384 S.E.2d 757 (Va. 1989), 890107, Buchanan v. Commonwealth

Docket Nº:890107, 890108.
Citation:384 S.E.2d 757, 238 Va. 389
Opinion Judge:[10] Thomas
Party Name:Douglas McArthur BUCHANAN, Jr. v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia.
Attorney:[7] Sam E. Eggleston, III (Gordon W. Poindexter, Jr.; Eggleston, Thelen & Johnson; Poindexter, Burns & Marks, on brief), for appellant. (Record Nos. 890107 and 890108.)
Case Date:September 22, 1989
Court:Supreme Court of Virginia

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384 S.E.2d 757 (Va. 1989)

238 Va. 389

Douglas McArthur BUCHANAN, Jr.



Nos. 890107, 890108.

Supreme Court of Virginia.

September 22, 1989.

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[238 Va. 393] Sam D. Eggleston, III, Nellysford, (Gordon W. Poindexter, Jr., Waynesboro, Eggleston, Thelen & Johnson, Nellysford, Poindexter, Burns & Marks, Waynesboro, on brief), for appellant.

Virginia B. Theisen, Asst. Atty. Gen., (Mary Sue Terry, Atty. Gen., Birdie H. Jamison, Asst. Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.

[238 Va. 389] Present: All the Justices.

[238 Va. 393] THOMAS, Justice.

Douglas McArthur Buchanan, Jr. (Buchanan), was tried by a jury and convicted of capital murder in violation of Code § 18.2-31(g) (now Code § 18.2-31(7)), for killing his father, Douglas McArthur Buchanan, Sr. (Buchanan, Sr.), in the same transaction in which he killed his half-brother, Joel Jerry Buchanan (J.J.); his half-brother, Christopher Donald Buchanan (Donnie); and his step-mother, Geraldine Patterson Buchanan (Mrs. Buchanan). In the second phase of the bifurcated capital murder trial, the jury fixed Buchanan's sentence at death.

In the same trial, the jury also convicted Buchanan of the first degree murders of his father, his brothers, and his step-mother, sentencing him to life imprisonment for each murder. Code § 18.2-32. Further, the jury convicted Buchanan of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony with regard to each murder, [238 Va. 394] sentencing him to a total of fourteen years in prison for those convictions. Code § 18.2-53.1.

The trial court entered judgment on the capital murder conviction and sentenced Buchanan to death. It also entered judgment on the four first degree murder convictions and sentenced Buchanan to four terms of life imprisonment. In addition, the trial court entered judgment on the firearm convictions and sentenced Buchanan to fourteen years imprisonment.

Buchanan appealed the capital murder conviction to this Court. Record No. 890107. We have consolidated that appeal with the automatic penalty review required by Code § 17-110.1. Buchanan appealed the non-capital convictions to the Court of Appeals. Pursuant to Code § 17-116.06, by order dated January 30, 1989, we certified that appeal to this Court. Record No. 890108. We have consolidated all matters and have given the consolidated case priority on our docket. Code § 17-110.2.

Buchanan's principal complaints concern whether the indictments gave him fair notice of the charges against which he had to defend, whether the trial court unduly restricted voir dire questioning, whether he was entitled to second degree murder instructions, whether the jury's verdicts were sufficiently supported by the indictments, and whether his right to be free of double jeopardy was violated by the sentences he received. In our view, with certain modifications more fully explained herein, the trial court's judgment should be affirmed.

  1. FACTS

    The murders occurred in a two-hour time period between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on September 15, 1987. On that day, Buchanan and his wife, Christianne, drove to a spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway which was a ten-minute walk through the woods to Buchanan, Sr.'s home. They discussed the contemplated murders. Indeed, they had discussed the murders the previous day and had driven to Buchanan, Sr.'s home, but defendant decided, at that time, that he could not follow through with the plan to kill his family. On September 15, however, Buchanan left his wife, in their parked vehicle and, carrying a pair of rubber gloves and his .22-caliber rifle, walked through the woods to his father's house.

    Buchanan found his father outdoors behind the house. He explained his having the rifle by telling his father that he had been squirrel hunting. The two went inside

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    where they engaged in conversation. [238 Va. 395] They had a disagreement because Buchanan, Sr. made disparaging remarks about his first wife, defendant's deceased natural mother. Buchanan, Sr. charged that his present wife was unfaithful and that defendant's mother had been no better. Buchanan disputed the assertions about his mother. Buchanan, Sr. broke off the conversation and invited Buchanan outside to look at a recently purchased automobile. As Buchanan, Sr. walked towards the door, Buchanan placed the rifle to the back of his head and shot him. Buchanan, Sr. fell to the floor. Buchanan then placed the rifle to his father's forehead and shot him between the eyes. Next, Buchanan dragged his father's body into the master bedroom. He reached under his father's mattress and removed a .22-caliber pistol.

