State v. Cook, 246 N.C. App. 266 (Mar. 15, 2016)

(1) In this murder case, counsel’s statement in closing argument did not exceed the scope of consent given by the defendant during a Harbison inquiry. In light of the Harbison hearing, the defendant knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily, and with full knowledge of the awareness of the possible consequences agreed to counsel’s concession that he killed the victim and had culpability for some criminal conduct. The court noted that counsel’s trial strategy was to argue that the defendant lacked the mental capacity necessary for premeditation and deliberation and therefore was not guilty of first-degree murder. (2) The Harbison standard did not apply to counsel’s comments regarding the “dreadfulness” of the crimes because these comments were not concessions of guilt. Considering these statements under the Strickland standard, the court noted that counsel pointed out to the jury that while the defendant’s crimes were horrible, the central issue was whether the defendant had the necessary mental capacity for premeditation and deliberation. The defendant failed to rebut the strong presumption that counsel’s conduct was reasonable. Additionally no prejudice was established given the overwhelming evidence of guilt.