Nathan Bowie was sentenced to death by the State of North Carolina for a double murder. According to court documents Nathan Bowie and his uncle William Bowie would shoot and kill two people, Nelson Shuford and Calvin Wilson. Nathan Bowie would be arrested and sentenced to death
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On May 23, 1991, at around 11:00 p.m., the uncle, William Barfield Bowie (“William”), and aunt, Rochelle Bowie (“Rochelle”), of Nathan Wayne Bowie (“Bowie”) approached Nelson Shuford (“Shuford”) and Calvin Wilson (“Wilson”) in the street. An argument ensued between Rochelle and Shuford. Seeing acquaintances of Shuford’s gathering, William and Rochelle walked away from the argument. They then heard shots fired from behind them. Rochelle believed that Shuford and Wilson were shooting at her, but in fact Wilson was shooting into the air.
William and Rochelle returned to Rochelle’s residence, where William attempted to contact Bowie. Reaching Bowie’s mother by telephone, William left a message for Bowie, explaining what had transpired and asking Bowie to meet him at Rochelle’s residence as soon as possible. Shortly thereafter, Bowie, then twenty-years old, arrived, carrying a .45 firearm. Bowie explained, “I had a funny feeling something was going to go down so I brought the gun.” J.A. 579. William then retrieved a .25 firearm and checked it for bullets. Bowie was overheard telling William, “I know where he live[s]. He live[s] in Newton.” Id. (alteration in original). Shuford in fact resided in Newton.
Early the next morning, Bowie and William left Rochelle’s house. Around 8:00 a.m., Bowie was seen pounding on the front door of Shuford’s residence in Newton, calling for Shuford to come out, claiming to be “Neal” from Charlotte. Finding Shuford not at home, Bowie left, angry and cursing, and sped away in his truck. Three witnesses, including two who knew Bowie from high school, identified Bowie as the man banging on Shuford’s door.
Approximately two hours later, Shuford and Wilson were standing and socializing with four friends in the yard of Phillip Link. According to multiple eyewitnesses, Nathan Bowie and William appeared from behind a building and approached the group. Shuford asked, “[W]hat’s up, man[?]”, J.A. 580, then Bowie and William began firing, killing Shuford and Wilson.
Later forensics revealed that Shuford had been shot once in the chest by a large-caliber bullet, dying instantly. Wilson was shot in the chest with a small-caliber bullet and in the head with a large-caliber bullet. One of the gunshot wounds was delivered after Wilson was already on the ground suffering from the other. Wilson died several days later from the head wound. Neither victim was armed at the time of the shootings, though Wilson’s gun was some distance away in the trunk of his car.
Immediately after the killings, Nathan Bowie and William fled to Philadelphia, where they were soon apprehended and charged with the murders. Bowie and William were tried together, each for two counts of first-degree murder, in the Catawba County Superior Court in North Carolina. Bowie was represented at trial by two court-appointed attorneys: W. Thomas Portwood, Jr. (“Portwood”) and Mark Killian (“Killian”). Portwood had a general practice that included court-appointed criminal work. He had previously represented several capital defendants. It was later revealed that Portwood struggled with alcohol dependence during his representation of Bowie.1 Killian was a young attorney from a firm that engaged primarily in civil matters and had no capital experience. Before trial, the two attorneys negotiated a plea offer for Bowie in which Bowie would have pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, for which he would have received life imprisonment but been spared a potential death sentence. Bowie declined the proffered plea agreement, electing instead to go to trial.
A number of witnesses testified at trial as to the essential facts surrounding the killings. For example, disinterested eyewitnesses testified to Nathan Bowie and William’s discussion and handling of firearms the night before the killings, to Bowie’s pounding on Shuford’s door, and to the killings themselves. In addition to the undisputed testimony of those witnesses, the government read into evidence two statements that are at issue in this appeal.
The government introduced a voluntary statement that codefendant William had given to police shortly after his arrest. In the statement, William explained that either Shuford or Wilson took jewelry from Rochelle’s house, which prompted the argument in the street the night before the murders. The next day, William continued, he met up with “someone” at Rochelle’s house.2 J.A. 33. The two left together in search of Shuford and Wilson, whom they found in Link’s yard. William and Shuford started arguing. William stated that he heard a shot issue from behind him and saw Shuford fall to the ground. William explained that he panicked, pulled out his own firearm and fired two rounds in the direction of Shuford and Wilson before the gun jammed. He heard another shot, then began to run, hearing one final shot behind him as he escaped the scene. William insisted to police that he had brought his gun with him that morning only as a precaution, knowing that at least one of the men had been armed the night before, and that he did not intend to kill anyone. Bowie’s counsel made no objection to the admission of the statement, nor did they ask that a limiting instruction be provided to ensure the jury did not consider the statement to implicate Bowie.
The government also introduced a statement that Rochelle had provided to investigators on the night of the murders. Nathan Bowie objected to admission of the statement on the ground, inter alia, that it would violate his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.3 The trial court overruled the objection and allowed the statement to be admitted under Rule 804 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence, governing admission of statements made by unavailable witnesses.
Rochelle explained in her statement that she had argued with Shuford regarding the location of her missing jewelry. She confirmed the testimony of other witnesses that Nathan Bowie and William handled firearms that night at her house. She also stated that the duo drove off the next morning in Bowie’s truck, returning a few hours later in haste to take Rochelle and her children to stay with a relative. En route, either Bowie or William told her, “[W]e got them.” J.A. 30. Bowie and William told her they were going to Philadelphia.
In the face of the essentially undisputed testimony at trial that Nathan Bowie and William shot Shuford and Wilson, Bowie’s counsel focused their closing statements on the government’s supposed failure to prove premeditation, asking the jury to return verdicts for second-degree murder. The jury nevertheless found Bowie and William guilty of both counts of first-degree murder under the theory of acting in concert.