Defendant brings forward many assignments of error which he contends require a new trial of these crimes, or a new sentencing hearing, or both. We disagree and affirm the sentences of death imposed upon the jury's recommendations.
At the outset, we must note that defendant's appellate counsel filed a brief which is 109 pages long.
GUILT PHASE: I—V
Forty-two veniremen were examined over a period of five days before a jury of twelve was impanelled to try this case. During the selection process, the trial court excused eight prospective jurors for cause due to their stated opposition to the death penalty. Defendant contends that the trial court's action deprived him of his constitutional rights of due process and trial by jury. The record plainly refutes this argument.
The applicable constitutional standard permits the excuse of a potential juror for cause if it is established that he "would automatically vote against the imposition of capital punishment without regard to any evidence that might be developed at the trial of the case...." Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 522 at n. 21, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 1777 at n. 21, 20 L.Ed.2d 776, 785 at n. 21 (1968); see State v. Cherry, 298 N.C. 86, 257 S.E.2d 551 (1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 941, 100 S.Ct. 2165, 64 L.Ed.2d 796 (1980). It is unmistakably clear that seven of the eight potential jurors were properly excused according to this standard after they each stated unequivocally that, even before hearing any evidence in the case, they could not under any circumstances impose the death penalty upon this defendant. State v. Oliver, 302 N.C. 28, 39-40, 274 S.E.2d 183, 191 (1981). It is equally clear that the remaining juror, Mary Neal, was also correctly removed from the panel when, after some initial equivocation, she finally stated that she did not "believe" that she could impose the death penalty regardless of the evidence. The court thereupon asked her, "Do I understand that you could not even before you hear the testimony under any circumstances, impose the death penalty?" Ms. Neal replied, "No, I just don't think so." Considering her answers contextually, we find that Ms. Neal expressed a sufficient refusal to follow the law, that of capital punishment, which might become applicable to the case. State v. Avery, 299 N.C. 126, 137, 261 S.E.2d 803, 810 (1980); see State v. Taylor, 304 N.C. 249, 266, 283 S.E.2d 761, 773 (1981).
The excuse of these jurors for cause did not deprive defendant of his constitutional rights to trial by a jury representing a cross-section of the community or due process of law. State v. Avery, supra, 299 N.C. at 137-38, 261 S.E.2d at 810; State v. Cherry, supra, 298 N.C. at 106, 257 S.E.2d at 564. We would add, moreover, that the need for their excuse was manifest. It would have amounted to an absurdity and a mockery of our law to have permitted these jurors to sit on a case where imposition of the death penalty was an available sentencing option. For, if capital cases could be tried by juries which included persons firmly opposed to the maximum prescribed penalty sought by the State, the separate sentencing hearing mandated by G.S. 15A-2000 would almost certainly become a futile and meaningless exercise, contrary to the expressed will of our citizenry in the enactment of capital punishment legislation.
At trial, defendant contested the premeditation and deliberation elements of first degree murder primarily through the presentation of an intoxication defense. Defendant believes that he was unconstitutionally deprived of the substance of this defense by certain improper comments of the prosecutor and a series of erroneous rulings by the trial court.
We can perceive no error in this. Contrary to defendant's assertions, the district attorney correctly conveyed the substance of the law of intoxication to the jury. See State v. Goodman, 298 N.C. 1, 12-14, 257 S.E.2d 569, 578-79 (1979). In addition, although some of the foregoing comments were colorful in terminology, we find that as a whole the remarks were compatible with the evidence in the case and that the district attorney was certainly authorized to argue to the jury that the facts did not support a credible defense of intoxication.
(b) We likewise believe that the trial court's instructions upon the intoxication defense were entirely correct. The record shows that the able judge carefully explained the law in every respect in accordance with the decisions of this Court. See State v. Propst, 274 N.C. 62, 161 S.E.2d 560 (1968); N.C.P.I.—Crim. 305.10 (1970). See also 4 Strong's N.C. Index 3d, Criminal Law § 6 (1976). We also reject defendant's argument that the judge improperly shifted the burden to defendant to disprove his capacity to form a specific intent to kill after premeditation and deliberation. Viewed as a whole, the judge's charge was not reasonably susceptible of such an erroneous interpretation.
(c) Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his pre-trial motion for an order directing the district attorney to make the State's eyewitnesses "available" for interviews with a medical expert who had been appointed to assist in the preparation and evaluation of an intoxication defense. It should be recognized at once that nothing in our statutory discovery provisions would require the State to compel its witnesses to submit to any form of interview or questioning by the defense prior to trial; in fact, the State does not even have to afford the defense pre-trial access to a list of its potential witnesses or copies of any statements they may have made. See G.S. 15A-903 and 15A-904; State v. Lake, 305 N.C. 143, 286 S.E.2d 541 (1982); State v. Abernathy, 295 N.C. 147, 244 S.E.2d 373 (1978). Nevertheless, it is true that a prosecutor has an implicit duty not to
This record contains no such showing. The only indication of possible prosecutorial misbehavior is the bare allegation of defense counsel in the motion that the district attorney had told him of his specific refusal to allow the interviews in question. We find nothing in the record to substantiate this claim nor any evidence tending to show that defense counsel actually approached the potential witnesses for the stated purpose only to be rejected on account of the district attorney's prior, direct instructions to them against their cooperation. Defendant has therefore failed to present adequate grounds for reversal. State v. Mason, supra. In addition, the bare summary of the proceedings held by the court upon the motion make it plain that the witnesses themselves refused to talk with the defense expert on the advice of their own individual attorneys. Record at 51. Under these circumstances, neither the State nor the trial court had the power to interfere with the attorney-client privileges of the witnesses or to jeopardize their own future defenses.
In this context, the trial court did all that it could reasonably do by initially providing the defense with $1500 in state funds to hire the medical expert. In denying the motion to compel the interviews, the court reminded the defense that the same necessary information could be obtained if the expert attended the trial and listened to the witnesses' actual testimony.
(d) We must now consider whether defendant's constitutional rights of confrontation and due process were unlawfully restricted by the trial court's sustension "of the prosecutor's objections to the defendant's cross-examination of the State's witnesses concerning the amount of beer drunk by the defendant, his level of intoxication and the nature of his behavior...." Defendant's Brief at 30. Our review is governed by the well-established rule that the scope of cross-examination rests largely within the discretion of the trial court, and its rulings thereon will not be disturbed absent a clear showing of abuse or prejudice. State v. Atkins, 304 N.C. 582, 585, 284 S.E.2d 296, 298 (1981) (and authorities there cited). Defendant has failed to demonstrate error in the trial court's rulings; consequently, we overrule all of the pertinent underlying exceptions listed in defendant's brief.
In another instance, defense counsel attempted to ask an expert medical witness on recross-examination whether the victims were legally intoxicated at the time of their deaths (exception no. 35). We believe that this question concerned irrelevant matters which had no logical tendency to prove a fact in issue at defendant's trial for murder. See 1 Stansbury's N.C. Evidence § 77, at 234 (Brandis rev. 1973). The relevant issue at trial was whether defendant was too intoxicated to form the specific intent to commit murder in the first degree. Obviously, the nature of his criminal acts was not diminished according to the sobriety or drunkenness of the unfortunate victims. Nevertheless, even assuming that this evidence had some degree of relevancy, however slight, it is unquestionably clear that defendant was not prejudiced by its exclusion on recross-examination when the doctor had already repeatedly stated during his direct, cross and redirect examinations that the blood alcohol levels of both victims indicated their intoxication at death.
