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State v. J.C.L.

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 8, 2018

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
J.C.L., Defendant Below, Respondent

          (Berkeley County CC-02-2016-F-19)


         Petitioner J.C.L., by counsel B. Craig Manford, appeals his convictions in the Circuit Court of Berkeley County, for the offenses of felony murder, robbery, and fraudulent use of an access device. Respondent State of West Virginia, by counsel Shannon Frederick Kiser, filed a response.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         On July 2, 2015, petitioner and his son, J. L.[1], were present at the home of Tracy McCauley ("the decedent") located in Hedgesville, West Virginia. After they left, at approximately 7:00 p.m., the decedent's sister discovered the decedent's dead body bound with cables and lying under a sheet in the living room of her home.

         Lt. Brendan Hall of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department arrived at the residence and conducted the criminal investigation. Lt. Hall described the decedent as "hogtied" with various power and audio visual cords. The decedent's purse was found in the living room, and officers also observed "a lot of" empty beer cans throughout the home.

         Lt. Hall proceeded to speak with a Mr. Tomberlin and Jay Kiker, who were identified as two potential witnesses. Mr. Tomberlin and Mr. Kiker told Lt. Hall that petitioner had called them earlier that evening and asked Mr. Tomberlin to take him and his son to Frederick, Maryland. In the early morning hours of July 3, 2015, petitioner and his son were arrested in Frederick, Maryland. Frederick City Police found a debit card and EBT card with the decedent's name, and $502.80 in cash in petitioner's front shirt pocket. The Frederick Police officer also documented "pockmarks, " or scratches, on petitioner's forehead and left hand. These injuries were photographed.

         A review of the decedent's bank records revealed that four transactions were completed using the decedent's debit card following her death: a $600 cash withdrawal in Martinsburg, West Virginia, a $200 cash withdrawal at an ATM in Frederick, an $80 withdrawal at an ATM in Frederick, and a $1.50 transaction at a vending machine in Frederick. Police also collected fingernail clippings and a DNA sample from the decedent, petitioner, and his son. The fingernail clippings later revealed a positive DNA match between petitioner's DNA and the DNA recovered from the decedent's left hand.

         A Berkeley County Grand Jury indicted petitioner for the offenses of murder, felony murder, first degree robbery, assault during the commission of a felony, and three counts of fraudulent use of an access device. Petitioner was arraigned in February of 2016. Due to the State's inability to find witnesses, the matter was continued, without objection from petitioner, to August 29, 2016. The State filed a second motion to continue in August of 2016, which was granted by the circuit court, and the matter was continued to November 15, 2016. The State filed a third motion to continue on November 7, 2016, citing its inability to obtain subpoenas for out-of-state witnesses. The circuit court granted that motion, and rescheduled the matter for January 24, 2017. The State filed a fourth motion to continue the trial on January 5, 2017, stating that the fingernail scrapings had not yet been tested by the State Police lab. Petitioner objected to the motion to continue. The circuit court denied the State's motion.

         On January 17, 2017, at the pre-trial hearing, the State informed petitioner that the Marshall University Forensic Center was able to test the fingernail clippings, and that it would immediately disclose any results to petitioner. Petitioner moved to exclude the evidence, arguing that the evidence was disclosed late, and that the matter was scheduled for trial within seven days. Following a brief recess, petitioner moved for a continuance of the trial, requesting the opportunity to review the newly disclosed evidence, and seek an expert opinion. The circuit court granted the motion, and rescheduled the trial for April 25, 2017. Prior to trial, the State dismissed the murder and first degree robbery allegations, and chose to proceed on a theory of felony murder.

         At trial, the State presented the testimony of the officers who conducted the investigation, Deputy Jason Wolfe, and Lt. Hall. The State also introduced the testimony of Christina Church Way, who was the sister of the decedent, and who testified to discovering the body. Other witnesses testifying for the State include Stacie Osborne, the decedent's neighbor, who testified that she saw two men outside of the decedent's town house at approximately 4:30 p.m. on the day she died, July 2, 2015. Richard Watson testified that he saw the decedent, petitioner, and petitioner's son on the back-deck of the town house on the day she died. Kaitlin Shanahan testified that on the day of the decedent' death, she saw two men exit her back door between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. Edward Wilson testified that he met with petitioner at the decedent's home on July 2, 2015, between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m., that he did not observe any scratches on the petitioner and that he agreed to purchase two bus tickets for petitioner and his son. Sara Hicks, a financial records custodian, testified that the decedent received a social security payment of $1, 060 on July 2, 2015. Ms. Hicks also testified regarding the ATM transactions that occurred after her death. Officer Brian Cosgray of the Frederick, Maryland Police Department, testified that he recovered the decedent's debit and EBT cards and cash from petitioner when he performed a pat-down search. Other officers testified to petitioner's arrest, and to the presence of abrasions or pock marks on petitioner's face.

         The State also introduced the testimony of James Lucas. Mr. Lucas testified that while he was incarcerated with petitioner in Frederick County, Maryland, petitioner told him that he was staying with the decedent in Hedgesville, and that, before her death, while the two were drinking he asked to borrow $200 from the decedent. According to Mr. Lucas, when the decedent refused, petitioner hogtied her and choked her. Mr. Lucas testified that petitioner told him that he tied her up with cords from her television, and that he and his son then got a ride from a friend to Maryland. Lucas testified that petitioner paid Mr. Kiker and Mr. Tomberlin $100 for the ride, and that petitioner had scratches that he said came from the struggle with decedent. Mr. Lucas testified further that he came forward because he believed petitioner did not have to kill the decedent, and petitioner was unconcerned that he killed a woman in front of his son. At the time of his testimony, Mr. Lucas was incarcerated for first degree assault.

         The medical examiner, Dr. Joseph TelTondo, testified that the cause of death was asphyxiation. Mary Fannin, a DNA analyst with Marshal University Forensic Science, testified that she analyzed the decedent's fingernail clippings from her left and right hands and that petitioner's DNA was found in the clippings from the decedent's left hand. Following the State's case-in-chief, petitioner made a motion for judgment of acquittal, which was denied.

         Petitioner sought to introduce the evidence of three witnesses, including the testimony of Lt. Hall. Petitioner wished to introduce hearsay evidence regarding statements made to Lt. Hall by petitioner's son, J.L., namely, that J.L. knew the decedent's pin number. The circuit court ruled that petitioner had objected to other hearsay testimony from Lt. Hall, and explained that if petitioner sought to introduce that testimony, that he would open the door to allow Lt. Hall to testify to other hearsay statements made by Mr. Kiker and Mr. Tomberlin. As a result of the circuit court's ruling, petitioner did not call Lt. Hall in his case-in-chief.

         Petitioner called an officer to testify that one witness told him that three individuals were on the decedent's porch on the day she died. Petitioner also called a detective with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, who testified that petitioner used the decedent's debit card to make ...

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