Bracewell v. State, 4 Div. 981

CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Citation447 So.2d 815
Docket Number4 Div. 981
PartiesDebra BRACEWELL, alias v. STATE.
Decision Date31 May 1983

Donald F. Colquett, Opp, and J. Fletcher Jones, Andalusia, for appellant.

Charles A. Graddick, Atty. Gen., and William D. Little, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

HARRIS, Judge.

The instant appeal is from Debra Bracewell's second trial for the capital murder of Rex Carnley by shooting him with a pistol during the commission of a robbery. Her original conviction and sentence of death were eventually overturned on the authority of Beck v. State, 396 So.2d 645 (Ala.1980). See, Bracewell v. State, 401 So.2d 119 (Ala.Cr.App.), rev'd, 401 So.2d 123 (Ala.1979), on remand, 401 So.2d 124 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 401 So.2d 130 (Ala.), vacated, 449 U.S. 915, 101 S.Ct. 312, 66 L.Ed.2d 143 (1980), after remandment, 401 So.2d 130 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 401 So.2d 130 (Ala.1981).

As a result of her second trial for this offense, the appellant, Debra Bracewell, was found guilty as charged and, after proper sentencing procedures were followed, she was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Several issues are presented for our consideration, but the sufficiency of the State's evidence is not challenged on this appeal.

The facts and circumstances surrounding the murder of Rex Carnley are essentially the same as stated in our opinions pertaining to appellant's first trial. Bracewell v. State, 401 So.2d 119, supra.

Rex Carnley was last seen alive by his wife, Marnie, at 8:00 p.m. on August 14, 1977. She left him locked inside their grocery store-gas station, where he had been spending the night because of recent robberies and burglaries in that area. Carnley had, on his person, a wallet which contained approximately $2,000, a roll of money totalling $1,500, and a pistol.

The next morning, at approximately 6:00 a.m., a customer found Carnley's body inside the store where Carnley had been murdered with a .22 caliber, pearl-handled pistol, which had been left beside the body. Carnley had been shot three times in the back of the head and five more times in the face. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

A police investigation immediately following the discovery of Carnley's body revealed that Carnley's wallet and its contents had been taken, but the money roll and the pistol in his front pocket had not. Several other amounts of money, which, including the roll in Carnley's front pocket, totalled $4,500, were found inside the store where they had been deposited or hidden by the Carnleys.

The murder weapon was a gun that Carnley kept in a cashdrawer underneath the cash register counter. Carnley's body was discovered in front of the counter. In addition to the murder weapon and the pistol in Carnley's front pocket, a third pistol was found, undisturbed, underneath the counter where it was kept.

There was no evidence of a struggle prior to the shooting.

Dr. Richard Roper testified that, although the cause of death was massive bleeding resulting from the multiple head wounds, any one of the three wounds to the back of the head could have been fatal.

The critical issue at trial was the identification of the appellant. Police technicians found no physical evidence at the scene to connect the appellant with this crime. Although there was evidence that the appellant was being investigated in connection with other crimes that had taken place in Covington County at about the same time (and that she was being prosecuted in at least one case), the record does not reveal the specific evidence or information that led to her investigation for this offense. Sheriff Eli Harrell testified that the appellant had been arrested in Coffee County on charges unrelated to this case and had been transferred to Covington County via a prisoner exchange. She was detained in the Covington County jail on these unrelated charges, the nature of which Sheriff Harrell could not recall at trial, from November 4, 1977, until she confessed to and was charged with Carnley's murder. Sheriff Harrell could not remember the exact number of times that the appellant was questioned about Carnley's murder before she confessed, but he estimated that he questioned her on six occasions. He verified that before questioning, and, specifically, before she gave her oral and written confessions on January 19, 1978, and January 23, 1978, respectively, he carefully read and explained to the appellant her Miranda rights. He stated that she indicated that she understood those rights and signed the appropriate waiver forms. He also testified that no one, in his presence or to his knowledge, offered the appellant any reward or hope of reward or threatened her to induce her statements. Several other officers confirmed the fact that the appellant's statements were taken in compliance with Miranda.