The remaining exceptions argued herein by defendant are equally meritless. Exceptions no. 40 and 41 concerned defense counsel's questioning of the witness Eanes about whether he was "influenced by the alcohol [he] had drunk" on the night of the murders. Exception no. 44 related to the overly broad and legally ambiguous question to Eanes about whether he had ever seen defendant when he was not "high" on drugs or alcohol. Exception no. 48 involved a question as to whether defendant and Billy Wayne Stanley were "drunk" when they "mooned" an officer earlier in the evening of the murder (at the trailer). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in sustaining the prosecutor's objections to these questions, and its rulings thereon did not improperly hinder defendant's efforts to present his intoxication defense. None of the questions sought to elicit relevant information having a direct bearing upon defendant's intoxication impairment at the time he committed the murders. Moreover, none of the questions were competently framed to elicit a witness's opinion about defendant's general intoxication based upon the precise legal meaning of that term. See, e.g., State v. Carroll, 226 N.C. 237, 239-240, 37 S.E.2d 688, 690-91 (1946).
The jury was advised by both the prosecutor, in his closing argument, and the trial court, in its final instructions, that the elements of malice and unlawfulness were implied in an intentional killing with a deadly weapon. Defendant maintains that his constitutional right to trial by jury was violated because the jury was not also simultaneously informed that it was not compelled to infer malice and unlawfulness, as the presumption of their existence was rebuttable. See, e.g., State v. Hutchins, 303 N.C. 321, 346, 279 S.E.2d 788, 804 (1981). Upon this record, defendant's position offends reason and is untenable.
The significant and controlling fact in this case is that defendant, through his trial counsel, conceded his guilt of the second degree murders of Pachaco and Ausley.
In light of defendant's own affirmative admissions of the existence of malice and unlawfulness in his commission of two "second degree" murders, there could not possibly be any constitutional transgressions or prejudice in the remarks of either the prosecutor or the trial court concerning the presumption of the existence of those very same elements in the charges of first degree murder. "The State is not required to prove malice and unlawfulness unless there is some evidence of their non-existence...." State v. Simpson, 303 N.C. 439, 451, 279 S.E.2d 542, 550 (1981); State v. Hankerson, 288 N.C. 632, 650, 220 S.E.2d 575, 588 (1975), rev'd on other grounds, 432 U.S. 233, 97 S.Ct. 2339, 53 L.Ed.2d 306 (1976). See also Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 99 S.Ct. 2450, 61 L.Ed.2d 39 (1979); State v. White, 300 N.C. 494, 268 S.E.2d 481 (1980). Moreover, it is evident from the record that the use of the presumption did not alleviate in any manner the State's overall burden of proving the existence of every element of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. The assignment of error is overruled.
Dr. John D. Butts, a forensic pathologist, performed the autopsies of the victims and testified at trial about the causes of their deaths. In the course of his testimony, Dr. Butts identified ten photographs as accurately depicting the appearance of the bodies at the time of his examinations. The State then introduced the photographs as exhibits (over defendant's objections). The trial court instructed the jury that it could consider the exhibits only for limited illustrative purposes, not as substantive evidence of guilt. As the jury viewed each photograph, Dr. Butts again identified its subject and explained the nature of the body's appearance as shown. Defendant argues that the introduction of these gruesome photographs and the repetitive testimony connected therewith effectively deprived him of a fair adjudication of his guilt and a fair sentencing hearing. Defendant believes that, since he "readily admitted that he killed both victims with gunshot wounds," there was no legitimate purpose or need for the use of the photographs and that they only served to inflame the passions of the jury to his decided prejudice. We disagree.
The record clearly shows that the photographs were properly introduced according to our rules of evidence. See State v. Marshall, 304 N.C. 167, 282 S.E.2d 422 (1981); State v. Jenkins, 300 N.C. 578, 268 S.E.2d 458 (1980). The illustrative relevancy of the photographs, which directly corresponded to Dr. Butts' testimony, was not nullified by defendant's "stipulation" as to the cause of the deaths. See State v. Elkerson, 304 N.C. 658, 285 S.E.2d 784 (1982). In addition, the actual number of the photographs of the two bodies was not impermissibly excessive under the circumstances of this case. See State v. Sledge, 297 N.C. 227, 254 S.E.2d 579 (1979). Finally, the probative force of these depictions of the unattractive markings of the victims' violent deaths (as seen by the medical examiner) was not outweighed by their tendency to repulse the sensibilities, or to arouse the sympathy, of the viewer. Compare
Defendant assigns as error the district attorney's numerous references to facts outside the record during his closing argument to the jury during the guilt phase. No objection was interposed at trial to any of the alleged instances of misconduct. Despite trial counsel's laxity, the State's argument in capital cases is subject to limited appellate review for the existence of gross improprieties which make it plain that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to correct the prejudicial matters ex mero motu. State v. Smith, 294 N.C. 365, 377-78, 241 S.E.2d 674, 681-82 (1978) (and authorities there cited). Considering them contextually and according to the evidence in the case, we hold that the statements challenged here were not extreme or grossly improper.
First, there was nothing wrong with the district attorney's remarks about defendant's enjoyment of the killings. Such comments were supported by the evidence and the reasonable inferences therefrom. See State v. Monk, 286 N.C. 509, 212 S.E.2d 125 (1975). For example, Billy Wayne Stanley testified that defendant had a grin on his face when he shot the victims, and Officer Fuller testified that defendant had told him that his only regret about the death of Pachaco was that he would not be able to kill him again. Second, the district attorney's statements describing what defendant must have been thinking as he sat quietly behind the bar holding the shotgun were not so prejudicial that the trial court was required to take corrective action even in the absence of an objection. See State v. King, 299 N.C. 707, 711-13, 264 S.E.2d 40, 43-44 (1980). Third, and finally, we perceive no gross error in the following "comparisons" made by the State: "You've got to understand the nature of the animal you're dealing with here. I'm not a zoologist, but I don't know of a single living species on this planet that kills for pleasure. Tigers kill to eat, sharks kill to eat. Michael Pinch kills for pleasure. Think about that." Record at 250. This uncomplimentary and disparaging characterization of defendant was entirely warranted by the evidence. State v. Ruof, 296 N.C. 623, 252 S.E.2d 720 (1979); State v. Westbrook, 279 N.C. 18, 181 S.E.2d 572 (1971), death sentence vacated, 408 U.S. 939, 92 S.Ct. 2873, 33 L.Ed.2d 761 (1972).
SENTENCING PHASE: VI-XIX
Defendant again maintains that the district attorney improperly injected facts outside the record into his jury argument—this time during the sentencing phase of the trial. The scope of argument at the sentencing hearing is governed by the same general rules that apply to argument during the guilt proceedings; consequently, when the remarks challenged on appeal were not objected to at trial, the alleged impropriety must be glaring or grossly egregious for this Court to determine that the trial judge erred in failing to take corrective action sua sponte. See State v. Johnson, 298 N.C. 355, 368-69, 259 S.E.2d 752, 760-61 (1979). The prosecutorial expressions attacked in this appeal do not fall within the realm of reversible transgressions.
All three of the exceptions set out in the brief under this assignment of error concern the district attorney's statements that the murders were especially despicable, heinous and cruel because defendant executed the victims for sport, recreation and the amusement of his friends. We have already held in part V of the opinion, supra, that the evidence in the case reasonably supported a conclusion that defendant enjoyed committing these crimes. That being so, it is clear that the district attorney's further extrapolations at sentencing about the unusually callous and playful nature of defendant's murderous acts were also legitimate under the evidence and were not extreme or prejudicial per se.
Defendant offered much evidence in mitigation of his acts during the penalty phase. In several instances, however, the trial court excluded certain evidence upon the prosecutor's objections. Defendant argues that the trial court thereby deprived him of due process and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Defendant's contentions must be examined against the backdrop of our capital punishment statute which provides, in conformity with the constitutional mandates of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, that any evidence may be presented at the separate sentencing hearing which the court deems "relevant to sentence" or "to have probative value," including matters related to aggravating or mitigating circumstances. G.S. 15A-2000(a)(3); see Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 57 L.Ed.2d 973 (1978). The circumstances of the offense and the defendant's age, character, education, environment, habits, mentality, propensities and criminal record are generally relevant to mitigation; however, the ultimate issue concerning the admissibility of such evidence must still be decided by the presiding trial judge, and his decision is guided by the usual rules which exclude repetitive or unreliable evidence or that lacking an adequate foundation.
