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Glen Edward CHAPMAN





Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Rape - Drug-induced rages
Number of victims: 2 ?
Date of murders: July-August 1992
Date of arrest: January 11, 1993
Date of birth: 1967
Victims profile: Betty Jean Ramseur, 31 / Tenene Yvette Conley, 28 (prostitutes)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Hickory, North Carolina, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on November 16, 1994. Exonerated and released on April 2, 2008

photo gallery


128th Inmate Exonerated and Freed From Death Row

April 9, 2008

Glen Edward Chapman, a North Carolina man who was sentenced to death for the 1992 murders of Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley, was released from death row on April 2 after prosecutors dropped all charges against him.

In 2007, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin granted Chapman a new trial, citing withheld evidence, “lost, misplaced or destroyed” documents, the use of weak, circumstantial evidence, false testimony by the lead investigator, and ineffective assistance of defense counsel.

There was also new information from a forensic pathologist that raised doubts as to whether Conley’s death was a homicide or caused by an overdose of drugs.

Chapman’s lawyers, Frank Goldsmith and Jessica Leaven, were pleased with their client’s release. “Edward has always maintained, and we have always believed in, his innocence,” said Goldsmith. “Justice has not been served for the families of Ms. Ramseur and Ms. Conley, and we hope their deaths will be reinvestigated.” The state has also called for a re-opening of the investigation.

Judge Ervin found fault with Chapman’s defense attorneys at the original trial in 1994, one of whom has been disciplined by the North Carolina State Bar. The other defense attorney, Thomas Portwood, admitted drinking 12 shots of alcohol per day during a different death penalty trial. The defendant in that case, Ronald Frye, was executed in 2001.


Innocent Man Released from Death Row

Innocent man put on death row by lying police officer finally set free

April 2, 2008

NEWTON, NC – Today Glen Edward Chapman, who spent 15 years on North Carolina’s death row for crimes he did not commit, is walking out of prison a free man.

Chapman was sentenced to death for the 1992 murders of Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley in Hickory. Last November Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin ordered a new trial for Chapman, citing withheld evidence, “lost, misplaced or destroyed” documents, the use of weak, circumstantial evidence, false testimony by the lead investigator, and ineffective assistance of defense counsel. Ervin also cited evidence that Ms. Conley may not have been murdered, but instead died of a drug overdose.

Catawba County District Attorney James Gaither, Jr. dismissed the charges against Chapman today.

Chapman’s lawyers, Frank Goldsmith and Jessica Leaven, are very pleased with their client’s release for which they fought long and hard. “Edward has always maintained, and we have always believed in, his innocence,” said Goldsmith. “Justice has not been served for the families of Ms. Ramseur and Ms. Conley, and we hope their deaths will be reinvestigated.” Goldsmith added, “We are extremely grateful to Judge Ervin and to Mr. Gaither for doing the right thing.”

Judge Ervin found that each of the lead detectives assigned to the cases by the Hickory Police Department had covered up exculpatory evidence that pointed to Chapman’s innocence and that was inconsistent with the State’s theory of his guilt. In addition, Judge Ervin found that Hickory Police Department Detective Dennis Rhoney had perjured himself at Chapman’s original trial, and that his testimony at the hearings conducted by Judge Ervin was “not credible.”

In his order, Judge Ervin also cited evidence presented by a forensic pathologist, Donald Jason, who found the cause of Conley’s death “undetermined.” Dr. Jason found no life-threatening injuries and suggested a possible cocaine overdose. Judge Ervin wrote that Dr. Jason’s report “strongly indicates that Terene Conley’s death was not a murder. The notion that a defendant can be put to death when no crime in fact occurred is troubling at best.”

Additionally, Judge Ervin found ineffective assistance of counsel by Chapman’s trial attorneys, Robert Adams and Thomas Portwood, for failing to adequately investigate the facts. Adams has been disciplined by the North Carolina State Bar and Portwood died of an alcohol-related illness. Portwood represented Ronnie Frye in his death penalty trial less than a year before Chapman’s trial started. Portwood admitted that he was drinking 12 shots of rum nightly during Frye’s trial. Frye was executed in 2001. Portwood was later removed from another death penalty case and entered alcohol detoxification treatment.


A Chapman timeline

Here are some key dates in the Glen Edward Chapman saga:

April 27, 1992: Chapman takes part in a robbery.

Aug. 15, 1992: 28-year-old Tenene Yvette Conley’s half-naked body is discovered in a closet. Investigators originally think she was killed, but later testimony indicates she may have died of a drug overdose.

Aug. 22, 1992: The naked body of Betty Jean Ramseur, 31, is found in a twice-burned, abandoned house in Hickory. She had died several weeks before.

Dec. 2, 1992: Chapman is convicted of robbery, put on probation.

Jan. 11, 1993: Chapman, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in Ramseur’s death.

Aug. 16, 1993: Chapman is charged with first-degree murder in Conley’s death.

Oct. 31, 1994 Chapman’s joint trial for both cases begins in the Catawba County Superior Court.

Nov. 10, 1994: Chapman is convicted on two counts of first-degree murder.

Nov. 16, 1994: Chapman is sentenced to death.

July 5, 1996: Defense attorneys start appeals process.

April 30, 1997: Robert Adams, one of Chapman’s original attorneys, is censured by the Bar Association for violating professional rules of conduct.

1998: Bar Association orders a psychiatric evaluation and, based on the results, sends Adams to Alcoholics Anonymous.

July 23, 2002: Frank Goldsmith becomes Chapman’s appellate defense attorney. Jessica Leaven joins Goldsmith in December 2002. Mitigation specialist Pam Laughon joins team and starts reinvestigating the case.

Aug. 1, 2003: Judge Robert Ervin makes the complete investigation and case files available to Chapman’s attorneys.

2005 Gwynn Anderson, Chapman’s wife, dies of liver cancer.

Aug. 2, 2006: Defense attorneys file a motion seeking a new trial.

Nov. 6, 2007: Judge Ervin orders a new trial based on evidence uncovered by Laughon and her students.

April 2, 2008: District Attorney James Gaither dismisses charges against Chapman, saying the prosecution’s argument was “factually incomplete,” and there’s not enough evidence to retry the case. Chapman is released from prison the same day.

April 3, 2008: Dennis Rhoney, the chief investigator in Chapman’s case, is suspended; the SBI begins looking into claims he gave false testimony during Chapman’s trial.


Glen Chapman: Convict: Facts Witheld

The Charlotte Observer

January 30, 2004



Author: KERRY HALL, Staff Writer

Prosecutors withheld evidence that might have raised doubts about the guilt of a Hickory man sent to death row for killing two women, according to his appeal.

Glen Edward Chapman was convicted for the 1992 murders after a trial tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, an incompetent defense by two alcohol-abusing lawyers and a juror who slept through essential parts of testimony, the appeal says.

Now, a judge has ordered new DNA tests to see whether they show who may have been at the crime scenes. Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin will also examine the misconduct and incompetence claims in a hearing expected in February or March.

The Chapman case shows why the state needs to halt executions and study the death penalty system, says Ken Rose, who heads the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham . "Although no one sets out to convict aninnocent person, there are mistakes made."

The N.C. Attorney General's Office defends the 1994 conviction as "legal, valid and proper," but declined to discuss the case. In court papers, lawyers argue that Chapman's claims are without merit or should have been raised in earlier appeals.

Since 1977, when North Carolina reinstated the death penalty, more than half of all death sentences were thrown out because of flawed trials, according to an Observer investigation and other studies published in 2000 and 2001. As many as a quarter of those originally sentenced to die wound up with lighter sentences - and two people were freed after new trials.

Chapman's allegations come as N.C. lawmakers consider halting the death penalty to study whether it's administered fairly. The N.C. Senate approved a moratorium last year, the first Southern legislative body to do so. The N.C. House declined to vote but may take up the issue this spring.

