399 So.2d 953 (Fla. 1981), 48516, Armstrong v. State

Docket Nº:48516.
Citation:399 So.2d 953
Party Name:Sampson ARMSTRONG, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Case Date:March 26, 1981
Court:Supreme Court of Florida
 
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Page 953

399 So.2d 953 (Fla. 1981)

Sampson ARMSTRONG, Appellant,

v.

STATE of Florida, Appellee.

No. 48516.

Supreme Court of Florida.

March 26, 1981

Page 954

As Corrected on Denial of Rehearing June 15, 1981.

Page 955

Robert E. Pyle, Lake Alfred, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen., and George R. Georgieff and Donald K. Rudser, and Lawrence A. Kaden, Asst. Attys. Gen., Tallahassee, for appellee.

PER CURIAM.

This cause is before the Court on appeal from a judgment of conviction on two counts of murder in the first degree and one count of robbery. The Circuit Court of the Tenth Judicial Circuit, in and for Hardee County, sentenced appellant Sampson Armstrong to death. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b) (1), Fla.Const.

The appellant and co-defendant Earl Enmund were tried together and convicted of the first-degree murders and robbery of Thomas and Eunice Kersey. After returning verdicts of guilt the trial jury heard evidence on the issue of sentence pursuant to section 921.141, Florida Statutes (1975), and recommended the death penalty for both defendants. The trial court imposed sentences of death on Armstrong for the two counts of first-degree murder and a sentence of life imprisonment for the crime of robbery. We affirm his convictions and sentences of death.

  1. Facts

    On April 1, 1975, at about eight o'clock, a. m., the bodies of Thomas and Eunice Kersey were discovered by their daughter in their rural Hardee County home, located on state highway 62 between Fort Green to the west and Wauchula to the east. Mr. and Mrs. Kersey, aged eighty-six and seventy-four respectively, had been shot to death.

    Some of the evidence constituting the state's case in the trial court consisted of physical items recovered at the scene and examined in the course of investigation. The bodies were found on the kitchen floor, near the back door of the home. There was a quantity of blood on the floor, some five feet away from where the bodies were lying, that prompted the authorities to investigate the possibility that one of the perpetrators was wounded during the attack. Later that morning, police found Jeanette Armstrong, the wife of appellant Sampson Armstrong, being treated for a gunshot wound in a hospital in nearby Avon Park, in Highlands County. The blood recovered at the scene proved to be of a different type from either of the Kerseys' blood, and to match the blood type of Jeanette Armstrong.

    On the ground outside the house, investigators found a plastic jug filled with water.

    There were four firearm projectiles found at the scene. One was on the ground outside the house, one in the door jamb of the back door, one in the water heater in the kitchen of the house, and one on the floor, under the body of Mrs. Kersey. Mrs. Kersey was shot six times in all, with three of the wounds being superficial so that three of the bullets exited the body. Three bullets remained in her body and were recovered. The three bullets found in the body all entered the body in the right side and passed downward.

    Mr. Kersey was shot twice. One bullet entered his right arm and passed on through his heart to the left side of his body. The other entered his chest from directly in front. Both bullets were recovered. The bullet that entered from the right side had a slight downward angle. The one that entered the front of the chest was almost straight in its path from front to back. According to expert firearms identification testimony, one of the bullets recovered was a .38 caliber and the other was a .22 caliber. The .38 caliber bullet from the body of Mr. Kersey, a .38 caliber

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    bullet from the body of Mrs. Kersey, and the .38 caliber bullet found in the kitchen door jamb, were all fired from the same weapon. The .22 caliber bullet found in the body of Mr. Kersey and a .22 caliber bullet from Mrs. Kersey were both fired from the same gun.

    The pathologist who testified at trial told the court and the jury that when a bullet enters the body, it can be deflected in numerous ways, so that it is difficult to tell of the angle of fire from the path of the bullet. With regard to the specific question of reconstructing the position of Mrs. Kersey when she was shot, based on the paths of the bullets, the pathologist testified, "Well, there are all sorts of possibilities.... There is really no way that I could determine what position her body was in when she was shot.... (S)he was shot from below, above, and behind." None of the entrance wounds on either of the bodies was inflicted from a range of closer than several feet away.