Specifically, defendant argues that the trial court's sustention of various objections by the prosecutor thwarted his attempts to inform the jury about his "growing awareness of the uselessness of his life up to that point, the pain he caused others, a growing sense of maturity and feelings of remorse and regret." Defendant's Brief at 53. We find that, although some evidence was indeed excluded, the record as a whole is replete with evidence of these matters, and defendant suffered no prejudice whatsoever from the trial court's rulings.
It is true that the trial court sustained an initial and single objection to defendant's testimony about his current feelings of remorse over Pachaco's death; nevertheless, defendant thereafter proceeded to testify in detail about his change in heart and regret without further objection by the prosecutor. Record at 278-79. In addition, Dr. Royal, a forensic psychiatrist, testified about defendant's expressed remorse over Ausley's death. Record at 285. Since substantial evidence of defendant's regrets had already been received, it was not error for the court to exclude (upon objection) further testimony upon the same subject by the witness Sherry Olivey. In any event, defendant later succeeded in introducing more evidence about his repentant statements since the killings through the testimony of his sister and mother. Record at 289, 291-92. We likewise find no reversible error in the trial court's limited admission of defendant's five proffered exhibits consisting of letters he had written to his mother while he was incarcerated pending trial. These letters added little to the in-court testimony of defendant and his witnesses about his present awareness of what he had done and his sorrow for it. Even so, the trial court permitted defendant's mother to read to the jury all of exhibit five and portions of exhibits three
Defendant also maintains that the trial court erred in not permitting Sherry Olivey to testify about the circumstances of his various hospitalizations for drug overdoses. We disagree. Ms. Olivey testified that she knew of occasions where defendant had taken a drug overdose and that she had visited him in Cone Memorial Hospital three months after the crimes. Certainly, defendant's habits regarding alcohol and drug misuse were relevant mitigating factors for the jury's consideration; however, the precise details of his particular overdoses were not pertinent to his sentencing. It was enough that the jury was informed by Ms. Olivey that:
Defendant finally challenges the trial court's refusal to admit certain expert testimony. These contentions lack merit. The court correctly sustained the prosecutor's objection to defense counsel's attempt to elicit an opinion from a psychiatrist about whether defendant "would be able to adjust to life in prison." Such an opinion would have concerned a matter totally irrelevant to sentencing. Defendant stood convicted of two first degree murders. Regardless of his ability to adjust to prison life, by law, defendant was already subject to the mandatory imposition of life imprisonment for those crimes. See G.S. 14-17; G.S. 15A-2000(a)(1), 15A-2002. The issue to be determined by the jury at the penalty phase was not whether defendant would prove to be a "good" prisoner but whether the overall nature of the murders and defendant's attendant acts warranted imposition of the maximum available penalty— death in the gas chamber.
In sum, defendant is not entitled to a new sentencing hearing upon the ground that the foregoing classes of evidence were erroneously restricted or rejected by the trial court.
At the penalty phase, defendant testified that he had been drinking alcohol and taking or injecting all kinds of illicit drugs
As a general matter, the truthfulness of any aspect of any witness's testimony may be attacked on cross-examination. See 1 Stansbury's N.C. Evidence §§ 39-40 (Brandis rev. 1973). This basic rule applies to all trial proceedings, including both the guilt and sentencing phases in capital cases. Thus, it is clear that the prosecutor could properly attempt to impeach defendant's testimony about the actual extent of his destructive habits. Defendant's ability to afford the necessary items certainly bore upon the credibility of his self-serving statements about their constant use.
In addition, the persistent nature of the prosecutor's questioning was not abusive in light of defendant's evasive and unresponsive answers. The scope and fairness of the cross-examination was a matter left to the sole discretion of the trial judge, and the prosecutor had a right to sift or press defendant in order to get a direct and clear response. See State v. Williams, 303 N.C. 142, 147, 277 S.E.2d 434, 438 (1981); State v. Currie, 293 N.C. 523, 529, 238 S.E.2d 477, 481 (1977).
On the other hand, however, it seems that defendant's objection to the prosecutor's inferential inquiry about the stealing was well taken. The question amounted to a speculative insinuation of prior criminal conduct with no ascertainable good faith factual basis. See State v. Shane, 304 N.C. 643, 651, 285 S.E.2d 813, 818 n. 3 (1982). Still, it was a single impropriety, and this case is, therefore, markedly different from State v. Phillips, 240 N.C. 516, 82 S.E.2d 762 (1954), where the prosecutor cross-examined the defendant in detail about seventeen unproved accusations of prior misconduct. Thus, we hold that the trial court's prompt sustension of defendant's objection to the disapproved question sufficiently averted any prejudice to defendant. See State v. Williams, supra, 303 N.C. at 147, 277 S.E.2d at 438.
Defendant assigns further error to the district attorney's jury argument during the sentencing phase. We have already overruled several of the same supporting exceptions in part VI of the opinion, supra, where we set forth the controlling standard of review of any jury argument which is not objected to at trial. To avoid redundancy, we shall not plow those rows again, instead, we shall limit our review to a consideration of the additional exceptions presented here.
Let us begin by saying that prosecutorial statements are not placed in an isolated vacuum on appeal. Fair consideration must be given to the context in which the remarks were made and to the overall factual circumstances to which they referred. Moreover, it must be remembered that the prosecutor of a capital case has a duty to pursue ardently the goal of persuading the jury that the facts in evidence
In this case, it is evident that the district attorney argued for capital punishment of defendant's murder convictions with much vim and vigor. Record at 306-10. Contrary to defendant's assertions, however, we do not believe that the district attorney's zeal caused him to overstep the bounds of permissible argument. Examining his statements in their complete context, we are convinced that he did not say anything which would amount to a gross impropriety. His comment that defendant was "not Jack the Ripper yet" was tempered by the prior explanation to the jury that it could consider any facts or circumstances which it deemed to have mitigating value, including defendant's admitted lack of significant criminal history. The district attorney's expressions concerning his belief in the death penalty and the propriety of its imposition in the case must be weighed with his frequent reminders to the jury that it would have to determine what the appropriate punishment should be.
Defendant tendered in writing the following ten circumstances in mitigation:
With the exception of the last portion of number seven regarding defendant's "relatively low mentality," the trial court honored defendant's request and submitted all ten of these mitigating factors to the jury. Defendant argues that the trial court thereby erred in two ways: (1) in failing to submit his low mentality in mitigation as requested and (2) in failing to submit upon its own motion the additional statutory mitigating circumstance of G.S. 15A-2000(f)(2), i.e., that he committed the murders while he was "under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance." We conclude that defendant's contentions cannot be sustained on this record.
This Court has previously established instructive guidelines for the trial judges of our State to follow in the submission of mitigating circumstances, including those which arise upon the evidence in a given capital case as well as those specified in G.S. 15A-2000(f). First, in State v. Goodman, we held that, although the jury's consideration of any factor relevant to the circumstances of the crime or the character of the defendant may not be restricted, the trial court "is not required to sift through the evidence and search out every possible circumstance which the jury might find to have mitigating value," especially when the trial court instructs the jury upon the open-ended provision of G.S. 15A-2000(f)(9) and thus does not hinder it from evaluating on its own anything of mitigating value. 298 N.C. 1, 33-34, 257 S.E. 569, 589-90 (1979). Second, in State v. Johnson, we held that the trial court must include additional factors, which are timely requested by the defendant, on the written list submitted to the jury if they are "supported by the evidence, and ... are such that the jury could reasonably deem them to have mitigating value...." 298 N.C. 47, 72-74, 257 S.E.2d 597, 616-17 (1979) (emphasis added). Third, in State v. Hutchins, we held that, although the trial court has a fundamental duty to declare and explain the law arising upon the evidence, it is not required to instruct upon a statutory mitigating circumstance sua sponte unless defendant, who has the burden of persuasion, brings forward sufficient evidence of the existence of the specified factor. 303 N.C. 321, 355-56, 279 S.E. 788, 809 (1981); see State v. Taylor, 304 N.C. 249, 277, 283 S.E.2d 761, 779 (1981).
