397 So.2d 277 (Fla. 1981), 55684, Ruffin v. State

Docket Nº:55684, 56741.
Citation:397 So.2d 277
Party Name:Mack C. RUFFIN, Jr., Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Case Date:March 26, 1981
Court:Supreme Court of Florida
 
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Page 277

397 So.2d 277 (Fla. 1981)

Mack C. RUFFIN, Jr., Appellant,

v.

STATE of Florida, Appellee.

Nos. 55684, 56741.

Supreme Court of Florida.

March 26, 1981

Rehearing Denied May 15, 1981.

Page 278

Jack O. Johnson, Public Defender and Douglas A. Lockwood, Asst. Public Defender, Bartow and W. C. McLain, Spec. Asst. Public Defender, Fort Myers, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen. and William I. Munsey, Jr. and Charles Corces, Jr., Asst. Attys. Gen., Tampa, for appellee.

PER CURIAM.

Mack C. Ruffin, Jr. appeals his convictions of murder in the first degree and sexual battery of Karol Hurst and his sentence of death. We have jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 3(b)(1), Florida Constitution. Having reviewed the record and considered the issues raised by Ruffin, we find no reversible error.

Intending to steal an automobile to use in a convenience store robbery, on February 21, 1978, Ruffin and his companion, Freddie Lee Hall, drove to a Pantry Pride grocery store parking lot. There they stole an automobile and at gun point abducted its owner, Karol Hurst, who was twenty-one years old and seven months pregnant. They drove their victim to a heavily wooded area where they sexually abused her. Although she pleaded for her life and offered Ruffin and Hall a check for $20,000, she was pistol whipped on her head, neck, shoulder, and body, was robbed of her pocketbook, wallet, and checkbook, and was shot to death with a .38 caliber pistol in the back of her head while lying face down on the ground.

After the murder of Mrs. Hurst, Ruffin and Hall drove the stolen car to the convenience store which they intended to rob. Pretending to be customers, they purchased a teddy bear and two bundles of socks. Suspicious of these two men, the store manager asked a customer to call the sheriff's department. Without attempting the planned robbery, Ruffin and Hall left the store. Outside Deputy Coburn, holding his shotgun, was standing by his patrol car. A customer in the store observed Mrs. Hurst's car parked near the store. The store manager telephoned the sheriff's substation

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across the street as soon as the two left the store. She then heard what she thought to be a gunshot. Immediately thereafter, Deputy Coburn was found shot lying on the ground. Beside him was the .38 caliber pistol that had killed Mrs. Hurst, the teddy bear, and the socks. The deputy who arrived at the scene and found Coburn's body saw Mrs. Hurst's car speeding away from the scene. Another deputy was dispatched to pursue this automobile. A high speed chase ensued, and the passenger in the car being pursued fired three shots at the deputy. This automobile was then abandoned, and the two were pursued on foot and were finally apprehended. In the automobile were found a .357 magnum pistol belonging to Deputy Coburn, Mrs. Hurst's handbag, groceries which she had purchased just prior to her abduction, and Ruffin's fingerprint.

Mrs. Hurst's body was found with a bullet hole through the back of her head, a deep abrasion below the right chin, two deep abrasions and a large bruise in the shoulder area, an abrasion and contusion over the right shoulder, four abrasions and two large contusions on the back of the neck, and a contusion to the right nipple which the pathologist testified would have been quite painful. The cause of death was the bullet that entered the back of the victim's head and traversed her brain. The pathologist stated, however, that the death would not necessarily have been instantaneous.

Ruffin confessed that he and Hall had stolen the car to use in a convenience store robbery, had abducted Mrs. Hurst, had raped her, and that Hall had shot her to death.

Ruffin was indicted for first-degree murder, sexual battery, kidnapping, grand larceny, and robbery. The latter three charges were nolle prossed, and he was tried and convicted of murder in the first degree and sexual battery of Mrs. Hurst. Prior to his sentencing, he had also been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of Deputy Coburn. This conviction was affirmed by the District Court of Appeal, Fifth District, Ruffin v. State, 390 So.2d 841 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980).

He argues first that his conviction should be reversed because the trial court erred in refusing to grant a mistrial after certain allegedly prejudicial remarks were made by the prosecutor in closing argument and because the court did not poll the jury as to whether they had seen a particular headline of a newspaper located in a newsstand near where the jurors were lunching. These contentions are completely without merit and warrant no further discussion.

Ruffin also challenges his conviction on the basis that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence testimony of other offenses committed by him contrary to the "Williams rule." Williams v. State, 110 So.2d 654 (Fla.1959), cert. denied, 361 U.S. 847, 80 S.Ct. 102, 4 L.Ed.2d 86 (1959). He concedes that this challenged evidence tended to prove identity in that it linked him to the victim's automobile, explained where the murder weapon was located, and how he was apprehended; however, relying upon Smith v. State, 344 So.2d 915 (Fla. 1st DCA 1977), cert. denied, 353 So.2d 679 (1977), he argues that this evidence should not have been admitted because it was not necessary to the prosecution of this case and that the prosecutor was overzealous in utilizing it. He contends that under the "Williams rule" such evidence, to be admissible, must be not only relevant but also necessary to the prosecution.

The State counters that this evidence which was clearly relevant to proving the identity of Ruffin was properly admitted into evidence. It contends that the test for the admissibility of such evidence is relevancy, not necessity. We agree with the State's contention, and, to the extent that the language of the district court's opinion in Smith v. State is inconsistent with our holding, it is disapproved.

In Williams v. State, we announced a broad rule of admissibility based upon relevancy. Necessity has never been established by this Court as an essential requisite to admissibility. In Williams, we declared

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that any fact relevant to prove a fact in issue is admissible into evidence even though it points to a separate crime unless its admissibility is precluded by a specific rule of exclusion. We further held that evidence of collateral offenses is inadmissible if its sole relevancy is to establish bad character or propensity of the accused. We emphasized that the question of relevancy of this type of evidence should be cautiously scrutinized before it is determined to be admissible, but that nonetheless relevancy is the test. Evidence of other crimes is...

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