Brooks v. State

Decision Date25 May 2000
Docket NumberNo. SC92011.,SC92011.
Citation762 So.2d 879
PartiesFred Lorenzo BROOKS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, and Nada M. Carey, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, and Scott A. Browne, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, Florida, for Appellee.


We have on appeal the judgment and sentence of the trial court adjudicating Fred Lorenzo Brooks guilty of first-degree murder and imposing the death penalty.1 We have jurisdiction. See Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. As explained below, we affirm Brooks' conviction but reverse his sentence of death and remand for a new penalty phase hearing before a new jury because the prosecutor made numerous improper comments during closing argument in the penalty phase of the trial.


A Duval County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Fred Lorenzo Brooks with first-degree murder; aggravated battery; armed robbery; armed trafficking in cocaine; conspiracy to traffic in cocaine; and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The grand jury also returned an indictment charging Foster Brown with the same offenses as Brooks,2 and the defendants were tried jointly before the same jury. The evidence presented at trial reflects the following facts.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on the evening of August 28, 1996, Jacqueline Thompson and Tyrone Simmons were positioned at the corner of 23rd Street and Myrtle Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida— where Thompson was selling drugs—when Fred Brooks and Foster Brown drove up in a red Toyota Camry (the Camry).3 Both Thompson and Simmons knew Brooks and Brown. Brown was driving the Camry as it approached, and Brooks asked where he and Brown could find some "juggler action," which, according to Thompson, is street slang for big rocks of crack cocaine. Thompson asked if they had any money, and Brooks produced five one-hundred-dollar bills. Thompson then inquired how much she would receive from the deal, and they replied with four "jugglers." After agreeing to accompany Brooks and Brown, Thompson entered the back seat of the Camry along with Brooks, while Simmons replaced Brown in the driver's seat, with Brown moving to the front passenger seat before the group drove away.

In the same time frame in which the above-described events were transpiring, Michael Johnson drove his 1973 Chevrolet Impala (the Impala) to the home of Darryl Jenkins, his long-time friend, which was located at 2022 West 13th Street in Jacksonville, Florida. Johnson traveled to the home to meet Lashan Mahone, his girlfriend, so that he and Mahone could go to a club later that night. Mahone had not yet arrived at Jenkins' home when Johnson drove up, so Johnson backed his Impala into the driveway, opened the driver's side door, and sat in the car listening to music. Mahone arrived several minutes later, positioned her vehicle next to the Impala, and went over to Johnson. Johnson and Mahone began talking and listening to music, while Darryl Jenkins and another man, Jessie Bracelet, sat in chairs in the driveway near the front of Mahone's car.

During this time period, the passengers in the Camry were traveling to Jenkins' house, where Thompson had already purchased drugs earlier that evening.4 Though not a drug user like Jenkins, Michael Johnson often sold drugs from Jenkins' home, and Thompson had known Johnson for at least five years and had regularly purchased crack cocaine from him. Thompson testified that she accompanied Brooks and Brown to Jenkins' house because they had never conducted a drug transaction with Johnson, and therefore he would not have "served" them without her assistance. On the way to Jenkins' house, Brooks and Brown specifically stated that they wanted to buy fifty rocks, or $500 worth of crack cocaine. As the group proceeded to the destination, neither Thompson nor Simmons saw any weapons or heard any mention of a robbery. Also during the drive to Jenkins' house, Thompson stated that she would first buy a $10 "dime rock" of crack cocaine from Johnson to provide Brooks and Brown with a sample of the drug they would be obtaining.

The Camry and its passengers arrived at Jenkins' home several minutes after Mahone had arrived at that location. Simmons parked the Camry approximately ten to twenty-five feet from Jenkins' driveway. Thompson exited the vehicle and proceeded towards Jenkins' house, at which point Johnson called her over. Thompson bought a dime rock from Johnson and indicated that she had two "dogs" (meaning friends) who wanted to spend $500. Thompson then returned to the Camry with the dime rock and spoke with Brooks and Brown. After examining the rock purchased by Thompson, Brown stated that the rock was "decent," but Brooks expressed his view that the rock was "too flat." Brooks changed his mind as to purchasing fifty rocks and stated that he only wanted to purchase thirty. Thompson returned to the back seat of the Camry, and a chain of events related to the drugs subsequently ensued among Johnson, Brooks, and Brown, which occurred near the trunk area on the passenger side of Johnson's Impala.5 As the transaction began, Simmons and Thompson were sitting in the Camry, Mahone was sitting in the driver's seat of Johnson's Impala, and Jenkins, along with Jessie Bracelet, were still sitting in chairs in the driveway near the front of Mahone's car.

