State v. Myers, 238 N.C. App. 133 (Dec. 16, 2014)

Because there was an insufficient factual basis to support an Alford plea that included an admission to aggravating factors, the court vacated the plea and remanded for proceedings on the original charge. The defendant was charged with the first-degree murder of his wife. He entered an Alford plea to second-degree murder, pursuant to a plea agreement that required him to concede the existence of two aggravating factors. The trial court accepted the plea agreement, found the existence of those aggravating factors, and sentenced the defendant for second-degree murder in the aggravated range. The court found that there was not a sufficient factual basis to support the aggravating factor that the offense was especially heinous, cruel, and atrocious. The record did not show excessive brutality, or physical pain, psychological suffering, or dehumanizing aspects. The court rejected the State’s argument that the aggravating factor was supported by the fact that the victim was killed within the “sanctuary” of her home. On this issue, the court distinguished prior case law on grounds that in those cases the defendant was not lawfully in the victim’s home; here the crime occurred in a home that the defendant lawfully shared with the victim. The court also rejected the State’s argument that the mere fact that the victim did not die instantaneously supported the aggravating factor. The court also found an insufficient factual basis to support the aggravating factor that the defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence, reasoning that “[t]he relationship of husband and wife does not per se support a finding of trust or confidence where [t]here was no evidence showing that defendant exploited his wife's trust in order to kill her.” (quotation omitted). Here, there was no evidence that the defendant so exploited his wife’s trust.