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Date: 01-30-2018

Case Style:

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA v. ARMOND DEVEGA

Case Number: COA16-1302

Judge: Robert N. Hunter Jr.

Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF NORTH CAROLINA

Plaintiff's Attorney: Assistant Attorney General Mary Carla Babb

Defendant's Attorney: Assistant Appellate Defender Kathleen M. Joyce

Description: On 17 November 2008, a Wake County Grand Jury indicted Defendant for two
counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, and nine
counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon. After considering several pre-trial
motions, the Wake County Superior Court called Defendant’s case for trial on 24
February 2014. The State called over ninety witnesses. The following evidence is
relevant to the issues raised on appeal.1
A. Durant Road Subway Robbery
The State called Lauren Wheeler, the manager of a Subway restaurant on
Durant Road. On 23 January 2008, at approximately 8:30 p.m., a man, who she later
1 The trial court dismissed one charge of armed robbery for insufficient evidence. The jury found Defendant not-guilty of two of the armed robbery charges and not-guilty of one murder charge. In the interest of brevity, this opinion only provides factual background pertinent to those charges for which Defendant was convicted.
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identified as Defendant, entered the store and asked Wheeler for a job application.
At that time, Wheeler stood near the cash register while her co-worker, Brandi
McGohan, emptied the trash. No other customers were in the store. As Wheeler
reached under the counter for the job application, the man walked behind the counter
through the swinging doors to where Wheeler stood. He pointed a gun at her.
Wheeler asked whether he was joking, and he replied, “No, I’m very serious.” The
man then forced her to walk toward the back of the store. He ordered McGohan, who
had just returned from outside, to get into the freezer. Wheeler and Defendant
walked back to the front of the store, toward the cash register. Defendant asked her
several times if she knew how to open the safe and she repeatedly told him no.
Wheeler opened the cash register and gave him all of the cash there, as well as a box
of coins, then he left the store. As soon as he left, Wheeler ran to lock the door, called
the police, and let McGohan out of the freezer.
Wheeler estimated the robbery lasted approximately fifteen minutes. She
described the suspect as wearing a green jacket, a hat, sunglasses, and black boots.
He held a western gun with a long, black barrel. Wheeler saw the suspect’s face a
lot, and she described him as having very distinctive features including his nose and
facial hair.
When asked by the prosecution to identify the man who robbed her, she
identified Defendant. She stated she was one hundred percent sure Defendant
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committed the crime. On cross-examination, Wheeler indicated sometime in 2009 or
2010, she viewed a picture of Defendant online, in conjunction with a news story
which indicated Defendant had been arrested and charged with the robbery of the
Durant Road Subway.
The State called McGohan, Wheeler’s co-worker. The night of the incident,
when McGohan returned from taking out the trash, she saw Defendant standing
behind Wheeler, holding a gun to her head. Defendant then grabbed McGohan by
the collar and told Wheeler to put her in the freezer. Defendant shut the door of the
freezer, but seconds later returned and told McGohan to give him her cell phone. He
threatened to kill her if she came out. She confirmed he wore a hooded sweatshirt
and sunglasses. She only viewed Defendant for a few seconds, and, therefore, could
not provide a detailed description of him. However, she did describe his cheeks as
“baby face smooth.”
When police officers arrived on the scene, Wheeler gave a statement and
described the assailant as a black male, approximately six feet one inch tall, and two
hundred pounds. He wore a green jacket, blue jeans, Timberland boots, sunglasses,
and a black skull cap, and he had a goatee. She described the gun as a western gun
with a black and brown handle.2 Another detective interviewed the owner of the
2 The State called Tim Anguish, deputy director of the City County Bureau of Identification. On 23 January 2008, he responded to the Durant Road Subway robbery and he corroborated Officer Lane’s testimony.
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restaurant, Mr. Patel. Patel viewed the surveillance videos and stated the suspect
resembled a former employee.
B. Louisburg Road WilcoHess Robbery
The State called Sabbir Pavel, the store manager of the WilcoHess on
Louisburg Road. On 1 February 2008, around 5:00 a.m., Pavel arrived to open the
store for business. While approaching the front door, he heard someone say “hold
up.” He then saw a man with a gun. The man put the gun to Pavel’s back and held
him by the jacket. He told Pavel to open the door and he walked him to the alarm
keypad to turn off the alarm. He asked Pavel where the safe was. Pavel pointed to
it, and the suspect ordered him to lay down on the floor and open the safe. Pavel said
he did not have a key to the safe. Then the suspect pressed a knife against Pavel’s
neck and said “you’re a manager, you have the key.” Pavel used his key to open the
safe, and the suspect told him to put money in a bag.
The suspect ordered Pavel to get up, and he took Pavel to the back office. The
suspect told Pavel to give him the cordless office phone and his cell phone. The
suspect threw both phones on the floor, breaking the cordless phone. Then he
commanded Pavel to stay behind the cash register and not to move. He left the store,
and Pavel used the silent alarm to contact the police.
Pavel described the suspect as a black male, approximately six feet tall, and
between 190 and 210 pounds, with a muscular build. He wore a mask made of
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pantyhose, a jacket, and gloves. He also held a short, silver handgun. The State then
played the surveillance video for the jury, which showed the event Pavel described.
Two weeks later, on 13 February 2008, a second robbery occurred at the same
store. This time, Pavel arrived to work at approximately 5:15 a.m., and as he entered
the store and pulled the door closed, someone put a gun between the door to hold it
open. The suspect then pushed Pavel and told him to turn off the alarm and open the
safe. Pavel complied and gave the suspect money. Then the suspect fled. Pavel
immediately recognized the robber as the same man who committed the first robbery.
He also recognized the same gun. This time, the suspect wore a black jacket and
covered his face and head with a mask. The State played the surveillance video for
the jury, which reflected the event Pavel described.
The State called Raleigh Police Officer Daniel Shelton, who responded to the 1
February armed robbery. He spoke with Pavel and obtained a description of the
assailant. Pavel described the suspect as “wearing [an] olive drab color coat, dark
blue jeans, black gloves and a light see-through beige mask similar to pantyhose.” He
also described the man as approximately 190 pounds, muscular, and twenty-seven to
thirty-two years old.
The State called Officer J. D. Rattelade, who responded to the 13 February
armed robbery. Pavel gave Officer Rattelade a description of the suspect, identifying
him as “a black male, approximately 30 years of age, six foot, six foot two inches tall,
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medium build, wearing a red and gray ski mask, green coat, blue jeans, and gloves,
and armed with a silver revolver.” Pavel stated he arrived to open the store that
morning and as he unlocked the front door to enter, he was “ambushed.” The suspect
pointed a silver revolver at him, ordered him to enter the store, and to turn off the
alarm. Then, the suspect ordered him to open the safe. Pavel obeyed, and placed
approximately three thousand dollars in a plastic bag. Pavel stated he was certain
the same man committed both robberies. Investigators did not test the scene for
fingerprints.
C. Trawick Road WilcoHess Murder
The State called Officer E. M. Vigeant. On 10 April 2008, at approximately
5:00 a.m., he responded to an armed robbery at the WilcoHess on Trawick Road. As
he approached the store, a man hurried toward him stating his fiancé inside the store
needed help. The man said his fiancé, Ms. Anderson, opened the store every day, and
he also went to the store daily to get a newspaper. However, on this day when he
arrived, he saw Anderson lying on the floor, so he called 911.
The officer went to Anderson and found her breathing, but unresponsive.
Moments later, she stopped breathing, and emergency medical responders
pronounced her dead.3
3 The State called Dr. Cynthia Gardner, an assistant medical examiner. Dr. Gardner determined the cause of Ms. Anderson’s death was a gunshot wound to the chest.
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The State called Agent Michael Galloway, who responded to the scene,
reviewed the surveillance footage, and collected fingerprints and footwear
impressions. The State moved to enter the surveillance video into evidence, and
Defendant objected. The court overruled the objection, on the basis the probative
value of the evidence outweighed any prejudicial effect to Defendant. Defendant also
requested the court mute the sound, and the court denied this motion.
The State called Sergeant Michael Galloway, who also responded to the scene
and reviewed the surveillance video.4 From the surveillance footage, Sergeant
Galloway observed the following:
Upon [Anderson’s] arrival, I observed the victim approaching the front door. She arrives at the front door and prepares to unlock it. The suspect is observed running towards the victim with a handgun displayed. Upon reaching the victim, the suspect orders her at gun point to unlock the door. Once inside the business, the suspect instructs the victim to deactivate the burglar alarm. After disarming the alarm, the suspect orders the victim to get on her knees. He also instructs her to open the safe. She obeys the suspect’s initial demand by going to a kneeling position behind the counter. The . . . suspect demands for the victim to open the safe again and again.