Chapman's appeal alleges more than a dozen errors were made by his trial lawyers. The appeal also argues that prosecutors withheld a witness statement showing one victim was alive more than 12 hours after prosecutors say she was with Chapman. At trial, prosecutors argued Chapman was the last person seen with the victim when she was alive.

Last month, Judge Ervin ordered DNA testing of hair, cigarette butts and other evidence to look for a link to others who may have been involved in the murders.

Bodies discovered

In August 1992, the bodies of Betty Jean Ramseur, 31, and Tenene Conley, 28, were discovered within a week of one another, both left in vacant houses a quarter of a mile apart in southeast Hickory.

Chapman, a 25-year-old house painter, was charged with killing Ramseur and Conley, who were prostitutes, according to the defense appeal. Chapman admits he knew them, and that he'd smoked crack with both women. He also testified in court he had sex with Conley before midnight Aug. 13 - more than 1 1/2 days before her body was discovered. But he denies killing either of the women.

No eyewitnesses linked Chapman to the crime. The only physical evidence was his sperm in Conley's body.

Prosecutors argued Chapman killed both women in separate drug-induced rages.

Three witnesses - two of Chapman's cousins and a 14-year-old boy - told jurors Chapman confessed or talked about killing Betty Jean Ramseur. But two of those witnesses have since recanted, saying in court documents they lied because they were afraid of police and prosecutors. The third witness, Nicole Cline, now says in an affidavit she believes Chapman was high on drugs and joking when he told her he'd killed Ramseur.

"If anyone asked me at trial, I would have testified that police pressured me into testifying and that I did not believe Edward killed anyone," Cline says in a recent affidavit.

In Conley's death, prosecutors told the jury Chapman was the last person with whom Conley was seen alive. Witnesses testified they saw the two together between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1992.

But according to the appeal, at least four other people say they saw Conley alive that day, hours after she had been seen with Chapman.

A friend of Conley's told police he saw her at 10 a.m. and at 5 p.m. on Aug. 14. She was alone, standing outside a pool hall, he said. Conley's body was found about 4:45 p.m. Aug. 15.

Rights violated?

But this statement was not provided to Chapman's defense lawyers for trial, the appeal says. Chapman's current attorneys say that violated Chapman's constitutional right requiring prosecutors to turn over information that suggests reasonable doubt about a suspect's guilt.

The N.C. attorney general counters in court filings that prosecutors did not believe they had to share the statement, and even if they had, the statement would not have made a difference in the jury's decision.

Two jurors, however, say in Chapman's appeal such information might have swayed them.

"If I believed that this evidence was true, this would have raised a reasonable doubt in my mind and I would not have been able to convict him in the Conley case," jury foreman Gail Deal said in an affidavit filed with the appeal.

Former Catawba County prosecutor Jason Parker, who handled Chapman's case, declined to discuss the allegations. He left Catawba County last year for a prosecutor's job in Iredell County.

Jury misconduct also tarnished Chapman's trial, his appeal says. Two jurors say in affidavits that during deliberations, jurors discussed and concluded Chapman had likely killed a 13-year-old Shelby girl whose body was found the same summer as Ramseur's and Conley's.

Chapman was never charged in the girl's slaying, nor was that slaying discussed in the trial. The judge had instructed the jury to consider evidence only introduced at trial.

One juror's behavior during the trial is also at issue. Irene Freeman slept through essential testimony until the judge ordered her to wake up, according to the appeal.

Attorneys an issue

Chapman's current attorneys also say the performance of Chapman' s trial lawyers - Robert Adams and Thomas Portwood - prevented him from getting a fair trial.

Among their alleged errors: Failure to interview numerous witnesses, failure to present a witness who gave Chapman an alibi for Ramseur's murder, failure to cross-examine a police detective in the case who was abusing painkillers and stealing prescription drugs during the investigation, according to the appeal.

The lawyers also were "excessive users of alcohol," the appeal says, and the drinking "could not but have had an effect on their abilities."

Portwood, who died in June, admitted in court he drank more than a pint of 80-proof rum nearly every night during Chapman's trial and others. Portwood told the Observer in 2000 that his drinking did not hurt his trial performance.

Adams, Chapman's lead attorney, told the N.C. Bar he drank three scotches a night but said it did not affect his trial performance. A 1998 psychiatrist's evaluation of Adams , ordered! by the N.C. Bar, concluded that Adams "had a drinking problem" and referred him to Alcoholics Anonymous, according to a discipline order from the Bar.

Adams declined to discuss Chapman's trial or his drinking.

It's common for death-row inmates to ask for new trials. Allegations of incompetent defense are raised more often than claims of prosecutorial misconduct, but are harder to prove, experts say.

The U.S. Supreme Court set a tough standard in 1984, saying appeals courts must start with the "strong presumption" a lawyer's performance was reasonable.

Still, judges today are more likely to grant hearings for appeals, says Duke University law professor James Coleman.

A number of well-publicized events in recent years have focused attention on how mistakes and misconduct may have rendered a trial unfair.

In 2002, Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois after 13 death row inmates were exonerated.

In South Carolina , judges ruled a prosecutor's conduct prejudiced the defendant and reversed or remanded the conviction, sentence or indictment in 19 cases, according to a study by The Center for Public Integrity published last year.

And in North Carolina , at least eight people have been taken off death row because of prosecutorial misconduct.


Dead Man Walking

Glen Edward Chapman spent 14 years waiting to be executed for murders he didn’t commit. Then one day in the spring he walked out of prison, a free man. Now comes the hard part—living on the outside

By Jeff Gordinier -

The sergeant says, “Pack up.”

Glen Edward Chapman has no idea what’s going on. It’s a sunny afternoon in April, and he has just come in from playing basketball with some of the other inmates at the maximum-security state penitentiary in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s still drying off from his five-minute shower—if you let the water run too long, they extract 10 bucks from your prison account—and he’s confused. He knows that a judge has ordered a new trial, but nobody’s said anything about when it will be. Pack up?

“I’ve been packed up for a long time,” Chapman says to the sergeant. As one of his small gestures of mental independence, he’s never gotten around to arranging his personal items in a neat space under the bed—that would suggest he plans on sticking around. Instead, he’s kept everything in a bag for close to 14 years while he’s gradually morphed from a wiry and wide-eyed 26-year-old into a stocky, bespectacled 40-year-old. A guard leads him out of Unit III. Chapman expects the two of them to turn right, toward Safekeeping, where prisoners are housed when they’re awaiting trial, but they turn left, toward Shipping. The guard is as nonchalant as a shopkeeper telling a late-night customer that it’s closing time. “See you later,” he says. “You’re going home.”

Chapman figures the dude is joking. When a guy’s been sitting on death row for 14 years, when he has missed his mother’s funeral and his grandmother’s funeral and watching his two sons grow up, letting him go free can’t possibly be as perfunctory as dropping off a package at the post office, can it? Chapman stepped out of that shower 10 minutes ago, and now he’s trading in his red jumpsuit for a white shirt and black trousers, and now, stunned and silent, he’s being placed in a government car and driven by guards to the back exit. And that’s it. One moment Ed Chapman is inside, marked for death by lethal injection. The next, he’s out.

Just beyond the gate, one of his lawyers, Jessica Leaven, is waiting for him. Chapman slides into the passenger seat of her green Volkswagen and stares at the scenery as they roll through the streets of Raleigh. She tells him there’s not even going to be a new trial. After the judge’s order in November, the Catawba County district attorney’s office reviewed the files on Chapman’s 1994 murder convictions, decided there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed, and threw out the case. He first experiences freedom as a physical sensation: A massive weight seems to shear away from him. He lightens. He can breathe better.

