COLUMBIA, S.C. — Prosecutors are not allowed to use information from a South Carolina man who was shot and identified his attacker from his hospital bed because the wounded man didn’t think he was dying when he made the statements, an appeals court ruled.
The man did die a few days later, and without his statements, prosecutors say they don’t have a case against the man they think shot him.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told The Post and Courier she will appeal this week’s decision because without the ID Davon Goodwin gave, she would have to drop the 6-year-old murder and armed robbery case in Charleston County.
Goodwin was alert but coughing up blood when he arrived at the hospital after being shot in April 2011, according to court records.
He underwent two surgeries, but was removed from intensive care three days after the shooting — the same day a detective asked him to identify the man who shot him from six photos, court records said.
Goodwin started physical therapy, but died unexpectedly five days later from a blood clot in his lungs, medical records show. The coroner ruled his death a homicide and a murder charge followed against Marvin Brown.
Prosecutors wanted to use Goodwin’s statement as what lawyers call a “dying declaration.” Dying declarations are a rare exception to court rules about hearsay that don’t allow someone to testify about what someone else said because defendants have the right to confront witnesses at trial.
But a key component to that exception is knowing death is imminent and the person making the statement “must be so fully aware of this as to be without any hope of life,” the appeals court ruled Wednesday in upholding a lower court judge’s decision.
The court cited medical records showing Goodwin doing physical therapy and his family being told by doctors he should be able to return to school or work, and the fact that Goodwin identified his killer after questioning, not spontaneously.
The appeals court mentioned a 2001 case in Berkeley County where dying words were allowed in a murder case that led to a life sentence. A woman who suffered a deep cut to her neck identified the first two letters of her killer’s first name by nodding as a nurse recited the alphabet. The woman also shook her head “no” at the nurse who told her she was going to be fine and then lost consciousness, according to court records.
In Goodwin’s case, Goodwin’s identification, she may not have a case.
“We knew our initial appeal was an uphill battle but still believed it to be a worthy effort,” Wilson said.
Brown remains out on bail.
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com