. . . .

The victim appears as if she attempts to unlock the safe. However she’s unsuccessful. The suspect starts to count. He says[,] “One[.]”

. . . .
4 Agent Michael Galloway and Sergeant Michael Galloway are two different witnesses.
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The victim pleads with the suspect to no avail. The suspect says, “Two.”

Then, after the suspect shot the victim, he fled the scene on foot. Based on
the footage, Sergeant Galloway, along with other detectives and investigators,
created the following description of the suspect:
[A] [b]lack male, 18 to 25 years of age, 5 foot 10 to six foot, light to medium complexion, wearing [a] navy blue hooded sweatshirt jacket, camouflage shirt underneath, dark baggy jeans, black sneakers, possibly Air Force Ones, and a camouflage cap. White synthetic gloves with blue rubber palms and tips, writing on [the] back of [the] gloves. Analog wrist watch on left arm, dark colored band and possibly a green face. Armed with a dark-colored revolver with a wood color handle, possibl[y] a .38 caliber, with four to six inch barrel.

At the time the investigators devised the description, they immediately noted
similarities in the 23 January Subway robbery, and the 1 and 13 February
WilcoHess robberies. The investigators also recognized similarities in the firearm
used in each incident. Agent Galloway testified, “it very quickly became apparent
that these robbery cases were related to the WilcoHess on Trawick Road . . . .”
D. Six Forks Road Subway Robbery
The State called Nisrin Mohammed, an employee at the Subway restaurant on
Six Forks Road. On 7 May 2008, between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m., a man entered the
restaurant wearing a strange hat and glasses. Mohammed immediately felt
uncomfortable and thought something was wrong. When his co-worker, Sihem
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Benamara, entered the store, Mohammed pretended to wash his hands and discretely
told Benamara to call the police.
The suspect ordered a sandwich, and Mohammed took his time making it. The
suspect paid, then sat at a table and ate. Another customer entered the restaurant,
ordered, and then left. Mohammed saw her leave and noticed the parking lot was
then empty. The suspect approached Mohammed a second time, ordered another
sandwich, and asked if he could use the restroom. Mohammed told him he could and
prepared the sandwich.
The suspect walked down the hallway toward the restroom, but instead of
entering the restroom, he attempted to open the door to the employees’ office. He
then returned to the front of the store and stood in front of Mohammed. A moment
later, the suspect quickly ran and jumped over the counter, toward the cash register
and grabbed Benamara. He held a small, black gun in his hand. He loudly and
repeatedly told Benamara, “[g]ive me the money.”
Mohammed put the money from the cash register in a Subway bag. The
suspect also demanded all the money in Benamara’s purse. He repeatedly asked
Mohammed to open the safe, and Mohammed responded he did not have the key. The
suspect pushed Benamara to the back of the store, grabbed Mohammed, and repeated
“I need money, money.” Benamara escaped through the back door of the store, and
the suspect fired his gun at Mohammed, missing. The bullet entered the wall near
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the back door. Mohammed opened the back door and pushed the suspect outside.
The surveillance camera was not recording that night.5
Mohammed described the suspect as average size, dark skinned, and
approximately 167 to 168 centimeters tall. He appeared to be twenty-seven or
twenty-eight years old, and he had a big mouth and big lips. He wore a “weird” hat
and “multi-colored children’s sunglasses.”
The State called Raleigh Police Officer A. G. Wimberly, who responded to the
armed robbery. He interviewed Benamara, who described the suspect as “a black
male, 26 years old, no facial hair, approximately five-eleven, medium build, wearing
a brown boonie hat, a black shirt, and blue jeans.” He also wore black, children’s
sunglasses, and had a black and brown handgun. Officer Wimberly understood the
term “boonie hat” to mean “something an individual in the military would wear to
protect themselves . . . from the elements. It commonly has a strap.” The two victims
later described the hat as a “fishing-style hat.” Investigators recovered fingerprints,
shoe prints, and bullet fragments from the scene.
The State called Sergeant Brian Hall, who also responded to the scene.
Sergeant Hall interviewed Benamara, who said she saw the robbery occur through a
closed circuit television in the back area of the store, where she was washing dishes.
Her description of the robbery corroborated Mohammed’s testimony.
5 The State called Benamara, Mohammed’s coworker, who corroborated Mohammed’s testimony.
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The suspect told Benamara to give him money from her purse, and she
complied. He continued to demand more, saying “[g]ive me more money. Give me
more money.” When Benamara managed to escape his grasp, she heard a gunshot
and smelled gun powder. She stated the suspect looked similar to someone she had
seen in the restaurant a few weeks prior. She gave the following description of the
suspect:
[A] black male between the ages of 23 and 24, about 5 foot 11 in height, a medium build, medium skin tone. He had a wide nose and big lips. He wore a black and brown colored hat that she described as like a beach hat and the design was wavy and varied in color between a black and brown color, but she indicated that [it] was not a camouflage pattern. He also wore small children’s or kid’s sunglasses which were narrow in the frame and lens and they were all black in color. He was clean shaven. He wore a black longsleeved shirt with no lettering or patterns and wore medium-colored blue jeans which were baggy.

