State v. Paddock, 204 N.C. App. 280 (Jun. 1, 2010)

In a case in which the defendant was found guilty of felonious child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury and first-degree murder, the trial court did not err by admitting testimony of the State’s expert in the field of developmental and forensic pediatrics. Based on a review of photographs, reports, and other materials, the expert testified that she found the histories of the older children very consistent as eyewitnesses to what the younger children described. She also testified about ritualistic and sadistic abuse and torture, stating that torture occurs when a person “takes total control and totally dominates a person’s behavior and most the [sic] basic of behaviors are taken control of. Those basic behaviors are eating, eliminating and sleeping.” As an example, she described binding a child at night, placing duct tape over the mouth, and then placing furniture on the child for the purpose of immobilization. The expert stated that she was not testifying to a legal definition of torture but was defining the term based on her medical expertise. She testified that one sibling suffered from sadistic abuse and torture; another from sadistic abuse, ritualistic abuse, and torture; and a third from sadistic abuse and torture. The jury was instructed to consider this testimony for the limited purpose for which it was admitted under Rule 404(b). Additionally, the trial court instructed the jury that torture was a “course of conduct by one who intentionally inflicts grievous pain and suffering upon another for the purpose of punishment, persuasion or sadistic pleasure.” The expert’s testimony was not inadmissible opinion testimony on the credibility of the children and admission of the expert’s testimony regarding the use of the word torture was not an abuse of discretion.