State v. Baldwin, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-97 (Apr. 6, 2021)

A longstanding feud and several prior altercations culminated in the defendant and an accomplice ambushing two victims as they were driving away from the home of a woman who helped set the victims up. As the victims’ vehicle left the woman’s home and approached an intersection, the accomplice was standing in the middle of the road and began shooting at the driver’s side of the victims’ car. The defendant was also present and shot at the passenger side of the car.  The diver of the vehicle was killed, but the passenger survived unharmed. The defendant was identified as a suspect, interviewed, and arrested. In the defendant’s first interview with police, he claimed that he had been at home all day when the murder occurred. In his second interview, the defendant admitted he lied in his first interview and admitted that he was present at the scene and fired at the car, but maintained that he was firing in self-defense and not aiming at the vehicle.

The defendant was charged with first-degree murder of the driver, attempted murder of the passenger, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of the passenger, and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle in operation. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of all charges. The jury found the defendant guilty of murder based on both lying in wait and felony murder, but acquitted as to malice, premeditation, and deliberation. Judgment on the discharging a firearm offense was arrested, and the defendant was sentenced to life in prison.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his convictions for murder, attempted murder, or conspiracy. The Court of Appeals disagreed, and held that there was sufficient evidence to support all the charges. Even though the state offered the defendant’s initial exculpatory statement into evidence, that statement was inconsistent with other evidence of the defendant’s guilt, such as his admissions to being at the scene and firing a gun, and forensic evidence that showed he fired 13 shots at the passenger side of the vehicle. The bullet that killed the driver came from the other side of the car, but there was sufficient evidence to show that the defendant and the other shooter were acting in concert and engaged in the felony of discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle. Evidence cited by the court included the longstanding feud that led to the murder, the close friendship between the defendant and the other shooter, incriminating text messages regarding their plan, the coordinated nature of both the set-up to bring the victims to a specific location and the resulting ambush, and the assailants’ joint flight afterward. Based on all the evidence, a reasonable juror could conclude that the two shooters were lying in wait for the victims, and they were acting in concert when they opened fire on the occupied vehicle. Although the passenger in the vehicle survived, the court held that the evidence was likewise sufficient to find that the defendant and his accomplice intended to murder the passenger, made an agreement to do so, and performed an overt act to carry out that intent, thus supporting the convictions for both attempted murder and conspiracy.