The State called Tracy Lipskoch, as an expert in latent examination of
fingerprints. Lipskoch testified investigators obtained one fingerprint of value from
the scene, and she compared it to Defendant’s prints. Her first comparison was
inconclusive, and her second comparison excluded Defendant as the source of the
prints.
E. Mexico Lindo Robbery and Attempted Murder
The State called Modesta Fernandez-Lucas, an employee at the Mexico Lindo
check-cashing business on Wake Forest Road. On 10 September 2008, around 8:15
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p.m., Fernandez-Lucas and her co-worker, Alba Acosta, were preparing to close the
store, when she noticed a man walking back and forth on the sidewalk by the door.
A few minutes passed, then the man quickly entered the store holding a small, black
gun. Fernandez-Lucas pushed the silent alarm and grabbed the gun she kept near
the counter. The suspect jumped over the counter toward her, screamed, and shot
her in the hands and arm. Fernandez-Lucas attempted to hide under the counter,
but the suspect kicked and hit her until she pretended to be dead. Then he took
money out of the cash registers. Moments later, Acosta came to her aid and called
911.6
When police officers arrived at the scene, Fernandez-Lucas gave a description
of the suspect. At the time she could only remember he wore a mask and something
covered his head. Later, medical responders transferred Fernandez-Lucas to the
hospital. The State showed the surveillance video to the jury.
The State called Officer V. J. Espinoza, who responded to the Mexico Lindo
robbery and took Acosta’s statement. Acosta stated she heard someone enter the
store and then heard Fernandez-Lucas yell. She saw a man pointing a black gun at
Fernandez-Lucas and walking quickly toward her. Then the man jumped over the
counter and shot at Fernandez-Lucas approximately four times. Acosta estimated
6 The State called Acosta, who worked with Fernandez-Lucas the night of the incident. Acosta corroborated Fernandez-Lucas’s testimony, and she told responding officers she was not able to see the suspect’s face.
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the suspect stayed in the store for approximately four or five minutes. She described
the suspect as a tall, black male, approximately six feet tall and 180 pounds. He wore
a black ski mask, a camouflage jacket and pants, gloves, black boots, and a black gun,
which Acosta thought might be a revolver.
The State called Detective Zamora, who assisted in the investigation and
interviewed Fernandez-Lucas in the hospital. Fernandez-Lucas’s statement to
Zamora corroborated her testimony. She also described the suspect as a slim, black
male, approximately six feet tall. He wore a puffy, camouflaged jacket with a hood
and black gloves. She believed the suspect had a black semi-automatic pistol in his
right hand, and she did not remember any details about his face.
Officer Greg Palczak responded to the scene and took statements from both
clerks. Officers did not recover any shell casings from the scene, indicating the
suspect used a revolver. Palczak did recover a spent bullet, and this, along with the
fragments left in Fernandez-Lucas’s hand, were linked to the Anderson homicide and
the Six Forks Road Subway robbery.
F. Investigations
The State called Taneka Sharperson, who dated Defendant for approximately
six months during 2007. During that time, Defendant worked as an assistant
electrician at Pike Electric. He regularly wore dark protective eyewear and gloves to
work. His gloves were white with a blue palm. Sharperson stated Defendant owns a
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dark brown and black revolver. She also testified Defendant has a speech
impediment, which causes him to stutter significantly, especially when he is upset or
anxious.
In September 2008, Sharperson saw news footage on television indicating
someone robbed the WilcoHess on Trawick Road and murdered the clerk. Sharperson
recognized the photograph of the suspect as Defendant. She then drove to the
WilcoHess, which was located less than five minutes from her house. She had
previously seen a poster of the suspect on the store’s front door. Sharperson obtained
the hotline number from the poster and called the police. When she called, she gave
the detective a false name. She told the detective the photo looked like Defendant,
because “he has very distinct features.” She also indicated the glasses Defendant
wore to work matched the glasses in the picture.
In early September, Sharperson met with Detective Galloway to view
additional surveillance photographs and videos. After viewing the surveillance
videos of the WilcoHess homicide, she identified the suspect’s voice as Defendant’s
and recognized his stuttering.
In surveillance photographs of the Mexico Lindo robbery, she recognized the
suspect’s camouflage rain suit and the gloves as similar to ones Defendant wore to
work. She also recognized Defendant’s eyes in the photographs and stated, “I just
knew his eyes. They’re very, . . . distinct.”
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In other surveillance photographs, she recognized the suspect’s Gore-Tex
boots, LRG brand of blue jeans, and gray thermal shirt as similar to Defendant’s
clothing. She stated, “I have actually seen him in that complete outfit before.” She
also recognized the suspect’s gloves as similar to Defendant’s, as well as a green army
style jacket, which Defendant kept in her closet. She noted Defendant’s distinctive
nose, which she described as shaped like a bell pepper. She told officers Defendant
frequently talked about ways to commit crimes without getting caught and was
always “scheming and plotting” how to get away with things. He told her one way to
avoid getting caught was to always act alone.
Sharperson admitted when she initially called the hotline, she knew the
