819 P.2d 1362 (Okla.Crim.App. 1991), F-86-265, Lafevers v. State

Docket Nº:F-86-265.
Citation:819 P.2d 1362
Party Name:Loyd Winford LAFEVERS, Appellant, v. STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
Case Date:September 10, 1991
Court:Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma
 
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Page 1362

819 P.2d 1362 (Okla.Crim.App. 1991)

Loyd Winford LAFEVERS, Appellant,

v.

STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.

No. F-86-265.

Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma.

September 10, 1991.

As Corrected Oct. 16, 1991.

Page 1363

An appeal from the district court of Oklahoma County; Jack Parr, District Judge.

Loyd Winford Lafevers, Appellant, was tried by jury and convicted of First Degree Murder, Burglary in the First Degree, Robbery in the First Degree, Kidnapping, Larceny of a Motor Vehicle, Arson in the Third Degree, Rape in the First Degree and Anal Sodomy. Appellant was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death for the First Degree Murder charge. He was also sentenced to terms of 20 years, 100 years, 100 years, 20 years, 15 years, 250 years and 20 years respectively on the other counts. Appellant has filed this appeal seeking reversal of his conviction. The First Degree Murder, Arson in the Third Degree, Rape in the First Degree and Anal Sodomy charges are REVERSED. The charges of Burglary in the First Degree, Kidnapping and Larceny of a Motor Vehicle are AFFIRMED.

Elaine Meek, Cindy Foley, Asst. Public Defenders, Oklahoma City, for appellant.

Robert H. Henry, Atty. Gen., Terry J. Jenks, A. Diane Hammons, Asst. Attys. Gen., Oklahoma City, for appellee.

OPINION

LANE, Presiding Judge:

Loyd Winford Lafevers was convicted of First Degree Murder, Burglary in the First

Page 1364

Degree, Robbery in the First Degree, Kidnapping, Larceny of a Motor Vehicle, Arson in the Third Degree, Rape in the First Degree and Anal Sodomy. He was tried jointly with a co-defendant, Randall Eugene Cannon, before a jury in Oklahoma County District Court, Case No. CRF-85-3254. Both Appellant and his co-defendant were found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death for the First Degree Murder charge. Both men were also sentenced to terms of 20 years, 100 years, 100 years, 20 years, 15 years, 250 years and 20 years respectively on the other counts. Appellant has filed this appeal seeking reversal of his conviction. We find that we must grant the requested relief insofar as the murder, rape, sodomy and arson convictions are concerned. All other counts, however, are affirmed.

On June 24, 1985, Appellant and co-defendant Cannon decided to steal a car after Appellant's car broke down in a northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood. After selecting a house in the neighborhood, the two men forced their way into the home of eighty-four year old Addie Hawley. They ransacked her home, taking eight dollars from her purse, along with the keys to her car and the garage door opener. The two took her out of the house and into the car. Cannon, who was driving the car, drove for just over a mile before pulling over so that they could put Hawley in the trunk.

The two men drove to a convenience store where they bought a two liter bottle of orange soda. After drinking some of the soda, they poured the rest out and filled the bottle with gasoline. Appellant directed Cannon to drive to a secluded area where he removed Hawley from the trunk of the car. Although there was evidence presented at trial that indicated that Hawley was raped, neither defendant admitted having committed rape or sodomy. Each man indicated in his pretrial confession to police 1 and during his testimony at trial that the other man had committed the sexual offenses while he remained as a lookout.

After the completion of the sex acts, one of the two men, again each blamed the other, poured gasoline from the orange soda bottle on Hawley and set her on fire. They drove the car a short distance away and also set it on fire.

Rescue personnel were called to the scene soon after the fires were set. Although Hawley had been burned over sixty percent of her body, she was still alive. She had suffered a blunt injury to the forehead and had two black eyes along with multiple cuts and bruises. She died a short time after being taken to the hospital.

At the outset, we will deal with Appellant's claim that the trial court unconstitutionally denied his numerous motions requesting a separate trial from that of his co-defendant Cannon. We agree with the contention and find that the murder conviction and its resulting sentence of death, as well as the convictions for rape, sodomy and arson, must be reversed.