The rules of the foregoing cases are sound and practical, and we therefore exhort our trial judges to adhere to them carefully when presiding over the trial of capital cases. Moreover, we must also point out that common sense, fundamental fairness and judicial economy dictate that any reasonable doubt concerning the submission of a statutory or requested mitigating factor be resolved in the defendant's favor to ensure the accomplishment of complete justice at the first sentencing hearing. Nevertheless, the same standard of appellate review continues to apply whether the trial court commits error at the guilt phase or the penalty phase; thus, a new sentencing hearing will not be ordered for the erroneous failure to submit a mitigating circumstance if that error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. G.S. 15A-1443(b); see State v. Williams (I), 304 N.C. 394, 425-26, 284 S.E.2d 437, 456-57 (1981) (erroneous submission of aggravating circumstance was prejudicial and required new sentencing hearing); State v. Taylor, supra, 304 N.C. at 285-88, 283 S.E.2d at 783-85 (erroneous submission of aggravating circumstance was not prejudicial).
The sum of the matter is this—a defendant demonstrates reversible error in the trial court's omission or restriction of a statutory or timely requested mitigating circumstance in a capital case only if he affirmatively establishes three things: (1)
We first analyze defendant's request for an instruction upon his "relatively low mentality." This factor is not listed in G.S. 15A-2000(f); however, our cases plainly indicate that the mentality of a defendant is generally relevant to sentencing and that it can, with supporting evidence, be properly considered in mitigation of a capital felony. See State v. Johnson, 298 N.C. 355, 367, 259 S.E.2d 752, 760 (1979), and part VII of the opinion, supra. In this case, a psychiatrist testified that defendant had scored 66 on an intelligence test. This fact unquestionably related to defendant's mentality, and we believe that defendant would have been entitled to an instruction about his specific intelligence quotient if he had tendered a properly worded request therefor. See, e.g., State v. Williams, 304 N.C. 394, 401, 284 S.E.2d 437, 443 (1981); State v. Rook, 304 N.C. 201, 211 n. 1, 283 S.E.2d 732, 739 (1981), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 1741, 72 L.Ed.2d 155 (1982). However, we do not believe that defendant's evidence adequately authorized the submission of the instruction he did request which used the terms "relatively low mentality." In this regard, the psychiatrist testified that defendant's "other tests indicated that his I.Q. was probably a little higher than  and fell at least into the low-normal range of intelligence." Although we are not schooled in the medical art of psychiatry, we think that one would not commonly understand low to normal intelligence to be reasonably synonymous with relatively low mentality. Consequently, we hold that the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury in this respect. In any event, the omission could not have possibly been prejudicial since the trial court told the jury it could evaluate "[a]ny other circumstances or circumstances arising from the evidence which you, the jury deem to have mitigating value." G.S. 15A-2000(f)(9).
For similar reasons, we reject defendant's contention that the trial court erred in not instructing upon a statutory mitigating circumstance sua sponte. The evidence simply did not support the submission of G.S. 15A-2000(f)(2). The psychiatrist testified that defendant had "psychological problems" and was "a very passive person that exhibits some chronic depression in terms of how he functions in life." He also stated that defendant was "not basically a violent person" and that there was no evidence "that he was an angry acting out type person that you ordinarily find in people that are prone to violence." On cross-examination, the psychiatrist further explained the results of his examination of defendant as follows:
Record at 283-86 (emphasis added). This evidence did not, in our opinion, sufficiently show that defendant was somehow under the influence of a mental or emotional disorder at the time he committed the murders. We also have serious doubts as to whether "some" "mild" "chronic depression" qualifies as a bona fide mental or emotional disturbance under our capital punishment statute. Compare State v. Taylor, supra (evidence that defendant had "paranoid psychosis"); State v. Rook, supra (psychiatrists gave direct opinions that defendant had a mental disorder or illness); State v. Johnson, supra (defendant was diagnosed
The trial court submitted each of the two killings as an aggravating circumstance for the other under the "course of conduct" provision of G.S. 15A-2000(e)(11).
To the contrary, we find no constitutional authority mandating a conclusion by us that the submission of G.S. 15A-2000(e)(11) in aggravation of both murders violated defendant's protection against double jeopardy, and we decline to adopt a position which would prevent the administration and availability of equal justice for equal crimes.
In the instant case, defendant killed two persons at the same place and within minutes of each other. The capital charges were tried together pursuant to defendant's own motion for joinder. The jury found defendant guilty of murder in the first degree, upon the theory of premeditation and deliberation, on both counts. The State was thereupon entitled to seek the death penalty for each murder, and it properly did so. The State sought the death penalty based upon the aggravating circumstances of both G.S. 15A-2000(e)(9) and (11). The jury found that these aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating beyond a reasonable doubt and recommended the death penalty in each case. There was no constitutional error in the procedure employed.
The cases principally relied upon by defendant are clearly inapposite, and the reasoning of those cases simply cannot be stretched to encompass the imaginative and innovative standard of double jeopardy which defendant seeks to impose at the initial sentencing hearing jointly held upon dual capital convictions. For example, both the United States Supreme Court's decision in Bullington v. Missouri, 451 U.S. 430, 101 S.Ct. 1852, 68 L.Ed.2d 270 (1981), and the decision of this Court in State v. Silhan, 302 N.C. 223,
Regardless of the formula utilized, the jury's consideration of a defendant's commission of "other crimes of violence," in making its ultimate penalty recommendation for that defendant's conviction of a related but separate capital offense, is not logically equivalent to the defendant receiving multiple punishment for the same crime. This is especially true where, as here, the prosecution relies on an additional aggravating circumstance which is also subsequently found by the jury. In short, the principle of double jeopardy has not evolved, as defendant argues, to the point that it prevents the prosecution from relying, at the sentencing phase of a capital case, upon a related course of criminal conduct by the defendant as an aggravating factor to enhance the punishment of defendant for another distinct offense, and this is so, irrespective of whether the defendant was also convicted of another capital charge arising out of that very same course of criminal conduct and subjected to separate punishment therefor. See, e.g., State v. Hutchins, 303 N.C. 321, 347, 279 S.E.2d 788, 804 (1981) (reciprocal aggravation of two first-degree murders under G.S. 15A-2000(e)(11)). See also State v. Cherry, 298 N.C. 86, 113, 257 S.E.2d 551, 568 (1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 941, 100 S.Ct. 2165, 64 L.Ed.2d 796 (1980) (discussing the use of an underlying felony, which accompanies the commission of a premeditated murder, as an aggravating circumstance under G.S. 15A-2000(e)(5)).
In conclusion, we hold that the enhancement of defendant's penalty on the one hand for Pachaco's murder did not result in an unconstitutional duplication of defendant's penalty on the other hand for Ausley's death, and vice versa, simply because defendant's overall violent conduct was submitted in aggravation on each hand under G.S. 15A-2000(e)(11). It is the very fact that defendant killed two people, and not just one, that aggravates the nature of his crimes, and it was entirely proper for the jury to consider this fact in determining whether defendant should pay the ultimate price for each life he took.