detectives offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the
person involved. For the information she provided, the detectives awarded her
$12,500 and would give her another $12,500 upon Defendant’s conviction.
Sharperson also admitted she had previously accused Defendant of setting her car on
fire. However, an investigation later determined an air-conditioner malfunction
caused the car to catch on fire.
The State called Detective Marcus Smith, who investigated the WilcoHess
robberies and the Durant Road Subway robbery. Smith determined in each of the
robberies, the victims gave similar descriptions of the suspect, the suspect used a
similar weapon, and both occurred in the same part of town. The Subway robbery
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occurred at 8:45 p.m. and both WilcoHess robberies around 5:00 a.m. All three
robberies occurred when an employee appeared to be by themselves―either near the
opening or closing of the business.
Sergeant Michael Galloway testified strong indicators linked the Anderson
homicide to the Durant Road Subway robbery and both Louisburg Road WilcoHess
robberies. In the Durant Road robbery and the Louisburg Road robberies, the suspect
wore brown or dark-colored gloves. And in those same three robberies, the suspect
used a black revolver with a brown handle. In each of the WilcoHess robberies, the
suspect forced the clerk inside when they were opening the store around 5:00 a.m.,
commanded the clerk to open the safe, and then fled the scene.
Investigators determined the same weapon fired projectiles in the Anderson
homicide, the Six Forks Road Subway robbery, and the Mexico Lindo robbery.
However, investigators never recovered the weapon used.
The State called Christina Shoopman, as an expert in forensic DNA analysis.
She examined evidence in the Anderson case and the Six Forks Road Subway robbery.
In both instances, Defendant’s DNA did not match any DNA recovered from the
scene.
The State called Joyce Petzka, as an expert in footwear impressions. She
compared eight pairs of shoes recovered from Defendant’s house to impressions
obtained from the scenes. In the Anderson homicide, one of the impressions “had a
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very small element that corresponded to one of the elements in one of [Defendant’s]
shoes.”
Petzka also examined footwear evidence from the Six Forks Road Subway
robbery. She determined one of Defendant’s shoes corresponded to an impression
taken from the scene. She “determined that the outsole design, the size of the design
and the general wear of that shoe corresponded to [Defendant’s blue fabric Nike TN
Air athletic shoe].” From the Mexico Lindo scene, she determined three footwear
impressions corresponded in outsole design to Defendant’s shoe; yet these
impressions did not contain any unique or individual characteristics which would
identify Defendant’s shoe as having made the impression.
In the Anderson homicide investigation, investigators collected fifty-seven
footwear impressions, and only one had an element which corresponded to
Defendant’s shoe. On cross-examination, Petzka stated she could not definitively say
Defendant’s shoe could have made any of the impressions because shoemakers use
similar design elements in their shoes and the general wear pattern of the heel area
and the ball of the foot are the most common wear patterns.
The State called Mark Sams, Defendant’s supervisor at Pike Electric for
approximately three years. Detectives met with Sams and showed him photographs
of the suspect in the Mexico Lindo robbery. Sams recognized the suspect as
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Defendant, based on his eyes. Sams also recognized the gloves in the photograph and
said they resembled the gloves Pike employees used.
Stanley Hicks, who worked on the same crew as Defendant also testified. He
also met with detectives and viewed photographs of the suspect. Hicks “noticed a lot
of similarities” to Defendant, particularly the suspect’s eyes and clothing. Hicks
testified the suspect’s clothing looked similar to the manner Pike workers dress in
the winter―with hooded sweatshirts and masks to stay warm. Hicks stated by
wearing masks while working “you learn a person’s eyes.” He testified Defendant has
a “lazy eye” which was distinguishable and resembled the suspect. He also noticed
the facial features, including the suspect’s nose and lips, resembled Defendant.
The State called Kenneth Register, who also worked on the same crew as
Defendant. He testified he always rode to job sites with Defendant, and the two were
good friends. On one occasion, Defendant showed Register his revolver. Detectives
showed Register pictures of the suspect. Register recognized the suspect’s eyes as
similar to Defendant’s, and he thought the suspect could be Defendant. He also
recognized the mask shown in one photograph as similar to one another crew member
had. He stated Defendant occasionally joked about robbing banks.
The State called Courtney Tremel-Last, as an expert in computer forensics.
Tremel-Last completed a forensic examination of a computer which officers recovered
from Defendant’s bedroom. She performed keyword searches for several words
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related to the robberies.7 She determined “there were several websites found in
unallocated space [on Defendant’s computer] that may pertain to robberies in this
case.” Several results included a local news website with surveillance photographs
and news briefs from dates related to the robberies.8 She also obtained ten homework
assignments from Defendant’s computer. None of these assignments were created or
accessed on any of the dates of the incidents for which Defendant was convicted.
The State called Kevin Sneed, an investigator of financial crimes. He testified
regarding Defendant’s bank account, which indicated in 2008 he had been charged
