744 S.W.2d 791 (Mo. 1988), 69011, State v. Walls

Docket Nº69011.
Citation744 S.W.2d 791
Party NameSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Robert A. WALLS, Appellant.
Case DateFebruary 17, 1988
CourtSupreme Court of Missouri

Page 791

744 S.W.2d 791 (Mo. 1988)

STATE of Missouri, Respondent,

v.

Robert A. WALLS, Appellant.

No. 69011.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.

February 17, 1988

Page 792

Rehearing Denied March 15, 1988.

Page 793

David C. Hemingway, St. Louis, for appellant.

William L. Webster, Atty. Gen., Deborah L. Grounds, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.

WELLIVER, Judge.

Appellant, Robert A. Walls, was convicted of murder in the first degree, 1 § 565.020.1, RSMo Supp.1984; robbery in the first degree, § 569.020, RSMo 1978; and burglary in the first degree § 569.160, RSMo 1978. On November 8, 1986, after finding aggravating circumstances, as required by § 565.032, RSMo Supp.1984, the jury imposed a sentence of death for murder in the first degree. Appellant also was sentenced to consecutive terms of life imprisonment and 30 years imprisonment for robbery in the first degree and burglary in the first degree, respectively. Appellant appeals from the murder conviction and sentence.

This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction in all cases in which the death penalty is imposed. Mo. Const. art. V § 3. We affirm both the judgment and the sentence.

I

Appellant was charged by indictment for the murder of Fred C. Harmon, 88, of Maplewood, Missouri. Mr. Harmon's severely beaten body was found inside a freezer in his home. Terry Wilson and Tommy Thomas also were charged with the murder.

Appellant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. We present the facts as the jury could have found them. On the night of December 15, 1985, appellant, Terry Wilson and Tommy Thomas were all out drinking. At that time all three were confined to and residents of a halfway house. They decided they wanted to leave St. Louis. Wilson told them he knew an old man from whom he could get a car and some money. Wilson had recently burglarized the victim's house.

All three took a cab to Maplewood, Missouri. They proceeded to the victim's house at 3109 Walter. Wilson and Thomas entered through a window while appellant remained outside. Appellant later entered the house through a side door that was open. Appellant saw blood everywhere and the victim crying on the bedroom floor. The victim, who recognized Wilson, calling him Terry, offered Wilson anything to leave him alone. Appellant saw Thomas kicking the victim's head with the toe of his boot telling him to shut up. All three tried to tie the victim with neckties. The victim strongly resisted. Wilson handed Thomas a roll of duct tape which Thomas used to strike the victim. Appellant held the victim's head down while he was being tied by putting his foot on the right side of the victim's face. Appellant suggested tying the victim's feet and then held his feet while Thomas tied them. Several minutes later, the victim unsuccessfully attempted to get up. All three dragged him into the kitchen. Either Wilson or Thomas suggested putting the victim in the freezer as he had seen in a movie. Wilson also suggested turning on the gas to blow up the house. Wilson then began to put the victim in the freezer by himself and told the others to help him. All three lifted the victim and put him inside, head down. Appellant said he thought the victim was going to "croak." When appellant later opened the freezer, the victim said "I'm already dead, let me die, ... let me die." Appellant went back in the bedroom for the keys to the car and when he returned the television and typewriter had been placed

Page 794

on top of the freezer. Appellant took the typewriter off and called out "are you in there". Appellant then put the typewriter back on the freezer and Wilson and Thomas placed a chair on top of the freezer. Appellant heard the victim moaning and groaning in the freezer. Wilson indicated that he had the victim's car keys and cash and suggested that they should leave. The three drank sodas, then left in the victim's car.

On December 18, 1985, the Maplewood police discovered an open bedroom storm window and a block of wood beneath the window. Inside the house they discovered several areas of blood on the kitchen floor. Four stove burners were on, with the pilot lights extinguished. The telephone cord was ripped from the wall and both the back and front doors were locked. There was blood on the bed, the bedroom wall, and the bedroom floor. The victim's wallet, absent any money, was found in the bathroom. Duct tape with hair on it was found in the kitchen sink. The police noticed a freezer that had an arm chair, television, and a large typewriter stacked on top. Food items were found behind the freezer. The victim's body, covered by a sheet, was found inside the freezer.

The autopsy revealed that the victim had sustained numerous blunt trauma injuries to his head and limbs, an injury which separated his scalp from the skull in the middle of the head, broken ribs on his left side, and a bruise on his spleen. The pathologist testified that the facial injuries could have been inflicted by kicking with boots or tennis shoes. Death was attributed to a combination of blunt injuries, hypothermia, and suffocation. The victim could have died within an hour either from suffocation or hypothermia.

Appellant was arrested on December 20, 1985 in Santa Monica, California for burglary. Also arrested was Terry Wilson. Both provided aliases to the police. The victim's car was recovered about one block from where appellant and Wilson were arrested. Appellant made a statement concerning this murder to the Santa Monica police. This statement and subsequent statements made to Missouri officers were admitted at trial.