Only temporarily, though, because about 45 minutes later there’s a press conference. The TV cameras and microphones make Chapman so nervous that he removes his eyeglasses. Without them, he can’t make out the faces of the reporters, which comes as a comfort. They ask what it’s like to walk out of a time capsule and discover cell phones, the Internet, and energy drinks. They want to know how he feels. But how he feels is a complicated matter.

Moments after the press conference he borrows a phone and calls his sons, Stacey and Correy, who are 17 and 20. He has tried to stay in touch with them through letters—sometimes he’d get the boys’ schoolwork, look it over in his cell, and send it back to them with notes—but he has barely seen their faces since 1994. For a couple of days he can’t reach them on the phone. When he finally does, he has a message for each: “I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to be there all the time. Anything you want to ask me, go ahead and ask. Don’t be afraid. From my experience I hope you will learn what road to take and what not to take.” He’s come out of prison with no clothes, no car, no place of his own, and a sum of money—about $160—that would barely buy dinner and a tank of gas. “I know there are gonna be obstacles in my way,” he says a few weeks after getting out. “I decided a long time ago that I’m gonna make it, hell or high water. If I can’t get an apartment, if I got to sleep up under a bridge, I’m gonna get me a box and put some tin on it and I’m gonna have me a good ol’ nighttime. Bein’ on death row was stressful enough.”

Even though he wound up there because the original defense lawyers and investigators for the prosecution botched nearly every aspect of his case, Chapman insists that he let go of his bitterness a long time ago. His life before he was arrested in 1992 was a directionless blur of drugs and hustling in the seedier precincts of Hickory, North Carolina, and Chapman imagines, paradoxically, that if Catawba County had never sentenced him to death, he might by now be dead. Which leads to another paradox: The way Chapman feels might be considered strange for a man who has been exonerated of murder. He feels guilty.

The past few years have been a challenge for defenders of capital punishment. The advent of DNA testing and the work of organizations like the Innocence Project have revealed that a surprising number of people on death row didn’t commit the murders they’ve been charged with. (DNA evidence has led to 218 exonerations since 1989, according to the Innocence Project; 16 of those inmates had been sentenced to death.) In less than a year in North Carolina alone, Chapman and two other men have been exonerated after findings of prosecutorial misconduct. With each release, the rush of euphoria is followed by the thud of reality: After the latest Lazarus has risen from the dead, how is he supposed to live?

Chapman’s case is remarkable for its sheer messiness. In August 1992, the bodies of two young women turned up in a rough neighborhood of southeast Hickory. One was Betty Jean Ramseur, 31, who was found naked under a burned house. The other was Tenene Conley, 28, who was slumped in a closet in an unoccupied rental.

They were suspected prostitutes, and Chapman knew them—they all floated in and out of Hickory’s close-knit crack-smoking underworld. No eyewitnesses accused Chapman of the crime, yet there was one crucial and indisputable piece of physical evidence: Chapman’s semen. He’d had sex with Conley on either Thursday night or Friday morning, and she was found dead on Saturday.

That fact turned out to be enough to convince a jury that Chapman was a murderer. But other scraps of evidence disintegrated as soon as sharp-eyed defense lawyers put them under a magnifying glass. Unfortunately for Chapman, it took about eight years for those lawyers to show up. His original court-appointed duo, Robert Adams and Tom Portwood, barely bothered to investigate the charges (both were known to be serious drinkers). Chapman had new lawyers for most of his stay in prison, but no progress was made with his appeals. Years passed.

It wasn’t until 2002, after Tye Hunter, the executive director of the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services, passed along word of Chapman’s plight to a prominent North Carolina lawyer named Frank Goldsmith, that Chapman had someone in his corner who could challenge the foundations of the case. “I am not a particularly emotional person,” Goldsmith says. “However, the government’s conduct in this case angered me more than in any other case in which I have been directly involved.”

A vagrant had claimed to have seen a man and a woman at the house where Betty Jean Ramseur’s body was discovered. When the vagrant looked at a photo lineup, he identified someone other than Chapman. Dennis Rhoney, the Hickory Police Department’s chief investigator in the case, never told prosecutors about this glitch. Rhoney also received a tip from a man who said he’d overheard a conversation in a Catawba County jail. An inmate—again, not Chapman—had talked incriminatingly about Ramseur. “What I done with her,” he reportedly said, “I thought they would never find her unless they tore the damn house down.” But Rhoney didn’t file a report about that, either. (A judge later determined that Rhoney had lied under oath about supplying all the necessary evidence.)

That information probably would have produced reasonable doubt in the courtroom, but members of the jury never heard it. They didn’t hear that Conley was seen alive after Chapman had been hanging out with her. They didn’t hear from a forensic pathologist who theorized that Conley wasn’t murdered at all. Most likely, he said, she died of a drug overdose.

These days Chapman smiles easily, asks with polite regularity if it’s okay to light up a cigarette, and has a way of listening and watching that suggests how years in forced confinement have trained him to sit still and stay alert. But he’s got prison nerves. Shortly after his release, he sat on the porch of his father’s place in Hickory and heard tree branches scraping against the side of a house. The sound sent him into a panic. Another time, his friend Pam Laughon reached into her pocket and jangled her keys. Chapman flinched and ducked.

Laughon, the chair of the psychology department at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, was a member of the team that helped Chapman go free, and when Chapman got out she became his ad hoc caretaker. He stayed at her house, in a quiet, shady area outside Asheville. Her son was away at college, so Chapman slept in his room, beneath a poster of Yoda wielding a light saber.

For weeks they went looking for apartments, but landlords raised an eyebrow when they learned about a previous felony on Chapman’s record—a small-time robbery from his bad-boy phase in Hickory. His being exonerated of murder didn’t mean that the world now saw him as innocent. Laughon helped him land a job washing dishes at the Renaissance hotel and provided him with meals and a cell phone, so now, in the first weeks after his release, Chapman is reciprocating by devoting himself to an endless marathon of chores. He clears leaves and brush on her property. He buys supplies to sand and stain her outdoor deck. He finds an old cooler and scrubs it clean. By four in the afternoon one day he’s eaten nothing but a banana, yet he’s still scouring and polishing every inch of the house. He moves the TV and wipes away the dust underneath it, then does the same with the CD rack, then shifts to the ash in the fireplace. “My fear is of failing,” he says. “That’s why I want to stay busy. Because if I’m not doin’ something, then eventually I’m gonna get bored.” He knows from the old days that booze and drugs—pot, coke, crack—have a way of colonizing empty patches of time. “I’ve seen what the old me was like, and I don’t like that person. I’m determined not to be that person.”

Prison is all about rules—strict, punitive, even absurd ones. Chapman can recite a litany of regulations from his time there. For each rule you broke, the system would withdraw $10 from your fund. “Masturbation,” Chapman says. “If they see you doin’ it, you’re going to get charged with it. Ten bucks. Ten bucks for cussin’. Ten bucks for disrespect. Ten bucks for horseplay—wrasslin’ and so forth. If you get caught smokin’ in your room, $10. Stockpiling medication, $10. If you get caught with nudie pictures, that’s contraband. Any contraband, $10. Stand in somebody’s doorway, that’s $10. You can’t really do anything.”

He can date that sense of powerlessness to New Year’s Eve, 1992. He was at his grandmother’s house when the police officers arrived. He was wearing a pair of undershorts. His grandmother begged the officers to let Chapman put on more clothes. Two of his cousins helped him wriggle into a pair of sweatpants while he was handcuffed. Outside, the infrared beams zeroed in. A flurry of cameras. He was told he was being charged with the murder of Betty Jean Ramseur (he would be charged with Tenene Conley’s several months later), and he remembers shouting something like “Man, you crazy. I didn’t do no shit like that!” The nightmare only grew more surreal through his trial and conviction. “It was like having an out-of-body experience,” he says. “You’re actually seeing yourself sitting there screamin’ and hollerin’ and asking for help.”

