Crowe v. State

Decision Date26 June 1995
Docket NumberNo. S95P0108,S95P0108
Citation265 Ga. 582,458 S.E.2d 799
PartiesCROWE v. The STATE.
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

David J. McDade, Dist. Atty., William H. McClain, Asst. Dist. Atty., Douglasville, Michael J. Bowers, Atty. Gen., Susan V. Boleyn, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., Paula K. Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Law, Atlanta, for State.

CARLEY, Justice.

After appellant Samuel David Crowe was indicted for the malice murder of Joe Pala and for armed robbery, the State filed notice of its intent to seek the death penalty for the murder. Crowe subsequently offered to plead guilty as to the murder and to enter a guilty plea pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970) as to the armed robbery. The trial court accepted the pleas and the case proceeded to a jury sentencing trial for the murder. The jury returned a verdict imposing the death sentence, finding three aggravating circumstances: Crowe committed the murder in the course of another capital felony, armed robbery, OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(2); he committed the murder for the purpose of receiving money, OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(4); and, the murder was outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind and an aggravated battery, OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(7). When the trial court entered judgments of conviction on the guilty pleas and sentences of death for the murder and of life imprisonment for the armed robbery, Crowe filed a direct appeal to this court. Thereafter, Crowe filed in the trial court an extraordinary motion for new trial and, when that motion was denied, he filed another direct appeal from that ruling. Pursuant to this court's order, the two cases have been consolidated for appellate disposition in this single opinion. 1


1. The evidence presented at the sentencing trial authorized the jury to find the following:

The victim was a manager at Wickes Lumber Company in Douglasville, Georgia. Crowe was a former manager trainee at Wickes and his wife was a current Wickes employee. Crowe was acquainted with the victim and with the procedure for closing the store each evening. Crowe was experiencing financial difficulties and, on the afternoon before the murder, he planned to rob Wickes to obtain money to pay his debts. While the victim was closing the store for the evening, Crowe knocked at the door of the store and was permitted to enter. Crowe then engaged the victim in conversation. While the victim's back was turned, Crowe shot him, piercing his lung and causing him to bleed to death. Before his death, however, the victim attempted to escape and Crowe shot at him twice more but missed. Crowe then hit the victim several times with a paint can and poured paint over his face. Believing the victim to be clinging to life, Crowe beat in the victim's skull with a crowbar and then stole $1,160.30 from the store.

The following day, after the victim's body was found, police learned that a car matching the description of that belonging to Crowe's wife was seen at Wickes at the approximate time of the murder. Officers questioned Crowe's wife and learned that Crowe had driven her car on the evening of the murder and that, upon returning home, he had uncharacteristically undressed in the basement, claiming that he had thrown up on himself and that he would discard his clothes. Crowe's wife also informed the police that she owned a .44 caliber handgun. A .44 caliber lead bullet was recovered from the scene. Police learned from a Wickes employee that, one week before the murder, Crowe asked for a loan in the amount of $1,500 and that he seemed desperate for money. Upon searching Crowe's wife's car, police discovered paint similar to that found on the victim. Thereafter, police searched Crowe's home and car, finding the murder weapon, a paint can, a crowbar, the victim's keys, and Crowe's clothes stained with blood and paint. Among the clothes was a pair of Crowe's tennis shoes with tread matching paint tracks at the scene.

Following his arrest the day after the murder, Crowe gave two consistent, tape-recorded statements to the sheriff. In those two statements, he admitted that he killed the victim and that he did so to obtain money. Six months later, however, Crowe moved to suppress his two earlier statements and then claimed at the hearing on that motion that he did not kill the victim, but that he arrived at the scene after the victim was already dead and that he took the money and several other pieces of evidence. He also testified at the suppression hearing that he had originally confessed due to a mistaken belief that his wife had been charged with the murder. Approximately one year after his arrest, Crowe contacted the sheriff and gave yet a third, videotaped statement in which he confessed to killing the victim during an argument and thereafter taking the money to make it appear that the victim had been killed during a robbery.