several fees for insufficient funds and over drafting.
The State called Denita Devega, Defendant’s sister-in-law. In June 2008, she
noticed a photograph in a convenience store of a person who was “wanted” for a crime.
The photograph did not depict the suspect’s face, but she noticed the suspect and
Defendant had similar body-builds. After seeing the photograph, she called
Defendant and asked whether he was involved in the crime. He laughed and said,
“[t]hat’s not me. I wouldn't do anything like that.”
Later, when she spoke to a detective and viewed photographs of the suspect,
she informed the detective Defendant wore Gore-Tex boots, which are a popular style
7 Tremel-Last performed keyword searches for the following words: “Subway,” “WilcoHess,” “Anderson,” “Mexico Lindo,” “revolver,” “robbery,” “Durant,” “robberies,” among other words. 8 Her search of Defendant’s hard drive revealed one hundred and eighty-four hits associated with “Subway”; one thousand, thirty associated with “Anderson”; four hundred and forty-two for “revolver”; one thousand, two hundred and seventy-two for “Durant”; one hundred and thirty-eight for “robbery”; seven for “robberies”; none for “WilcoHess”; and none for “Mexico Lindo.”
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of boots, similar to those in the photograph. She also told the detective she was not
one hundred percent certain the suspect in the photograph was Defendant.
The State called Latina Burney, Defendant’s former girlfriend. She also met
with detectives and viewed photographs of the suspect. She noticed the suspect’s eyes
and clothing were similar to Defendant’s. She specifically noted the Gore-Tex boots.
The State called Robert Reid. Reid hosted card games at his house, which
Defendant regularly attended. A detective spoke with Reed and showed him pictures
of the suspect, which Reid had previously seen on the internet. Reed told the
detective he often sat across from Defendant playing cards and was familiar with
Defendant’s eyes, which looked like the suspect’s eyes. He told the detective “[t]hat’s
his eyes,” and “[a]nyone who knows him should be able to tell you that.”
In executing the search warrant of Defendant’s house, officers seized a pair of
blue-tipped gloves. However, an officer noted the logo on the gloves appeared
different from those in the surveillance footage of the robberies.
When a detective interviewed Defendant, he asked where Defendant was on
10 September, the night of the Mexico Lindo robbery. Defendant first responded he
did not know. He then stated his mom and dad use his car to go to church on
Wednesday nights, and he completes his online school assignments. He later stated
he thought he went to Dick’s Sporting Goods at Triangle Town Center on 10
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September. Defendant’s home is approximately 4.5 miles from the particular Dick’s
Sporting Goods, and the Mexico Lindo is approximately 4.5 miles from the store.
Then, when the detective asked Defendant whether it was raining outside that
night, Defendant stated “I know what you can do. This was supposed to be at nine,
right?” as he pointed to the picture of the Mexico Lindo robbery. “I used my debit
card. Whatever time that was, you can check.” Then he stated, “I bought me a bag.”
The State called Roy Keith Saunders, an employee at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Saunders traced a transaction to Defendant on 10 September 2008 at 9:17 p.m.
Surveillance video indicated Defendant was only in the store for four or five minutes.
The State called Detective Zeke Morse. Morse testified each of the businesses
which were robbed are located within nine miles from Defendant’s house. And each
of the crimes, which occurred at night, occurred on a Wednesday night. Detectives
never recovered the revolver which was ballistically linked to several cases. Nor did
they recover the blue tipped gloves, the keys taken from Anderson, or the green army
jacket.
The State presented evidence regarding Defendant twice robbing a produce
stand in December 1999, in Wilmington, North Carolina. In committing each
robbery, Defendant wore a green army-style jacket and used a revolver.
Defendant moved to dismiss each charge for lack of sufficient evidence. The
trial court dismissed the charge of armed robbery of the Capital Boulevard Subway,
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but denied Defendant’s motions for the other charges. Defendant did not put on any
evidence, and he renewed the motions to dismiss. The trial court again denied the
motions.
On 19 May 2014, the jury returned verdicts of guilty of robbery with a firearm
for the Durant Road Subway robbery, both robberies of the WilcoHess on Louisburg
Road, the WilcoHess on Trawick Road, the Six Forks Road Subway, and the Mexico
Lindo. The jury found Defendant guilty of the attempted murder of Fernandez-Lucas
and guilty of first-degree murder of Anderson. The jury found Defendant not guilty
of two additional robbery charges and one additional murder charge. The trial court
sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the
first-degree murder conviction and 220 to 273 months imprisonment for the
attempted murder conviction. The court arrested judgment on two of the armed
robbery convictions and sentenced Defendant to consecutive terms of 117 to 150
months imprisonment for each of the four remaining armed robbery convictions.
Defendant gave written notice of appeal to this Court on 26 May 2014.
II. Analysis
On appeal, Defendant contends the trial court committed error in four respects.
First, Defendant contends the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the State
to admit the surveillance video from the Anderson murder scene. Second, Defendant
contends the trial court abused its discretion in allowing testimony regarding the
STATE V. DEVEGA