When Chapman arrived in Unit III, he had a stroke of good fortune. He ran into Nathan Bowie, a friend from Hickory whom he’d always considered a little brother. Bowie had been convicted of murder for a shooting in May 1991. “Just seein’ him lit me up,” Chapman says, “but at the same time it made me sad, because here we were, both in this bad situation.” Neither man was assigned to a cell yet. They slept on beds in the common room where inmates watched TV. The chitter-chatter each night was constant: Imagine trying to get rest inside a beehive. “I was like, ‘Wow, man, I can’t go to sleep like this,’” Chapman remembers. “It made me paranoid, because I didn’t know the guys. I told Nathan, ‘Look, I’m gonna stay up, and you sleep. And then when you wake up, I’ll go to sleep.’ This was my mind-set when I went in there. Nathan was like, ‘You ain’t gotta do that. Go on and sleep, man. All these guys here are going to watch over you.’”

People assume that prison life is an unending parade of horrors, but Chapman insists that death row was different. When he talks about his stretch of hard time, he often does so in the present tense, as if he were still there, and he speaks with affection for the “family” of men who ate the same unidentifiable slop and breathed the same dank air. “I call Nathan Boo-Boo,” he says. “Henry Wallace, I call him the Gator Man. Then there’s Psycho. Heh, he’s just a little spitfire, that’s all. Then there’s Axe—I call him Wayyyyne. Les. El Rico. Gotti. Funky Red. Jameel. J.C. Petey. Doc Holliday. Stat Man. Bird Man. Tennessee. Big Ray. Revvy Rev. Mr. Sunny. Big Joe. Bones. Booger. That was another guy from Hickory that got executed.”

What Chapman remembers about the first three years is that he cried all the time. Then he underwent a transformation. He woke up determined to free himself—mentally, yes, but also legally, with a steady campaign of letters to people on the outside who might take up his cause. Chapman doesn’t attribute this switch to any of the usual heroic-prisoner narratives. He didn’t find God. He didn’t see the light after devouring The Power of Positive Thinking. He simply began to absorb lessons from the other men in Unit III. He saw what made some survive and others sink irrevocably into isolation and despair. “A lot of people would say that winnin’ the lottery is the best thing that ever could happen to them in their life,” Chapman says. “But my experience with these men, I feel that that is my lottery. I feel that that has made me the richest person in the world, and I wouldn’t trade that with Bill Gates, Donald Trump, or any of them.”

Bonding on death row came with a catch, of course. “The only time I would get fear, when it would hit me really hard,” Chapman says, “was when they were taking a guy down to execute him.” He guesses that more than 15 men from Unit III were given “the gurney” —lethal injection—while he waited for his own number to come up. Each time, a quiet would descend over the unit. The inmates had a ritual of remembrance. They’d pass by the door of the dead man’s cell and knock and call out his name. “No matter where they take you, brother,” they’d say, “you still with us.”

At the time of his arrest, Chapman had a girlfriend from New York City named Gwen Anderson, the mother of Correy and Stacey, then 5 and 2. Chapman considered Anderson the love of his life. “Yeah,” he says, “that was my baby. This woman genuinely loved me. Even when my family got tired of me, she was there. Even when I was screwin’ up, she stuck by me.” The two of them relied on a policy they called Confession Session. Its guiding principle was radical honesty. “If I flirted with a girl, if I messed around with somebody,” Chapman says, “we would tell each other and we couldn’t get mad. That was just our way of trying to be clear with each other.”

On the day he was sentenced to death, he knew he had to be clear. He was 26; she was 27. They were planning to get married, but Chapman made a radically honest move. “I broke up with her,” he says. “I didn’t want her to put her life on hold. Because I loved her enough, I would let her go. I told her, ‘Look, if I get out, if what we had was real, and you’re not with anybody, then we can move forward. We’re breakin’ up because of a situation that’s beyond us.’ She cried. She was like, ‘I don’t want to break up! I don’t want to break up!’ I said, ‘Well, okay. We’re just takin’ some time off.’” Later, Anderson wrote letters to Chapman asking for his opinion about guys she met. “I told her, ‘Go with your heart,’” Chapman says. “And she was like, ‘Well, I can’t go with my heart. You’re still holding it.’”

If there’s a place where Chapman’s bitterness does surge back, it’s Hickory. He radiates anxiety as soon as he hits his hometown. Over a lunch of chicken fingers at the Olde Hickory Tap Room, Chapman lowers his voice conspiratorially when he senses the presence of plainclothes police officers. He thinks they’re tracking him. “I have to watch it everywhere I go,” he says. “I just don’t trust ’em. They’re hoping that I’ll fall back into the same old routine. Send someone to have a drink with me, and hopefully I’ll confess to something. If that means I’ve got to walk around with a tape recorder in my pocket, I will do that. But I’m not going to live in fear. I’m not going to be paranoid.” That policy is not always easy to put into practice. Halfway through lunch Chapman taps his cigarette on an ashtray and raises his eyebrows. “We might need to leave in a few seconds,” he says. He motions his chin toward two beefy, buzz-cut men sitting on stools at a nearby table. They’re cops, Chapman insists—and so was another guy who passed by a few moments ago. “Show you a trick,” Chapman goes on. With his fingers, he delicately snips off the filter end of his cigarette and rolls it up in a napkin. He’s only being careful, he says. Detectives might use the cigarette to get his saliva.

This is meant to be a momentous morning. On a bright and humid day in May, the North Carolina “exonerees” are coming together at the North Carolina State Legislative Building, where activists and state leaders are convening to talk about the death penalty, and it’s a powerful sight. Chapman’s the first to arrive. He’s joined by Jonathan Hoffman and Bo Jones, both recently freed from death row, along with Darryl Hunt, who spent almost 20 years in prison after being falsely accused of rape and murder. All four are sharply dressed—vests, cuff links, shined shoes—and sitting together they carry something unmistakable: a stillness. They’re muted, watchful, stoic.

Raleigh’s Central Prison lies about 10 minutes away. As Chapman strolls through the halls of government, Laughon begs him not to call the lawmakers what he’s been calling them all morning: “crooks.” The occasion is supposed to be uplifting. “Something positive is definitely going to come out of this,” says Jeremy Collins, the young campaign coordinator from the anti-death-penalty group North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium. “Every time someone gets exonerated, a thousand people change their minds about the death penalty.” But one meeting with a legislator gets canceled; another turns into little more than a handshake.

The exonerees, all African-American, stand in a row at a fiery press conference about a bill that’s aimed at making death-penalty sentencing more race-blind, but the four men spend most of their big day of vindication in Raleigh waiting for politicians who fail to materialize. “The only time they run toward you,” Chapman says, “is when they want you to vote for them.” But it’s fine—Chapman has personal matters to focus on. Someone who heard his story called to offer him a three-bedroom house, in an upscale Asheville neighborhood, for $400 a month. Chapman needs to move in and launch another round of scrubbing and scouring and polishing. He’s got to become more active in guiding his sons—Stacey’s in New York and working at McDonald’s; Correy’s in South Carolina and has a job at Bojangles’. Chapman hasn’t seen them yet. He’s worried that they’ll go off-track and get into trouble.

After all, they didn’t just lose their father for 14 years. They lost their mother, too. Chapman can’t shake the memory of Gwen Anderson’s last visit to Central, three years ago. She’d been drinking a lot since his incarceration, and Chapman could tell she was sick. She was living with another man. “Do you love him?” Chapman asked her, as they watched each other’s eyes through the glass. “I like him,” she said. “I don’t love him.” “You might still love me,” Chapman said, “but you love that man.” Anderson laughed. She said the other man was jealous of Chapman because he still had her heart. “I’m jealous of him,” Chapman told her, “because he’s got you now.”

