STATE v. DANFORTH No. WD 32799.
654 S.W.2d 912 (1983)
STATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Loretta Ollison DANFORTH, Appellant.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.
Application to Transfer Denied August 16, 1983.
Theodore A. Bruce (argued), Asst. Atty. Gen., John Ashcroft, Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.
Before NUGENT, P.J., and TURNAGE and LOWENSTEIN, JJ.
NUGENT, Presiding Judge.
Defendant was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to commit capital murder, § 564.016,
On August 22, 1980, the decaying body of Dr. Duncan Danforth, a wealthy 75-year-old retiree, was found fifteen feet off a rural road between Greenview and Climax Springs, in Camden County, Missouri. Dr. Danforth had been shot in the head and chest, and had died from the head wound.
On October 7, 1980, the defendant was charged by information with conspiracy to commit capital murder. The information named Jack Pearcy, Harrison D. Williams and Mike Stith as her co-conspirators.
The facts surrounding the alleged conspiracy to murder Dr. Danforth are both complex and disputed. We begin our recitation of the facts, then, by noting the rule that where the evidence conflicts in a criminal case, the jury's findings are conclusive. State v. Johnson, 55 S.W.2d 967 (Mo.1932). We may neither weigh the evidence nor determine the credibility of witnesses. State v. Williams,
The facts of this case, consistent with the jury's verdict, are as follows. In July, 1979 Loretta Danforth (then Loretta Ollison) met Mike Stith and began dating him later that year. Mr. Stith moved in with the defendant and her mother, and continued to live in their home through the events of August, 1980. Defendant was observed by Mr. Stith's aunt as late as August 17, 1980, sitting on his lap and "showing affection" for him.
In early August, 1980 Mr. Stith called Harrison Williams and told him he was looking for someone to "rough up" an "old man that was givin' him a hard time." Mr. Williams asked his friend Jack Pearcy to help in this endeavor, and the two men met Mr. Stith on the morning of Tuesday, August 12, to discuss the plan. At that meeting, Mr. Stith had with him a female companion to whom he referred as his girlfriend, identified at trial by Mr. Pearcy as the defendant, who waited in the car while the three men conversed. Mr. Stith gave the men an envelope containing $1500, a map to the Breckenridge Inn in Kansas City, Missouri, a photograph of Dr. Danforth, and a photograph of the doctor's car. For the first time, he informed the men he "wanted the old man killed," and he wanted it done that night. Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams said it could not be done that soon and that more money ($4,000 altogether) would be required if murder were involved. Mr. Stith then said that since Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams couldn't be there on Tuesday night, "they would make plans" to go to the Breckenridge Inn in Kansas City the next night, August 13, where the defendant and Dr. Danforth would be honeymooning. The defendant would send her husband out to the parking lot of the hotel at 9:00 p.m., and the men would kill him at that time.
The next day, August 13, Dr. Danforth and the defendant were married. They immediately went to the office of the doctor's attorney to revise his will before continuing on to the Breckenridge Inn where Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams were waiting in the parking lot. What followed was a macabre comedy of errors.
As had been arranged, the doctor emerged from the building, not once but twice. Rather than kill him, the two men decided that the many windows in the hotel, the people in the area, and the well-lighted parking lot made the plan unworkable. After Dr. Danforth's second trip outside, the two went to the hotel lounge, saw the defendant, and informed her that they could not do it as planned. She told them the murder had to be done that night before she had to go to bed with her husband, that Mr. Stith needed money and that this was the only way he could get it. Twice more, Dr. Danforth visited the parking lot and twice more the two men decided the plan was unwise. Once again, they talked with the defendant who told them she would drive with her husband to a nearby McDonald's restaurant and leave him in the car with the keys in the ignition. The men were to jump in the car, kill him and drive away, being careful not to get blood on the car which would soon be the defendant's. They agreed and followed the couple to McDonald's. Again, they decided too many people were around. Mr. Pearcy talked with the defendant inside the restaurant and told her they could not kill her husband
On Friday, August 15, the men met once again with Mike Stith, who drove them to the Ollison residence (the home of Loretta Danforth and her mother).