The jury found appellant guilty of murder in the first degree, robbery in the first degree and burglary in the first degree. As aggravating circumstances, the jury found that (1) appellant committed the offense of murder in the first degree for the purpose of receiving money or any other thing of monetary value from the victim; 2 (2) the murder in the first degree was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, or depravity of mind; 3 (3) the murder in the first degree was committed by a person in, or who has escaped from the lawful custody of a place of lawful confinement; 4 (4) the murder in the first degree was committed while appellant, acting with others, was engaged in the perpetration of the burglary in the first degree and/or robbery in the first degree of Fred C. Harmon; 5 and (5) appellant had been convicted three times for burglary in the second degree. 6 The jury assessed the death penalty.

II

Appellant alleges that the trial court erred by not striking for cause a venireman, of similar age to the victim, who recalled reading about the victim's death in the newspaper. Appellant asserts that Venireman John Meader did not unequivocally state that he could set aside previous feelings and that he also formed an opinion about an aggravating circumstance. Appellant asserts his sixth and fourteenth amendment rights to a fair trial and due process.

Page 795

Venireman John Meader admitted to reading newspaper accounts of the victim's murder and that he usually believes what he reads in the newspaper. Venireman Meader, responding to the prosecutor's questions, then affirmatively stated that he could listen to the evidence with an open mind and would be guided by only that evidence presented at trial.

On cross-examination, Venireman Meader admitted he thought the victim's murder was a bad deed, but denied that he had formulated an opinion regarding appellant's guilt or innocence. Venireman Meader stated he hoped he could put aside his previous feelings about the murder, and then later responded unequivocally that he could set aside his previous opinion. The trial court overruled appellant's request to strike Meader for cause but stated that he might reconsider the issue. Appellant exercised a preemptory challenge to remove Meader from the panel.

Criminal defendants are entitled to a full panel of qualified jurors. State v. Engleman, 634 S.W.2d 466, 471 (Mo.1982) (citations omitted). The trial court must exercise its discretion to strike jurors for cause when appropriate. State v. Land, 478...

To continue reading

Request your trial
47 practice notes
  • 781 S.W.2d 534 (Mo. 1989), 71189, State v. Petary
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court of Missouri
    • December 12, 1989
    ...428 U.S. 280, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976). Gregg, 428 U.S. at 199 n. 50, 96 S.Ct. at 2937 n. 50; see also State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 800 (Mo. banc 1988). Appellant's contention that this prosecutorial discretion violates separation of powers is not credible. A prosecutor has b......
  • 756 S.W.2d 493 (Mo. 1988), 69852, State v. Smith
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 26, 1988
    ...repeatedly rejected arguments challenging prosecutorial discretion. State v. Clemmons, 753 S.W.2d 901 (Mo. banc 1988); State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 800 (Mo. banc 1988). The trial court did not err. V Appellant contends the trial court erred in sustaining the state's challenge for cause t......
  • The debate on whether life sentences should be considered: Will Missouri's proportionality review remain meaningful?
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 77 Nbr. 3, June 2012
    • June 22, 2012
    ...State v. Clemmons, 753 S.W.2d 901, 914 (Mo. 1988) (en banc); State v. Leisure, 749 S.W.2d 366, 382 (Mo. 1988) (en banc); State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 800 (Mo. 1988) (en banc); State v. Murray, 744 S.W.2d 762, 776 (Mo. 1988) (en banc); State v. Antwine, 743 S.W.2d 51, 73 (Mo. 1987) (en ba......
  • 755 S.W.2d 707 (Mo.App. E.D. 1988), 53257, State v. Wilson
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals of Missouri
    • July 26, 1988
    ...of leniency or coercion. Similar attacks upon the confession by a codefendant were rejected by the Supreme Court in State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 796-97 (Mo. banc 1988). Defendant next contends the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his participation in a burglary in California. H......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
46 cases
  • 781 S.W.2d 534 (Mo. 1989), 71189, State v. Petary
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court of Missouri
    • December 12, 1989
    ...428 U.S. 280, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976). Gregg, 428 U.S. at 199 n. 50, 96 S.Ct. at 2937 n. 50; see also State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 800 (Mo. banc 1988). Appellant's contention that this prosecutorial discretion violates separation of powers is not credible. A prosecutor has b......
  • 756 S.W.2d 493 (Mo. 1988), 69852, State v. Smith
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 26, 1988
    ...repeatedly rejected arguments challenging prosecutorial discretion. State v. Clemmons, 753 S.W.2d 901 (Mo. banc 1988); State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 800 (Mo. banc 1988). The trial court did not err. V Appellant contends the trial court erred in sustaining the state's challenge for cause t......
  • 755 S.W.2d 707 (Mo.App. E.D. 1988), 53257, State v. Wilson
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals of Missouri
    • July 26, 1988
    ...of leniency or coercion. Similar attacks upon the confession by a codefendant were rejected by the Supreme Court in State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 796-97 (Mo. banc 1988). Defendant next contends the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his participation in a burglary in California. H......
  • 825 S.W.2d 948 (Mo.App. E.D. 1992), 55801,60209, State v. Davis
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals of Missouri
    • February 25, 1992
    ...have been condemned, the prosecutor may argue the evil that can result to society if a defendant is found not guilty. State v. Walls, 744 S.W.2d 791, 798 (Mo. banc), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 871, 109 S.Ct. 181, 102 L.Ed.2d 150 (1988). In conclusion, although the comment in question may have b......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles