State v. Hayden, 212 N.C. App. 482 (Jun. 7, 2011)

In a case involving a 1972 homicide, the trial judge erred by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss due to insufficient evidence that he was the perpetrator. When the State presents only circumstantial evidence that the defendant is the perpetrator, courts look at motive, opportunity, capability and identity to determine whether a reasonable inference of the defendant’s guilt may be inferred or whether there is merely a suspicion that the defendant is the perpetrator. Evidence of either motive or opportunity alone is insufficient to carry a case to the jury. Here, the evidence was sufficient to show motive; it showed hostility between the victim and the defendant that erupted at times in physical violence and threats. However, there was insufficient evidence of opportunity. The court noted that for there to be sufficient evidence of opportunity, the State must present evidence placing the defendant at the crime scene when the crime was committed. Here, the only evidence of opportunity was the defendant’s statement, made 26 years after the murder, that he was briefly in a spot two miles away from the crime scene. Finally, the court agreed with the defendant’s argument that State’s evidence of his means to kill the victim was insufficient because it failed to connect the defendant to the murder weapon.