On the following day, August 16, Mr. Stith showed Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams a rifle which they could use to kill the doctor. He also showed them where the doctor lived and informed them that the only other person who lived along the drive was a senile old woman who would pose no problems. When the two drove down the road later, however, they ran into the woman, Mrs. Vivian Scott, who asked them what they were doing, told them to leave, and wrote down their license plate number. Discouraged at last, Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams decided to give up and return to their homes in Olathe.
On August 17, Mrs. Danforth drove Mr. Stith to an aunt's home in Eldon, Missouri, where the two were observed displaying their affection for each other. Later that day, another of Mr. Stith's aunts, Angela Knoll, gave him a ride back to Climax Springs, during which he asked her if she would provide him with an alibi. Once they reached Climax Springs, he had her drive past the Ollison residence, let him out, drive through town and return to pick him up. On her return to where she had left him, a gray truck passed by, driven by an old man. Mr. Stith ducked down in his seat and told her this was the man he had been waiting for. As requested, Mrs. Knoll then drove him further down the road and let him out.
Dr. Danforth visited his wife at the Ollison home at 9:00 that evening to discuss her move to his ranch, and left thirty minutes later. He was not seen alive again.
At trial, the key state witnesses were Jack Pearcy and Harrison Williams,
The testimony of the two fellow conspirators did differ on the question of intent to commit murder. Numerous comments by Mr. Williams indicated that he had intended to kill Dr. Danforth. As to the plan to stop the Danforth car on the way home from the Breckenridge Inn, he admitted that "we'd come up with the idea" of having the car
Mr. Pearcy, by contrast, when asked "Were you going to kill him?", replied, "No". He testified that he and Mr. Williams had talked about killing the doctor and "decided it'd be foolish." In response to the question, "Weren't you really talking about ripping off Mike [Stith] for his money?", he answered, "Yeah".
Over defendant's objection as hearsay, Mr. Frank Danforth, the deceased's son, testified to certain conversations with his father. He stated that his father was upset with Mrs. Danforth after their honeymoon because "she gave him the run around up at the Breckenridge Inn." Further, he testified that his father had said, "If this doesn't work ... if she will not come and live with me, I'm going to sue her for everything I've given her."
The defendant denied all knowledge of the conspiracy testified to by Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams. She said that although she and Mr. Stith had once been romantically involved, that relationship ended in early 1980. She admitted, however, writing a letter to Mr. Stith while both were imprisoned and awaiting trial, expressing her desire to marry him and bear his children. She acknowledged honeymooning with Dr. Danforth at the Breckenridge Inn on August 13 and driving to McDonald's that evening, but stated that Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams were not telling the truth and that she did not know "why they would want to do this to me."
The jury found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced her to ten years imprisonment.
On appeal, the defendant raises the following points: (1) § 564.016, the conspiracy statute, is unconstitutionally vague; (2) no class B felony of "conspiracy to commit capital murder" exists in Missouri and therefore, defendant was not properly charged with an offense; (3) the trial court erroneously admitted hearsay evidence as to conversations between Mike Stith, Jack Pearcy and Harrison Williams, and between Frank Danforth and Dr. Duncan Danforth; and (4) jury Instruction No. 5 was erroneous.
