276 So.3d 713 (Ala.Crim.App. 2018), CR-15-0748, Woodward v. State

Docket NºCR-15-0748
Citation276 So.3d 713
Opinion JudgeKELLUM, Judge.
Party NameMario Dion WOODWARD v. STATE of Alabama
AttorneyRhonda Caviedes, The Woodlands; and Modupeolu A. Adegoke, Jean M. Farrell, and Geoffrey G. Young, New York City, New York, for appellant. Luther Strange and Steve Marshall, attys. gen., and Richard D. Anderson, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.
Judge PanelWindom, P.J., and Welch and Burke, JJ., concur. Joiner, J., concurs in the result.
Case DateApril 27, 2018
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Page 713

276 So.3d 713 (Ala.Crim.App. 2018)



STATE of Alabama

No. CR-15-0748

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

April 27, 2018

Rehearing Denied July 27, 2018

Certiorari Denied November 16, 2018

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Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court (CC-07-1388.60). Truman M. Hobbs, Jr., Judge.

Alabama Supreme Court 1171004

Rhonda Caviedes, The Woodlands; and Modupeolu A. Adegoke, Jean M. Farrell, and Geoffrey G. Young, New York City, New York, for appellant.

Luther Strange and Steve Marshall, attys. gen., and Richard D. Anderson, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.


KELLUM, Judge.

Mario Dion Woodward appeals the circuit court’s partial summary dismissal and partial denial of his petition for postconviction relief filed pursuant to Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., in which he attacked his capital-murder convictions and sentence of death.

Facts and Procedural History

In 2008, Woodward was convicted of two counts of capital murder in connection with the murder of Montgomery Police Officer Keith Houts. The murder was made capital (1) because Officer Houts was on duty when he was killed, see § 13A-5-40(a)(5), Ala. Code 1975, and (2) because Woodward shot and killed Officer Houts from inside a vehicle, see § 13A-5-40(a)(18), Ala. Code 1975. By a vote of 8-4, the jury recommended that Woodward be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for his capital-murder convictions; the trial court overrode the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Woodward to death.1 This Court affirmed Woodward’s

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convictions and sentence of death. Woodward v. State, 123 So.3d 989 (Ala.Crim.App. 2011). The Alabama Supreme Court denied certiorari review, and this Court issued a certificate of judgment on April 19, 2013. The United States Supreme Court also denied certiorari review. Woodward v. Alabama, 571 U.S. 1045, 134 S.Ct. 405, 187 L.Ed.2d 449 (2013).

In our opinion affirming Woodward’s convictions and sentence, we set out the facts of the crime as follows: "Montgomery police officer Keith Houts was on patrol in a neighborhood in north Montgomery on September 28, 2006, and he conducted a traffic stop at approximately 12:30 p.m. Shonda Lattimore testified that she was sitting on her porch when she saw a police officer begin to execute a stop on a gray Impala automobile being driven by a black man wearing a red hat. Lattimore testified that she saw the driver of the Impala reach down for something as the Impala and the police car, with its emergency lights on, passed by the end of her street, before they went out of sight. Soon after the cars passed out of her sight, she heard four or five gunshots fired.

"During the traffic stop Officer Houts entered the license tag of the Impala into the mobile data terminal in his patrol car; the vehicle was registered to Morrie Surles. Officer Houts’s patrol car was equipped with a video camera that recorded the events that occurred during the stop. The video recording was played for the jury. The video showed that Houts got out of his patrol car and approached the driver’s side door of the Impala. Just as Officer Houts reached the door, the driver of the Impala fired a gun and shot Officer Houts in the jaw. Medical testimony established that the bullet entered Officer Houts’s neck and severed his spine, causing him to collapse instantly. The driver then reached his arm out of the vehicle and shot Officer Houts four more times. The driver fled the scene in the Impala. Although the dashboard camera captured the shooting on videotape, it did not reveal the identity of the assailant because Officer Houts’s patrol car was positioned behind the Impala and because the assailant did not get out of the vehicle.

"Although Officer Houts survived the shooting, he never regained consciousness, and he died two days later.

"The police determined that the Impala was registered to Morrie Surles (‘Morrie’). Morrie testified that she had purchased the Impala for her daughter, Tiffany Surles (‘Surles’).