Gwen died of cancer a few weeks later. That’s the thing about death row. It has a way of killing people, even the ones who aren’t convicted. If they had one last Confession Session, Chapman might tell her about the guilt he carries around. Because what put him on death row was hanging out with the wrong people, but if we’re being more precise, that central piece of evidence was a transgression against the woman he loved. “I did love her,” Chapman says. “I just didn’t love her the way she deserved.” It’s not as if he thinks about it all the time, though. That would eat away at a man. He just stays busy, polishing and scrubbing, doing what he can to clean up.



No. 569A94 - Catawba



Appeal of right pursuant to N.C.G.S. [section] 7A-27(a) from judgments imposing two sentences of death entered by Ferrell, J., at the 31 October 1994 Criminal Session of Superior Court, Catawba County, upon two jury verdicts finding defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Heard in the Supreme Court 10 October 1995.

Michael F. Easley, Attorney General, by William B. Crumpler, Assistant Attorney General, for the State.

W. Thomas Portwood, Jr., and Robert W. Adams for defendant-appellant.

WHICHARD, Justice.

Defendant was convicted of the first-degree murders of Tenene Yvette Conley and Betty Jean Ramseur and sentenced to death for each murder. He appeals from his convictions and sentences. We conclude that defendant received a fair trial, free of prejudicial error, and that the sentences of death are not disproportionate.

The State's evidence tended to show that Conley was a young black female who used crack cocaine daily and paid for her habit through prostitution. Conley's body, naked from the waist down, was found in the basement of a vacant house at 649 First Avenue, S.E., in Hickory on 15 August 1992. There was no sign of a forced entry into the house. Defendant, who had been hired in July 1992 to paint the trim on the outside of the house, had been inside and knew how to get into the house.

Dr. Thomas Clark, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, concluded Conley died as a result of manual strangulation. Dr. Clark opined that the abrasions found about Conley's head and forehead could have been made by contact with any type of blunt object, including the floor. He determined Conley had had sexual intercourse within twelve hours of her death, and DNA analysis of the sperm sample taken from her body matched a sample given by defendant.

Several persons saw defendant and Conley together during the early morning hours of 14 August 1992. Jamar Danner, who sold crack cocaine from his house, saw defendant and Conley together well before daylight. Danner testified that defendant and Conley had come to his house in search of cocaine; they left without purchasing any cocaine and walked toward the house where Conley's body was found. Howard Cowans, who lived within a block of the house in which Conley's body was found, testified that defendant, Conley, and Danny Blackburn came to his home around 3:00 a.m. on 14 August 1992. Defendant was trying to sell a lawn mower. The group smoked crack in Cowans' home. A few minutes after defendant, Conley, and Blackburn went outside, Cowans observed a man and a woman exit Blackburn's car and walk toward the house in which Conley's body was found. Cowans could not identify the man but implied it was defendant, stating that Blackburn did not "give up his old lady's car for anything or anybody." Blackburn testified that after the group finished smoking crack, he offered defendant the use of his car for ten dollars; defendant refused, saying, "she is getting out of the car, she knows what the hell she got to do, she knows what she has got to do." Conley got out of the car and began walking up the street, followed closely by defendant.

In a statement made to police on 18 September 1992, defendant acknowledged painting and cleaning the house in which Conley's body was found. However, he stated he went to Sunny Valley, not Cowans' house, on 14 August 1992. He also denied leaving Sunny Valley with Conley, insisting that when he left, Conley and Blackburn were together. Defendant's statement also noted: "When I smoked [sic] rock I don't want to be around women. They are always wanting something and bothering me and s---."

Ramseur, who was white, had been dating Chris Walker for about three years before she died. Ramseur and Walker knew defendant, and the three formerly smoked crack together. Ramseur was on probation and was last seen by her probation officer on 11 June 1992 regarding a probation violation involving the use of controlled substances.

On the morning of 12 June 1992, a fire at 407 Highland Avenue, S.E., in Hickory was reported. Alvin Creasman, a vagrant who had been living in the house, told a fire inspector that he was asleep upstairs when he was awakened by smoke. He noticed a black male and a white female at the house that morning about daybreak. Thomas Rasmussen, an SBI fire investigator, determined that the fire had been caused by human hands, either accidentally or intentionally.

On 22 August 1992 Ramseur's badly decomposed, naked body was found under the house at 407 Highland Avenue. Dr. Brent Hall, the pathologist who performed the autopsy, determined Ramseur had died sometime in June 1992. Although he could not rule out the possibility that Ramseur had been strangled because her body was partially skeletonized, Hall opined Ramseur had died as a result of a blunt-trauma injury to the head consistent with having been struck with a brick.

Defendant told at least three people that he had killed Ramseur. Defendant's cousin, Nicole Cline, testified that in June 1992 defendant told her he had just killed Chris Walker's girlfriend by cracking her in the head with a brick. He pointed from Nicole's residence to the house at 407 Highland Avenue and said he had dragged the body under the house. Brian Cline, Nicole's brother, testified that he overheard this conversation. Following this conversation but before Ramseur's body was discovered, Brian and defendant were driving down Highland Avenue when defendant pointed to the house at 407 and said that if people continued to mess with him, they would "end up like that bitch that was under the house." Lavar Gilliman testified that during the summer of 1992, he overheard defendant say that he had killed someone, that the body was in the house on Highland Avenue, and that defendant was going to burn her body so that it could not be found.

Defendant testified that he knew Conley and had gotten high with her on one occasion. He knew Ramseur through Chris Walker. He admitted having sex with Conley on 13 August 1992 but denied going with her to Cowans' and Danner's houses. Defendant further denied telling Nicole and Brian Cline that he had killed a woman, and he denied ever having seen Lavar Gilliman before Gilliman testified. He denied killing either woman.

At sentencing the State offered evidence that defendant had been previously convicted of common law robbery. The victim of this robbery testified to defendant's actions during the robbery.

Defendant offered evidence that he provided for Gwyn Anderson and their child and that he was helpful toward his friends and neighbors. His father testified that he always counted on defendant to take care of the house and to help with the other children as defendant was growing up.

Dr. Mark Worthing, a psychologist, testified defendant was of low average intelligence. Defendant had been diagnosed with alcohol and cocaine dependency. Dr. Worthing opined defendant could appreciate the criminality of his conduct unless he was very severely impaired. Because defendant denied committing the murders, Dr. Worthing was unable to ask specific questions about what drugs he had used at the time of the offenses and thus was unable to determine the extent of defendant's impairment at that time.

The jury found two aggravating circumstances for both murders: that defendant had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person and that the murder for which defendant stood convicted was part of a course of conduct in which defendant engaged and which included the commission by the defendant of other crimes of violence against another person or persons. Although three statutory and sixteen nonstatutory mitigating circumstances were submitted to the jury, no juror found any mitigating circumstance.

Defendant first assigns as error his absence from the pretrial conference required in capital cases by Rule 24 of the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts. He contends that his absence from the Rule 24 conference violated his right to be present at every stage of his trial.

The Confrontation Clause in Article I, Section 23 of the North Carolina Constitution "'guarantees an accused the right to be present in person at every stage of his trial.'" State v. Daniels, 337 N.C. 243, 256, 446 S.E.2d 298, 307 (1994) (quoting State v. Payne, 320 N.C. 138, 139, 357 S.E.2d 612, 612 (1987)), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 895 (1995). This right to be present extends to all times during the trial when anything is said or done which materially affects defendant as to the charge against him. State v. Brogden, 329 N.C. 534, 541, 407 S.E.2d 158, 163 (1991). A capital defendant may not waive his right to presence. Daniels, 337 N.C. at 257, 446 S.E.2d at 307. However, a defendant's right to be present at all stages of his trial does not arise prior to the commencement of trial. State v. Rannels, 333 N.C. 644, 653, 430 S.E.2d 254, 259 (1993) (citing State v. Cole, 331 N.C. 272, 415 S.E.2d 716 (1992)).

