Beckworth v. State

Citation946 So.2d 490
Decision Date26 August 2005
Docket NumberCR-02-1077.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
PartiesRex Allen BECKWORTH v. STATE of Alabama.

Scott K. Hedeen, Dothan, for appellant.

William E. Pryor, Jr., and Troy King, attys. gen., and J. Clayton Crenshaw and Stephen Shows, asst. attys. gen., for appellee.

COBB, Judge.

Rex Allen Beckworth appeals from his capital-murder conviction and death sentence. He was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during the course of a burglary, a violation of § 13A-5-40(a)(4), Ala.Code 1975, for his participation in the beating and shooting death of 87-year-old Bessie Lee Thweatt while she was in her home. The jury recommended by a 10-2 vote that Beckworth be punished by death; the trial court sentenced Beckworth to death. This appeal followed.

The evidence presented at trial tended to show the following. In the early morning hours of January 10, 2000, Rex Allen Beckworth and his younger half brother, James Walker, broke into the home of Bessie Lee Thweatt, an 87-year-old widow who lived alone in the house in which she had resided for 67 years. At the time of her death, Thweatt was 5 feet, 1 inch tall, and she weighed 112 pounds. Thweatt was beaten and shot in the head; her house was ransacked.1 On January 10, 2000, family members of Bessie Thweatt discovered that the back window of the Ford automobile she drove, which was parked in the carport by her house, and a picture window on the back of her house had been broken. A light in Thweatt's carport had been broken out and the exterior telephone lines to her house had been cut. One of Thweatt's family members, Buford Fortson, stepped onto a cement block that was in front of the broken picture window and climbed into the house to look for Thweatt. Another cement block was inside the house, near the window, and broken glass from the window was inside the house. Fortson called Thweatt's name and looked for her, but Thweatt did not answer. The dining room had been ransacked and furniture had been tossed around. Fortson testified that the door between the dining room and the kitchen had been kicked in; a footprint had been left on the door. The kitchen had been ransacked, and clothing and other items were littered all over the floors throughout the house. Thweatt was found, dead, on the floor of the kitchen. Her back was by the locked door to the carport and her head was against the kitchen counter. Buford testified that Thweatt's face was "a hundred percent covered with blood" and that her hands were also bloody. (R. 290.) The authorities were summoned, and they investigated the murder. The jury viewed photographs and a videotape of the crime scene.

Gary Jenkins, an investigator with the Houston County Sheriff's Office, videotaped the crime scene, including the broken light in the carport, the severed telephone lines, and what law-enforcement officers believed to be blood splatter on objects near the victim's body. Jenkins testified that he retrieved a bullet from the frame around the door that separated the dining room and the kitchen in Thweatt's house. Another law-enforcement officer at the scene recovered a .22 caliber shell casing on the dining-room floor of Thweatt's house; the casing was approximately 10 to 12 feet from Thweatt's body. The bullet and casing were sent to the forensics laboratory for testing and comparison. The door between the kitchen and dining room appeared to have been pushed in or kicked in and a footprint had been left on the door. A flashlight battery was found beneath the car in the carport.

Forensic testimony established that Thweatt had sustained more than seven blunt-force injuries to her face and head. The injuries resulted in substantial bleeding and bruising of the skin, indicating that Thweatt was alive when the injuries were inflicted. The injuries also resulted in multiple facial skull fractures, indicating to the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Thweatt's body that a great amount of force was used to inflict the injuries. The pathologist further testified that Thweatt "must have been in deep pain" as a result of the numerous injuries to her face and head because the skin in these areas has many nerve endings. He later acknowledged, however, that he did not know whether Thweatt was rendered unconscious by the blows to her head. He stated that the blunt-force injuries could have been caused by the muzzle or any other part of a gun. The pathologist testified that Thweatt's death was the result of a gunshot wound to her right eyebrow; the shot was fired at close range. The bullet traveled from the front of her head to the back and from the right side to the left side. The bullet also traveled on a slight downward angle from the top of Thweatt's head; the pathologist testified that it was very unlikely that Thweatt was standing straight up when she was shot. The bullet "tore a hole through her brain and basically separated the two hemispheres, that is, the right and left hemisphere, and impacted upon the back of her head." (R. 352.) The bullet had remained in Thweatt's skull; the pathologist removed the bullet fragments and secured them for forensic testing.