1. Failure to preserve the constitutional issue
Defendant's first point that § 564.016, under which she was charged in the information, is unconstitutionally vague would normally bring this appeal within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Missouri Supreme Court, and therefore, transfer of this matter would be warranted, Mo. Const. art. V, § 3; see State v. Anderson,
A defendant who wishes to challenge the constitutionality of the statute under which an indictment or information is drawn, must raise the issue "at the first opportunity in the course of an orderly procedure." State v. Mackey, 259 S.W. 430 (Mo.1924). In that case, the defendant first mentioned his challenge of the constitutionality of the law under which he was charged in his motion in arrest of judgment. The court held that to be too late,
The parallel rules of Cox and Mackey have long been codified in the Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 24.04(b)(2) and Rule 24.05
If enforced, the rules offer to defendants considerable assurance that meritorious claims of constitutional infirmity of criminal statutes and illegally acquired evidence will be heard. If heard, the expense, agony and uncertainty of trials which should never be held may be avoided. The administration of justice, the courts, the parties, and the public all benefit from enforcement of this rule, but defendants are the prime beneficiaries of the rule, and failure to take timely advantage of it constitutes a waiver of its benefits.
Here, defendant first raised the constitutional issue in a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the state's case and at the end of all the evidence and again in a post-trial motion. She sought no specific relief from her waiver and made no attempt to show cause as to why Rule 24.04 should not bar her late raising of the constitutional issue. Accordingly, we hold that motions at the close of the state's case and at the close of all the evidence were not timely and do not properly preserve the question for review. For that reason, we may neither consider the issue nor transfer this case to the Supreme Court for lack of jurisdiction, absent a showing of plain error. State v. Wickizer, supra. No such showing has been attempted.
2. The class B felony of conspiracy to commit capital murder
In her second point on appeal, defendant points out that she was charged by information with "the class B felony of conspiracy" to commit capital murder, an offense which she says does not exist under Missouri law.
Defendant's reasoning is as follows. Section 556.026 provides that "[n]o conduct constitutes an offense unless made so by
We are unpersuaded by defendant's argument. We need only look to § 557.021.3(1)(a) to see that capital murder is a class A felony. That section provides:
(1) If the offense is a felony
Section 565.008 specifically provides that capital murder is punishable by death or a minimum imprisonment of fifty years, and hence, by the definition of § 557.021.3(1)(a), it is a class A felony.
Defendant's contention that § 557.021.3(1)(a) cannot be used in this context because it applies only to offenses "defined outside of this code" overlooks the fact that capital murder is, in fact, defined outside the code. Section 565.001, defining capital murder, was effective May 26, 1977, and pre-dated the current criminal code which was enacted by the legislature in June, 1977 in Senate Bill No. 60 and which became effective January 1, 1979. As stated in State v. Durley,
The offense of capital murder was neither listed in Senate Bill 60 nor repealed by it. It is, therefore, an offense outside the code.
Capital murder is, therefore, a class A felony. Conspiracy to commit capital murder is, then, a class B felony under § 564.016. Defendant was properly charged with an offense under Missouri law.
3. Hearsay evidence
Defendant objects in her third point to certain evidence admitted over her objection as hearsay. She raises three subpoints here, specifically (1) that testimony by Jack Pearcy and Harrison Williams regarding the initial conversations with Mike Stith before and on August 12 where "roughing up" Dr. Danforth was discussed was inadmissible hearsay; (2) that before such testimony could be admitted, the state was required to introduce independent evidence of the conspiracy; and (3) that testimony by Frank Danforth as to statements by his father, Dr. Danforth, was inadmissible hearsay.