Defendant contends his case must be distinguished from State v. Huff, 325 N.C. 1, 381 S.E.2d 635 (1989), sentence vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1021, 111 L. Ed. 2d 777 (1990). In Huff, where the defendant was absent during a portion of the State's presentation of evidence at the request of defense counsel and with the defendant's agreement, this Court held that the trial court erred in permitting defendant to be absent during his capital trial. However, we found that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the defendant was not prejudiced by his absence. Id. at 35-36, 381 S.E.2d at 654-55. Here, because defendant's attorney objected to his absence at the Rule 24 conference, defendant contends he is entitled to a new trial.

In Huff the defendant was absent in the midst of trial, while the State was presenting evidence. Here defendant was absent during the pretrial conference. We hold that the Rule 24 conference, which takes place before the jury panel is selected and sworn, is not a stage of the trial. See State v. Smith, 326 N.C. 792, 794, 392 S.E.2d 362, 363 (1990) (process of selecting and impaneling the jury is a stage of trial at which defendant has a right to be present); State v. Rannels, 333 N.C. at 652-54, 430 S.E.2d at 258-59 (private, unrecorded, side-bar conferences with jury pool members took place before commencement of defendant's trial; no right to presence); State v. Cole, 331 N.C. at 275, 415 S.E.2d at 717 (pretrial, off-the-record bench conferences with prospective petit jurors did not occur at a stage of defendant's trial; no right to presence). Therefore, defendant's right to be present at every stage of his trial was not implicated.

The language of Rule 24 does not offer defendant relief. Rule 24 provides that in capital cases, the superior court shall require "the prosecution and defense counsel" to appear at a pretrial conference to discuss, inter alia, the simplification and formulation of the issues and timely appointment of assistant counsel for an indigent defendant. Gen. R. Pract. Super. and Dist. Ct. 24, 1995 Ann. R. N.C. 18. The pretrial conference is an administrative device intended to clarify the charges against the defendant and assist the prosecutor in determining whether any aggravating circumstances exist which justify seeking the death penalty. Capital defendants do not stand to lose or gain any rights at the conference. Defendant has not demonstrated that the Rule 24 pretrial conference implicated his confrontation rights or that his presence at the conference would have had a reasonably substantial relation to his opportunity to defend. See State v. Buchanan, 330 N.C. 202, 223-24, 410 S.E.2d 832, 845 (1991) (burden on defendant to show usefulness of his presence); see also State v. Buckner, __ N.C. __, __ S.E.2d __ (1995) (No. 444A93, filed simultaneously herewith). This assignment of error is therefore overruled.

By his next assignment of error, defendant contends the trial court erred in submitting to the jury the course of conduct aggravating circumstance because the prosecutor did not mention that circumstance at the Rule 24 pretrial conference. At the pretrial conference, the prosecutor indicated that an aggravating circumstance existed pursuant to N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-2000(e)(3), as defendant had been previously convicted of a violent felony, common law robbery. Defense counsel responded, "That is at least one," and later stipulated that at least one aggravating circumstance existed for both murders. Defendant now argues that the prosecutor "blindsided" him and lulled him into a false sense of security by failing to mention the presence of another aggravating circumstance, course of conduct, pursuant to N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-2000(e)(11). Because of his surprise, defendant contends, he was unable to rebut this circumstance at his sentencing proceeding.

While Rule 24 requires the trial court and the parties to consider the existence of evidence of aggravating circumstances, nothing in the rule intimates that the prosecution must enumerate with finality all aggravating circumstances it will pursue at trial. Moreover, "a defendant is not constitutionally entitled to an enumeration of aggravating factors to be used against him: statutory notice as contained in N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-2000(e) is sufficient." State v. McLaughlin, 323 N.C. 68, 84, 372 S.E.2d 49, 61 (1988), sentence vacated on other grounds, 494 U.S. 1021, 108 L. Ed. 2d 601 (1990). In fact, a trial court cannot require the prosecution to declare which aggravating circumstances it will rely upon at the punishment phase. State v. Holden, 321 N.C. 125, 153, 362 S.E.2d 513, 531 (1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1061, 100 L. Ed. 2d 935 (1988). This assignment of error is therefore overruled.

Defendant next contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to permit voir dire of potential jurors regarding their conceptions of parole eligibility upon the entry of a life sentence. Because the prosecutor argued two aggravating circumstances to the jury--that defendant had previously been convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to a person and that the murder for which defendant was convicted was part of a course of conduct in which defendant engaged--and because the jury found both aggravating circumstances, defendant asserts that the prosecutor placed defendant's future dangerousness at issue. In Simmons v. South Carolina, __ U.S. __, __, 129 L. Ed. 2d 133, 138 (1994), the United States Supreme Court held that "where the defendant's future dangerousness is at issue, and state law prohibits the defendant's release on parole, due process requires that the sentencing jury be informed that the defendant is parole ineligible." Relying on Simmons, defendant contends that the trial court should have granted his motion to discuss potential jurors' conceptions about parole eligibility.

Defendant's reliance on Simmons is misplaced. In Simmons, after the prosecutor argued Simmons' potential for future dangerousness as a reason for imposing the death penalty, Simmons requested the trial court to instruct the jury on the meaning of life imprisonment under South Carolina law (no possibility of parole). The trial court refused Simmons' request, and the jury ultimately returned a verdict of death. In State v. Price, 337 N.C. 756, 448 S.E.2d 827 (1994), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 131 L. Ed. 2d 224 (1995), this Court noted that "[t]he Court in Simmons ruled that South Carolina could 'not create a false dilemma by advancing generalized arguments regarding defendant's future dangerousness while, at the same time, preventing the jury from learning that the defendant never will be released on parole.'" Id. at 762, 448 S.E.2d at 830-31 (quoting Simmons, __ U.S. at __, 129 L. Ed. 2d at 147). Although the prosecutor in Price argued defendant's future dangerousness to the jury, this Court affirmed Price's death sentence, concluding that Simmons controlled only where life without possibility of parole was the alternative to a death sentence. Id. at 762-63, 448 S.E.2d at 831. As Price would have been parole eligible had he been sentenced to life imprisonment in North Carolina, N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-1371(a1) (1988), no "false dilemma" had been created. See Price, 337 N.C. at 762, 448 S.E.2d at 831. In addition, the jury in Price had not inquired about defendant's parole eligibility; the Court noted that without such an inquiry, parole eligibility is irrelevant and should not be considered in making a capital sentencing determination. Id. at 763, 448 S.E.2d at 831.

As in Price, the jury here did not inquire about defendant's parole eligibility. Defendant's case is actually less persuasive than that in Price because the prosecutors here did not argue future dangerousness to the jury; defendant's contention that arguing the aggravating circumstances amounted to arguing future dangerousness is unpersuasive. Therefore, Simmons provides no relief for defendant.

Further, this Court recently again followed its previous decisions and held that prospective jurors should not be questioned about their opinions concerning a defendant's eligibility for parole upon conviction. State v. Moore, 335 N.C. 567, 591, 440 S.E.2d 797, 811, cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 174 (1994). Defendant has not advanced any reason why the Court should reverse this precedent. This assignment of error is overruled.