Defendant assigns error to the trial court's direction to the jury that it need not specify which mitigating circumstances on the written list it found. This same issue was recently addressed at length in State v. Rook, where we stated: "While defendant makes a good argument that it is the better practice, and we agree, to require the jury to specify mitigating factors found and not found for the benefit of this Court in reviewing the appropriateness of the death penalty, we find no such requirement in our statutes." 304 N.C. 201, 231, 283 S.E.2d 732, 751 (1981), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 1741, 72 L.Ed.2d 155 (1982). Moreover, in State v. Taylor, we also found "no merit in defendant's contention that since the jury had to answer each aggravating circumstance specifically but did not have to answer which mitigating circumstances they found, that placed undue emphasis on the aggravating circumstances." 304 N.C. 249, 285, 283 S.E.2d 761, 783 (1981). It suffices to say that defendant's similar contentions must be overruled pursuant to the binding authority of both Rook and Taylor.
Both the prosecutor and the trial court advised the jury that it had a duty to
Nevertheless, defendant assigns error to the foregoing on the basis that such instructions "prejudicially withdrew from the jury its final option ... to recommend a life sentence notwithstanding its earlier findings." Defendant's Brief at 75. This assignment lacks merit.
The jury had no such option to exercise unbridled discretion and return a sentencing verdict wholly inconsistent with the findings it made pursuant to G.S. 15A-2000(c). The jury may not arbitrarily or capriciously impose or reject a sentence of death. Instead, the jury may only exercise guided discretion in making the underlying findings required for a recommendation of the death penalty within the "carefully defined set of statutory criteria that allow them to take into account the nature of the crime and the character of the accused." State v. Johnson, 298 N.C. 47, 63, 257 S.E.2d 597, 610 (1979); see State v. Barfield, 298 N.C. 306, 349-52, 259 S.E.2d 510, 541-43 (1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 907, 100 S.Ct. 3050, 65 L.Ed.2d 1137 (1980). Moreover, defendant's contention was implicitly answered in State v. Goodman, 298 N.C. 1, 257 S.E.2d 569 (1979), in which this Court overruled an assignment of error alleging that the trial court had erred in failing to instruct the jury that it could still recommend life imprisonment even though it found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating ones. Justice Britt, speaking for the Court in Goodman, explained that:
Id. at 35, 257 S.E.2d at 590. For these reasons, we hold that the jury was correctly informed that it had a duty to recommend a sentence of death if it made the three findings necessary to support such a sentence under G.S. 15A-2000(c).
The trial court instructed the jury upon the statutory aggravating circumstance of G.S. 15A-2000(e)(9), that the murders were "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel." Defendant essentially contends that the evidence did not support the existence of this factor and that the trial court's instruction upon it thus violated the Eighth Amendment.
In accordance with the dictates of the Eighth Amendment, our Court has adhered
Examining the case at bar, we hold that there was sufficient evidence whereby the jury could have reasonably concluded that the murders of Pachaco and Ausley were especially despicable and wanton under G.S. 15A-2000(e)(9). The evidence showed that defendant carefully executed a deliberate and premeditated plan for murder. We have already set out the details of the murders at length in the beginning of the opinion, and it would be repetitious to summarize them again here. It suffices to say that the deaths of the unsuspecting victims were not instantaneous and that both killings involved the infliction of unusual physical or psychological torture. Each victim essentially witnessed (or heard) the shooting of the other and was helpless to prevent this unprovoked horror. The killing of Pachaco was excessively brutal in that defendant, having already shot him once, walked over to where he lay moaning on the floor and shot him again at point blank range. The killing of Ausley was merciless and conscienceless in that defendant shot him as he begged and pleaded for his life. Defendant seemed to enjoy the killings, and he showed no remorse for what he had done at that time. In fact, defendant callously evaluated his conduct in his subsequent announcement to his companions that he had "just blown away two dudes." Viewing the circumstances of the murders as a whole, we hold that the trial court correctly instructed the jury upon G.S. 15A-2000(e)(9).
The sentence of death in a given case cannot be "excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant." G.S. 15A-2000(d)(2). Defendant argues that the infliction of the death penalty for these murders would be excessive and disproportionate punishment. We disagree. All things considered, we cannot say, as a matter of law, that this defendant is somehow less deserving of capital punishment than the other occupants of death row. See, e.g., State v. Taylor, 304 N.C. 249, 283 S.E.2d 761 (1981); State v. Rook, 304 N.C. 201, 283 S.E.2d 732 (1981), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 1741, 72 L.Ed.2d 155 (1982); State v. Hutchins, 303 N.C. 321, 279 S.E.2d 788 (1981); State v. Martin, 303 N.C. 246, 278 S.E.2d 214, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 431, 70 L.Ed.2d 240 (1981); State v. McDowell, 301 N.C. 279, 271 S.E.2d 286 (1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1025, 101 S.Ct. 1731, 68 L.Ed.2d 220 (1981); State v. Barfield, 298 N.C. 306, 259 S.E.2d 510 (1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 907, 100 S.Ct. 3050, 65 L.Ed.2d 1137 (1980). The facts of the instant case speak for themselves and we shall not disturb the factual findings made by the jury under G.S. 15A-2000(c) in reaching its recommendations for the death penalty in this case.
Within this argument, defendant also urged this Court to adopt several
The final three "arguments" presented by defendant's appellate counsel ask us to re-examine the constitutional validity of several prior cases without advancing a single good, logical or compelling reason for doing so. Such spurious disputations lack merit, do not warrant discussion and are not well received. Even so, we shall take this opportunity to reaffirm today the constitutionality of the following aspects of our capital sentencing procedure: (1) the bifurcated trial proceedings of G.S. 15A-2000, in which the same jury determines both the guilt and punishment issues, and the use of challenges for cause to excuse therefrom prospective jurors who are unequivocally opposed to the death penalty; (2) the submission of the sufficiently clear statutory aggravating circumstance of G.S. 15A-2000(e)(9), that the capital felony is "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel," in appropriate cases; and (3) the placement of the burden upon the defendant of persuading the jury, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a particular mitigating circumstance exists. State v. Rook, 304 N.C. 201, 283 S.E.2d 732 (1981), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 1741, 72 L.Ed.2d 155 (1982); State v. Avery, 299 N.C. 126, 261 S.E.2d 803 (1980) (and cases cited in part I of the opinion, supra); State v. Barfield, 298 N.C. 306, 259 S.E.2d 510 (1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 907, 100 S.Ct. 3050, 65 L.Ed.2d 1137 (1980); State v. Johnson, 298 N.C. 47, 257 S.E.2d 597 (1979); State v. Goodman, 298 N.C. 1, 257 S.E.2d 569 (1979).
The decision to take a life pursuant to the law, for the life of another, or others, wrongfully taken, is a very grave and solemn matter. Thus, this Court accords the utmost diligence and care in its review of capital cases. In the instant case, we have fully considered all of the arguments in defendant's brief, which encompassed the multitudinous assignments of error and exceptions in the record on appeal. We are convinced that both phases of defendant's trial were competently conducted without the accompaniment of constitutional defect or prejudicial error, and we so hold.
We also hold that the judgments of death were lawfully imposed. The evidence supported submission of the aggravating circumstances listed in G.S. 15A-2000(e)(9) and (11). There is no indication that the jury recommended capital punishment under the influence of passion or prejudice. Finally, the penalties imposed do not seem excessive or disproportionate considering the premeditated and callous manner in which defendant calmly shot and killed two people in cold blood, suddenly and without any provocation by them, for reasons exhibiting a wanton disregard for human life. Indeed, the record impels the conclusion that justice has been done in every respect. In sum, we have no authority or cause to disturb the duly entered judgments of death.
MITCHELL, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
CARLTON, Justice, concurring.
I concur with the majority opinion. However, I wish to add that I agree with the views expressed by Justice Exum in section V. of his dissenting opinion. In my opinion, the comparison pool for proportionality review for first degree murder cases
BRANCH, C. J., joins in this concurring opinion.
EXUM, Justice, dissenting as to sentence.