Defendant's primary objection to the admission of the conversations between Mr. Pearcy, Mr. Williams and Mr. Stith on and before August 12 is that she was not involved in the conversations and had nothing to do with the agreement to "rough up" Dr. Danforth. She characterizes this agreement as a separate conspiracy to assault in
Of course, the general rule is that hearsay evidence is inadmissible. An exception is made, however, for statements by a co-conspirator made in furtherance of the conspiracy. State v. Garton,
If defendant were correct, then, that the testimony related to a prior conspiracy to which she was not a part, her point would have merit. The evidence, however, simply does not support that version of the facts and, instead, strongly suggests that a two-way conspiracy to kill Dr. Danforth existed between Mike Stith and the defendant prior to the August 12 conversation in which the conspiracy became four-way. At the August 12 meeting, Mr. Stith informed Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams that murder was involved and proposed a plan. Although the defendant did not take part, she was linked circumstantially to this conversation in a number of ways. First, she was waiting in the car during the meeting. That alone, of course, could not convict her of conspiracy. But in addition, Mr. Stith's comments on August 12 showed that he had the cooperation of the defendant in determining when she and the doctor would be present at the Breckenridge Inn. Although he wanted the murder done that night, when told that that was too soon, he simply agreed that "they would make plans" to have the couple at the inn the next night. Without some cooperation by defendant, such a change in plans would have been impossible. Because the purpose of the Breckenridge Inn trip was always said to be a "honeymoon", Mr. Stith's ease in changing plans also suggests considerable cooperation by the defendant in the setting of the wedding date. (Her comment at the inn that the doctor had to be killed because Mike Stith needed money shows that her motivation was tied to her inheritance, making the timing of her marriage critical to the plan.) This degree of cooperation strongly suggests that sometime before August 12, the defendant had already agreed with Mike Stith that Dr. Danforth should be killed and that in furtherance of that agreement, she would cooperate in the timing of her wedding and honeymoon. Further, a critical part of the plan proposed on August 12 was defendant's cooperation in sending her husband out to the parking lot. Mr. Stith apparently was highly confident at that time that the defendant would cooperate in this manner; he told Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams where the Danforths would be and the precise time Mrs. Danforth would send the doctor out to the parking lot. That conversation on August 12, then, was not a separate conspiracy, but simply an attempt to hire two "hit men" who would carry out the plan of the two original conspirators. All of these implications are buttressed by the defendant's actual involvement in the activities at the inn on August 13, where she acted exactly as Mike Stith had said she would, providing strong circumstantial evidence that on August 12 she was already a partner (albeit a silent one) in the agreement to kill. A conspiracy can be shown to exist by circumstantial evidence. State v. Baldwin,
We find, therefore, that the conversations of August 12 and before were admissible as evidence of an agreement to kill Dr. Danforth to which the defendant was a party and were not merely conversations prior to the formation of the conspiracy.
Defendant argues, nevertheless, that even if these conversations were admissible, the state could not introduce them without first having introduced independent evidence of the claimed conspiracy. She contends that not only did the state not do so, it could not do so because neither Mr. Pearcy nor Mr. Williams agreed to kill the doctor.
Defendant bases this argument on Mr. Pearcy's negative response to the question,
The record speaks differently. First, Mr. Williams never testified that he did not intend murder and, in fact, he said that he did not intend a "scam on Mike" and that he was "always serious about it." Second, both Mr. Pearcy's and Mr. Williams' actions speak louder than words and give convincing evidence that they had agreed to kill Dr. Danforth. Had their intention been to "rip off" Mr. Stith, they could have taken his money and run instead of going to the Breckenridge Inn and Climax Springs according to Mr. Stith's directions. All of the testimony as to their activities at the inn and their positioning themselves beside Knob Hollow Road indicates an intent to kill and a desire to earn the additional $2500 Mr. Stith had agreed to pay for murder.
Accordingly, we find that the state has adequately established independent evidence of an agreement to kill Dr. Danforth, to which the defendant was linked by direct evidence of her activities at the Breckenridge Inn. Defendant's contention that such evidence must precede the admission of the co-conspirator's testimony is without merit. While the general rule is that proof of a conspiracy should come before declarations of a fellow conspirator, "the rule is not inflexible. The order of proof rests largely in the discretion of the trial court." State v. Stogsdill, 324 Mo. 105, 23 S.W.2d 22, 31 (1929). In that regard the court in State v. Brooks, 159 S.W.2d 646, 647 (Mo.1942), said of an exhibit not properly identified at the time it was introduced:
We find no prejudice here where later direct evidence by Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams described in detail defendant's part in the agreement to kill Dr. Danforth.
