Buford v. State

Decision Date23 July 1981
Docket NumberNo. 54010,54010
Citation403 So.2d 943
PartiesRobert Lewis BUFORD, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Jack O. Johnson, Public Defender, and James R. Wulchak and Douglas A. Lockwood, Asst. Public Defenders, Bartow, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen., and Charles Corces, Jr. and Richard G. Pippinger, Asst. Attys. Gen., Tampa, for appellee.

ADKINS, Justice.

This is a direct appeal from a judgment adjudging defendant guilty of murder in the first degree and guilty of sexual battery upon a child under eleven years of age, and imposing two sentences of death. Defendant was also adjudged guilty of burglary with intent to commit a sexual battery and sentenced to a term of years.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, November 6, 1977, Lewis Wright, father of the victim, fell asleep on the living room sofa while he and his children were watching television. His children were on a pallet on the living room floor. Wright awakened about 2:30 or 3:00 o'clock a. m., turned off the television, and went to his bedroom. He did not notice if all of his children were still sleeping on the pallet. On his way to the bedroom he observed that the back door of the house was open, but assumed that the children's grandmother had visited the house while he was sleeping and had exited through the back door.

Lewis Wright awoke again about 7:00 o'clock a. m. and noticed that the victim, his seven-year-old daughter, Toni, was missing. Wright notified police; shortly thereafter the victim's body was discovered next to a nearby church. She was lying on her back in a flower bed, with her dress pulled up around her chest and her underpants a short distance away. There were injuries to her head and dried blood on her head and face. Pieces of a shattered and blood-stained concrete block were found nearby.

At approximately 3:00 o'clock a. m. on Sunday, November 6, 1977, the defendant returned to his father's home where he was greeted by his sister, Annette Buford. She observed him breathing hard, as if he had just been running and saw him carrying his t-shirt and tennis shoes. He had white oxydized paint on his bare back and appeared to be drunk. Defendant told his sister if anyone came looking for him to say that he had been at home since 11:00 o'clock p. m. In a few moments defendant broke down and stated that he might have killed a lady with a brick. He started to implicate a person known as "Fat Boy", but immediately stopped, saying he was not going to involve anyone else.

While at his father's home later in the day, the defendant talked both of leaving home and of turning himself over to police. On Monday night defendant went to the police station, after his sister had talked with police about his role in the crime. He was arrested for murder, sexual battery, and burglary with intent to commit sexual battery. After being advised of his legal rights, defendant signed a written waiver of these rights and blurted out, "I did it." He was again advised of his rights in the interrogation room, and he again waived these rights. In his statement defendant said he broke into Wright's house through a back window. Upon entering, he saw the girl lying there, picked her up, and carried her out the back door. He took her to the church area, had her lie down and remove her clothes. He removed his clothing and then inserted his finger into her vagina. He did not move his finger; he just put it in and later took it out. He admitted penetration with his penis. When the victim started screaming, the defendant picked up a concrete block and dropped it twice on the victim's head. The defendant said he was not trying to kill her but to stop her from screaming. The victim had recognized the defendant.

After the statement was concluded, the defendant signed a consent form to search his room at his father's house for the jeans he had been wearing on the night of the incident. These jeans were recovered. A lab analysis of a blood spot on the jeans indicated that it was of the same type as the victim's blood.

With defendant's consent, the officers secured blood and hair samples from him. While the doctor was examining defendant and taking samples, the doctor pointed out various cuts and scratches on defendant's body. When the doctor was noting a set of scratches, the defendant said, "Those were not made by the little one."

A pubic hair that was discovered in the victim's vagina was consistent in characteristics with the sample taken from the defendant. Both the pubic hair found on the decedent and the sample taken from the defendant contained an unusual "starchy" substance. The child was too young to have pubic hair of her own; she was only seven years old.

