April 20, 2016
From Saluda County Thomas A. Russo, Circuit Court Judge
Appellate Case No. 2014-000274
Appellate Defender Susan Barber Hackett, of Columbia, for
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Deputy Attorney General
Donald J. Zelenka, Assistant Attorney General J. Anthony
Mabry, of Columbia; and Solicitor Samuel R. Hubbard, III, of
Lexington, for Respondent.
Otts appeals his conviction for the murder of Hydrick Burno,
arguing the circuit court erred in (1) denying his motion for
a directed verdict; (2) failing to tailor a self-defense
instruction to the evidence presented; (3) instructing the
jury on the law of defense of others with no accompanying
explanation of the necessary elements or the burden of proof;
and (4) declining to provide the jury with specific and
clarifying language regarding involuntary manslaughter. We
reverse and remand for a new trial.
and Procedural History
January 27, 2011, Steven Otts, Saca Jawea Coleman, Lakeisha
Stallworth, and Antonio Valentine were out for the evening in
the town of Ridge Springs in Saluda County. The group took
Valentine's Ford Explorer to Orchard Park Apartments
(Orchard Park), where Otts lived with Hydrick Burno's
(Victim's) aunt and uncle. Valentine drove, Stallworth
sat in the front passenger seat, and Coleman and Otts sat in
the group arrived at Orchard Park, Otts and Coleman
(Otts's girlfriend), were arguing because Otts wanted
Coleman to go home with him, but she wanted to continue
partying with Stallworth and Valentine. Stallworth testified
Otts was "kind of aggressive" with Coleman and was
"pulling" on Coleman to get her out of the
Explorer. According to Stallworth, Otts pulled Coleman's
coat over her head, leaving her in only a bra because she was
not wearing a shirt under her coat.
testified that when the group arrived at Orchard Park, Otts
wanted her to get out of the Explorer, but she was not ready
to go because she had not "finished partying yet."
She admitted the two argued but denied that Otts assaulted
her in any way. Otts denied hitting Coleman but admitted the
two argued. When Otts grabbed Coleman's arm to escort her
from the vehicle, she refused to exit.
and Coleman continued to argue, several Orchard Park
residents heard the commotion. Angela Creech, who walked
outside to her apartment balcony to see what was happening,
testified she could see Otts and Coleman "arguing and
tussling inside the vehicle." Creech said she could hear
"licks" inside the Explorer; Otts was pulling on
Coleman in an effort to get her out of the vehicle, and the
two were "tussling and fighting." Victim, the
couple's mutual friend,  then intervened in an attempt to
break up the scuffle.
did not remember Victim striking Otts and explained he
"wasn't that type of guy." However, Creech
testified Victim put his hand around Otts once and held him
in a "bear hug." Creech further testified Otts said
to Victim, "Motherf****r, when you let me go, I'm
going to knock your punk ass out." Coleman testified
Victim "kept grabbing" Otts. She heard Otts tell
Victim that if he did not let him go, he was going to hit
Victim. However, Coleman did not see Otts strike Victim.
testified that Victim grabbed him in a "bear hug"
and carried him away from the Explorer. Otts admitted telling
Victim he was going to hit him if he did not let him go but
denied threatening to "knock [his] punk ass out."
When Otts escaped Victim's bear hug and attempted to walk
back to the vehicle, Victim grabbed Otts again, ripping his
coat. Otts then turned and struck Victim once on the left
side of his head. Otts explained that he was "basically
trying to get out of the situation" and "never
meant to hurt [Victim]." When Otts threw the punch,
Victim was knocked unconscious and fell to the ground,
striking the back of his head on the pavement. Creech stated
Victim had a seizure after falling to the ground. Stallworth
testified she put her hands under Victim's head to try to
stop him from seizing. Otts instructed Victim to "get
up" and "stop playing." When Creech announced
she was going to call the police, Otts, Coleman, Stallworth,
and Valentine left Orchard Park.
was awake and sitting on a curb when law enforcement and
emergency medical services (EMS) arrived. He smelled of
alcohol, was swaying, and was "a little confused."
Initially, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) were unsure
if the swaying and confusion were the result of Victim's
head injury or intoxication.However, during the transport to
Lexington Regional Medical Center (LRMC), Victim's
behavior changed-he became combative and uncooperative. He
also showed more persistent signs of confusion, leading the
EMTs to believe Victim had suffered a more serious head
injury than they first recognized.
time Victim arrived at LRMC-about fifty minutes after EMS
arrived at Orchard Park-he was unresponsive. Victim died
shortly after his admission to the hospital.
to the pathologist, Victim died from brain herniation due to
cerebral edema, which was caused by blunt-force trauma to the
left side of his head. The pathologist testified Victim's
death was the result of the blow to the left side of his head
and not the injury he suffered when he fell and hit the
ground. The pathologist further testified Victim
suffered only two blows to the head-one on the left side of
his head from the punch and the other on the back of his head
from hitting the ground.
remained in hiding until January 31, 2011, when he turned
himself in to police. On May 4, 2011, he was indicted for
murder. After a four-day trial, the jury considered the
murder charge, along with the lesser-included offenses of
voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The jury convicted
Otts of murder.