Daniels v. State

Citation534 So.2d 628
Decision Date26 November 1985
Docket Number1 Div. 92
PartiesJohn Ronald DANIELS v. STATE.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

John Bertolotti, Jr., James M. Byrd, and Thomas M. Haas, Mobile, for appellant.

Charles A. Graddick, Atty. Gen., and Helen P. Nelson, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.


The appellant, John Ronald Daniels, was charged under Alabama's 1975 Death Penalty Statute, §§ 13-11-1 through 13-11-9, Code of Alabama 1975 (repealed), for the slayings of Cheryl Moore and Richard (Ricky) Brune in violation of § 13-11-2(a)(10), which proscribes first degree murder wherein two or more people are intentionally killed by one or a series of acts, and in violation of § 13-11-2(a)(7), which proscribes first degree murder done for a pecuniary or other valuable consideration or pursuant to a contract or for hire. After the trial court struck from the three-count indictment two counts, one charging the § 13-11-2(a)(7) violation, the jury found Daniels guilty of violating § 13-11-2(a)(10) and fixed punishment at death pursuant to § 13-11-2(a). Thereafter, the trial court conducted a sentencing hearing pursuant to § 13-11-3 et seq. After making specific findings on the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the trial court sentenced Daniels to death by electrocution. 1

On the authority of Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 100 S.Ct. 2382, 65 L.Ed.2d 392 (1980), on remand, 396 So.2d 645 (Ala.1981), and Ritter v. State, 403 So.2d 154 (Ala.1981), this court reversed Daniels's conviction and remanded for a new trial. Daniels v. State, 406 So.2d 1023 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 406 So.2d 1024 (Ala.1981). The United States Supreme Court subsequently issued an order vacating the judgment and remanding the case back to this court for further consideration in light of Hopper v. Evans, 456 U.S. 605, 102 S.Ct. 2049, 72 L.Ed.2d 367 (1982). Alabama v. Daniels, 457 U.S. 1114, 102 S.Ct. 2920, 73 L.Ed.2d 1325 (1982). On motion by the Attorney General of Alabama, any further decision by this court was held in abeyance pending the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Baldwin v. Alabama, 472 U.S. 372, 105 S.Ct. 2727, 86 L.Ed.2d 300 (1985), which was decided on June 17, 1985. Thereafter, supplemental briefs were filed by both parties and pursuant to Daniels's request, this cause was orally re-argued on October 8, 1985. For the reasons set forth below, we now affirm Daniels's conviction.

The facts and circumstances of the capital offense for which Daniels stands convicted are as follows: Between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on January 2, 1977, a motorist at the Theodore-Dawes exit of Interstate Highway 10 in Mobile County noticed a body lying on the ground outside the passenger side of an automobile parked on the west approach ramp to I-10. The motorist summoned a deputy sheriff, who at trial testified that he arrived at the scene at approximately 5:15 p.m. There, the deputy observed 19-year-old Ricky Brune leaning against the driver's door in his vehicle and 15-year-old Cheryl Moore lying beside the car. Both were dead. Later examination revealed that Cheryl had received a .38-caliber bullet wound to the left side of her chest and a shotgun wound inflicted in her back at close range. Her death was due to the .38-caliber bullet penetrating her heart; the shotgun wound was post-mortem. Ricky's death was the result of one of three .38-caliber bullets: one which entered his head; one which entered his right chest, penetrating his heart; and the third which traveled through his right arm, into his chest and neck. A fourth .38-caliber bullet also pierced his right arm. Subsequent examination further revealed that the five .38-caliber bullets recovered from the two bodies were fired from the same weapon. In addition, evidence at the scene, especially powder residue on the back of the front seat, indicated that the .38-caliber gunshots were fired from the back seat of Ricky's automobile. The fact that Ricky's finger was still on the steering wheel indicated that he had been shot in that position, with his hand on the wheel. The shotgun could also have been fired from inside the vehicle or it might have been fired by someone standing over Cheryl's body as it lay on the ground. Latent fingerprints lifted from Ricky's car were compared with the known prints of Daniels; however, they did not match. They also did not match the known prints of the victims.

