385 S.E.2d 50 (Va. 1989), 890094, Watkins v. Commonwealth

Docket Nº:890094, 890095.
Citation:385 S.E.2d 50, 238 Va. 341
Opinion Judge:[11] Russell
Party Name:Ronald WATKINS v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia.
Attorney:[7] David A. Melesco for appellant.
Case Date:September 22, 1989
Court:Supreme Court of Virginia
 
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385 S.E.2d 50 (Va. 1989)

238 Va. 341

Ronald WATKINS

v.

COMMONWEALTH of Virginia.

Nos. 890094, 890095.

Supreme Court of Virginia.

September 22, 1989.

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[238 Va. 343] David A. Melesco, Rocky Mount, for appellant (Mark S. Gardner, Spotsylvania, for appellant, on ineffective assistance of counsel claim).

David A. Rosenberg, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Mary Sue Terry, Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.

[238 Va. 341] Present: All the Justices.

[238 Va. 343] RUSSELL, Justice.

Ronald Watkins was convicted by a jury of robbery and of capital murder in the commission of robbery while armed with a deadly weapon, Code § 18.2-31(d). At the conclusion of the first stage of the bifurcated trial, the jury fixed his punishment at life imprisonment on the robbery count. At the penalty stage of the trial, after hearing evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the jury returned a unanimous verdict fixing Watkins' punishment at death for capital murder.

The jury based its verdict on both the "future dangerousness" and "vileness" predicates of Code § 19.2-264.4(C). In support of the "vileness" predicate, the jury made findings of both "depravity of mind" and "aggravated battery." After reviewing a pre-sentence report and after a further hearing, the court entered judgment by final orders entered November 2, 1988, imposing the penalties fixed by the jury.

Watkins' appeal of his capital murder conviction has been consolidated with the automatic review of his death sentence required by Code § 17-110.1. We have also certified from the Court of Appeals of Virginia the record of Watkins' robbery conviction pursuant to Code § 17-116.06. Both appeals have been given priority on our docket.

[238 Va. 344]

  1. THE EVIDENCE

    William Martin McCauley operated a business called Allied Services in a shopping center in Danville. He lived with his parents. On the evening of Thursday, May 26, 1988, after he had failed to return home by 7:00 p.m., his father, Dr. Ralph McCauley, became concerned and telephoned Allied Services twice. Receiving no answer, Dr. McCauley drove to Allied Services about 7:30 p.m. Entering through the unlocked front door of the store, Dr. McCauley found his son's body lying in a pool of blood, face down on the floor in a storage area at the rear. The victim's hair was combed, not in disarray. His glasses were in place. His arms were at his sides and his feet were together. Dr. McCauley found that his son's skin was "cold and gray" and that there was no pulse.

    The victim's left hip pocket was unbuttoned, and his wallet was missing. A nearby filing cabinet drawer was customarily used as a repository for about $1,000 in cash which was used to honor Western Union wire transfers. The drawer was open, the cash was missing, and a trail of drops of blood led from the location of the body to the drawer. The drawer of the

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    cash register was also open and empty, except for small change.

    The medical examiner determined that the victim's neck had been slashed in three areas, cutting the jugular vein on both sides and severing the carotid artery on both sides. The victim had also received seven stab wounds in the upper back. One of these had penetrated the right lung. That wound, as well as each of the three neck wounds, would have been independently lethal. The medical examiner concluded from the condition of the body and the location of the blood that all wounds had been inflicted while the victim was either kneeling or lying face down on the floor, in the very position in which his body was found.

    The defendant, Ronald Watkins, had known the victim for some time. Watkins' sister had worked at Allied Services, and Watkins himself had worked there one day to repay a $25 debt he owed the victim. Watkins knew that $1,000 was invariably kept in the file cabinet drawer.

    Watkins had spent most of the day of the murder at a motel with a woman named Sina Mayo. He left her in the late afternoon and returned at night. An employee of Allied Services, Joyce Kernodle, saw Watkins in the store as she was preparing to leave, just before 5:00 p.m. on the day of the killing. The victim, William[238 Va. 345] McCauley, was the only other person present. McCauley asked Watkins to leave; Watkins went out and stood near a bench just outside the door. Miss Kernodle saw Watkins near the bench when she left at 5:00 p.m.

    The police questioned Sina Mayo, who agreed to permit a tape recorder to be attached to her telephone. Watkins called her home several times during the next few days, and she, her sister, Tammy Moffitt, and her brother, Philip Jones, all recorded their conversations with him. In the conversation with Philip Jones, Watkins admitted killing McCauley, and said that it was necessary because McCauley knew him.

    On May 31, Watkins called the Danville Police Department and asked to speak with Detective W.I. Holley. Holley was unavailable and Captain C.W. Howerton took the call. Watkins told Howerton that Sina Mayo knew nothing about the killing. Watkins stated that he had gone alone to Allied Services, robbed "Bill" of over $1,000, and "knifed" him. Watkins did not disclose his whereabouts, but indicated that he might come to the police station voluntarily to discuss the matter further. He failed to appear. Later that evening, Watkins called Sina Mayo to arrange a rendezvous. She told the police the designated time and place, and Watkins was arrested when he met her.

    At the police station, Watkins was given Miranda warnings, waived his rights, and gave voluntary, tape-recorded confessions to the police. He stated that he knew that substantial amounts of cash were kept on the premises and that he knew that the "help ... would get off at 5:00 p.m." He said that he took "about $1,000" from the filing cabinet drawer, about $200, which was all the paper money, from the cash register, and that he then stabbed McCauley and "cut his throat."

  2. VOIR DIRE

    Watkins is black; the victim was white. Before trial, the defense ascertained that of the 35 veniremen summoned for his trial, only five were black. The defense produced evidence that the black population of Danville constituted nearly 30% of the whole; it moved to discharge the venire on the ground that its composition alone was evidence of a policy of systematic exclusion of the minority. The court stated that the venire was drawn by a computer at random from the list of prospective jurors compiled by the jury commissioners, who were instructed to take names from the list of [238 Va. 346] registered voters and such other lists as they may find will "fairly and adequately represent a cross-section of the community."

    The court further stated that the computer-selected names were retained in a locked box in the clerk's office until the judge, in the presence of two deputy clerks, drew at random sufficient names from the box to insure an adequate number of veniremen to make up the jury list prior to the opening

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    of each term of court. The names contained no notation of race. The court stated that this process had produced, during the course of 1988, some juries with blacks "in the majority or near-majority" as well as juries with a white majority; the gender balance also varied from one jury to another, but this was a necessary consequence of the random selection process. The court denied the motion, stating that it would be impossible to achieve a racial balance reflecting the exact population ratio for any particular trial unless the jury were "fixed" by ascertaining the races of the veniremen after they arrived at court, and calling them to the jury box on the basis of race.

    After 20 veniremen had been subjected to voir dire, the court, by agreement, excused two for cause, reducing the panel to 18. It was then necessary to call two additional veniremen. The commonwealth's attorney noted that only one black prospective juror remained among the 18, and that of the remaining veniremen from which the two vacancies must be filled, three were black. The commonwealth's attorney suggested that "two of the three blacks be placed on the panel ... in order to insure as many blacks as possible on this panel ... if the Court and counsel will agree to that." Defense counsel said "I can't agree or disagree to this, Your Honor." The court then directed the clerk to proceed with random selection by drawing two "names from the box." After each side had...

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