In her third subpoint on hearsay, defendant challenges the admission of testimony by Frank Danforth that after the honeymoon his father was upset with his new wife because "she gave him the run around up at the Breckenridge Inn" and that his father had said, "If this doesn't work ... if she will not come and live with me, I'm going to sue her for everything I've given her." The statements were offered by the state, not to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but explicitly to show the declarant's state of mind at the Breckenridge Inn and immediately after his return, a matter which was relevant here because it corroborated and supported the testimony of other witnesses that defendant wanted her husband killed on August 13 because she thought that if she did not sleep with him that night, he would cut her out of his will. "[D]eclarations revealing a state of mind ... are not admissible to prove the truth of such recitals. But ... such declarations may be properly admitted in evidence solely to establish that state of mind." State v. Singh,
4. Instruction No. 5
Finally, defendant argues that Instruction No. 5
Defendant's first claim of error here is that the instruction permitted conviction for agreements entered into in Jackson County and Camden County, even though the information charged her only with an agreement in Camden County. She claims that this variance prejudiced her in that the information failed to fix venue and inform her of the charge against her.
Defendant's claim has no merit. She asked for and received a bill of particulars setting forth the facts surrounding the charge in the information that she "caused Duncan R. Danforth to be physically present at locations" where her co-conspirators had agreed to kill him. The bill named, among other places, the Breckenridge Inn at 1-435 and Front Street in Kansas City, Missouri, a location in Jackson County. Although a bill of particulars will not necessarily validate an invalid information, State v. Hasler,
Defendant's second claim of error as to Instruction No. 5 is that it failed to comply with MAI-CR 2d 18.04(1) because in paragraph three enumerating overt acts taken by the defendant or her co-conspirators, it submitted the acts in the disjunctive (using "or" between the acts) rather than the conjunctive (using "and") and failed to require belief beyond a reasonable doubt.
As to the first part of this contention, we can only surmise that defendant has misread MAI-CR 2d 18.04(1) which makes no requirement that the overt acts be submitted in the conjunctive. It simply requires a "concise statement ... of one or more overt acts committed in furtherance of the conspiracy, using more than one paragraph if necessary." Because conviction for conspiracy requires only one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy, § 564.016.4, requiring the jury to find that all the alleged overt acts occurred would have been contrary to law.
As to the second part of this contention, defendant calls our attention to the paragraph in Instruction No. 5 directing acquittal if the jury does not find the necessary elements of the crime:
The "acquittal" paragraph which appears in MAI-CR 2d 18.04(1) provides as follows:
Here, where several overt acts were submitted to the jury, any one of which could justify conviction under § 564.016.4, the trial court's omission of "each and all" was a correct modification. However, although the court began the paragraph with the admonition that the propositions in paragraphs one and two must be found "beyond a reasonable doubt", that phrase was omitted in regard to paragraph three's listing of overt acts. This was not a correct statement of the standard. We are required, however, to consider the instructions as a whole when error has occurred, to determine whether prejudice has resulted. State v. Holt,
Defendant's third claim of error as to Instruction No. 5 contains several subpoints. She first complains that the instruction permitted the jury to find that an agreement was reached as late as August 17, and yet a number of the overt acts listed
Defendant complains as well that the instruction permitted the jury to find overt acts (in subparagraphs "E" and "F") which were not pleaded in the information. Because both of these acts were listed in the bill of particulars, we find that defendant had proper notice and suffered no prejudice. Similarly, in light of our ruling, supra, that the acts of Mr. Pearcy and Mr. Williams were performed in furtherance of the conspiracy to kill Dr. Danforth (and not merely to "rip off" Mike Stith), defendant's complaint that the instruction permitted the jury to find overt acts which the "binding evidence of the State showed were not committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose" is without merit.
