October 14, 2019
From Lexington County Eugene C. Griffith, Jr., Circuit Court
Appellate Defender Susan Barber Hackett, of Columbia, for
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Chief Deputy Attorney
General W. Jeffrey Young, Deputy Attorney General Donald J.
Zelenka, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody Jane
Brown, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General William M.
Blitch, Jr., and Assistant Attorney General Samuel Marion
Bailey, all of Columbia; and Solicitor Samuel R. Hubbard,
III, of Lexington, for Respondent.
Gregory Lamont Brooks seeks reversal of his convictions for
murder and possession of a weapon during the commission of a
violent crime. Appellant argues the circuit court erred by
instructing the jury that malice may be inferred from the use
of a deadly weapon because there was evidence that could have
reduced the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter and,
therefore, the instruction was confusing and prejudicial.
Appellant also argues the circuit court erred by excluding
from evidence two photographs found on the cell phone of a
bar patron present at the shooting and in communication with
a suspect because the photographs, which depicted a gun, were
relevant to Appellant's defense of third party guilt. We
early morning hours of February 2, 2014, Fred Moss, Brandon
Ratliff, and Andre Bunch visited the Cockpit Bar and Grill on
Berryhill Road in Columbia. Andre drove separately and met
Fred and Brandon at the bar. Andre had to park his car in the
road because all of the spaces in the parking lot were taken.
The three friends separated after they arrived, and Fred
began a conversation with a female sitting at the bar.
three minutes later, Fred noticed several people on the dance
floor looking at him. A man wearing a skull cap was held back
by others as he tried to approach Fred. Fred had the
impression that he must have been speaking with
"somebody['s] girl." Then a young man with
dreadlocks extending past his shoulders approached Fred,
"said something slick," and asked "What's
up?" Fred responded, "What's up?," and
"things started escalating." Andre observed Fred
and several other people "fussing back and forth."
Andre was concerned, so he briefly talked with Fred and,
separately, with Brandon, then went to close out his tab. As
Andre was paying his tab, he noticed a bouncer escorting Fred
and Brandon out of the bar. Andre walked outside
approximately five minutes later.
group of people arguing with Fred followed him and Brandon
into the parking lot. Brandon went to the driver's side of
Fred's car, and Fred went to the passenger's side and
tried to open the door, but it was locked. Fred then noticed
the hostile group behind him. Fred adjusted his belt in an
attempt to convey the impression he was armed and to
"scare them away," but he later testified that the
hostile group did not see that. Fred testified the man with
the long dreadlocks and Appellant, who had shorter,
shoulder-length dreadlocks, were displaying their guns,
pacing back and forth, and stating, "What's up
now?" As soon as Fred saw that they were armed, Fred
raised his hands to show he was unarmed. Nevertheless,
Appellant unleashed a hail of gunfire toward Brandon and then
Fred as Appellant paced back and forth. Appellant then
started shooting at Fred's car as he paced backwards,
approaching Rickena Knightner's parked car. Rickena, who
had previously met Appellant and knew him by the nickname
"Dink," testified that as he was approaching her
car, she saw he had a gun and said, "[N]o, Dink, No,
Dink." Appellant responded, "Get down" while
gesturing with his arm for her to stay out of the way. After
Appellant stopped firing his gun, he immediately ran to, and
entered, a car that had pulled up behind Rickena's car
and fled the scene.
began looking for Brandon and discovered him lying in the
middle of the road with blood on his chest. Andre, who had
been walking to his car when he heard the gunshots, realized
Fred and Brandon might be in trouble, so he jumped in his car
and raced to Brandon's location. Andre placed Brandon in
the back seat of his car with Fred and rushed to Lexington
Medical Center. Tragically, Brandon bled out on the way to
the hospital due to a bullet lacerating his heart.
was indicted for murder and possession of a weapon during the
commission of a violent crime. After the jury found Appellant
guilty on both charges, the circuit court sentenced Appellant
to thirty-five years' imprisonment for murder and five
years' imprisonment for weapon possession, to be served
concurrently. This appeal followed.
the circuit court err by charging the jury that malice may be
inferred from the use of a deadly weapon?
the implied malice jury charge harmless beyond a reasonable
the circuit court abuse its discretion by excluding the two
gun photographs from evidence?
appellate court will not reverse a trial court's decision
regarding a jury instruction unless there is an abuse of
discretion. State v. Cottrell, 421 S.C. 622, 643,
809 S.E.2d 423, 435 (2017). Likewise, "[t]he admission
of evidence is within the circuit court's discretion and
will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of that
discretion." State v. Dickerson, 395 S.C. 101,
116, 716 S.E.2d 895, 903 (2011). "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. Pittman, 373
S.C. 527, 570, 647 S.E.2d 144, 166-67 (2007).