Deardorff v. State

Decision Date25 June 2004
Docket NumberCR-01-0794.
Citation6 So.3d 1205
PartiesDonald DEARDORFF v. STATE of Alabama.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

COBB, Judge.

Donald Deardorff was charged in a 23-count indictment with capital murder and related offenses surrounding the death of Ted Turner. A jury convicted Deardorff of three counts of capital murder, seven counts of theft, and one count of receiving stolen property. Following a penalty-phase hearing on the capital-murder convictions, the jury recommended, by a 10-2 vote, the imposition of the death penalty. The trial court conducted a separate hearing and considered additional evidence, then ordered that the death penalty be imposed for the capital-murder convictions. The trial court imposed sentences of imprisonment for each of the remaining convictions. Deardorff appeals from the convictions and sentences for capital murder. We affirm in part and remand for further proceedings.

Deardorff was initially indicted for four counts of capital murder: murder committed during the course of a burglary, § 13A-5-40(a)(4), Ala.Code 1975; murder committed during the course of a robbery, § 13A-5-40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975; murder committed during the course of a kidnapping, § 13A-5-40(a)(1), Ala.Code 1975; and murder committed for pecuniary gain or for hire, § 13A-5-40(a)(7), Ala.Code 1975. He was also charged with five counts of theft of funds from Turner's bank and credit-card accounts, and with two counts of theft for stealing Turner's car and truck, § 13A-8-3(a), Ala.Code 1975. Deardorff was also charged with one count of receiving stolen property, § 13A-8-17, Ala.Code 1975, for obtaining possession of a gun that had belonged to a relative of Deardorff's but was stolen in a burglary. In addition to each of the substantive charges of theft and capital murder, Deardorff was charged with 11 separate counts of conspiracy for conspiring with co-defendant Millard Peacock to commit each of the eleven underlying capital-murder and theft offenses. § 13A-4-3, Ala.Code 1975. The two counts related to the charge of murder for pecuniary gain — the capital-murder charge and the conspiracy charge — were dismissed on motion of the State before trial. The State withdrew the remaining counts charging conspiracy at the conclusion of the State's presentation of the evidence at the guilt phase.

The jury found Deardorff guilty of the eleven counts submitted for its consideration — three counts of capital murder, seven counts of theft, and one count of receiving stolen property — and the trial court entered judgment and sentence on all counts. As to the non-capital convictions, the trial court imposed sentences of imprisonment totaling 140 years. In a very thorough sentencing order, the circuit judge found the following aggravating circumstances to exist: § 13A-5-49(4), Ala. Code 1975, that the capital offense was committed during the course of a robbery, a burglary, and a kidnapping; and § 13A-5-49(8), Ala.Code 1975, that the capital offense was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel compared to other capital offenses. The court found no statutory mitigating circumstances. § 13A-5-51, Ala. Code 1975. With regard to nonstatutory mitigating circumstances, § 13A-5-52, Ala. Code 1975, the trial court stated that it considered Deardorff's family life, "his past life experiences and his past service in the military," and Deardorff's continuing assertions of innocence. (C. 29.) The court determined that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances and imposed the death sentence for each of the remaining counts of capital murder.

Facts

Ted Turner was a minister of Unity Church, the father of two children, and a businessman who owned a warehouse and rental properties. He disappeared in September 1999. His decomposed remains were discovered in a remote area of Baldwin County in July 2001, after Deardorff's codefendant, Millard Peacock, cooperated with members of law enforcement investigating Turner's disappearance and led them to the body.

The trial of this case spanned two weeks and involved many witnesses and exhibits. The evidence occasionally conflicted, but the evidence presented at trial tended to establish the following. Turner was 56 years old and had undergone knee surgery shortly before he disappeared in September 1999. He was still required to wear a knee brace and his mobility was restricted, but he could walk and drive a vehicle.

Beginning in 1998, Turner had leased a storage warehouse to Deardorff and his girlfriend, Christy Andrews. Deardorff had, at some point, stopped making the rental payments for the warehouse and Turner pursued legal action against Deardorff and Andrews in the district court. Deardorff and Andrews were evicted from the warehouse and, on July 27, 1999, a default judgment was entered against them in the amount of $3,087.50. Numerous dismantled vehicles, vehicle parts, and tools were left in the warehouse when Deardorff and Andrews abandoned it, and Turner was attempting to seize those items through the court proceedings.