At trial, the defendant testified that although he had participated in the sexual battery, a man known as "Fat Boy" had raped and killed Toni. Defendant said he refused to climb inside the Wright home because he was known by them. His testimony was that Fat Boy climbed through the window while defendant stood outside. When Fat Boy did not return for a while, defendant left. A few minutes later defendant met Fat Boy again. This time Fat Boy was carrying Toni Wright. Upon questioning her, Toni said that she knew defendant but did not know Fat Boy. Fat Boy carried Toni to the church area and commanded her to lie down. Defendant admitted having sexual intercourse with Toni while Fat Boy watched. Toni did not scream while defendant was on top of her. Defendant got dressed and was planning to leave when Fat Boy commenced sexual intercourse with Toni. Toni started screaming. Defendant turned around to face them and saw Fat Boy drop a concrete block on the girl's head. Fat Boy picked up the brick to drop it again and defendant charged at him to prevent it. Fat Boy threw defendant against the wall and dropped the brick again. Fat Boy left when defendant refused to allow him to go home with him.

The police officers learned about Fat Boy and his alleged involvement in the incident from the defendant's sister before the trial took place. After an investigation, Fat Boy was eliminated as a suspect by virtue of an alibi. Defendant was charged by indictment with the offenses of first-degree murder, capital sexual battery, and burglary with intent to commit a sexual battery. The jury found defendant guilty on all three counts. The case then proceeded into the penalty phase of the bifurcated trials. The jury recommended to the court that it impose a life sentence on both the murder and sexual battery convictions. The trial court then made the following findings of fact:

In making the following findings of fact and conclusions of law the Court has taken into consideration only the testimony produced at trial and no other factors.

As to Count One of the Indictment wherein defendant was convicted of First Degree Murder the Court makes the following findings of fact:

1. As an aggravating circumstance, the capital felony, that is, the murder of Toni Annette Wright, a black female, age seven (7) years, was committed while the defendant, Robert Lewis Buford, was engaged in the commission of the crime of sexual battery. F.A. 921.141(5)(d). The evidence is conclusive that the crime of sexual battery was complete and that sufficient penetration occurred. The defendant's free and voluntary statement to law enforcement officers supports this finding together with his testimony in his own behalf during the trial. The defendant attempted to repudiate his previous confession to create an accomplice by the name of "Fat Boy", however, the Court specifically rejects this testimony as being an untrue and a total fabrication.

2. As a further aggravating circumstance the Court finds that the capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel. F.A. 921.141(5)(h). The testimony amply supports a finding that this seven (7) year old child was abducted from her home, while asleep by a nineteen (19) year old adult male, that she was taken to a secluded spot where the defendant brutally sexually assaulted her. After he had fulfilled his lustful desires and ascertained that the victim would be in a position to identify him, the defendant snuffed out the life of this child by crushing her head with a concrete block dropped at heights from at least waist high. The testimony of the pathologist, Dr. Robert Smith, reveals at least three (3) separate crushing wounds and the defendant "admits" to dropping the thirty-two (32) pound concrete block on the victim's head twice. The Court specifically rejects as untrue and as a fabrication, the defendant's testimony that the victim was killed by this so called accomplice "Fat Boy". Dr. Robert Simth viewed the victim's body at the scene and testified that the child was covered with sand and that there was evidence of an extensive struggle. The Court finds that the struggle was between the defendant and the seven (7) year old child and that no other person was involved. The pathologist testified that he found numerous abrasions over the entire body of this child, with extensive amounts of blood coming from the nose and mouth areas. Three (3) severe wounds were found in the head area, two (2) on the right side and one (1) almost in the midline in the back of the head, indicating at least three (3) separate blows. The skull was extensively fractured resulting in numerous fragments of the skull becoming depressed directly into the brain. Multiple recent abrasions were found on the child's right arm and on her right chest area.

The pathologist was of the opinion that any of the three (3) separate blows would have been sufficient to cause death and that the child may have lived for at least an hour after the first blow but that she would have lost consciousness fairly rapidly.

The pathologist also testified that he visually observed extensive trauma to the genital area and that his autopsy revealed acute perforation of the hymen...

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