Although each of the two defendants in this case repeatedly requested a separate trial, those requests were summarily denied. While we acknowledge that joint trials are often preferred in so far as they are more economical in both judicial and monetary terms, Funkhouser v. State, 734 P.2d 815 (Okl.Cr.1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 942, 108 S.Ct. 326, 98 L.Ed.2d 354 (1987), the frugal aspects of a single trial for multiple defendants must give way to the more important constitutional right of each defendant to receive a fair trial. Several errors of constitutional proportion occurred in the instant case because of the joint trial, any one of which would require reversal, which would have easily been avoided had the separate trials been granted. We will first address the errors which occurred in the guilt/innocence stage of the trial.

We find that the trial of Cannon and Lafevers together clearly violated the rules

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against joint trials in cases where the defendants are presenting mutually antagonistic defenses. In the instant case, each defendant admitted his presence during the occurrence of the crimes in question. Neither man, however, admitted raping or sodomizing the victim. In fact, each man placed blame with the other for those acts. Additionally, both men blamed the other for setting the victim on fire after the rape and sodomy were completed. In confessions that were ultimately admitted at trial, each man claimed that the other man had been the perpetrator of the most heinous of the crimes charged. Our review must focus upon whether these confessions should have indicated to the trial court that the defenses of the two men were mutually antagonistic, dictating that separate trials were appropriate.

In Murray v. State, 528 P.2d 739, 740 (Okl.Cr.1974), we explained the need for separate trials when the defenses of the co-defendants were mutually antagonistic:

Denial of a severance in the instant case resulted in pitting defendant against co-defendant. To try both together was, in effect, to try each on the confession of the other.

We quoted an Illinois case as lending support for our position:

The trial was in many respects more of a contest between the defendants than between the people and the defendants. It produced a spectacle where people frequently stood by and witnessed a combat in which the defendants attempted to destroy each other. Any set of circumstances which is sufficient to deprive a defendant of a fair trial if tried jointly with another is sufficient to require a separate trial.

Id. quoting People v. Braune, 363 Ill. 551, 2 N.E.2d 839 (1936).

Our review of this issue is further guided by our opinion in Master v. State, 702 P.2d 375 (Okl.Cr.1985). In Master, we recognized:

[W]here the respective defenses of two defendants are mutually antagonistic in that the testimony and confession of each exculpated himself and inculpated the other, the effect of trying both together would be to try each on the confession of the other and serves to deny those defendants a fair trial. Therefore, the issue before us is not whether there are disagreements between defendants concerning the facts, nor whether one or the other should bear a greater responsibility for the crime, but whether the defenses are antagonistic in that each defendant is attempting to exculpate himself and inculpate his co-defendant.

Id. at 378.

Our resolution of the Master case affirming the trial court's decision to deny severance turns on a very important difference to the present case; Master and his co-defendant Cooks were charged with Felony-murder which does not require proof of either malice aforethought or, in fact, of any actual intent to cause the death of the victim. In the present case, Felony-Murder was not charged. Accordingly, intent to cause the death of the victim was an important predicate to a finding of guilty for each defendant. Likewise, the allegations of rape, anal sodomy, and arson have intent requirements independent from that of the murder charge. Consequently, we must be circumspect in our review of the facts of this case to determine whether the proof of or defense to these elements as to each defendant at trial violated the defendants' right to a fair trial.

We have been very strict with our construction of "mutually antagonistic" and its application to the facts of each individual case. See James v. State, 736 P.2d 541, 543 (Okl.Cr.1987) cert. denied, 484 U.S. 970, 108 S.Ct. 467, 98 L.Ed.2d 406 (1987); VanWoundenberg v. State, 720 P.2d 328 (Okl.Cr.1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 956, 107 S.Ct. 447, 93 L.Ed.2d 395 (1986); Master v. State, 702 P.2d at 375; Cooks v. State, 699 P.2d 653 (Okl.Cr.1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 935, 106 S.Ct. 268, 88 L.Ed.2d 275 (1985). It is not enough that the defenses of the co-defendants are inconsistent,

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in conflict or are otherwise unreconcilable. To be considered "mutually antagonistic," the two theories of defense must be in direct contravention and the parties must each place blame with the co-defendant. The rule of law which we must apply in our review was very simply stated in VanWoundenberg, 720 P.2d at 331:

Defenses are antagonistic where each defendant is trying to exculpate himself and inculpate his codefendant.

There can be no question in the present case that the two defendants presented mutually antagonistic defenses. The nature of the conflict was made instantly clear when the two gave pretrial statements to the police concerning their individual participation in the crimes. These statements were similar in most respects with one glaring exception; while...

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