"At around 9:30 on the morning of the shooting, Woodward visited a family friend, Shirley Porterfield. According to Porterfield, Woodward was driving a light-colored Impala, and he was wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a red fleece jacket. At approximately the same time the shooting occurred, Sharon Shephard, a Montgomery Animal Control officer driving in the area, saw an Impala being driven by a dark-skinned male pass by her at a high rate of speed.

"During the evening on the date the shooting occurred Surles’s Impala was found burned in a Montgomery neighborhood. Thalessa Shipman testified that she was a captain of the ‘Neighborhood Watch’ for her street. She said that she heard a loud car driving around the neighborhood on the night of September 28, 2006. The car stopped at her driveway in the cul-de-sac, then backed up to

Page 726 an empty lot located next to her lot. She identified the car as a dark-colored Dodge Neon. Shipman looked over the fence into the empty lot and saw a light-colored car there, and someone standing beside that car. Seconds later, the light-colored car went up in flames, and the person who had been standing next to the burning car jumped into the Neon, and the Neon sped away. Shipman contacted law-enforcement authorities, and they later identified the Impala as being registered to Morrie Surles based on the vehicle-identification number. Additional evidence established that a friend of Woodward’s, Joseph Pringle, owned a black Dodge Neon that had a loose muffler and was loud. The State played a video recording of Pringle’s Neon for Shipman, and she identified the sound of the car as the one she had heard on the night the car was burned in her neighborhood. A detective involved in the murder investigation received information about a black Dodge Neon, and on the day of the murder he and his partner located the car. Joseph Pringle was in the driver’s seat, and another man was in the passenger seat; the trunk of the vehicle was open. A third man was standing next to the car, speaking to Pringle; that man was holding a gas can.

"Tiffany Surles, Woodward’s girlfriend at the time of the shooting, testified that in September 2006 she was living with Woodward in an apartment they had rented together. During the evening of September 27, 2006, Surles and Woodward argued, and Woodward left the apartment in her Impala, and he returned later that night. Surles testified that the following morning, on the day Officer Houts was shot, she was taking a shower when Woodward left the apartment again. Woodward had the keys to her Impala the night before, and the Impala was gone. Surles had decided the night before that she was going to move out of the apartment. After Woodward left the apartment on the morning of the shooting Surles telephoned a friend, Wendy Walker, and asked her to help Surles move out of the apartment. Walker and Surles moved Surles’s personal belongings to Walker’s apartment, and the two women decided to drive to Birmingham to go shopping. Woodward telephoned Surles before she and Walker left for Birmingham, and he wanted Surles to meet him. Surles testified that Woodward met them at Walker’s apartment complex and that he got out of a small, dark car. Walker testified that the car Woodward got out of was a black Neon. Neither woman saw Surles’s Impala.

"Woodward joined Surles and Walker in Walker’s vehicle, and they drove to Birmingham. Surles and Walker testified that during the trip to Birmingham Woodward said that he had ‘messed up’ and that he had shot a police officer who pulled him over. Walker testified that Woodward spoke on his cellular telephone during the trip and that she had heard him tell someone to ‘get rid his girl[’s] car.’ (R. 963.) Surles stated that Woodward told her that he had taken care of her car. Surles said she did not get her car back. Walker and Surles testified that Woodward threw something out of Walker’s vehicle while they were en route to Birmingham. Walker testified that the object Woodward threw was a gun.

"Walker and Surles testified that in Birmingham they went to the Century Plaza shopping mall. Woodward bought a change of clothing and then asked the women to drop him off at a building near the Valleydale exit of the interstate. Vernon Cunningham testified that he is acquainted with Woodward, and

Page 727 that Woodward telephoned him on September 28, 2006, and wanted to meet with him. Cunningham arranged to meet with Woodward and said two girls dropped Woodward off at the arranged meeting place on Valleydale Road in Birmingham later that day. Cunningham drove Woodward to Cunningham’s house. On the way to Cunningham’s house, they stopped at a grocery store; a videotape from the store’s security camera showed that Woodward was wearing blue-jean shorts, a red sweatshirt, and a red baseball cap with a white emblem on the front. After they arrived at Cunningham’s house, Woodward gave Cunningham the sweatshirt and red baseball cap he had been wearing, and he told Cunningham to burn them. Cunningham testified that he burned the items in his outdoor grill, and the police found remnants of clothing in that grill. Cunningham also testified that Woodward told him that he had shot a police officer during a traffic stop.

"Cunningham testified that...

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