    Fifteen minutes later, Buchanan heard his brothers arriving from school. He stood waiting behind the living room door, rifle in hand. Donnie, who was ten years old, came in first and walked past Buchanan who shot him in the back of the head. Buchanan then placed the rifle to Donnie's face and shot him near the right temple.

    J.J., who was thirteen years old, heard the shots and started to run. Buchanan went outside to the porch and shot J.J. twice as he ran. He then helped J.J. walk inside the house where he shot him a third time, this time in the left side of the forehead. Buchanan dragged the bodies of both boys from the living room. J.J., however, despite his wounds, got up and walked back into the living room. Buchanan obtained a knife from the kitchen and stabbed J.J. five times. One stab wound pierced the skull and superficially penetrated the brain; another wound severed the carotid artery.

    Buchanan waited inside the house until Mrs. Buchanan returned home. As she entered the house, he hid behind the front door. Once she was inside, he confronted her with the pistol aimed at her head. He pulled the trigger once, but the pistol did not fire. On his second attempt, the pistol fired; the bullet grazed the side of Mrs. Buchanan's head; she fell to her knees. He then took the knife he had used to kill J.J. and stabbed Mrs. Buchanan repeatedly. He stabbed her four times in her upper right chest. He slashed her throat from side to side, down to her vertebra column, severing the windpipe and all major veins and arteries in her neck. She also sustained defensive wounds to her hands.

    Buchanan ran from the house through the woods to his parked vehicle. Along the way, he tossed his bloody tennis shoes and the [238 Va. 396] knife into a dumpster. As his wife drove him away, he tossed the rifle out of the window.


    A. Sufficiency of Notice of Charges

    Buchanan contends the capital murder indictments against him did not give him sufficient notice of the charges against which he had to defend. He argues that the various indictments permitted the jury to convict him of more than one capital murder based on the death of the same person, Buchanan, Sr. According to Buchanan, his main defense to the capital murder charges was to show that the killings were not part of the same transaction. Buchanan submits that the multiple alternative indictments created a situation in which he was never aware of which killings the Commonwealth alleged were part of the same transaction. During oral argument, Buchanan stated that the issue is not whether he knew he was on trial for capital murder; this was conceded. Rather, Buchanan submitted, the real question is how many charges of capital murder can be based on four murders and what is the proper way to frame the indictments. Defendant contends he was prejudiced because he was unable to focus his defense on a specific pair of killings as being unconnected; instead, he was forced to argue that none of the killings were part of the same transaction.

    The three capital murder indictments against Buchanan were based on then Code § 18.2-31(g), which provided, in pertinent part, as follows: "The following offenses shall constitute capital murder ... (g) The willful, deliberate and premeditated killing

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    of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction...." The first indictment charged, in essence, that Buchanan killed Buchanan, Sr. as part of the same act or transaction in which he killed J.J., Donnie, or, Mrs. Buchanan. The second indictment was in two counts; it charged, in essence, in Count I, that Buchanan killed Buchanan, Sr. and Donnie as part of the same act or transaction and in Count II, that Buchanan killed Buchanan, Sr. and Mrs. Buchanan as part of the same act or transaction. The third indictment was also in two counts; it charged, in essence, in Count I, that Buchanan killed Donnie and J.J. as part of the same act or transaction and in Count II, that [238 Va. 397] Buchanan killed J.J. and Mrs. Buchanan as part of the same act or transaction.

    Buchanan's basic complaint is that because he killed four people in a relatively narrow time frame, he could only be indicted under Code § 18.2-31(g) for one capital murder. He contends the Commonwealth was required to make an election among the indictments. Buchanan misreads the statute and misunderstands the law concerning indictments.

    The statute described capital murder as the "willful, deliberate, premeditated killing of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction." This means that it took the killing of at least two people as part of the same act or transaction to constitute one capital murder under Code § 18.1-31(g). Here, four people were killed; thus, there was the theoretical possibility that Buchanan could be convicted of two capital murders. The critical issue is how many acts or transactions were involved. If all four individuals were killed in one act or transaction, Buchanan could only be convicted of one capital murder. If two individuals were killed as part of...

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