Opinion of the Court

- 24 -
keyword search of Defendant’s computer. Third, Defendant argues the trial court
abused its discretion by denying the jury’s request for a transcript of Petzka’s
testimony. Finally, Defendant contends the trial court erred in denying his motion
to dismiss for lack of sufficient evidence. We address each contention in turn.
1. Admission of the Trawick Road WilcoHess Surveillance Video
In his first argument on appeal, Defendant contends the trial court abused its
discretion in allowing the State to introduce the surveillance video from the Trawick
Road WilcoHess murder scene. Defendant argues this evidence constitutes irrelevant
and highly prejudicial victim impact evidence, the admission of which deprived
Defendant of his constitutional right to due process and a fair trial. We disagree.
The surveillance video depicts Anderson lying motionless on the floor. Then
vehicle lights appear outside and a car horn honks. Moments later, Hewitt,
Anderson’s fiancé, runs inside the store, repeatedly crying “baby, baby” and “please
God, help me.” He then sits on the floor with Anderson, saying “baby, please don’t do
this to me, please God. . . . What do I do? Jesus please . . .” During the scene, the song
“How do you talk to an angel” is played from the store’s sound system.
At trial, Defendant objected to the admission of this video under North
Carolina Rule of Evidence 403 on the basis it is not probative and would only arouse
the passions of the jury. The trial court overruled the objection on the basis the
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Opinion of the Court

- 25 -
probative value of the evidence outweighed any prejudicial effect. Defendant also
requested the court mute the sound, and the court denied this motion.
“We review a trial court’s decision to exclude evidence under Rule 403 for abuse
of discretion.” State v. Whaley, 362 N.C. 156, 160, 655 S.E.2d 388, 390 (2008). “Abuse
of discretion results where the court’s ruling is manifestly unsupported by reason or
is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.” State v.
Hennis, 323 N.C. 279, 285, 372 S.E.2d 523, 527 (1988).
Under the North Carolina Rules of Evidence “[a]ll relevant evidence is
admissible, . . . . Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.” N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 8C-1, Rule 402 (2017). However, “[a]lthough relevant, evidence may be excluded if
its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice,
confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay,
waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C
1, Rule 403 (2017). Unfair prejudice means having “an undue tendency to suggest
decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one.”
State v. Mason, 315 N.C. 724, 731, 340 S.E.2d 430, 435 (1986).
Victim impact evidence is evidence of “physical, psychological, or emotional
injury suffered by the victim . . . ” or evidence of “any economic or property loss
suffered by the victim . . . ” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-833(a) (2017). “Victim impact
evidence also includes evidence of the effect of the crime on the victim’s family,
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Opinion of the Court

- 26 -
including the psychological and financial effect.” State v. Graham, 186 N.C. App. 182,
190, 650 S.E.2d 639, 645 (2007).
Victim impact evidence is generally relevant and admissible in sentencing, though its admissibility in sentencing “is limited by the requirement that the evidence not be so prejudicial it renders the proceeding fundamentally unfair.” However, the effect of a crime on a victim’s family often has no tendency to prove whether a particular defendant committed a particular criminal act against a particular victim; therefore victim impact evidence is usually irrelevant during the guilt-innocence phase of a trial and must be excluded. However, victim impact evidence which tends to show the context or circumstances of the crime itself, even if it also shows the effect of the crime on the victim and his family, is an exception to the general rule, and such evidence is relevant and therefore admissible at the guiltinnocence phase, providing, of course, that it is not subject to one of the admissibility exceptions of Rule 402.

Graham, 186 N.C. App. at 190-91, 650 S.E.2d at 645-46 (footnote omitted) (citations
omitted) (quoting State v. Allen, 360 N.C. 297, 310, 626 S.E.2d 271, 282 (2006)). We
conclude the surveillance video at issue in this case is an exception to the general
rule. This evidence is relevant and shows the context and circumstances of the crime
itself, even though it also contains victim impact evidence. The surveillance video
depicts the location of Anderson’s body behind the counter, evidence of her injuries,
how Hewitt discovered her, and the timing of his discovery. Therefore, we determine
the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this evidence.
Defendant argues any relevant facts demonstrated through the video were also
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Opinion of the Court

- 27 -
established through the State’s witnesses. Even so, it was within the trial court’s
discretion to determine admission of this evidence was not so repetitive as to lack
probative value.
2. Testimony Regarding the Keyword Search of Defendant’s Computer
Defendant next argues the trial court abused its discretion in allowing Tremel
Last to testify concerning a keyword search of Defendant’s computer. Defendant
contends this testimony was confusing and misleading, lacked probative value, and
was prejudicial.
The State contends Defendant did not preserve this issue for appellate review
by objecting at trial. Under the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure, “[i]n
order to preserve an issue for appellate review, a party must have presented to the
trial court a timely request, objection, or motion.” N.C. R. App. P. 10(a)(1). In State
v. Hazelwood, this Court held the appellate rules did not require the defendant to
renew his objection when he first objected when the witness was testifying, then
“[t]he trial court excused the jury and engaged in a lengthy discussion with the
parties. The trial court overruled [the defendant’s] objection, the jury returned, and
the trial resumed.” 187 N.C. App. 94, 98, 652 S.E.2d 63, 66 (2007). We held
“Defendant’s prior objection was sufficiently contemporaneous with the challenged
testimony to be considered ‘timely’ for purposes of the appellate rules.” Id.
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Opinion of the Court

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When the State called Tremel-Last as a witness, defense counsel stated “Your
Honor, this is the matter that I think we need to be heard outside the presence of the
jury before testimony.” After questioning the witness on voir dire and outside the
presence of the jury, Defense counsel argued before the court that the evidence was
not relevant and was “inadmissible and prejudicial and violates his 6th and 14th
[A]mendment right in the [C]onstitution.” Although counsel never used the word
“objection” we determine he preserved this issue for appellate review.
Regardless, admission of this evidence was not error, much less abuse of
discretion. As stated above, “[a]ll relevant evidence is admissible, . . . . Evidence
which is not relevant is not admissible.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 402 (2015).
However, “[a]lthough relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is
substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues,
or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless
presentation of cumulative evidence.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 403.
Defendant argues Tremel-Last’s testimony was irrelevant and misleading as
critical context and details were missing from her report. Defendant asserts the
URLs the witness identified represent only a small fraction of the data recovered in
the search. Furthermore, the witness indicated she could not provide information on
the content of the websites, or dates and times information was accessed. She also
indicated the URLs may not include the entire web address because “it’s just bits and
STATE V. DEVEGA

