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Criminal Practice – Murder – Late Discovery – Lack of Prejudice – Closing Argument – ‘Evil’

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//March 10, 2022

Criminal Practice – Murder – Late Discovery – Lack of Prejudice – Closing Argument – ‘Evil’

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//March 10, 2022

The state waited months – until shortly defendant’s murder trial – to reveal potentially exculpatory statements that had been made by “Munchkin” Washington. However, just before defendant’s trial, Washington changed his story, said he had hired defendant to murder the victim, and was made a co-defendant with respect to the victim’s murder. Defendant was not prejudiced by the state’s late disclosure of Washington’s earlier statements because defendant had approximately a month prior to trial to investigate Washington’s statement that others wanted to kill the victim.

We affirm defendant’s murder conviction.

Any prejudice to defendant was occasioned by Washington in changing his story, implicating himself, and directly naming defendant as the victim’s killer. The state was not responsible for Washington’s deception or for the fact that Washington’s attorney would not permit him to speak again on the matter once he was charged with the victim’s murder. In fact, Washington’s unavailability to testify likely inured to defendant’s benefit.

Moreover, any late disclosure related to Washington did not hamper defendant’s ability to present a third-party guilt defense to the jury—15-year-old Alex Wallace confessed to the victim’s murder from the witness stand. The jury simply did not believe the teenager’s “confession” or his claim that nobody forced him to take the charge for defendant. As defendant cannot demonstrate he was prejudiced by the late discovery, we find the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion for a continuance.

Other Issues

The state used the term “evil” several times in its closing argument, painting defendant as a person with a propensity to kill—someone the jury should be afraid to have living in their community. Nevertheless, the state’s characterizing of defendant as “evil” did not prejudice him, nor did the solicitor’s comments so infect the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.

The record supports the state’s theory that defendant executed the victim because Washington directed him to kill her in retaliation for her agreement to cooperate against Washington in her work as a confidential informant for Richland County. Because malice is a statutory element the state must prove to sustain a murder conviction, the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the prosecutor to argue “what he thinks he’s proved”, i.e., the element of malice.

Defendant was in custody in New York and had not yet been Mirandized when he made the statements, “How do you charge me with murder? You found a gun with my fingerprints on it?”

However, the officer to whom defendant made those statements over the telephone was merely trying to work out the logistics of coming to New York to question defendant and transport him back to Lexington County. The officer’s inquiry was unlikely to evoke an incriminating response – he merely told defendant he would not discuss evidence over the phone. As defendant was not subjected to the functional equivalent of questioning, we find no error in the circuit court’s admission of defendant’s voluntary, non-responsive statements.


State v. Hart (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-012-22, 15 pp.) (Stephanie McDonald, J.) Appealed from Lexington County Circuit Court (Eugene Griffith, J.) Joanna Katherine Delany for appellant; Alan McCrory Wilson, Donald Zelenka, Melody Jane Brown and Caroline Scrantom for respondent. S.C. App.

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