Durousseau v. State , SC08–68.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation55 So.3d 543
Docket NumberNo. SC08–68.,SC08–68.
PartiesPaul DUROUSSEAU, Appellant,v.STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Decision Date21 February 2011

55 So.3d 543

Paul DUROUSSEAU, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.

No. SC08–68.

Supreme Court of Florida.

Dec. 9, 2010.Rehearing Denied Feb. 21, 2011.

[55 So.3d 548]

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, and Nada M. Carey, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellant.Bill McCollum, Attorney General, and Thomas D. Winokur, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellee.PER CURIAM.

Paul Durousseau appeals his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm both his conviction and death sentence.


On June 28, 2007, Durousseau was sentenced to death in the Fourth Judicial Circuit in and for Duval County, