdered. The circuit court overruled the objection and admitted the photographs as State's Exhibits 322 and 325. Hawes later lodged a Rule 403, SCRE, objection to all of the crime scene photographs. The circuit court excluded several of the photographs and marked them as "Court's Exhibit 3" to ensure they would not be submitted to the jury in error. Thereafter, Hawes again objected to the introduction of the following photographs from the crime scene: State's Exhibits 31 (the body on the couch), 33 (the body on the couch and cooler on the floor), 38 (a bite mark), 41 (neck and breast wounds), 42 (breast wound), 45 (left neck wound), 46 (right neck wound), 54 (left leg bruise), 60 (close-up of a back wound), and 62 (three back wounds). Hawes argued the crime scene photographs were "gruesome" and would serve only to "elicit an emotional response from the jury" because he did not contest how the body was found.

         Citing State v. Collins, 409 S.C. 524, 763 S.E.2d 22 (2014), and State v. Gray, 408 S.C. 601, 759 S.E.2d 160 (Ct. App. 2014), the State argued the crime scene photographs were "necessary to substantiate material facts" regarding the "nature of the crime" and to show evidence of malice. Hawes responded that Collins and Gray were distinguishable because those cases addressed only autopsy-related photographs, which were necessary to corroborate testimony and rebut opposing testimony, whereas here, the crime scene photographs were unnecessary for corroboration. The circuit court ruled the probative value of the crime scene photographs outweighed their prejudicial effect because they depicted the scene and location of the body. Further, the wound photographs were relevant to the issue of malice.

         Hawes subsequently objected to the introduction of State's Exhibit 398 (the crime scene video), which was filmed by CPD crime scene investigator (CSI) George Wise. Specifically, Hawes objected to the portion of the video showing Victim's body, just as he had previously objected to the admission of similar photographs. Lastly, Hawes objected to the introduction of the autopsy photographs. The circuit court overruled these objections and allowed the introduction of the crime scene video and eighteen photographs from Victim's autopsy.

         Initially, we find Hawes's abandoned his argument regarding State's Exhibit 398 (the crime scene video) and the autopsy photographs. Hawes briefly argued in his opening appellate brief that all of the crime scene photographs, the crime scene video, and the autopsy photographs should have been excluded because they were unfairly prejudicial. In his reply brief, Hawes argues his appellate brief clearly indicates his appeal includes "all the still photographs from the scene admitted over trial counsel's objection" and "the still photographs from the autopsy." He contends the "outline headings" and "argument text" in his opening brief establish that his appeal includes State's Exhibit 398. However, the "outline heading" simply states, "[t]he [circuit] [c]ourt wrongly allowed the introduction of unnecessary, gruesome photographs and video." And the argument text mentions only that the circuit court admitted the crime scene video over Hawes's objection. See Englert, Inc. v. Netherlands Ins. Co., 315 S.C. 300, 304 n.2, 433 S.E.2d 871, 873 n.2 (Ct. App. 1993) (noting a one sentence argument is too conclusory to present any issue on appeal). Hawes failed to include the challenged exhibits in his designation of matter to be included in the record on appeal, and neither the crime scene video nor the autopsy photographs appear in the record. See Rule 209 (b), SCACR ("The Designation must clearly identify what the party desires to have included in the Record on Appeal . . . ."); Rule 210(h), SCACR ("[T]he appellate court will not consider any fact that does not appear in the Record on Appeal."); Helms Realty, Inc. v. Gibson-Wall Co., 363 S.C. 334, 339, 611 S.E.2d 485, 488 (2005) (explaining the appellant has the burden of providing a sufficient record).

         After careful review, we find Hawes abandoned some-but certainly not all-of his arguments regarding the photographic evidence introduced at trial. Although his arguments focus on State's Exhibits 46 (right neck wound), 202 (close-up of neck wound), and 322 (birthday party photograph), we find Hawes also preserved his arguments addressing State's Exhibits 31 (the body on the couch), 33 (the body on the couch and cooler on the floor), 38 (a bite mark), 41 (neck and ...

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