State v. Tart, ___ N.C. ___, 824 S.E.2d 837 (Mar. 29, 2019)

On discretionary review of a unanimous, unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 808 S.E.2d 178 (2017), the court held that the prosecutor’s remarks during closing argument in this first-degree murder case were not so grossly improper as to require the trial court to intervene ex mero motu. In the first challenged comments, the prosecutor told the jury that the defendant’s mental health history was ripe with examples of violence, homicidal ideations, and the desire and intent to kill other people. The prosecutor argued that any mental illness that the defendant had did not prevent him from forming the specific intent to kill. The prosecutor continued: “He had the specific intent to kill many people, over a 20-year period of time.” These statements were premised on matters in the record and were not otherwise improper.

            The defendant also pointed to statements by the prosecutor that the jury could ensure that a “homicidal, manipulative, sociopath is not unleashed, yet again, onto our streets.” The defendant argued that the term “unleashed” was inflammatory and prejudicial. The court disagreed, concluding that this statement “falls within the realm of permissible hyperbole.”

            Finally, the defendant challenged the prosecutor’s reference to the defendant’s potentially delusional, but factually plausible, motives for stabbing the victim. Again, the court found no gross impropriety with respect to these comments.