I find myself, first, in strong disagreement with the majority on an extremely important new question dealing with the construction of our death penalty statute. The majority holds, after somewhat cursory treatment and a barebones analysis, that under the statute, G.S. 15A-2000, if the jury finds: (1) the existence of one or more statutory aggravating circumstances, (2) that the aggravating circumstance(s) so found are sufficiently substantial to call for the death penalty and (3) the aggravating circumstance(s) outweigh the mitigating circumstances, then the jury must return the death penalty. Nowhere, of course, does the statute so provide. The majority construes the statute in this way on the sole ground that otherwise the statute would be subject to the constitutional attack that a jury could decide between life and death in its unbridled discretion. Yet decisions of the United States Supreme Court, none of which are mentioned in the majority's discussion, have made it abundantly clear that the majority's interpretation is not constitutionally required.
In one of its first cases construing our death penalty statute, this Court noted, "[t]he first maxim of statutory construction is to ascertain the intent of the legislature. To do this, this Court should consider the statute as a whole, the spirit of the statute, the evils it was designed to remedy, and what the statute seeks to accomplish." State v. Johnson, 298 N.C. 47, 56, 257 S.E.2d 597, 606 (1979). In Johnson, this Court recognized that our death penalty statute was enacted following a quintet of cases all decided by the United States Supreme Court on 2 July 1976. These cases struck down mandatory death penalty statutes in North Carolina, Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976) (plurality opinion), and Louisiana, Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325, 96 S.Ct. 3001, 49 L.Ed.2d 974 (1976) (plurality opinion), but sustained death penalty statutes which, in varying degrees, sought to control the discretion exercised in capital sentencing in Georgia, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976) (plurality opinion); Florida, Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 96 S.Ct. 2960, 49 L.Ed.2d 913 (1976) (plurality opinion); and Texas, Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262, 96 S.Ct. 2950, 49 L.Ed.2d 929 (1976) (plurality opinion). This Court noted in Johnson that these five cases "made clear that neither unbridled, unguided discretion nor the absence of all discretion in the imposition of the death penalty is constitutionally permissible." 298 N.C. at 58, 257 S.E.2d at 607 (emphasis supplied). After further discussion of United States Supreme Court decisions and various provisions of the Model Penal Code, upon which our statute was largely based, this Court concluded in Johnson, 298 N.C. at 63, 257 S.E.2d at 610:
Regarding the question before us, the statute, G.S. 15A-2000, provides in pertinent part as follows:
After hearing the evidence, argument of counsel, and instructions of the court, the jury shall deliberate and render a sentence recommendation to the court, based upon the following matters:
(c) Findings in Support of Sentence of Death.—When the jury recommends sentence of death, the foreman of the jury shall sign a writing on behalf of the jury which writing shall show:
In essence, then, the statute provides that in determining whether to impose death or life imprisonment the jury "must consider" certain aggravating and mitigating circumstances; that the jury's sentence recommendation shall be "based upon" the sufficiency of the aggravating circumstance(s) and the mitigating circumstance(s) and their relative weights; and that "when the jury recommends a sentence of death," it must sign a writing in which three questions are answered affirmatively and unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt.
From this statutory scheme the legislative intent clearly emerges. The legislature has sought to strike a balance between fairness to the individual defendant and consistency among the cases in which the death penalty is imposed. It has designed a statute which avoids the two extremes of mandatory death penalties or unbridled discretionary action by juries. The legislature intended for the jury to consider: first, the sufficiency of the aggravating circumstance(s); second, whether any mitigating circumstance(s) exist which outweigh the aggravating circumstance(s); and third, based on these considerations whether to recommend a death sentence or life imprisonment. Only when the jury determines to recommend death is the jury required to sign a writing which shows its affirmative, unanimous findings that one or more statutory aggravating circumstances exist beyond a reasonable doubt, that they are sufficiently substantial to make the death penalty appropriate and that the mitigating circumstances do not outweigh the aggravating circumstances.
This logical trap is easily sprung; it caught me in my dissent in State v. Rook, 304 N.C. 201, 283 S.E.2d 732 (1981), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 1741, 72 L.Ed.2d 155 (1982), where I lapsed into the same fallacy now being urged by the majority.
Our trial judges initially properly construed the statute to mean that if the jury answered the three issues affirmatively it could, but was not required to, recommend the death penalty. The first Pattern Jury Instruction promulgated after the statute provided that if the jury answered the crucial issues affirmatively then it "may recommend the death penalty." N.C.P.I.Crim. 150.10, p. 5 (June 1977) (emphasis supplied). A subsequent revision of the instruction emphasized this point by providing that the jury "may, although [it] need not, recommend that the defendant be sentenced to death." N.C.P.I.Crim. 150.10, p. 4 (Replacement, May 1979). These instructions, or a variation of them, have been followed in a large number of death penalty cases.
The issue in Goodman, however, was not whether the jury should be told it has a "duty" to recommend the death penalty if it answers the three issues affirmatively and unanimously. The issue in Goodman was whether, as the defendant contended, the trial court "should have explained to the jury that it had the option of returning a recommendation of life imprisonment even if aggravating circumstances were found to outweigh mitigating circumstances." Brief for Defendant Appellant at 15-16. Defendant argued that "[i]t should be incumbent upon the trial Court to explain in detail that no mandatory recommendation of the death penalty is required regardless of findings as to aggravating and mitigating circumstances set forth in the statute." Id.
Thus, defendant Goodman was arguing that the trial court should be required to explain to the jury that it could, in effect, ignore the considerations which by statute it must consider in recommending a life or death sentence. This goes far beyond the permissive instruction actually given and upheld in Goodman, i.e., the instruction that if the jury answered the three subsection (c) issues affirmatively and unanimously, it "may then recommend the death penalty." (R. at 185).
The state's brief in Goodman recognizes that "the Court left the jury with the understanding that, even should they find more aggravating than mitigating circumstances, they could still recommend life imprisonment.... At no point did the Court state that the jury could not recommend life imprisonment when the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating. What the Court was saying was that (even where such aggravating circumstances appeared to be more substantial than mitigating circumstances) the jury could still recommend life imprisonment." Brief for the state at 19-20.
The Court in Goodman answered the defendant's argument as follows, 298 N.C. at 34-35, 257 S.E.2d at 590:
The majority's conclusion on this point in the instant case as well as the change in the Pattern Jury Instruction are based on a misreading of Goodman. Goodman simply recognized that, under the instructions as given, there would be no cause for the jury "mathematically" to balance the aggravating against the mitigating and "impose the death penalty whenever aggravating circumstances outnumber mitigating ones." Goodman cautioned that juries should not be instructed in a manner which would cause them to "impose the sanction of death at their own whim." Goodman does not support the proposition that a jury has a duty to impose the death penalty whenever it concludes that the statutory aggravating circumstances are sufficiently substantial to call for it and that the mitigating circumstances are insufficient to outweigh the aggravating. Goodman recognizes that given such determinations, a jury may yet opt for life imprisonment and notes that there is no way to escape some subjectivity in deciding who shall live and who shall die. Juries are called on in this kind of decision, we said in Goodman, to consider "[n]uances of character and circumstance [which] cannot be weighed in a precise mathematical formula."
It is for this reason that a jury ought not be required to return the death penalty simply because it answers the crucial subsection (c) issues affirmatively. Conscientious juries may determine that these issues ought to be answered affirmatively and yet, because of circumstances of the case, "nuances," if you will, not subject to articulation in a statute or a verdict and not perhaps articulable by the jurors themselves, feel impelled to recommend that the death penalty not be imposed.
Our statute is designed simply to insure that certain specific (subsection (c)) prerequisites are met before the death penalty is imposed. Its only prerequisites for the imposition of life imprisonment are that the jury base such a decision (subsection (b)) on a weighing against each other of various aggravating and mitigating circumstances which it may find to exist. Although the jury may not recommend death without specifically, and in writing, answering subsection (c) issues affirmatively, even if it does so it may yet recommend life.