The oral statement given on January 19, was essentially the same as the written statement given on January 23, 1978, which read as follows

"Statement of Debra Bracewell, W/Female, DOB: 4-17-60. Date 23 January 1978, 3:15 p.m. After being read her rights and signing a waiver of those rights, the following statement was given by Debra Bracewell in the presence of Alabama Investigator, Marlon Brewer and Deputy Sheriff, Linda Cassady: 'Charles and I left granny's about 10:30 on Sunday night, 14 August 1977. We went to Eddie Robinson's house near Samson. Eddie was there, his wife and children, Buddy Moore and his wife, Mabel was there too. We stayed about 1 and 1/2 hours. We left there and went to Charles' sister, Maydean, in the apartments in Samson. No one answered the door. We sat in the yard and talked a few minutes. We talked about trying to find someone to rob in Samson. We couldn't think of anyone. We went down to the river and stayed there a little while. We left and started to Elba, going through Opp. We started up Highway 84 going to Elba. We passed Rex Carnley's store and Charles started turning around. I asked him why. He went on past the store and parked and then he told me that he wanted us to go in there and rob Rex Carnley. He wanted me to go behind the counter on the right side and get a gun out of the drawer and shoot Rex. We turned around and came back to the store. Charles got out his gun and put it in his belt. We went to the door and Rex said, "Charles, come on in." We went in. I went behind the counter like Charles told me to and got the gun. Charles was holding a gun on Rex. Rex told him to quit playing games and Charles said he was not playing a game--he wanted the money. I was, D.B., sitting down on top of the stool and then I stood up on the rungs and shot Rex in the back of the head (At this point, Debra showed that she held the gun approximately 18"' from the back of Rex's head and shot him in the back of the head). Then Charles took the gun. I ran out and he was shooting Rex. Then Charles came out with a billfold in his hand and his gun. He got in the car and we went to granny's and Charles told me I had some blood on my dress and I changed clothes. Charles changed clothes too. After we changed clothes, I went to the kitchen while Charles counted the money. He said it was $1,200.00. He didn't give me any of the money. We left and went to the River near Samson. Charles parked the car before we got under the trestle. He got out and walked toward the woods with the billfold in his hand. He was gone about 5-10 minutes. I stayed in the car. I asked where was the billfold and he said it was gone--not to worry about it. We left and went to Charles' sister's house in Samson. We saw her just before she went to work. Then we went to the sewing factory and filled out work applications. Charles saw his sister again at the factory and borrowed $2.00. I asked him why he borrowed the money and he said to make her think we didn't have any money. We left there and went back to Eddie Robinson's. Eddie's kids were there and Mabel and Ondas Paul. We waited there until Eddie and Inez came in from work. Charles told Eddie that he had to get out of the State because the law would be looking for him for killing Rex Carnley. We left that night for Florida.' The above is a true and correct statement that I have given on my own free will without threats or promise. Signed, Debra Bracewell."

This statement was consistent with the scene of the crime, the time of discovery of the body, the nature of the wounds inflicted, the normal hiding place of the murder weapon, and the fact that the only property taken was Carnley's wallet and its contents. A subsequent search of the area where the appellant said her husband had changed his clothes and had discovered the stolen wallet was unsuccessful.

In defense, the appellant vigorously challenged the voluntariness of her confession. She testified that on November 4, 1977, she was arrested at her home by the Covington County officials and that they did not explain the charges against her. She testified that she was repeatedly interrogated, in excess of fifteen times, by a number of different officials and that she eventually confessed only to make them leave her alone.

Evidence was introduced that the appellant was of inferior intelligence and that her education, only through part of the seventh grade, was primarily in a special education curriculum.

The appellant presented one alibi witness, who testified that, on the morning of August 15, 1977, at about 7:00 a.m., the appellant filled out, in his presence, an application for employment at the factory where he worked.

The evidence, including appellant's inculpatory statements, was put to the jury, which found the appellant guilty as charged. In the sentencing phase hearings which followed, the trial court agreed with the jury that the mitigating circumstances outweighed the only aggravating circumstance, a murder during the commission of a robbery, and, consequently, sentenced the appellant to life without parole.

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    • United States
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    ...that should be asked prospective jurors" must be left largely within the sound discretion of the trial court.’ Bracewell v. State, 447 So. 2d 815, 821 (Ala. Crim. App. 1983), aff'd, 447 So. 2d 827 (Ala. 1984) (quoting Peoples v. State, 375 So. 2d 561, 562 (Ala. Crim. App. 1979) ). ‘A trial ......
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