Defendant next contends that the trial court erred in allowing Raymond Mitchell, a fire inspector with the Hickory Fire Department, to read into evidence the hearsay statement Alvin Creasman made to Mitchell on 12 June 1992. Although defendant acknowledges that the State gave notice, pursuant to Rule 804(b)(5) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence, of its intention to use Creasman's hearsay statement, he argues that the statement was inadmissible under Rule 804(b)(5) because there was insufficient indicia of the statement's reliability. The statement read to the jury is as follows:

There was a fire in the living room. There was clothing found in the area of the living room. I was in the hallway asleep upstairs. The smoke woke me up. I notice[d] a black male and a white female there this morning about day break. I stayed all night here. I am a smoker.

Before Mitchell read Creasman's statement to the jury, the trial court conducted a hearing on the admissibility of the statement. Following that hearing the trial court concluded, pursuant to requirements this Court set forth in State v. Triplett, 316 N.C. 1, 9, 340 S.E.2d 736, 741 (1986), that the State had unsuccessfully attempted to locate Creasman, that the statement was trustworthy, that the statement was material and more probative on the issue than any other evidence which the prosecution could secure through reasonable means, and that justice would be served by admission of the statement. Mitchell subsequently read the statement to the jury, pursuant to Rule 804(b)(5).

In Triplett, this Court reiterated the factors which a trial court must consider in determining whether a hearsay statement sought to be admitted under Rule 804(b)(5) is trustworthy: (1) whether the declarant had personal knowledge of the underlying events, (2) the declarant's motivation to speak the truth or otherwise, (3) whether the declarant has ever recanted the statement, and (4) the practical availability of the declarant at trial for meaningful cross-examination. Id. at 10-11, 340 S.E.2d at 742. Applying these factors, we conclude that Creasman's statement contained sufficient indicia of reliability to be admissible. Creasman had personal knowledge of the underlying event, for he stated that he noticed the black male and the white female at the Highland Avenue house about daybreak. There is no evidence that Creasman had any reason to tell Mitchell anything other than the truth about this matter. Nor is there any evidence that Creasman ever recanted this statement. Finally, the trial court determined that Creasman could not be found at the time of trial. Even if the trial court erred in admitting the testimony, defendant cannot show he was prejudiced by its admission in light of his incriminating remarks to several others stating that he killed Ramseur. This assignment of error is therefore overruled.

In his next assignment of error, defendant contends that joinder of the two murder charges violated N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-926(a) and deprived him of the due process guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and by Article I, Sections 18 and 19 of the North Carolina Constitution. Defendant objected to the State's written motion for joinder, but the trial court granted the motion following arguments by the parties. Defendant argues joinder was improper because the charges were not transactionally related, in that none of the witnesses testified concerning both the Ramseur and Conley murders, and the murders occurred approximately two months apart. In fact, defendant contends, the only connection in the two cases is that he is charged with both crimes. For the following reasons, we reject defendant's contentions.

N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-926(a) provides, in pertinent part, that "[t]wo or more offenses may be joined . . . for trial when the offenses . . . are based . . . on a series of acts or transactions connected together or constituting parts of a single scheme or plan." Once it has been determined that offenses have a transactional connection, trial courts have discretion to consolidate them for trial. State v. Huff, 325 N.C. at 22-23, 381 S.E.2d at 647. Whether offenses are transactionally related is a question of law fully reviewable on appeal. Id. at 22, 381 S.E.2d at 647.

A mere finding of the transactional connection required by the statute is not enough, however. . . . [T]he trial judge must consider whether the accused can receive a fair hearing on more than one charge at the same trial; if consolidation hinders or deprives the accused of his ability to present his defense, the charges should not be consolidated.

State v. Silva, 304 N.C. 122, 126, 282 S.E.2d 449, 452 (1981).

The facts incident to the two murders here reveal a common modus operandi and a temporal proximity sufficient to establish a transactional connection. Both victims were young women with drug habits; defendant knew both and had smoked crack with each. One victim was nude when found, and the other was nude from the waist down. Both victims suffered blunt-force injuries to their heads; Conley died as a result of strangulation, and the pathologist could not rule out the possibility that Ramseur had also been strangled. The women were killed within two months of each other, and their bodies were found in the lowest part of vacant houses within two blocks of each other. Defendant was seen with and had sex with Conley shortly before her death, and he made incriminating statements to three people about having killed Ramseur. Defendant also made several statements in which he exhibited a misogynistic attitude toward women, including his statement to Brian Cline that "[i]f people keep f------ with me they [will] end up like that bitch that was under the house." Defendant has not cited to, and we are unaware of, any requirement that there be a commonality of witnesses where two murder cases have been joined for trial.

Defendant argues that he was denied a fair hearing as a result of the joinder. Specifically, he contends that the strength of the evidence against him in the Ramseur murder "spilled over" into the deliberations on the Conley murder and that he would not have been convicted of the Conley murder without that spillover effect.

Contrary to defendant's argument, there was substantial evidence adduced from which the jury could determine that defendant killed Conley. Like Ramseur, Conley had sustained a blunt-force injury to the forehead. Conley had had sexual intercourse within twenty-four hours of her death, and DNA testing of the semen found demonstrated a match with defendant. Jamar Danner, Howard Cowans, and Danny Blackburn all saw defendant with Conley in the early morning hours of the day before her body was discovered. After defendant, Conley, and Blackburn left Cowans' home, Cowans had observed a man and a woman get out of Blackburn's car and walk toward the house in which Conley's body was found. Blackburn stated that after the group finished smoking crack, Conley and then defendant got out of Blackburn's car and began walking up the street.

In light of this evidence, we conclude that defendant has failed to show that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the charges to be consolidated for trial. Viewing the record as a whole, we hold that the offenses were not so separate in time and place and so distinct in circumstance that joinder was unjust and prejudicial to defendant. See State v. Bracey, 303 N.C. 112, 118, 277 S.E.2d 390, 394 (1981).

Having found no statutory violation, we now turn to defendant's contention that consolidation of these two murder charges for trial violated his federal and state constitutional due process rights. Defendant merely asserts that the dissimilar facts surrounding the murders hindered a fair determination of his guilt or innocence, which, he asserts, deprived him of due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Sections 18 and 19 of Article I of the North Carolina Constitution. As defendant makes no argument or explanation of how consolidation of the offenses for trial violated any of these provisions, we decline to address his assertions. Huff, 325 N.C. at 26, 381 S.E.2d at 649.

Finally, defendant argues, pursuant to N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-2000(d)(2), that the record does not support the aggravating circumstances found by the jury; that the sentence was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or some other arbitrary factor; and that the death sentence is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and defendant.

The jury found two aggravating circumstances for each offense: that defendant had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person, N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-2000(e)(3) (Supp. 1994); and that the murder for which defendant stood convicted was part of a course of conduct in which defendant engaged and which included the commission of other crimes of violence against another person or persons, N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-2000(e)(11). The record supports the jury's finding of the (e)(3) aggravating circumstance. Defendant testified he had been convicted of common law robbery within the last ten years, and the State offered Catawba County criminal records illustrating the conviction. The robbery victim there testified that defendant used violence in the commission of the robbery. Thus, there was substantial evidence that defendant had been convicted of a felony which involved the use or threat of violence to the person and that the felony occurred prior to the murders at issue in this case. See State v. Goodman, 298 N.C. 1, 22, 257 S.E.2d 569, 583 (1979).

The record also supports the jury's finding of the (e)(11) aggravating circumstance. Some connection between the violent events is generally required to support this circumstance. Even events remote from each other in time may be connected by modus operandi or motivation. See State v. Cummings, 332 N.C. 487, 507-12, 422 S.E.2d 692, 703-06 (1992) (course of conduct circumstance properly submitted to jury where two murders took place twenty-six months apart but common modus operandi and motivation were present); State v. Price, 326 N.C. 56, 81-83, 388 S.E.2d 84, 98-99 (course of conduct circumstance properly submitted to jury where other crimes of violence, arson and hostage-taking, occurred five days after murder at issue and common modus operandi and motivation were present), sentence vacated on other grounds, 498 U.S. 802, 112 L. Ed. 2d 7 (1990). In order to permit a finding of a course of conduct, a court must "consider the circumstances surrounding the acts of violence and discern some connection, common scheme, or some pattern or psychological thread that ties them together." Cummings, 332 N.C. at 510, 422 S.E.2d at 705.