According to Johnson, who testified that he had been selling crack cocaine almost every day for approximately two years, after he sold the dime rock of crack to Thompson, he walked over to Jenkins and obtained a sandwich bag containing what, in his opinion, was crack cocaine. Johnson did not know exactly how many rocks were in the bag, but he testified that he knew there were "enough to sell 50 rocks," each identical in shape and weighing approximately one gram. Through Johnson's extensive experience in dealing with crack cocaine, he knew that a "juggler," or rock of crack cocaine, weighs one gram. After retrieving the sandwich bag from Jenkins, Johnson moved to the trunk area on the passenger side of his Impala, and he recognized the two men approaching him as Brooks and Brown. He inquired if they were the individuals who wanted to purchase fifty rocks, and Brown replied that they only wanted thirty rocks.

Johnson testified that he was standing in the middle of Brooks and Brown, with Brown on his left and Brooks on his right, closest to the back seat of the Impala. Johnson observed Brown holding several one hundred dollar bills in his hand, but Johnson testified that he never received money from anyone other than Thompson, who had previously given him $10 to purchase the initial dime rock.6 Johnson untied the sandwich bag, reached in, and started to count the rocks. At about the time this occurred, Johnson observed Brooks reaching into his pocket, and Johnson thought Brooks was merely retrieving money. However, Johnson then observed that Brooks was actually pulling a gun from his pocket, which he noticed when it hit the side of the Impala. Johnson dropped the sandwich bag of crack cocaine on the trunk of the car and heard Jenkins make a statement in the nature of, "Hey, man, what's up? He got a gun or something." Johnson then saw Brooks point the gun at Jenkins and shoot one time. Johnson turned and ran in fear past Brown, who stepped back as though he was reaching for something in his pocket as Johnson ran toward the gate in front of Jenkins' home. Johnson then heard ten to twelve more gunshots as he ran through the yard; it sounded as though two guns had fired because one sounded louder than the other. While Johnson was running away, a bullet struck him in the back, exited through his chest and hit him in the arm. Johnson made it to safety around the back of Jenkins' home, where someone helped him in through the back door. Shortly thereafter, Lashan Mahone transported Johnson to the hospital, and he never again saw the sandwich bag containing crack.

Johnson's testimony concerning the shooting was consistent with other testimony elicited at trial. Jacqueline Thompson remembered a voice calling, yelling, or screaming something from the driveway, and she then heard gunfire. She turned and looked out of the back window of the Camry, and saw Brooks firing a weapon over the top of Johnson's Impala. After lowering her head, she heard ten to fifteen more gunshots. Similarly, Tyrone Simmons heard a loud voice and gunshots coming from the rear of the Camry. When Simmons turned and looked through the rear window, he also saw Brooks firing a weapon and a person running through a gate towards Jenkins' home. Simmons also heard more shots after he lowered his head.

Jessie Bracelet, who had been seated next to Jenkins, testified that he had gotten up from his chair and taken two to three steps when he heard Jenkins scream, "He's got a gun." Bracelet looked back and saw the man on Johnson's right (Brooks) extend his arm and fire at Jenkins, who was standing by that time. The gunman was approximately fifteen feet away from Bracelet when Jenkins was shot. At trial, Bracelet identified Brooks as the gunman. Upon being shot, Jenkins slumped, reached for his chest, and then began to run for safety across the street. Bracelet also ran away and heard ten to fifteen more gunshots, several of which were fired at him. It sounded as though the gunshots were coming from two different weapons because some shots were louder than others.

Finally, Lashan Mahone testified that she saw one man on Johnson's left side and one on his right during the drug transaction at the rear of the Impala. She heard Jenkins scream and then heard a shot. She then turned and saw Johnson running through the fence near Jenkins' house. She saw one of the men standing with a gun in his hand, and it looked like the man who had been on Johnson's...

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