Bryant v. State, 75317

Decision Date19 March 1992
Docket NumberNo. 75317,75317
Citation601 So.2d 529
PartiesRobert BRYANT, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee. 601 So.2d 529, 17 Fla. L. Week. S190
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender and David A. Davis, Asst. Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, for appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen. and Richard B. Martell, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, for appellee.


Robert Bryant appeals his convictions of first-degree murder, sexual battery, burglary, and attempted robbery and his sentence of death for the first-degree murder conviction. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, Sec. 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons expressed, we affirm Bryant's convictions and sentences except for the sentence of death. We find that errors committed in the trial of this cause require a new penalty phase proceeding before a new jury for the first-degree murder conviction.

On June 4, 1988, Annie Kennedy was murdered. The police questioned Bryant several times about the murder during the next year; twice he voluntarily gave them blood, saliva, and hair samples. In May, 1989, almost a year after the murder, Bryant was arrested and subsequently tried on charges of first-degree murder, robbery with a firearm, sexual battery with a firearm, and burglary with a firearm.

The testimony at trial established that on the morning of June 3, 1988, Bryant had mowed Kennedy's lawn. Later that day, he returned and she paid him ten dollars, which he used to buy liquor. Annie Kennedy, age sixty-seven, had known Bryant for several years and was friendly to him. Bryant did work for her and, on occasion, ran errands for her. The evidence further reflected that, on the evening of June 3, Bryant got drunk. He was so drunk that, when he stumbled home about 10:30 p.m., he fell into his bed and immediately went to sleep. Sometime during that night he rolled off his bed and onto the floor without waking up. Bryant's mother and a friend picked him up and put him on the bed and, when he rolled off again, they left him on the floor.

The next morning Kennedy's body was discovered lying in the middle of the living room of her house. She had been beaten about the face and sexually battered and money from her welfare check was missing. She had been shot in the chest at close range and had been dead for several hours when she was found. The medical examiner's best estimate was that she had been shot sometime around midnight. Police investigators found Bryant's fingerprints on a cigarette package lying between Kennedy's legs, bloodstains matching Bryant's blood type, and a single hair in Kennedy's pubic area that had the same characteristics as Bryant's hair, although a complete enzyme match was not possible.

Bryant testified in his own defense and denied killing Kennedy. Further, Bryant presented two witnesses who testified that someone else had committed the murder and the other crimes. The jury, however, found Bryant guilty of first-degree murder, sexual battery, burglary, and attempted robbery.

In the penalty phase, Bryant presented ten witnesses, who testified concerning mitigating factors. That evidence established that in June, 1988, Bryant was twenty-five years old. Furthermore, Bryant has an IQ of sixty-six and is considered to be mentally retarded. The testimony also revealed that Bryant had not had a happy childhood, not only because of his retardation but also because he was physically abused by his father. The testimony established that the school system recognized Bryant's emotional problems and placed him in a special program for emotionally handicapped children. Bryant made little progress and, at best, can read at only a second- or third-grade level. The education records reflect that when he was in a controlled environment he behaved well, but on his own he had trouble getting along with other students.

Evidence was also presented showing that when Bryant was sixteen or seventeen, his father deliberately shot him in the arm with a shotgun. Bryant spent a substantial period of time recovering from the wound, which left him without the use of his right arm. Witnesses explained that, since there was not much Bryant could do with both his mental handicap and withered arm, he only got temporary jobs at a sawmill and would do occasional lawn mowing for his mother and neighbors. Testimony was also presented that Bryant used the money he made to purchase drugs and alcohol and, at the time of this incident, he had developed a serious drug and alcohol problem.

At the conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury recommended the imposition of the death penalty. The judge followed that recommendation and imposed the death penalty, finding in aggravation that: (1) Bryant had a prior conviction for aggravated assault; 1 (2) Bryant committed the murder during the course of a sexual battery; 2 (3) the murder was committed to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest or to effectuate an escape from custody; 3 (4) the murder was committed for pecuniary gain; 4 and (5) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel. 5 In mitigation, the trial judge found that Bryant had a relatively low intelligence quotient but the judge expressly found that this did not affect Bryant's understanding of what he was doing. Bryant was sentenced to life in prison for the sexual battery and burglary charges and to fifteen years for the attempted robbery charge. These sentences were to be served concurrently but consecutively to the death sentence.

