State v. Wilkerson

247 S.E.2d 905 (1978)

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State v. Wilkerson

North Carolina Supreme Court
247 S.E.2d 905 (1978)

  • Written by Tammy Boggs, JD

Facts

On October 16, 1976, two-year-old Kessler Wilkerson died while in the care of his father, Kenneth Wilkerson (defendant). The state (plaintiff) charged Kenneth with various crimes, including second-degree murder. At trial, evidence showed that a loud, physical altercation occurred in the Wilkersons’ mobile home on the morning Kessler died. Later, Kenneth reported to ambulance attendants that Kessler had choked on some cereal, swallowed water, and stopped breathing. Kessler was dead on arrival at the hospital. A physical examination and autopsy of Kessler showed no signs of drowning but bruises all over his body, including on his chest, shoulders, and abdomen. The state’s official cause of death was abdominal hemorrhage from a ruptured liver. The state adduced evidence that Kenneth customarily kicked, spanked, and imposed corporal punishment on Kessler. Kenneth admitted to intentionally kicking Kessler into a wall two days prior to Kessler’s death but maintained that Kessler died accidentally on October 16, possibly by choking on something. The state presented the testimony of two medical experts: Dr. Casey Jason, who had worked with over 500 children during his career and was Kessler’s examining pediatrician in the emergency room, and Dr. John Grauerholz, who performed Kessler’s autopsy and was an expert in battered-child syndrome. Jason opined that Kessler’s bruises were not consistent with typical bruises sustained by children in their daily lives. Grauerholz explained the attributes of battered-child syndrome and opined that Kessler suffered from the condition. Both doctors’ testimonies were based on their personal examinations, experience, and expertise. The jury convicted Kenneth of the charged crimes, and Kenneth appealed. On appeal, Kenneth argued that the expert testimony was improperly admitted because it invaded the jury’s role as fact-finder.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Exum, J.)

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