One of Thweatt's grandsons, Mark Peacock, a convicted felon who was incarcerated at the time of trial, testified that he knew Beckworth and that he had spoken with him as they passed time together when they both had "a lot of time" on their hands, approximately three years before the trial. (R. 327, 329.) Peacock had mentioned to Beckworth that his grandmother had farmland around her house and a red 1977 Thunderbird automobile in her yard; Beckworth had indicated to Peacock that he was familiar with the area where Thweatt lived. Peacock also acknowledged that he informed Beckworth, "[M]y grandmother probably has more money than she knows what do to do with." (R. 331.) Testimony from Mary Kelley, Thweatt's daughter, established that Thweatt kept cash in her house and in her vehicle. Upon her death, Thweatt's family learned that she had saved approximately $200,000 in cash.

Chris Hood, a convicted felon who was incarcerated at the time of trial, testified that he knew Beckworth and had spent time with him in November and December 2000. He testified that Beckworth asked him if he could get "a hot gun," one that could not be traced to Hood or to Beckworth. (R. 482.) Beckworth said he wanted the gun for his wife, who was a truck driver. Hood testified that he told Beckworth that he would let Beckworth know if he found such a gun. Hood further testified that Beckworth told him that the best way to kill a person was execution-style. Hood said that, after he heard about the January 10, 2000, slaying of Bessie Lee Thweatt, he contacted local law-enforcement officers and told them about Beckworth. Hood also told the officers that Beckworth had lived in Gadsden.

Angela Lynn Foster, an inmate at the Houston County jail at the time of trial serving a sentence for writing a "bad check," testified that James Walker, Beckworth's codefendant, was her half brother. She testified that, on January 4 or 5, 2000, Walker and Beckworth came to a motel in Dothan where she was employed at the time. She said that Walker was 19 or 20 years old at the time and Beckworth was 34 years old. She said that Beckworth appeared to be the leader, the one who decided what he and Walker would do. Foster testified that she later saw inside the trunk of the car Beckworth was driving; among the items she saw inside the trunk were clothing or a quilt and the barrel of a gun that she believed to be a .22 caliber rifle or shotgun sticking out. (R. 594-95.) Beckworth told her that someone had given him the gun. Foster said that Beckworth had a brother in Gadsden.

On January 21, 2000, a farmer who was crossing a bridge approximately one and one-half miles from Thweatt's house, saw the barrel and stock of a rifle in the water beneath the bridge. (R. 294, 454-55.) Houston County deputies arrived soon after and the farmer assisted them in removing a .22 caliber rifle from the water.

Lt. Donald Valenza of the Houston County Sheriff's Office testified as to evidence he observed at the crime scene. He also testified that James Walker was arrested in Gadsden and that Walker made some statements after his arrest. Beckworth was later arrested in Phoenix, Arizona. Lt. Valenza and another officer traveled to Arizona to arrest Beckworth on capital-murder charges. While they were in the Phoenix airport, Valenza told Beckworth that Walker was in custody and that Beckworth and Walker would not be tried at the same time. Beckworth then told Valenza he wanted to give a statement.

Lt. Valenza said that he had read Beckworth the rights provided in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), when he arrested Beckworth, and that he read the rights to him again before he made the statement. Beckworth gave one statement, which Valenza recorded on a pocket recorder, and Beckworth then made a second statement immediately after completing the first one. The tape-recorded statements were played for the jury.

In the first statement, Beckworth stated that, in late December 1999, he and Walker broke into a house and stole a .22 caliber rifle. In the second statement he gave at the airport, Beckworth described the crimes committed against Bessie Thweatt. Beckworth claimed that he and Walker were looking for items to steal so that they could sell them to get money. He said that he thought about this woman living out in the country but that they had no intent to harm her. He said that Thweatt's house had no lights on inside when he and Walker located the residence. Both of them had flashlights, he said. Beckworth said that they looked through the windows but did not see anyone. Beckworth told Walker that he thought he heard someone inside; Beckworth said that...

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