South Carolina Court of Appeals’ Decisions for March 18, 2015

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On Wednesday, March 18th, 2015, the South Carolina Court of Appeals published two decisions: State v. Slocumb and State v. Lynch.

In State v. Slocumb, the Court affirms the trial court’s decision to sentence Conrad Slocumb to an aggregate sentence of one hundred thirty years for offenses he committed when he was a juvenile.

In 1996, Slocumb was convicted of 1st degree burglary 1st degree criminal sexual conduct (“CSC 1st”), kidnapping, escape and robbery. The Honorable James W. Johnson Jr. sentenced him to three terms of life imprisonment without parole (“LWOP”) for 1st degree burglary, CSC 1st, and for the kidnapping that was based on a prior 1993 conviction for CSC 1st. Slocumb was also sentenced to fifteen years and five years for the robbery and escape convictions respectively.

Slocumb appealed his sentencing and simultaneously filed a post-conviction relief (PCR) challenging his 1993 conviction. The Supreme Court granted relief finding that the trial court was without jurisdiction to accept the 1993 plea. That plea was the basis for the life sentences Slocumb received under South Carolina’s recidivist statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 17-25-45.

In March 2000, Judge Johnson resentenced Slocumb to life imprisonment for burglary, thirty years for kidnapping, thirty years for CSC 1st, fifteen years for robbery, and five years for escape. All terms were to be consecutively served. The sentences were vacated by this Court finding that the trial court did not have jurisdiction due to remaining matters pending on appeal. In February 2004, Judge Johnson reestablished Slocumb’s sentences as previously ordered, to be consecutively served.

In January 2011, Slocumb filed a Motion for Resentencing in the South Carolina circuit court requesting to be resentenced in accordance with Graham v. Florida, which held that life without parole is unconstitutional when imposed on juvenile non-homicide offenders. Simultaneously, Slocumb petitioned for a writ of habeaus corpus to the U.S. District Court. Judge Herlong, Senior U.S. District Judge granted the habeaus petition on the issue of “whether he was entitled to have his life sentence for burglary vacated pursuant to Graham“. Judge Herlong ordered Slocumbs to be resentenced by the state court on the burglary sentence and dismissed the remainder of Slocumb’s claims without prejudice.

At his resentencing, Judge Benjamin resentenced Slocumb to fifty years on the burglary conviction, consecutive, and left the remaining sentences intact. Slocumb appealed the decision, arguing that it was the functional equivalent of a life sentence without parole and violated the Eighth Amendment probation against cruel and unusual punishment.

This Court found that Judge Benjamin made no error in refusing to entertain Slocumb’s request to reconsider sentencing on all of his convictions because the district court’s directive included only reconsideration of the sentence for the burglary conviction. Further, Slocumb had a pending independent motion in state court to reconsider all of Slocumb’s convictions remaining. Thus, the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court.

In State v. Lynch, Lynch appealed his conviction of one count of grand larceny and two counts of murder. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for grand larceny and life with the possibility of parole for the murders of Portia Washington and her granddaughter.

The case arises out of the disappearance of Lynch’s girlfriend, Portia Washington and her granddaughter. Both went missing on June 10, 2006 in South Carolina, the same day that Washington’s car went missing from her house. Their bodies have not been recovered. On June, 14, 2006, Lynch was stopped for speeding in Fort Hancock, Texas in Washington’s car. He told the officer he was traveling from Mississippi to Arizona to pick up his wife. Three days later, Lynch was accosted by a customs and border protection agent in Blaine, Washington after he was refused entry into Canada.  A criminal history check revealed that Lynch was listed as a missing person in South Carolina. The West Columbia Police Department (“WCPD”) verified that Lynch was a suspect in a double homicide. Subsequently, Lynch was arrested for grand larceny and transferred into the custody of the West Columbia Police Department.

At the trial, the State provided several witnesses that confirmed Lynch and Portia Washington resided together, that there were problems with the relationship, and that Portia did not allow Lynch to drive her car. As well, an expert in blood stain analysis testified that blood stains found in the apartment they shared was an indicator that something other than a natural incident occurred in the apartment, specifically an act of violence.

As a part of his defense, Lynch presented evidence that the WCPD had several other leads that they delayed in following up on.  Lynch also had an expert in forensic pathology testify that there was no indication of dragging down the hallway of the apartment and no significant volume of blood to soak through the carpet. Following the trial, Lynch was convicted of one count of grand larceny and two counts of murder.

On appeal, Lynch argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict because the State failed to present substantial circumstantial evidence that he killed the victims, that he was present at the scene of the crime, and that he stole Portia’s car.

The Court found that the trial court did not err in denying the motion for a directed verdict because viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, there was substantial circumstantial evidence of Lynch’s guilt.

The Court also rejected Lynch’s argument that the trial court erred in not giving a jury instruction regarding how to use and evaluate circumstantial evidence. The Court reasoned that Lynch’s argument was without merit because his requested circumstantial charge was based on the “reasonable hypothesis” language from State v. Edwards, which the Supreme Court deemed unnecessary in State v. Logan.

Finally, Lynch argued that the trial court erred in not suppressing evidence seized in connection with his arrest because his arrest warrant for grand larceny was not supported by probable cause. The Court reviewed the two instances Lynch’s belongings were searched at the border and following his arrest. The Court found that the trial court did not err in refusing to suppress the items seized at the border patrol. The Court reasoned that because Lynch conceded to the initial search of his bags by border patrol, therefore the search was lawful.  For the search pursuant to the arrest, Lynch argued that omissions made by detectives in the processing of obtaining the warrant rendered the warrant defective. The Court found that Lynch failed to show a violation under Franks. The Court reasoned that based upon the information that the WCPD detectives had at the time, the information presented to the magistrate was sufficient to establish probable cause.

Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

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