Turner had executed a will on January 22, 1999, in preparation for a trip to Paris, France. A copy of the will was found on his kitchen table after he disappeared. The will had an addendum in Turner's handwriting that stated: "Reaffirmed 7/27/99 just in case Don Deardorff is really crazy." Turner's signature followed the reaffirmation. (C. 845.)

Deardorff became acquainted with his codefendant, Millard Peacock, several years before the murder, and they became friends and worked on cars together. Peacock entered into a plea bargain with the State of Alabama in which he received a sentence of 15 years' imprisonment; part of the agreement involved Peacock's promise to cooperate with the prosecution and to testify truthfully at Deardorff's trial. Peacock testified that Deardorff was very angry at Turner for filing the legal actions against him and attempting to seize his property. In August 1999, Deardorff told Peacock that he planned to rob Turner to "get even" with him. Deardorff also said that he would like to kill Turner.

On September 20, 1999, Deardorff drove to Lucedale, Mississippi, where Peacock was staying with his girlfriend, Dawn Dunaway. Dunaway later testified that she left Peacock a note with a picture of a handgun because her .38 Special handgun was missing from her house. During the evening of September 21, 1999, Deardorff and Peacock went to an area near Turner's house. The climbed the hillside behind Turner's house and planned how they would later break into the house. Deardorff had carried a .38 caliber handgun with him, and he hid the gun behind Turner's house before they left. Deardorff had previously told Peacock that that handgun had been stolen from his grandmother's house during a burglary and that he later found the gun and kept it without reporting that it had been recovered. On the evening of September 22, 1999, Deardorff and Peacock again climbed the hillside behind Turner's house, this time with the intent to rob Turner, Peacock said. Deardorff retrieved the handgun that he had hidden earlier, and they entered the house through an unlocked back door. Turner was not home. Deardorff looked in Turner's file cabinets, and then the men waited for Turner to come home.

When Turner entered through the front door of his house, Deardorff pointed the gun at him and told him to be quiet or "he would blow his brains out." (R.2098.) Deardorff and Peacock then used duct tape they had found in the house to bind Turner's hands, and they placed him in a closet. Deardorff left for the evening and Peacock slept on the floor. He let Turner out of the closet to use the bathroom; he removed the tape from Turner's hands and did not reapply it when he put Turner back into the closet. Deardorff returned to the house the following morning. Peacock testified that Deardorff forced Turner to write a personal check for $4,000. Peacock said that Deardorff told Turner that "he figured this was the best way to get even with him, to leave him financially broke." (R. 2101.) Turner told Deardorff he would give him whatever he wanted, and pleaded to be left alive. Deardorff then told Turner that he was not going to kill him. He also told Peacock that the two of them would leave the country after they had finished with Turner.

Peacock drove Turner's car to AmSouth Bank, taking the $4,000 check with him. Peacock said that he took the check to be cashed because Deardorff did not have any identification. Peacock cashed the check, returned to Turner's house, and gave Deardorff the money. Peacock said that Deardorff then made Turner write out four "credit card checks." The four checks totaled $17,750. Peacock again drove Turner's car, this time to United Bank, where Peacock had an account. The bank would not cash the checks; the teller told Peacock he would have to deposit them into his savings account and that the money would be available in five business days. Peacock deposited the checks in his account. When he returned to Turner's residence and told Deardorff that he could not access the money for five days, Deardorff said that they would have to change their plans.

Deardorff and Peacock spent that remainder of the day and night in Turner's house. They watched television and ate pizza purchased with Turner's money. Deardorff used Turner's computer; he ordered numerous automobile parts using Turner's credit cards, and he visited several pornographic Web sites. Turner remained in the closet the entire time.

Early the following morning, before dawn, Deardorff woke Peacock and told him they had to leave. Deardorff told Turner that they were going to take him to a park and leave him on a park bench, then call the police so they could pick him up. Turner requested a blanket because it was cool outside, so...

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