Opinion of the Court

- 29 -
pieces of unallocated space.” Defendant argues the limited probative value of the
evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of confusion and misleading the
jury.
We determine the evidence obtained from Defendant’s hard drive was relevant
evidence. Although the data was far from thorough information, the keyword search
did reveal content on Defendant’s computer, which could be related to the crimes
committed. Particularly relevant is the information contradicting Defendant’s
statement to officers that he accessed his online course work on the Wednesday nights
when several robberies occurred. Tremel-Last’s testimony indicated the only
Wednesday night on which Defendant accessed his course work was on 24 May 2008,
the night of the Capital Food Mart robbery.9
Additionally, the keywords Tremel-Last used in conducting the search were all
related in some manner to the crimes. While not highly probative of Defendant’s
involvement in the crimes, the presence of this content on Defendant’s computer is
relevant and not outweighed by any prejudice to the Defendant. Any issues regarding
the incomplete nature of the evidence or the lack of reliability could properly be
addressed on cross-examination. Therefore, we determine the trial court did not
abuse its discretion in allowing this testimony.
3. Jury’s Request for a Transcript
9 The jury found Defendant not guilty of this crime; therefore, factual background on this robbery was omitted from this opinion.
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- 30 -
Defendant next argues the trial court abused its discretion when it denied the
jury’s request for a transcript of Petzka’s testimony. This testimony concerned
Petzka’s comparison of footwear impressions to Defendant’s shoes.
“It is a well-established rule in North Carolina that the decision whether to
grant or refuse a request by the jury for a restatement of the evidence after jury
deliberations have begun lies within the discretion of the trial court.” State v.
Johnson, 346 N.C. 119, 124, 484 S.E.2d 372, 375 (1997). “A trial court’s ruling in
response to a request by the jury to review testimony or other evidence is a
discretionary decision, ordinarily reviewable only for an abuse thereof.” State v.
Perez, 135 N.C. App. 543, 554, 522 S.E.2d 102, 110 (1999) appeal dismissed and disc.
review denied, 351 N.C. 366, 543 S.E.2d 140 (2000). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1233(a)
provides:
If the jury after retiring for deliberation requests a review of certain testimony or other evidence, the jurors must be conducted to the courtroom. The judge in his discretion, after notice to the prosecutor and defendant, may direct that requested parts of the testimony be read to the jury and may permit the jury to reexamine in open court the requested materials admitted into evidence. In his discretion the judge may also have the jury review other evidence relating to the same factual issue so as not to give undue prominence to the evidence requested.

In State v. Harden, the trial court denied the jury’s request to review the
transcript of the testimony of two witnesses, one of which constituted one hundred
and eighty pages of transcript, and the other one hundred and fifty-five pages. 344
STATE V. DEVEGA

Opinion of the Court

- 31 -
N.C. 542, 562-63, 476 S.E.2d 658, 668-69 (1996). On appeal, our Supreme Court
determined the trial court properly exercised its discretion in deciding not to permit
the jury’s request. Id. at 562-63, 476 S.E.2d at 668-69. The Supreme Court
determined “[i]n light of this evidence, it is clear that the trial court had decided that
justice would be better served if the jury deliberations were not delayed to produce
the requested transcripts.” Id. at 563, 476 S.E.2d at 669.
Here, it is likewise evident the trial court exercised its discretion in denying
the jury’s request. Before making a ruling, the trial court requested the court
reporter to determine the length of the witness’s testimony. The court stated “I don’t
want to get into a three-hour reading marathon.” The court reporter indicated the
transcript of the testimony was approximately one hundred and fifteen pages, which
the court determined would take nearly five hours to read to the jury, including the
time needed for breaks. The court allowed each party to be heard on the matter before
ultimately denying the jury’s request. Therefore, it is evident the trial court properly
exercised its discretion in denying the jury’s request.
Defendant cites State v. Lang and State v. Ashe for the proposition that it is
reversible error for the trial court to deny a jury request to review a transcript when
the testimony involved issues of confusion and contradiction such that the jury would
likely want to review it. State v. Lang, 301 N.C. 508, 272 S.E.2d 123 (1980); State v.
Ashe, 314 N.C. 28, 331 S.E.2d 652 (1985). However, this consideration is only
STATE V. DEVEGA

Opinion of the Court

- 32 -
relevant if this Court first determines the trial court erred in failing to exercise its
discretion. Only then must we consider whether the error was prejudicial.
[A] trial court’s error in failing to exercise its discretion in denying a jury’s request to review testimony constitutes prejudicial error when the requested testimony (1) is “material to the determination of defendant’s guilt or innocence”; and (2) involves “issues of some confusion or contradiction” such that the jury would want to review this evidence to fully understand it.

State v. Chapman, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 781 S.E.2d 320, 327 (2016) (quoting State
v. Johnson, 346 N.C. 119, 126, 484 S.E.2d 372, 377 (1997)). In both Lang and Ashe,
the trial court found prejudicial error only after it first determined the trial court did
not exercise discretion in denying the jury’s request. Lang, 301 N.C. at 511, 272
S.E.2d at 125; Ashe, 314 N.C. at 35, 331 S.E.2d at 657.
In Lang, the jury requested a witness’s testimony to be read and the trial judge
stated: “No sir, the transcript is not available to the jury. . . . [A]nd 12 of you people
are expected, through your ability to hear and understand and to recall evidence, to
establish what the testimony was.” Lang, 301 N.C at 510-11, 272 S.E.2d at 125. And
in Ashe, the court denied the jury’s request stating, “[t]here is no transcript at this
point. You and the other jurors will have to take your recollection of the evidence . .
. .” Ashe, 314 N.C. at 35, 331 S.E.2d at 656-57. In both cases, the Supreme Court
determined the trial court did not exercise discretion in denying the request. Lang,
301 N.C. at 511, 272 S.E.2d at 125; Ashe, 314 N.C. at 35, 331 S.E.2d at 656-57. Only
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Opinion of the Court

