Bowen v. State

Decision Date08 June 2001
Docket NumberNo. 2D99-3125.,2D99-3125.
Citation791 So.2d 44
PartiesBernice BOWEN, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Claude H. Tison, Jr., of The Swope Law Group, Tampa, for Appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Wendy Buffington, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.


Bernice Bowen appeals her convictions as an accessory after the fact to five crimes: (1) the manslaughter of her four-year-old son, Joey Bennett; (2) an escape; (3) the first-degree murder of Tampa Police Detective Ricky Childers; (4) the first-degree murder of Tampa Police Detective Randy Bell; and (5) the first-degree murder of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James Crooks. All of the underlying crimes were alleged to have been committed by Ms. Bowen's live-in boyfriend, Hank Carr, a/k/a Joseph Bennett, a/k/a James Earl Reed, a/k/a Eric Weaver, a/k/a "Boo." Although the information that the State filed against Ms. Bowen contained no specific allegations describing the assistance Ms. Bowen allegedly gave to Carr following these crimes, the State prosecuted her as an accessory after the fact primarily because she failed to provide Carr's correct legal name during interviews following the death of her son and because she failed to volunteer that Carr often carried a handcuff key on his person. We reverse.

As to the charge of accessory after the fact for the manslaughter of her son, we conclude that the State failed to prove that a manslaughter occurred and that Ms. Bowen had actual knowledge that a manslaughter had occurred when she gave any assistance to Carr. As to the charge of accessory after the fact to the murder of Trooper Crooks, we conclude that the State failed to prove that Ms. Bowen had actual knowledge that Carr had committed this crime during the period when she gave any assistance to Carr. Accordingly, she is entitled to a judgment of acquittal on these charges.

We conclude that the State did present a prima facie case concerning the charges of accessory after the fact to escape and to the murder of the two detectives. However, a new trial is required on these charges because Ms. Bowen's defense for these charges was prejudiced by trying them together with the charge for accessory after the fact to manslaughter. The State used the charge of accessory after the fact to manslaughter to emphasize that Carr possessed a handcuff key and to argue that Ms. Bowen's failure to disclose this fact made her responsible for the crimes occurring thereafter. A feature of the trial became what Ms. Bowen could have done to prevent the crimes, not her criminal responsibility for aiding Carr after the crimes were committed.

This appeal does not involve Ms. Bowen's convictions for child abuse in an unrelated case. Thus, this opinion does not reverse the sentences totaling fifteen years' incarceration that she received after entering a plea on those charges.


On May 19, 1998, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Ms. Bowen's son Joey sustained a fatal gunshot wound to his head while inside a Tampa apartment that Ms. Bowen shared with Hank Carr. At the time, Carr was the subject of outstanding marijuana trafficking charges in Ohio, and Ms. Bowen knew this. The couple had been living in Tampa for about two years, and Carr had been using aliases, including the name "Joseph Bennett." Ms. Bowen was the ex-wife of a man named Joseph Bennett, and her young son was his namesake.

As soon as the shooting occurred, the couple took the dying boy to a fire station. Police officers at the fire station began to ask questions. When the boy died, Carr immediately left the fire station while the officers ordered him to stop. He went back to the apartment, leaving Ms. Bowen at the fire station. He was apprehended by the police at the apartment and taken to the police station for questioning by Detectives Childers and Bell. Although Carr was placed in handcuffs, it is not clear if he was formally arrested. Ms. Bowen, who clearly was grief-stricken over the loss of her child, was taken separately to the police station. Sometime after 1 p.m., Detectives Childers and Bell took Carr back to the apartment to have him explain what happened there. On the way back to the station, around 2 p.m., Carr apparently used a handcuff key to escape from the two officers. He shot and killed both of them. He then hijacked a pickup truck and headed north from Tampa on Interstates 275 and 75. About twenty-five miles north of Tampa, at approximately 2:30 p.m., Carr shot and killed Trooper Crooks, who was pursuing him. Around 3 p.m., after sustaining a gunshot wound, Carr holed up in a gas station about fifty miles north of Tampa, taking the clerk hostage. He was immediately surrounded by many law enforcement officers. Carr told his version of the story over the telephone to a local radio station, and after releasing the hostage, he killed himself around 7:30 p.m.