Bryant challenges his convictions and sentence of death on eleven grounds, claiming that the trial court erred in (1) denying his challenge for cause of eleven prospective jurors who said they would automatically recommend the death sentence if they found Bryant guilty of premeditated first-degree murder; (2) excluding the proffered testimony of Mary Harris, thereby denying Bryant the right to present witnesses on his own behalf; (3) denying Bryant's motion for a mistrial; (4) finding as an aggravating factor that Bryant committed the murder for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or effecting an escape from custody; (5) refusing to instruct the jury that it could find as mitigation that the capital felony was committed while Bryant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance; (6) ignoring the wealth of mitigating evidence presented by Bryant; (7) imposing a death sentence which is not proportionately correct under the law of this state; (8) ordering to execute a mentally retarded person in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (9) allowing the state to cross-examine Bryant's mental health expert during the penalty phase regarding Bryant's sanity and then recommending the death sentence based upon this testimony; (10) denying Bryant a fair trial by refusing to read to the jury his requested instruction on circumstantial evidence; and (11) denying Bryant's motion for a new trial at the close of the State's case. On the basis of this record, we find that none of the claims relating to the guilt phase of this trial have any merit under the circumstances of this record and require no discussion. We find there is substantial, competent evidence to support each conviction.

Two of Bryant's claims concerning the penalty phase of this proceeding do have merit and require that we remand this cause for a new sentencing proceeding before a new jury. Specifically, these claims concern (1) the challenges for cause to prospective jurors who would automatically impose the death penalty and (2) the failure of the trial judge to instruct the jury on the statutory mitigating circumstance of extreme mental or emotional disturbance.

Regarding the first claim, Bryant asserts that the trial court erred in failing to excuse for cause jurors who said they would automatically recommend the death sentence if they found Bryant guilty of premeditated first-degree murder. During voir dire, Bryant asked the jurors about their views regarding the death penalty. Bryant noted, with regard to one juror, that he had emphatically indicated that he agreed with the death penalty. The juror explained that there are certain crimes to which he thought the death penalty should be applied. The following colloquy took place:

DEFENSE COUNSEL: What are your feelings in that regard?

JUROR: Well, there is like self-defense or in danger of your life, or something where you might kill someone. But where you've got premeditated murder, the person knows he is going to go out and kill someone, that is my opinion.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: In other words, if you found Robert Bryant guilty of premeditated murder, you would think pretty much automatically that would deserve the death penalty, right?

JUROR: Yes, sir.

Nine prospective jurors then agreed with that juror.

The State, in rehabilitating these jurors, explained that the judge would instruct them that they must take into account certain aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The State explained that the jurors were bound to consider each of those circumstances before voting to impose the death penalty. The jurors appeared to respond affirmatively that they could follow those instructions. Defense counsel, in response, asked a juror:

Let me return to that last question that was asked by Mr. Phelps. Do you remember when I discussed things with Mr. Padgett, and I asked him under what circumstances he felt the death penalty was appropriate, and he said that premeditated murder would be an example where he felt that, I believe he said the death penalty automatically would be the appropriate thing. Is that your feeling still?

JUROR: Right.

Eleven prospective jurors answered the same question in the affirmative.

Bryant challenged these eleven prospective jurors for cause. The trial judge denied the challenge, stating, "I don't think [defense counsel] inquired far enough to explain to them their options under mitigating...

To continue reading

Request your trial
24 cases
  • Hall v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • October 1, 1999 rehabilitate a juror who has made responses during voir dire examination that would support a challenge for cause. In Bryant v. State, 601 So.2d 529, 532 (Fla.1992), the Florida Supreme Court "The standard for determining when a prospective juror may be excluded for cause because of his ......
  • Hall v. Thomas
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
    • September 30, 2013
    ...that having the trial court rehabilitate jurors is a practice favored by reviewing courts. Id. at 125 ( citing Bryant v. State, 601 So.2d 529, 532 (Fla.1992)). In his habeas petition, Hall cites Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 112 S.Ct. 2222, 119 L.Ed.2d 492 (1992), in which the U.S. Supr......
  • Duest v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • June 26, 2003 entitled to have the jury instructed on a mitigating factor if there is any evidence to support the instruction. See Bryant v. State, 601 So.2d 529, 533 (Fla.1992). The trial court summarized the evidence bearing on both mitigating factors in its sentencing The Defense presented witnesse......
  • Nelson v. Sec'y, Dept. of Corr.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
    • March 13, 2012
    ...the court found the mitigation was not proven by the greater weight of the evidence due to the conflicting testimony." Id. at 433. As in Bryant, the trial court in this case cited to specific record evidence regarding each mitigator that it found was not supported by the evidence.We find no......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT