The State conclusively proved petitioner’s guilt of crimes arising from armed robbery, beating, and murder.
We affirm the trial court’s refusal to remove Heyward’s leg shackles during the striking of the jury, and four evidentiary issues.
Petitioner James Heyward was convicted of multiple crimes arising from the armed robbery, brutal beating, and murder of Alice Tollison during the burglary of her home. We granted Heyward’s petition for a writ of certiorari to address the trial court’s refusal to remove Heyward’s leg shackles during the striking of the jury, and four evidentiary issues. As to three of the evidentiary issues — the authentication of a fingerprint card, the admission of gruesome autopsy photographs, and the State’s use of Heyward’s alias — we find the trial court acted within its discretion. As to the other evidentiary issue — a firearms expert’s testimony Heyward’s pistol was operational at the time of the crimes — we affirm the court of appeals’ ruling that if there was any error in the admission of that testimony it did not prejudice Heyward. As to the leg shackles, we find the trial court erred in failing to exercise its discretion in determining whether Heyward should be required to wear leg shackles in the presence of the jury. However, because the State conclusively proved Heyward’s guilt through overwhelming evidence such that no rational conclusion could have been reached other than Heyward is guilty of these crimes, we nevertheless affirm.
Regarding the leg shackles issue, the trial court made no effort to assess whether the shackles were necessary, nor to ensure the jury could not see them. The trial court’s failure in this case to even consider Heyward’s request to remove the shackles because they were visible to the jury pool was an abuse of discretion. However, while visible shackles on a defendant are inherently prejudicial, the State conclusively proved Heyward’s guilt with other overwhelming evidence such that no other rational conclusion could be reached except that he is guilty of each crime. Considering this overwhelming evidence of Heyward’s guilt, we find the trial court’s error in shackling him in the presence of the jury was harmless error beyond any reasonable doubt.
Regarding the firearms expert testimony issue, we agree with the trial court that an investigator’s testimony was relevant in Heyward’s trial. While we accept the State’s concession that the evidence was not relevant to the two crimes it argued, the admission of the investigator’s testimony, if error, did not prejudice Heyward.
Regarding the fingerprint card authentication issue, the trial court acted within its discretion to admit a New Jersey fingerprint card as properly authenticated. The State authenticated the New Jersey fingerprint card as illustrated in Rule 901(b)(3), SCRE, when an investigator testified she compared the New Jersey card to the booking prints and both sets of prints were made by the same person.
Regarding the autopsy photos issue, it made perfect sense for the trial court to find “high” probative value in the extent to which the photos corroborate a pathologist’s testimony. It is important here that the victim’s granddaughter, the only eyewitness to the crimes, did not testify Heyward beat the victim in the head. Therefore, the only evidence the victim suffered “multiple blunt force injuries” to her head was the pathologist’s testimony from her observations after reflecting the victim’s scalp and the autopsy photographs corroborating the pathologist’s testimony. Further, while the head injuries were not the direct cause of the victim’s death, these injuries independently support Heyward’s conviction for assault and battery in the first degree.
Affirmed as modified.
State v. James Heyward (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-057-23, 20 pp.) (John C. Few, J.) Appealed from Richland County Circuit Court (R. Knox McMahon, J.) Madison Claire Healy, of K&L Gates LLP, of Raleigh; Tara C. Sullivan and Jennifer Hess Thiem, of K&L Gates LLP, of Charleston; Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, all for petitioner; Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson, Assistant Attorney General William Joseph Maye, Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka, Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Melody Jane Brown, Solicitor Byron E. Gipson, of Columbia, all for respondent. South Carolina Supreme Court