Ms. Bowen was generally cooperative with the police after her son died. Although she may have been calm enough to deceive the police about some specific facts, there is little question that she was genuinely distraught at the traumatic death of her son. She signed a consent form to allow her apartment to be searched and gave three taped statements to the police, the first occurring around 12:30 p.m. She was aware that Carr owned a handcuff key and that he often kept it on his person, but she did not volunteer this information. It is unclear whether she ever saw Carr in handcuffs or otherwise knew that he had been handcuffed.

Prior to the death of the two detectives, Ms. Bowen never identified Carr as Hank Carr. The evidence supports an inference that she knew the police would discover an Ohio warrant if she gave his correct name and that she withheld his name to prevent his arrest on this charge. Between 2 and 2:30 p.m., a detective informed Ms. Bowen that Carr had killed two detectives. Ms. Bowen was brought into a room and asked to give a detective any name Carr may have been arrested under, so that the officer could search Hillsborough County arrest records for a picture. Ms. Bowen provided the detective with various names for Carr, including a first name of "Hank" and a last name of "Carr," but the detective testified she did not place the names "Hank" and "Carr" together. Around 2:30 p.m., Ms. Bowen gave the detective the correct name and Tampa address of Carr's mother, and officers were dispatched to that address. At 3:30 p.m., Ms. Bowen gave a second taped statement in which she indicated that Carr was also known as Hank Carr. She then agreed to go to the gas station to talk to Carr, in part to secure the release of the hostage. At the end of the day, she provided a third taped statement and was allowed to return home. A few days later, however, she was arrested and charged as an accessory after the fact to Carr's various crimes.


Because three law enforcement officers were senselessly murdered by Carr, this case attracted considerable public and media attention. Many people hold Ms. Bowen morally responsible for the deaths of these officers. From a moral perspective, there is no question that Ms. Bowen must always share a portion of the blame for the death of her son and for the murders of three fine officers. Morally, she might have been able to take earlier action to prevent these deaths.

From a legal perspective, it is important to understand that the State did not claim that Ms. Bowen was criminally responsible for these deaths. It did not charge Ms. Bowen as a principal to these crimes or as an accessory before the fact—nor is there evidence to support such charges. In addition, the law does not hold Ms. Bowen criminally responsible for failing to prevent the crime of another, or merely for failing to report it. Instead, the State charged Ms. Bowen as an accessory after the fact to three separate criminal episodes involving the four deaths. It is helpful to consider some of the basic requirements and limitations of this criminal offense before examining the evidence in detail to determine whether the State proved its case against Ms. Bowen.

Section 777.03(1), Florida Statutes (1997), defines the crime of accessory after the fact as follows:

Any person not standing in the relation of husband or wife, parent or grandparent, child or grandchild, brother or sister, by consanguinity or affinity to the offender, who maintains or assists the principal or accessory before the fact, or gives the offender any other aid, knowing that the offender had committed a felony or been accessory thereto before the fact, with intent that the offender avoids or escapes detection, arrest, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact.

The degree of the crime of accessory after the fact is linked to the degree of the underlying crime of the principal, generally being one degree below the principal's crime. § 777.03(2), Fla. Stat. (1997).

This crime has five basic elements, as set out in the standard jury instruction. Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim.) 73.3 In this case, for each crime, the State essentially needed to prove that (1) the crime was committed by Carr; (2) Ms. Bowen knew Carr had committed the crime; (3) Ms. Bowen thereafter "maintained, assisted or gave any other aid" to Carr; (4) Ms. Bowen gave the aid with the intent that Carr avoid or escape arrest; and (5) Ms. Bowen was not related to Carr by blood or marriage. As can be seen in these elements, the timing of events and the knowledge and intent of the defendant at specific times are critical aspects of a prosecution for this crime. In this case, the only element that was undisputed was that Ms. Bowen was not related to Carr.4 Therefore, we discuss the other four elements.

1. Proof of the Underlying Crime.

Because the crime of accessory after the fact requires an intent to...

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