Although Crowe's guilty pleas render the general grounds moot as to his guilt of the murder and armed robbery, we nevertheless find that this evidence would be sufficient to enable any rational trier of fact to find him guilty of those crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). With regard to the death sentence imposed for the murder, this evidence also was sufficient to authorize the jury's finding of the three aggravating circumstances.


2. Before Crowe pled guilty, he made two telephone calls to the trial judge. He urges that the trial judge impermissibly interfered with his attorney-client relationship by accepting these telephone calls and then erred by failing immediately to disclose the two ex parte contacts to Crowe's counsel.

Crowe himself initiated the contacts. The trial judge testified in the hearing on the extraordinary motion for new trial that, in the first call, Crowe indicated he had problems with his counsel but was generally satisfied, that Crowe did not state the nature of the problems, and that the trial judge suggested that Crowe confer with his counsel. In court the following day, Crowe stated for the record that he was pleased with his representation and, based upon Crowe's telephone conversation, it certainly was not inappropriate for the trial judge to accept this statement without any further inquiry. With regard to the second telephone call, the trial judge testified that Crowe merely asked about the date of a hearing. The trial judge disclosed both contacts to Crowe's counsel within days after Crowe had called. Crowe may not complain now of his own earlier failure to inform his counsel of his contacts with the trial judge and he has not shown that he was in any way prejudiced by the timing of the trial court's disclosure.

3. Crowe urges that the trial court erred by accepting the guilty pleas without inquiring as to whether he had made a knowing and intelligent waiver of counsel. Such an inquiry was unnecessary, since Crowe never expressed any desire to undertake his own defense. Compare Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975); Clarke v. Zant, 247 Ga. 194, 275 S.E.2d 49 (1981). The record reflects that although Crowe may have entered his guilty pleas against the advice of his counsel, he did not waive the right to counsel and he was represented by counsel at all times both before and after pleading guilty. Crowe conferred with counsel several times during the plea hearing itself. Furthermore, after stating that he wished to plead guilty but before entering his pleas, Crowe told the trial court that he wanted his attorney to represent him in the sentencing trial.

Because Crowe never expressed a desire to defend himself pro se and, in fact, never proceeded pro se, the trial court was obligated to determine only whether Crowe's guilty pleas were knowingly and voluntarily made, not whether Crowe had waived the right to counsel and was capable of conducting his own trial. See Stano v. Dugger, 921 F.2d 1125, 1144-1145, 1148 (11th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 835, 112 S.Ct. 116, 116 L.Ed.2d 85 (1991). The record supports the trial court's finding that there was a sufficient factual basis for entry of the pleas and that they were knowingly and voluntarily entered with an understanding of the nature of the charges, the consequences of the pleas and the rights waived thereby. See Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 242-244, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 1711-1712, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969).

4. Crowe urges that the trial court erred in accepting his guilty plea to the armed robbery charge as a valid Alford guilty plea. "An individual accused of crime may voluntarily, knowingly, and understandably consent to the imposition of a ... sentence even if he is unwilling or unable to admit his participation in the acts constituting the crime." North Carolina v. Alford, supra at 37, 91 S.Ct. at 167. Here, the trial court was presented with a sufficient factual basis for Crowe's plea and reasonably concluded that Crowe entered the plea knowingly and voluntarily. Crowe knew and remarked that the evidence against him, including his own confessions, was overwhelming. See North Carolina v. Alford, supra at 38, 91 S.Ct. at 167-168. We need not address whether a plea coupled with a claim of innocence requires any additional inquiry into the conflict between the two. See Minchey v. State, 155 Ga.App. 632, 633, 271 S.E.2d 885 (1980). Crowe did not claim his innocence, but rather elected to remain silent on the advice of counsel.

Crowe further contends that the trial court erred in failing to warn him of the consequence that his guilty plea could have in his sentencing trial for the murder. Contrary to Crowe's contention, however, the trial court specifically advised him, and Crowe stated that he understood, that he was pleading guilty to an aggravating...

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