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State v. Hill

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

November 28, 2018

The State, Respondent,
Marshell Hill, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2016-000868

          Heard September 19, 2018

          Appeal From Greenville County Perry H. Gravely, Circuit Court Judge

          Appellate Defender Kathrine Haggard Hudgins, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Spencer, both of Columbia; and Solicitor William Walter Wilkins, III, of Greenville, all for Respondent.

          HILL, J.

         Marshell Hill appeals his voluntary manslaughter conviction, contending the trial court erred by admitting several statements the State obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), into evidence. We reverse and remand.


         Around midday on August 14, 2013, Greenville County Sheriff's officers responded to a 911 call by Michael Barksdale from his home in the Judson Mill community. The first responding officer found Billy Patterson deceased outside the home. The officers interviewed Barksdale and spoke with his roommate, Hill, but deemed Hill too intoxicated to be questioned. Officers observed that Hill, who is disabled due to a hip injury, relied on a cane to walk. Hill repeatedly volunteered that Patterson had ripped off the screen door of the home. The officers photographed the scene and retrieved several samples of blood evidence from the patio, screen door, and other areas. After the officers determined Hill had an outstanding bench warrant for failure to appear, he was arrested and transported to the Law Enforcement Center (LEC).

         The next morning, Lead Investigator Fortner, along with Investigator Bailey, attended Patterson's autopsy and learned the cause of death was blunt force trauma caused by repeated blows from a cylindrical object such as a broom handle or cane. The Investigators went to sign Hill out of detention to question him, only to discover he had been released earlier that morning. They then obtained a search warrant for Barksdale's house and drove there to execute it. Hill was there when they arrived, having walked home from the LEC. Hill testified he had consumed "over a pint" since returning home. During the search, the Investigators seized a wooden cane from Hill's bedroom. They then asked Hill to accompany them to the LEC so they could speak with him, promising to drive him back home later. Hill agreed.

         The record is murky, but it appears the group arrived at the LEC around 3:00 p.m. The Investigators escorted Hill to a common work area for the homicide division, furnished with six desks and numerous chairs. No other people were present. Hill had not been handcuffed or advised he was in (or not in) custody. Rather than recording the interview, the Investigators typed a summary of Hill's statement on a "victim/witness" form, which reflected a time of 3:27 p.m. Hill explained in the statement that Patterson, a friend, came to Hill's house around 6 p.m, and they began drinking and watching television. Patterson later became unable to move, so Hill told him to lie on the floor. A few hours later, around 11 p.m., Barksdale came in from work and advised Hill to let Patterson "sleep it off." Soon thereafter, Patterson stood up and announced he was leaving but fell while holding the screen door, taking it to the ground with him. Hill and Barksdale managed to get Patterson back inside, where he slept a few more hours before leaving. Later in the night, Hill heard his dog barking, went outside, and saw Patterson sitting in the backyard next to the house. Hill came outside again around 9 or 10 a.m. and noticed Patterson now had an injury to his eye and black and blue marks on his back. Hill gave Patterson some water. Around 11 a.m. or noon, Hill found Patterson had no pulse and asked Barksdale to call 911.

         After Hill gave this statement, the Investigators left the room to confer, focusing on how Hill's version conflicted with Barksdale's. Fortner then resumed his questioning of Hill, recalling:

So we went back and talked with Mr. Hill. I brought up the television set. It was pretty obvious that he liked his television. He spoke about it that day while we were there and he had mentioned something about it during the course of our interview. So then I asked him if Mr. Patterson had maybe tried to steal his television while he was there? And I could tell by his actions . . . he actually looked like he was about to cry. And he broke down and said that yes that he did. And then that he had tapped him twice.

         At this point, the Investigators took Hill across the hall to a video interview room. The video, admitted as a State's exhibit, begins at 5:17 p.m. and runs forty-six minutes. The video shows Hill, whose sobriety was questionable, initialed but did not sign a set of warnings printed on a Waiver of Rights form. When asked by the Investigators if he could read the warnings, he explained he did not have his glasses. When Hill remarked the Investigators had "already told him" he could not go home, Bailey responded "we didn't tell you you couldn't go home; we told you we could not make that decision until we find out what you have to tell us." The Investigators advised Hill they could not talk any further with him about what happened unless he signed the form, but the statement they wanted from him was "no more than what you've already said." They assured Hill they would not throw him any "curveballs." When Hill commented that by signing the form he would be "signing his rights away," the Investigators advised he was not signing his rights away, just "waiving" them by "setting them aside," and that "your rights are still there." They told him he was "probably going to jail tonight." Hill commented "my cane must have matched the bruises." Hill then agreed to talk provided it was "off the record," a condition never clarified. Bailey left the room and called an assistant solicitor for an opinion on Hill's refusal to sign the form. Upon his return, he informed Hill the solicitor "said we can talk with you without you signing this," but there is no confirmation Hill understood the significance of the development. At the Investigators' prodding, Hill confessed he hit Patterson numerous times with his cane when he caught Patterson trying to steal his television.

         After a Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964), hearing, the trial court observed the Investigators' questioning of Hill "turned" custodial after they conferred about the inconsistent evidence. The trial court, however, denied Hill's motion to suppress his statements. During Fortner's direct examination, Hill again objected to the admission of his statements made at the LEC. After hearing extensive arguments outside the jury's presence, the trial court concluded it was "a very close call" but again denied Hill's motion to suppress, finding Hill was ...

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