- 33 -
then did the Supreme Court consider whether the error was prejudicial. Lang, 301
N.C. at 511, 272 S.E.2d at 125; Ashe, 314 N.C. at 36-38, 331 S.E.2d at 657-58.
Because we determined the trial court properly exercised its discretion in
denying the jury’s request, we conclude the trial court did not err.
4. Motion to Dismiss for Insufficient Evidence
In his final argument, Defendant contends the trial court erred in denying his
motion to dismiss all charges for lack of sufficient evidence. Specifically, Defendant
argues the State presented insufficient evidence of Defendant’s identity as the
perpetrator. We disagree.
“This Court reviews the trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss de novo.”
State v. Smith, 186 N.C. App. 57, 62, 650 S.E.2d 29, 33 (2007). “Upon defendant’s
motion for dismissal, the question for the Court is whether there is substantial
evidence (1) of each essential element of the offense charged, or of a lesser offense
included therein, and (2) of defendant’s being the perpetrator of such offense. If so,
the motion is properly denied.” State v. Powell, 299 N.C. 95, 98, 261 S.E.2d 114, 117
(1980).
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” State v. Smith, 300 N.C. 71, 78-79, 265
S.E.2d 164, 169 (1980). “In making its determination, the trial court must consider
all evidence admitted, whether competent or incompetent, in the light most favorable
STATE V. DEVEGA

Opinion of the Court

- 34 -
to the State, giving the State the benefit of every reasonable inference and resolving
any contradictions in its favor.” State v. Rose, 339 N.C. 172, 192, 451 S.E.2d 211, 223
(1994), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1135, 132 L. Ed. 2d 818 (1995).
Defendant asserts the State’s evidence was insufficient to show he was the
perpetrator. Particularly, Defendant argues no DNA, fingerprint, or ballistic
evidence linked him to the crimes charged. The footwear impressions only indicated
narrow instances of “correspondence” to his shoes, surveillance images were of poor
quality, only one of twelve victims identified Defendant as the perpetrator―and she
identified Defendant after viewing his mugshot on the internet, and in the courtroom.
Defendant also highlights the unpersuasive testimony concerning the computer
search, the lack of financial evidence linking Defendant to the crimes, and the
personal animus of an ex-girlfriend whose testimony he argues should be discredited.
We determine the State presented sufficient evidence tending to prove
Defendant was the perpetrator. The State offered evidence demonstrating the crimes
were connected in several respects. Each of the crimes occurred in Raleigh’s
northeast quadrant, and in close vicinity to Defendant’s home. Victims of the
robberies and surveillance footage indicated the suspect in each crime was a black
male of similar age, height, weight, and body build. In each robbery, the suspect
acted alone and committed the robberies either in the early morning hours, before
the store opened, or late in the evening, near closing time. And each of the robberies
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Opinion of the Court

- 35 -
which occurred at night, occurred on a Wednesday night. Also, in each robbery the
suspect used a revolver, and in three of the cases―the Anderson murder, the Six
Forks Road Subway robbery, and the Mexico Lindo robbery―the bullets were linked
to the same weapon.
The Durant Road Subway robbery occurred much like the Six Forks Road
Subway robbery. Both occurred on a Wednesday night. And, in each incident, the
robber conducted some type of “normal” business upon entering the store. In the Six
Forks Road robbery, the suspect ordered and paid for a sandwich; and in the Durant
Road Subway robbery, the suspect asked for a job application. In each, the suspect
wore a head covering and sunglasses. And, in the Durant Road case, the victim
testified she had ample time to view the suspect’s face, noted his distinctive features,
and was one hundred percent sure Defendant committed the crime. Her
identification is relevant evidence which a reasonable mind could accept as adequate
to support the conclusion Defendant committed the Durant Road robbery. And from
the similarities in the cases, a reasonable person could also conclude Defendant
committed the Six Forks Road robbery.
The Louisburg Road WilcoHess robbeies occurred much like the Trawick Road
WilcoHess robbery and murder. In each, the suspect ambushed the employee while
they were opening the store. And, in each, the suspect wore dark colored gloves, and
used a dark colored revolver with a brown handle. Victim testimony and surveillance
STATE V. DEVEGA

Opinion of the Court

- 36 -
footage indicated similar descriptions of the suspect. Sharperson first contacted
detectives upon viewing a surveillance photograph from the Trawick Road robbery,
in which she noted Defendant’s distinctive features. Later upon viewing the
surveillance footage, she recognized Defendant’s voice, his glasses, his physique and
his walk. Again, this is such relevant evidence, from which a reasonable mind could
conclude Defendant committed the Trawick Road armed robbery and murder, as well
as the Louisburg Road WilcoHess robberies.
The Mexico Lindo robbery also bore similarities to the other crimes. The
suspect matched the description given in the other cases. He also jumped over the
counter, just like in the Six Forks Road Subway robbery. He used a revolver, and the
bullet recovered was linked to the Trawick Road and Six Fork Road robberies.
Furthermore, Sharperson recognized the camouflage rain suit shown in surveillance
photographs, and Sams recognized Defendant’s eyes and his gloves. Again, a
reasonable mind could conclude Defendant also committed this crime.
Therefore, we hold, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the State,
the State presented sufficient evidence which a reasonable person could “accept as
adequate to support a conclusion” Defendant committed the crimes for which he was
convicted. The trial court properly denied Defendant’s motions to dismiss the
charges. His assignment of error is overruled.

Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, we find no error in the jury’s verdicts or in the
judgments entered.

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