State v. Enoch, ___ N.C. App. ___, 820 S.E.2d 543 (Sept. 18, 2018)

(1) In this non-capital first-degree murder case where the defendant was convicted of murdering a former girlfriend Sellars, the trial court did not err by admitting 404(b) testimony from the defendant’s former girlfriend Crisp and former wife Lewis about assaults that the defendant committed on them. The evidence was admitted to show motive, intent, modus operandi, and identity. The requirement of similarity was satisfied. Among other things, the trial court’s findings of fact identified “location similarities between the incidents.” The defendant’s assaults of Crisp and Lewis occurred in isolated areas, and Sellars’ remains were found on one of the roads in an isolated area where the defendant assaulted Crisp. With respect to remoteness, the defendant’s assaults on Crisp occurred from 1990-1993; the assaults on Lewis occurred from 1996-1999; and Sellars’ death occurred in 2012, 13 years after the last assault. Subtracting 4 years that the defendant spent in prison, leaves a 9 year gap. The court concluded that assaults on multiple victims over time with relatively short gaps in between show a pattern of behavior, and that the evidence satisfied the temporal proximity requirement of the Rule 404(b) analysis. The court went on to find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the 404 evidence satisfied Rule 403.

(2) The trial court did not err by instructing the jury that it could use of evidence of the defendant’s prior assaults on the victim to show identity. Multiple witnesses testified regarding the defendant’s abuse of the victim prior to her murder and the defendant’s prior assaults on her arose in the context of a relationship in which the defendant used violence to control her behavior. This evidence was properly admitted to show identity.