    The state presented the testimony of a witness who drove by the Kersey home between 7:30 and 7:40 a. m. on the day the bodies were found. When she passed the Kersey home, she saw on the side of the road a large, cream-colored car with a license tag bearing the prefix number 18. There was a black man in the car. Another witness for the state drove by the house at 7:35 that morning and saw a car parked beside the road about two hundred yards west of the house. It was a large, yellow car with a dark colored top. There was one person in the car.

    The state's evidence also included the testimony of two of the Kerseys' neighbors. One testified that on April 1st he was at work on his own land only two or three hundred yards from the Kerseys' house when, at about 7:45 a. m., he heard from six to fifteen shots of gun fire and some high-pitched screaming. The other neighbor said that he lived only two hundred yards west of the Kerseys, and that between 7:30 and 8:00 o'clock that morning he heard about seven loud sounds. He would have thought that they were caused by Mr. Kersey hammering to separate some scrap metal, except for their irregular sequence. From the sounds he remembered, he concluded that they also could have been gunfire.

    A neighbor of the appellant also testified for the state. He said he lived about three-fourths of a mile from Enmund's home, and that they both lived on a road that runs off of New York Avenue south of the town of Wauchula. This witness testified that on the morning of April 1st, at about 6:30 he was standing out beside the road, New York Avenue, that goes into Wauchula to the north. He was waiting for a ride that was to take him to another town on personal business. The person who was to meet him there did not come that morning, but he was still standing there waiting for him after 8:00 o'clock. The witness said that at approximately 6:30 or 6:45, he saw co-defendant Earl Enmund and his former common-law wife Ida Jean Shaw in their yellow Buick with a vinyl top. Ida Jean Shaw was driving. There were two others in the back seat, one male and one female. The car traveled north toward town (the town of Wauchula). At about 8:00 o'clock, the car came back, travelling "pretty fast" in a southerly direction on New York Avenue, with the appellant driving, Ida Jean Shaw in the front seat, and one of the other two people in the car lying down across the back seat.

    The husband of the Kerseys' granddaughter testified that Mr. Kersey usually kept large amounts of money on his person. He generally kept the cash in the form of one-hundred-dollar bills. It was not unusual for him to have from ten to twenty of these on his person at any given time. He kept the money in his wallet, and the wallet was in his hip pocket at all times. He normally slept in his regular work clothing and kept the wallet in his pocket even as he slept.

    Mr. Kersey, the witness testified, liked to show his money to people he dealt with, and he did so frequently and indiscriminately. He tended to save his money rather than to spend it, and he was proudly vocal about having it. He was a large, strong man who felt that he could protect his wallet.

    Page 957

    Another witness testified that two weeks prior to the murders, he saw that Mr. Kersey had from twelve to fifteen hundred dollars on his person.

    A few weeks prior to the murders, Earl Enmund and a friend jointly purchased a calf from Mr. Kersey. They paid him in cash and when Mr. Kersey took out his wallet to put away the money he showed them its contents. Enmund said, "Look at the money this man's got." Mr. Kersey responded, "That ain't no money. I can dig up $15,000, $16,000 any time I want to." Enmund's friend told Mr. Kersey that he shouldn't be showing his money around like that. Mr. Kersey said, "I know you, Jim." The other man responded, "Yeah, you know me but you don't know the rest of them." After the killings, Mr. Kersey's wallet was not found on his person or anywhere in the house.

    J. B. Neal testified that at about noon on April 1, 1975, he saw Sampson Armstrong in Lake Placid, in Highlands County. Armstrong told Neal that he and his wife Jeanette had done a robbery that morning at a ranch house outside of Wauchula and that Jeanette had been shot. Armstrong told the witness that they had gone to the back door of the house of an elderly man and woman, saying that they needed water for an overheated car. When Mr. Kersey came out of the house, Armstrong grabbed him, held his gun on him, and told Jeanette to get the money out of his pocket. Then, the old man cried out to his wife, and through the window Armstrong saw Mrs. Kersey coming out the front door and around the house with a gun. Mrs. Kersey shot Jeanette Armstrong. Then Armstrong knocked the old man down and shot Mrs. Kersey. Mr. Kersey got back up and Armstrong shot him in the chest. After the shooting, they put the old people in the house, took the money and left.

    Jeanette Armstrong is the daughter of Ida Jean Shaw. In April of 1975, Ida Jean Shaw and Earl Enmund were living together as husband and wife, and had been doing so for about twelve years.

    There was testimony that the investigating authorities, based on witnesses'...

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