The toxicologist who examined the bodies estimated that the two teenagers' deaths occurred sometime between 4:15 and 6:15 p.m. The time of death is reduced to the span of 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. because of the deputy sheriff's arrival at approximately 5:15 p.m. Between 4:50 and 5:10 p.m., a motorist observed a light-colored Ford automobile with a dark top, possibly a vinyl top, parked on the westbound Theodore-Dawes exit of I-10. He estimated the vehicle to be a 1967 to 1969 model. He further noted that the engine was running, but the car appeared unoccupied. He saw only this one vehicle and when he passed by within 15 minutes later, the automobile was gone. In fact, at this later time, he saw no vehicle. At the time of the murders, a green 1968 Ford with a dark vinyl top belonged to Brenda Watson, Phillip Wayne Tomlin's sister.

On the evening prior to the murders, at approximately 11:30 p.m. or midnight, Tomlin and Daniels arrived in Brenda Watson's car at the trailer of Randy and Danny Shanks in Mobile. The Shankses are Tomlin's brothers-in-law. Upon arrival, Tomlin introduced Daniels simply as "Ron" and told Randy, in Daniels's presence, that "he had to come to Mobile to kill the guy that killed his brother." Tomlin's brother had died on November 23, 1975, as a result of an accidental shotgun discharge involving Ricky Brune. During this conversation, Tomlin, in Daniels's presence, asked Danny if he could use Danny's car the following day, because he needed to get out of town. Danny talked to him a little while and then told him he was not "going to get involved in what [Tomlin] had to do in Mobile."

At Tomlin's request, Randy consented to rent a room at the Eight Days Inn for Tomlin and Daniels. All four men went in Brenda Watson's car to the hotel. Randy paid for the room with a $100 bill given to him by Tomlin. He filled out the registration card with false information, except for his name and the city of his address. For the make of car, Randy put " '64 Chevy." Tomlin had told Randy to register the room in Randy's name. Then, they all went to the room, where the Shankses were shown a .38 revolver and a .44 magnum, which were concealed in a briefcase. Randy also saw another gun in a case wrapped in towels and newspapers. After 15 or 20 minutes, Tomlin took the Shankses back to their trailer.

The Shanks brothers saw Daniels and Tomlin around noon the following day, January 2. While Tomlin was putting air in the left front tire of his sister's automobile, Danny asked Daniels where his sister, Tomlin's wife, was. Daniels replied that she was in Houston with his wife. Danny then asked Tomlin how he and Daniels had gotten to Mobile from Houston. Tomlin explained that they had flown into New Orleans and his father had picked them up and brought them to Mobile.

After the murders on January 2, Randy Shanks gave the police a statement at 2:25 p.m. on January 27, 1977. He told about his contact with Tomlin and Daniels on January 1 and 2 and gave a description of the man Tomlin had introduced as Ron. Danny Shanks gave a statement on January 28.

Late in the evening on January 29, Tomlin's sister's 1968 Ford was found abandoned at the New Orleans International Airport. (As of the date of Daniels's trial, this car was still parked in the airport parking lot and it had not been reported stolen.) The left front tire was low. An examination of the car produced seven latent fingerprints, but none matched with Daniels's prints. However, inside the vehicle was found a parking lot ticket from the airport parking lot's automatic dispenser which indicated that the car had entered the lot on January 2 at 8:08 p.m.

The driving time from Mobile to the New Orleans airport is approximately two and a half hours if driving at 65 miles an hour. Eastern Airlines flight 569 from New Orleans to Houston was scheduled to leave at 8:30 p.m. on January 2, but it did not depart until 9:40 p.m. that particular night. Daniels's and Tomlin's names did not appear on the flight registration for that particular flight; however, the evidence showed they could have reserved tickets under assumed names or purchased tickets at the counter, since no identification is required.

On the same day, Detectives Tillman and Baker from the Mobile County Sheriff's Department and Houston Police Department Detective Trimble went to the apartment of Mary Daniels in Houston. After the officers knocked on the door and waited a few minutes, Ms. Daniels opened the door and invited the officers inside when they identified themselves. At the officers' request, she brought a male from the back bedroom into the living room where the officers were. The man was asked his name, to which he replied, "John Daniels." At first, he denied ever being called "Ron." Upon request, Daniels then presented his Texas driver's license with the name "John Ronald Daniels." Daniels was then advised of his Miranda rights and placed under arrest. He was neither coerced, threatened, nor offered any hope of reward. He was subsequently asked if he knew Phillip Wayne Tomlin, and he replied, "No."

Daniels was taken to the Houston Police Station, where he signed a waiver of rights form after he was read his rights from that form. His signature was not procured by threat, force, or offer of any hope of reward. Daniels then gave an oral statement wherein he admitted that his nickname was "Ron" and that he knew Tomlin. He also told the officers that, on January 1 and 2, he and Tomlin and their wives were at the Danielses' apartment,...

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