The United States Supreme Court has made it quite clear that these kinds of death penalty or life imprisonment decisions do not result in the unbridled discretionary determinations found wanting in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972) (per curiam). In Bullington v. Missouri, 451 U.S. 430, 101 S.Ct. 1852, 68 L.Ed.2d 270 (1981), the Court had
In Gregg v. Georgia, supra, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859, the Supreme Court considered a Georgia death penalty statute which provided that the jury could return a sentence of death only if it found the existence of one of ten statutorily specified aggravating circumstances. The jury was not required to return a death sentence even if it found the existence of one or more of the ten statutorily specified aggravating circumstances and was "not required to find any mitigating circumstance in order to make a recommendation of mercy." Id. at 197, 96 S.Ct. at 2936. On appeal of his death sentence, defendant argued that because a Georgia jury had "the power to decline to impose the death penalty even if it finds that one or more statutory aggravating circumstances are present," the statute violated the Furman prohibition against unbridled discretion. Id. 428 U.S. at 203, 96 S.Ct. at 2939. The United States Supreme Court answered by saying:
428 U.S. at 203, 96 S.Ct. at 2939 (emphasis supplied). In answering defendant's contention that there were other discretionary decisions which could be made in the processing of a murder case which would result in some candidates for the death penalty actually escaping it, the Supreme Court said:
428 U.S. at 199, 96 S.Ct. at 2937. Mr. Justice White, joined by the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist, said in a concurring opinion in Gregg:
428 U.S. at 222, 96 S.Ct. at 2947 (emphasis supplied).
Finally, in Jurek v. Texas, supra, 428 U.S. 262, 96 S.Ct. 2950, 49 L.Ed.2d 929, the Supreme Court considered a Texas statute which required the jury to impose the death sentence if it answered three questions affirmatively.
Apparently under the rationale of Jurek, the majority's interpretation of our statute would pass constitutional muster. But I am satisfied that the interpretation for which I argue is more solidly supported in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court; whereas the majority's view, which could be supported only by Jurek, is at least constitutionally suspect.
Assuming that we are free under the United States Constitution to opt for either interpretation, we should adopt the one which most nearly comports with the legislature's intent as that intent is revealed in the plain words of the statute. The legislature has developed a statutory scheme designed to accommodate the twin "goals of measured, consistent application and fairness to the accused." Eddings v. Oklahoma, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 102 S.Ct. 869, 874, 71 L.Ed.2d 1, 8 (1982). In Goodman, supra, 298 N.C. 1, 257 S.E.2d 569, we held that instructions which, in effect, explained to the jury that it could ignore the procedure devised by the legislature were not authorized by our statute and would be contrary to the Furman standards. Likewise, instructions that tell the jury they must impose the death penalty if they answer certain questions affirmatively and unanimously are not authorized by our statute and fail to give appropriate weight to inarticulable, intangible "[n]uances of character and circumstances." State v. Goodman, supra, 298 N.C. at 34, 257 S.E.2d at 590.
Our statute, like the Supreme Court said of its decision in Lockett,
The instruction most in keeping with the legislative design and which ought to be given in all cases is that recommended by the Superior Court Judges' Pattern Jury Instruction Committee in May 1979. In that instruction jury members are told that if they answer the crucial issues affirmatively and unanimously, "you may, although you need not, recommend that the defendant be sentenced to death." N.C.P.I.Crim. 150.10 at 4.
At least two jurors were excluded for cause in the instant case in violation of the
Furthermore, id. at 522-23 n. 21, 88 S.Ct. at 1771 n. 21,
The test applicable to this case then, under Witherspoon, for excuses for cause on death penalty opposition grounds is that the prospective juror must make it "unmistakably clear" that he or she would "automatically" vote against the death penalty "without regard to any evidence that might be developed at the trial of the case." A juror who has scruples, or reservations, or who is even opposed to capital punishment, but who is not "irrevocably committed, before
The United States Supreme Court's latest decision applying Witherspoon is Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38, 100 S.Ct. 2521, 65 L.Ed.2d 581 (1980). In Adams the Court made it clear that Witherspoon must be followed even under post-Furman guided discretion capital sentencing procedures. Adams held that because of Witherspoon limitations jurors may not be excused for cause on the ground that their opposition to the death penalty might "affect" their deliberations on issues of fact which might arise in the case.
It said, further, 448 U.S. at 49-50,100 S.Ct. at 2528-29, that jurors were improperly excluded
If only one juror is excused for cause, in violation of Witherspoon limitations, a sentence of death cannot stand. Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339 (1976) (per curiam). The Davis Court noted, 429 U.S. at 123, 97 S.Ct. at 399:
This Court held in State v. Bernard, 288 N.C. 321, 325, 218 S.E.2d 327, 330 (1975), that a juror could not be excused merely because "he thought he would automatically vote against the imposition of the death penalty regardless of the evidence." (Emphasis original.)
Finally, the meaning of the voir dire colloquy is that which would be given it by the prospective juror rather than one trained in the law. "The critical question, of course, is not how the phrases employed in this area have been construed by courts and commentators. What matters is how they might be understood—or misunderstood—by prospective jurors." Witherspoon v. Illinois, supra, 391 U.S. at 515-16 n. 9, 88 S.Ct. at 1773 n. 9 (quoted with approval in Boulden v. Holman, supra, 394 U.S. at 481-82, 89 S.Ct. at 1140).
Turning now to the challenges for cause here under attack, I am satisfied that prospective juror Mary Neal was excused for cause on broader grounds than Witherspoon permits. Neal, after an extended colloquy with the prosecutor, never expressed any categorical opposition to the death penalty. She simply said that she would have to be absolutely certain of a defendant's guilt before she could vote to impose it. That portion of the colloquy which accurately reflects her attitude is the following:
Prospective juror Frank Rogers said, "I don't go for [the death penalty] too much" and "I don't think much of the death penalty." He never said he was categorically opposed to the death penalty. When asked whether he could consider imposing the death penalty, the following occurred:
At that point, the court intervened as follows:
Thus Rogers did not say that he could or would not impose the death penalty or that he would automatically vote for life imprisonment, regardless of evidence that might be introduced at the trial. He said he could not impose it under any circumstances "without hearing any evidence." Obviously, the learned trial judge was attempting to ask Rogers whether he could impose it under any circumstances regardless of what evidence adduced at trial might show, and to one trained in the law that is what the court's question might mean. To Rogers, a layman, the question could mean no more than what the words actually used by the trial judge would ordinarily convey. Roger's position, then, was simply that he could not impose the death penalty until he at least had heard some evidence in the case. The thrust of the entire colloquy seems to be that, depending on what the evidence adduced tended to show, Rogers could consider the death penalty, that he tended to favor life imprisonment, but that he would not convince himself one way or the other without hearing some evidence. Rogers should not have been excused for cause.
The majority concludes that the trial court did not err in refusing to submit both in his instructions and on the written list defendant's "relatively low mentality" as a mitigating circumstance because there was no evidence to support it and, even if there had been supporting evidence, the error could not have been prejudicial. As the majority correctly notes, a defendant's low mentality, if it exists, is "properly considered in mitigation of a capital felony."
I cannot agree with the majority that the evidence does not support defendant's "relatively low mentality" mitigating circumstance. Defendant's psychiatric witness, Dr. Billy Royal, testified that defendant scored 66 on an intelligence test; but, he said, "[w]e felt that his other tests indicated that his I.Q. was probably a little higher than that and fell at least into the low-normal range of intelligence." Apparently the majority concludes that any intelligence quotient which is within a "normal range" cannot be considered by a jury in a capital case unless it is proffered by the defendant
I simply cannot subscribe to, nor do I really understand, the distinction drawn by the majority. Any kind of absolute score on an intelligence test, in order to be meaningful to a lay jury or for that matter to lawyers and judges, needs explanation by competent expert testimony. The testimony in this case was that defendant's intelligence was in the "low-normal range." Defendant asked that his "relatively low mentality" be submitted as a mitigating circumstance. The evidence supports that he did have a "relatively low mentality." It should be for the jury to assess this quality in terms of its mitigating effect. It is not for the court to say that the jury could not, as a matter of law, consider a person's "relatively low mentality" as a mitigating circumstance because the mentality is within the outer limits of "normal." To me, the phrase "relatively low mentality" accords precisely with the evidence which was introduced. A person whose intelligence is in the low-normal range must perforce have a relatively low mentality. Contrary to the majority's conclusion, the terms are synonymous.
