Coday v. State, SC02-1920.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
Citation946 So.2d 988
PartiesWilliam CODAY, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. SC02-1920.,SC02-1920.
Decision Date26 October 2006
946 So.2d 988
William CODAY, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.
No. SC02-1920.
Supreme Court of Florida.
October 26, 2006.
Rehearing Denied January 8, 2007.

[946 So.2d 992]

Carey Haughwout, Public Defender and Jeffrey L. Anderson, Assistant Public Defender, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Appellant.

Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida and Leslie T. Campbell, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Appellee.


William Coday appeals his conviction for first-degree murder and a sentence of death imposed in the circuit court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons which follow, we affirm the judgment but vacate the sentence and remand this case for a new sentencing proceeding before the trial judge.


William Coday1 testified that he had an on again, off again, intimate relationship with the victim, Gloria Gomez, from January 1996 to June 1997. In early June 1997, they had an argument in which he accused her of having an affair with another man. After this argument, she broke off contact with him and moved out of his apartment in Fort Lauderdale and in with some friends in Miami. For over a month, he attempted repeatedly to reconcile with her. Desperate to contact her, he left an urgent message with her family friend stating that he was going to be hospitalized. In response, she called him that evening. During the conversation, he lied to her and told her that he had cancer. She promised to visit him on Friday, July 11, 1997, between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.

She arrived at his home at or near 1:00 p.m. on July 11, 1997. He was agitated because she was late. They first discussed his medical situation. Coday then shifted the focus of their conversation to his desire to have her back. He led her into his bedroom where the conversation continued. When she told him that she did not love him in the manner that he had thought and that she had to get her things from his apartment, he flew into a rage and punched her. He then picked up a hammer and struck her, causing her to fall. While in the process of striking her again, he lost his balance and fell on top of her. She managed to grab the hammer out of his hand. However, he found another hammer and continued striking her. Coday then went to the kitchen, retrieved a knife, and began stabbing her. Finally, he drove the knife into her throat and held it there until she died. The cause of death was multiple blunt and sharp force trauma injuries.

The trial court found that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel and gave this aggravating circumstance great weight. According to Dr. Eroston Price, the Associate Broward County Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy, there were 144 wounds inflicted on her,

946 So.2d 993

fifty-seven of which were blunt force trauma injuries consistent with being struck by the flat and claw side of a hammer. The remaining eighty-seven wounds were sharp force wounds consisting of forty-one stab wounds (i.e., the wounds were deeper than they were long) and forty-six incise wounds (i.e., the wounds were longer than they were deep). She had multiple defensive wounds on the palms of her hands and on her arms from blocking the blows and grabbing for a weapon. Dr. Price testified that she was alive for all but one of the 144 stab wounds and hammer blows. The brutality of the attack, coupled with her defensive wounds, bodily movements, and blood spatter, suggested that she knew she was fighting for her life and was aware of her impending death.

The trial court considered the following statutory mitigating circumstances: (1) the defendant has no significant history of criminal activity (no weight); (2) the defendant committed the crime while under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance (moderate weight); and (3) the defendant's capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was substantially impaired (no weight). In giving extreme mental or emotional disturbance moderate weight, the trial court found that this statutory mitigating factor had been established at the Spencer2 hearing through the testimony of six mental health experts. Each of the doctors had conducted interviews with Coday and reviewed court documents, previous psychological evaluations, and police reports. Several of the mental health experts had also interviewed his family, friends, and coworkers, and administered psychological testing. Thus, the trial court found that the record established this statutory mitigating circumstance by a preponderance of the evidence.

The trial court also considered the following nonstatutory mitigating circumstances: (1) the crime was committed while Coday was under the influence of a mental or emotional disturbance (moderate weight); (2) his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was impaired (no weight); (3) he exhibited signs of mental or emotional disturbance at a very early age (no weight); (4) while in county jail, he was depressed and suicidal and had willingly taken several prescribed medications which helped him with the stress of incarceration and his mental health issues (minimal weight); (5) he voluntarily returned to the United States and surrendered to law enforcement (minimal weight); (6) he cooperated with the police upon his arrest (minimal weight); (7) he voluntarily confessed to the crime after being warned of his right to remain silent and without asking for, and without assistance of, counsel (minimal weight); (8) he voluntarily consented to a search and confiscation of his belongings (minimal weight); (9) he had a good employment history and record (moderate weight); (10) he was raised in an environment of instability and emotional abuse (no weight); (11) he was severely sick as an elementary school student and missed a great deal of school because of his chronic illnesses, thereby missing out on many crucial socialization and learning experiences as a result (little weight); (12) his parents' marriage ended in divorce, traumatizing him (no weight); (13) he wrote a novel to tell the world about his despair over his relationship with Gomez and intended to leave it behind when he took his own life out of guilt over what he had done (no weight); (14) it is highly unlikely that he will endanger

946 So.2d 994

others while serving a sentence of life in prison (little weight); (15) society would be protected by him serving a life sentence in prison (little weight); (16) he will use his foreign language skills to assist needy individuals who seek to learn English or function here, and thus he can still be a productive member of society (little weight); (17) he is a voracious reader, has already caused two former inmates of the Broward County Jail to seek assistance in learning to read once released, and will help other inmates in the future turn their lives around (little weight); and (18) he has expressed sincere regret and remorse for his crimes (little weight).

In sentencing Coday to death, the trial court gave great weight to the jury's nine-to-three death recommendation. The trial court found that the aggravating factor, heinous, atrocious or cruel, was proven beyond a reasonable doubt and outweighed the mitigating factors found to exist.

Coday now appeals both the judgment and sentence.

Proffered Heat of Passion Instruction

Coday argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his proffered jury instruction on heat of passion by finding that the standard jury instructions appropriately addressed this subject. He states that this instruction would have resulted in the jury finding him guilty of second-degree murder. Furthermore, he asserts that an accused is entitled to have the jury instructed on this theory of defense and that the trial court effectively denied him this right when it denied the proffered jury instruction. Thus, the issue that we must decide is whether the standard jury instruction on excusable homicide adequately explains heat of passion or whether the trial court should have given Coday's proffered special jury instruction on heat of passion.

This Court has held that "[d]ecisions regarding jury instructions are within the sound discretion of the trial court and should not be disturbed on appeal absent prejudicial error." Goldschmidt v. Holman, 571 So.2d 422, 425 (Fla.1990). However, "[a] defendant is entitled to an instruction as to any valid defense supported by evidence or testimony in the case." State v. Weller, 590 So.2d 923, 927-28 (Fla.1991). "The jury and not the trial judge determines whether the evidence supports the defendant's contention." Mora v. State, 814 So.2d 322, 330 (Fla. 2002). Nevertheless, "[w]hile a defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed on his theory of defense, the failure to give special jury instructions does not constitute error where the instructions given adequately address the applicable legal standards." Stephens v. State, 787 So.2d 747, 755 (Fla.2001).

This case is both factually and legally similar to Kilgore v. State, 688 So.2d 895 (Fla.1996), where we affirmed the trial court's denial of a special instruction on heat of passion. In Kilgore, the appellant was serving a life sentence at the Polk Correctional Institution for first-degree murder and kidnapping when he stabbed his homosexual lover to death outside of his cell with a homemade shank knife. Id. at 896-97. The trial court denied Kilgore's requested special jury instruction on heat of passion, which stated that a person acting under the heat of passion is incapable of premeditation in some circumstances. Id. at 897. The trial judge instead utilized the standard jury...

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