As noted above, several similarities tie the instant murders together and suggest a common motivation or modus operandi. The victims were young women with drug habits; defendant knew both and had smoked crack with each. Their bodies were disposed of in virtually the same fashion and within two blocks of each other. Both victims suffered blunt-force injuries to their heads. Defendant was seen with, and had sex with, Conley shortly before her death; he made incriminating statements to three people about having killed Ramseur. Defendant had a foreboding attitude toward women when he was smoking crack. These similarities supported the finding of a transactional connection for purposes of joinder, and, considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, they also supported the submission and finding of the course of conduct aggravating circumstance. See State v. Gibbs, 335 N.C. 1, 61, 436 S.E.2d 321, 355-56 (1993), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 129 L. Ed. 2d 881 (1994).

Further, nothing in the record supports defendant's contention that the jury's finding both aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances is evidence of the jury's "strong emotional or passionate feeling . . . of prejudice toward the defendant" or "clear aversion toward the defendant." In State v. Reeves, 337 N.C. 700, 448 S.E.2d 802 (1994), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 131 L. Ed. 2d 860 (1995), this Court rejected a similar argument, stating: "We cannot hold that because the jury did not find that the defendant's evidence had mitigating value . . . [,] the jury was acting under passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor." Id. at 737, 448 S.E.2d at 820. Defendant's argument is meritless.

Nor do we find that defendant's death sentence is disproportionate. Proportionality review is intended to "eliminate the possibility that a sentence of death was imposed by the action of an aberrant jury." State v. Lee, 335 N.C. 244, 294, 439 S.E.2d 547, 573, cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 162 (1994). It is also intended to guard "against the capricious or random imposition of the death penalty." State v. Barfield, 298 N.C. 306, 354, 259 S.E.2d 510, 544 (1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 907, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1137 (1980). We compare this case to others in the pool, which we defined in State v. Williams, 308 N.C. 47, 79-80, 301 S.E.2d 335, 355, cert. denied, 464 U.S. 865, 78 L. Ed. 2d 177 (1983), and State v. Bacon, 337 N.C. 66, 106-07, 446 S.E.2d 542, 563-64 (1994), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1083 (1995), that "are roughly similar with regard to the crime and the defendant." State v. Lawson, 310 N.C. 632, 648, 314 S.E.2d 493, 503 (1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1120, 86 L. Ed. 2d 267 (1985). Whether the death penalty is disproportionate "ultimately rest[s] upon the 'experienced judgments' of the members of this Court." State v. Green, 336 N.C. 142, 198, 443 S.E.2d 14, 47, cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 547 (1994).

Since 1 June 1977, the effective date of our capital punishment statute, this Court has found death sentences disproportionate in only seven cases: State v. Benson, 323 N.C. 318, 372 S.E.2d 517 (1988); State v. Stokes, 319 N.C. 1, 352 S.E.2d 653 (1987); State v. Rogers, 316 N.C. 203, 341 S.E.2d 713 (1986), overruled on other grounds by State v. Vandiver, 321 N.C. 570, 364 S.E.2d 373 (1988); State v. Young, 312 N.C. 669, 325 S.E.2d 181 (1985); State v. Hill, 311 N.C. 465, 319 S.E.2d 163 (1984); State v. Bondurant, 309 N.C. 674, 309 S.E.2d 170 (1983); State v. Jackson, 309 N.C. 26, 305 S.E.2d 703 (1983). In none of those cases was the defendant convicted of more than one murder. State v. Conaway, 339 N.C. 487, 541, 453 S.E.2d 824, 858 (1995). Indeed, the fact that defendant is a multiple killer is "'a heavy factor against [him].'" State v. McHone, 334 N.C. 627, 648, 435 S.E.2d 296, 308 (1993) (quoting State v. Robbins, 319 N.C. 465, 529, 356 S.E.2d 279, 316, cert. denied, 484 U.S. 918, 98 L. Ed. 2d 226 (1987)), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 128 L. Ed. 2d 220 (1994). Defendant argues that the most damning evidence against him in the Ramseur murder was Creasman's hearsay testimony and that this Court should therefore not consider this to be a case of multiple homicide. The evidence belies this argument. In addition to Creasman's testimony, which we have found admissible because it possessed substantial guarantees of trustworthiness, defendant told at least three people that he killed Ramseur.

The aggravating circumstances the jury found in this case were also found in State v. Skipper, 337 N.C. 1, 446 S.E.2d 252 (1994), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 895 (1995), where this Court affirmed the defendant's death sentence even though the jury found three statutory and two nonstatutory mitigating circumstances. The Court noted that these two aggravators are found in many cases that result in death sentences. Id. at 63, 446 S.E.2d at 287. There are four statutory aggravating circumstances which, standing alone, this Court has held sufficient to sustain death sentences; these two are among them. State v. Bacon, 337 N.C. at 110 n.8, 446 S.E.2d at 566 n.8. None of the cases in which this Court has determined the death penalty to be disproportionate has included the (e)(3) aggravator. State v. Harris, 338 N.C. 129, 161, 449 S.E.2d 371, 387 (1994), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 131 L. Ed. 2d 752 (1995). In only two cases in which this Court has found the death penalty disproportionate did the jury find the (e)(11) aggravating circumstance: State v. Rogers, 316 N.C. 203, 341 S.E.2d 713, and State v. Bondurant, 309 N.C. 674, 309 S.E.2d 170. In neither Rogers nor Bondurant did the course of conduct involve a second murder, as it did here. In summary, defendant's case is not comparable to any case in which this Court has held the death sentence disproportionate.

Several additional characteristics of this case support the determination that imposition of the death sentence was not disproportionate. The victims in this case were vulnerable, in that they were women who engaged in the high-risk lifestyle of regular drug use. Cf. State v. Moseley, 336 N.C. 710, 729, 445 S.E.2d 906, 917 (1994) (female victim was alone and vulnerable), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 802 (1995). In addition, defendant appears to have no remorse for his conduct. See State v. Robinson, 336 N.C. 78, 137, 443 S.E.2d 306, 336 (1994), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 130 L. Ed. 2d 650 (1995). Finally, there is no discernible reason why defendant killed these two women; the murders appear to be "the product of pure meanness." State v. Jones, 339 N.C. 114, 171, 451 S.E.2d 826, 858 (1994), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 132 L. Ed. 2d 873 (1995).

Considering the foregoing, as well as the crime and defendant, we conclude that the death sentence was not excessive or disproportionate. We hold that defendant received a fair trial and sentencing proceeding, free of prejudicial error.


No. 569A94 - State v. Chapman


Justice WEBB dissenting.

I dissent from the majority opinion. I believe it was error to consolidate the two cases for trial. N.C.G.S. [section] 15A-926(a) says:

Two or more offenses may be joined . . . for trial when the offenses . . . are based on the same act or transaction or on a series of acts or transactions connected together or constituting parts of a single scheme or plan.

I do not believe the two crimes were based on a series of acts or transactions connected together or constituting parts of a single scheme or plan. The murders occurred two months apart. I can see nothing in the record that indicates that the defendant was scheming to kill another person at the time the first murder was committed. The fact that the two crimes had a common modus operandi does not show a continuing scheme or plan. I believe that without more of a showing of one scheme to murder two persons it was error to consolidate the cases for trial.

I vote to grant new trials on the two charges.



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