Neither on this record am I able to say that not permitting the jury to consider this mitigating circumstance was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Not to permit a jury to consider any relevant mitigating circumstance is an error of constitutional dimension. Eddings v. Oklahoma, supra, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 869, 71 L.Ed.2d 1; Lockett v. Ohio, supra, 438 U.S. 586, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 57 L.Ed.2d 973. Before we can deem such an error harmless, we must be satisfied "that it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24, 87 S.Ct. 824, 828, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967); G.S. 15A-1443(b). The burden is upon the state to so demonstrate. Id.
Of the ten mitigating circumstances submitted, we know from the record only that the jury found "one or more." We do not know how many beyond one it found. It is possible that the jury found only one mitigating circumstance to exist out of the list of ten. If it did, the failure to submit an additional mitigating circumstance which should have been submitted and which the jury could have found to exist might well have made a difference in the jury's ultimate recommendation. At least I cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that it would not have made a difference.
The United States Supreme Court has recently recognized that a youthful defendant's mental development is a significant mitigating circumstance. Eddings v. Oklahoma, supra, was a capital case in which, under Oklahoma procedure, the sentencing decision was made by the trial judge. The judge, after hearing evidence, found all of three alleged aggravating circumstances to exist beyond a reasonable doubt. He also found that the youth of the defendant (age sixteen) was a mitigating circumstance "of great weight." The trial judge, however, did not believe he could consider "the fact of this young man's violent background." Id. at ___, 102 S.Ct. at 873, 71 L.Ed.2d at 7 (emphasis original). For failure of the trial judge to consider this additional mitigating circumstance, the United States Supreme Court set aside the death penalty and remanded for further proceedings. The Court said, id. at ___, 102 S.Ct. at 877, 71 L.Ed.2d at 12:
In the case at bar the trial judge's refusal to submit and instruct on defendant's "relatively low mentality" as a mitigating circumstance deprived the defendant of his right to have the jury consider his "mental... development." The error was not cured by submitting to the jury the catchall language of the tenth mitigating circumstance when it was unaccompanied by any specific instruction relating to the particular
For the foregoing reasons, I vote to vacate the death sentence imposed in this case and to remand for a new sentencing hearing. I concur in the majority's conclusion that there was no prejudicial error in the guilt phase of the case.
This is yet another in a growing number of cases in which a majority of the Court has affirmed the death penalty and in conducting its statutorily mandated "proportionality review" of the death sentence has failed to advise the bar of the manner in which it conducts such a review. The majority, unlike courts in other jurisdictions which have statutes similar to ours, has yet to tell the bar whether its review is based on comparisons with those cases in which the death sentence was imposed at trial and affirmed on appeal, or with those cases in which the jury could have recommended the death penalty but instead recommended life imprisonment and which have been reviewed on appeal, or with cases from some other kind of pool. It is time for the majority to declare itself on this important question, and I urge it to use as a pool for comparison purposes all cases tried under the new death penalty statute, whether the jury recommended death or life imprisonment and which have been reviewed on appeal by this Court.
The statute, G.S. 15-2000(d)(2), requires us to impose a life sentence if we find that a death sentence imposed by the trial court "is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant." This language is identical to language in Georgia's death penalty statute. See Ga.Code Annot. § 27-2537(c)(3) (1978). The Georgia Supreme Court looks to all appealed murder cases, whatever the sentence imposed, in making its comparisons. Ross v. State, 233 Ga. 361, 365-66, 211 S.E.2d 356, 359 (1974), cert. denied, 428 U.S. 910, 96 S.Ct. 3222, 49 L.Ed.2d 1217 (1976).
The Florida Supreme Court in conducting its proportionality review also compares all appealed murder cases, including those where a sentence less than death was imposed. It has concluded that ignoring life sentences imposed in factually similar cases would make its review procedure constitutionally defective. McCaskill v. State, 344 So.2d 1276 (Fla.1977) (per curiam).
The plain words of our statute require that we compare the case before us not only with similar cases in which the death penalty has been imposed but with similar cases in which the jury was permitted to consider it but decided instead to recommend life imprisonment. The basic purpose of proportionality review is to make sure that the death sentence in the case before us is not "excessive" to sentences "imposed in similar cases." If we look for comparison only to cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, the sentence in the case under review could never be excessive because one death sentence never "exceeds" another. It is only by comparing the case being reviewed in which a death sentence was imposed with other similar cases in which life was imposed that we can determine whether
We ought not limit ourselves only to cases where the death sentence was imposed and affirmed. To do so means that we only ask whether the case under review is as bad as the other death cases. The legislature intended us not only to make that determination but also to determine whether the case under review is more deserving of the death penalty than similar cases in which life sentences have been imposed. The statute's plain language requires that we make both kinds of comparisons. Of the two, the latter is the more meaningful and is probably constitutionally required.
Further, by using only other death sentence cases affirmed on appeal, the Court severely limits the pool of cases available for comparison. Since the effective date of our capital punishment statute, 7 June 1977, there have been only six such cases. See State v. Taylor, 304 N.C. 249, 283 S.E.2d 761 (1981); State v. Rook, supra, 304 N.C. 201, 283 S.E.2d 732; State v. Hutchins, supra, 303 N.C. 321, 279 S.E.2d 788; State v. Martin, 303 N.C. 246, 278 S.E.2d 214, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 102 S.Ct. 431, 70 L.Ed.2d 240 (1981); State v. McDowell, 301 N.C. 279, 271 S.E.2d 286 (1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1025, 101 S.Ct. 1731, 68 L.Ed.2d 220 (1981); State v. Barfield, 298 N.C. 306, 259 S.E.2d 510 (1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 907, 100 S.Ct. 3050, 65 L.Ed.2d 1137 (1980). The statute requires that we compare factually "similar" cases. Similar cases for comparison purposes are simply not present in such a small sampling. The Court should want to expand, rather than restrict, the pool of cases so that truly similar cases will be more quickly available and we can begin to make the comparisons which the statute requires.
The bar is entitled to know upon what basis we are conducting the proportionality review mandated by the statute. Defendant Pinch has expressly and reasonably requested that we provide this knowledge. We should grant the request. We should not continue to keep the manner in which we perform this duty shrouded in mystery.
304 N.C. at 242-43, 283 S.E.2d at 757 (emphasis original) (footnote omitted).
Other cases reviewed by this Court have contained instructions which went even further in telling the jury that the death sentence was not mandated by affirmative answers to the crucial issues. For example, in State v. Oliver, 302 N.C. 28, 274 S.E.2d 183 (1981) (R. at 668), the jury was told:
See, also, State v. Hutchins, 303 N.C. 321, 279 S.E.2d 788 (1981) (R. at 231, "you would then further deliberate upon your sentence recommendation"); State v. Small, 301 N.C. 407, 272 S.E.2d 128 (1980) (R. at 618, "Even though you are not required to do so, you may still recommend life in prison").
At least one jury has found ambiguity in the "Issues and Recommendation as to Punishment" form generally submitted to juries deliberating on sentences in capital cases. State v. Lake, 305 N.C. 143, 286 S.E.2d 541 (1981) (copy found in Case No. 80CRS5530. Onslow Superior Court).
See 428 U.S. at 269, 96 S.Ct. at 2955 (quoting Tex.Code Crim.Proc., art. 37.071(b) (Supp. 1975-76)).