Defendant's fourth claim of error as to Instruction No. 5 is that it fatally varied from the information by charging the defendant with "conspiracy to commit murder" while the information charged her with "conspiracy to commit capital murder." Moreover, she argues that the range of punishment set out in the instruction is without authority in the law.
Again, defendant's argument must fail, for no prejudice resulted from this variance. The charge in the instruction was not broader than that in the information, adding new and distinct charges as was the case in State v. Littler, 186 S.W. 1045 (Mo.1916), on which defendant relies. The elements of "conspiracy" remain the same no matter what crime is the object of the conspiracy. Only the punishment varies according to the criminal object. § 564.016.
As discussed extensively in defendant's second point, supra, "conspiracy to commit capital murder" is a class B felony because "capital murder" is a class A felony. See § 557.021.3(1)(a), § 565.008.1, § 564.016.8(1). In addition, because all other degrees of murder are class A felonies,
Defendant's final claim of error as to Instruction No. 5 is that the elements of the offense which it contains were not supported by substantial evidence. She erroneously contends that she can be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder only if she engaged in a four-way meeting with Mr. Pearcy, Mr. Williams and Mr. Stith, at which they agreed to murder Dr. Danforth. The law of conspiracy makes no such requirement. One can be guilty of conspiracy by conspiring with one person who, in turn, conspires with others, even when the identity of those others remains unknown to the original conspirator. § 564.016.2. Here, the jury heard testimony as to an agreement
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the conviction of the defendant.
ON MOTION FOR REHEARING
Although we hereby overrule and deny defendant's motion for rehearing or for transfer to the Supreme Court filed under Rules 83.02 and 84.17, a point raised by the motion requires comment.
In this case, defendant challenges the constitutionality of the conspiracy statute, § 564.016, under which she was prosecuted, a challenge we held to be untimely when made for the first time at the close of all the evidence.
On motion for rehearing, defense counsel has directed us to a line of cases stemming from Ex parte Smith, 135 Mo. 223, 36 S.W. 628, 630 (1896), a habeas corpus proceeding in which the court stated that because an unconstitutional law "is no law, then its constitutionality is open to attack at any stage of the proceedings, and even after conviction and judgment, and this upon the ground that no crime is shown, and therefore the trial court had no jurisdiction...." Accordingly, the court held that the constitutionality of the vagrancy statute under which defendant was convicted would be considered in a habeas corpus proceeding.
In In re Flukes, 157 Mo. 125, 57 S.W. 545 (1900), Ex parte Lerner, 281 Mo. 18, 218 S.W. 331 (1920), and Ex parte Taft, 284 Mo. 531, 225 S.W. 457 (1920) (en banc), the rule was again applied to permit review of the constitutionality of a statute in a habeas corpus proceeding.
The Supreme Court cited this rule as well in Kansas City v. Hammer,
In its latest decision in this line of cases, the Supreme Court quoted Ex parte Smith, supra, in State ex rel. Williams v. Marsh,
By contrast, in our opinion we have relied on a separate line of cases holding that constitutional questions — even those challenging the facial constitutionality of a statute under which the defendant is charged — must be raised at the earliest possible moment and preserved in a motion for new trial.
That rule originated with State v. Mackey, 259 S.W. 430 (Mo.1924), as discussed in our opinion. Mackey was cited in State v. Lofton, 1 S.W.2d 830, 832 (Mo.1927), in which the court held that the defendant's failure to challenge at trial the constitutionality of the statute under which he was charged "is a concession of the validity of the statute."
Without distinguishing or citing the Ex parte Smith line of cases in any way, the Mackey rule was followed as well in State v. Byrne,
The Mackey rule as reaffirmed in Flynn was followed by the Supreme Court most recently in State v. Wickizer,
None of the cases in either of these lines of decisions has been overruled.
We adhere to the position adopted in our opinion herein, noting that whenever the Supreme Court has specifically addressed the timeliness question it has adhered to the rule it set out in State v. Mackey, supra.
- No Cases Found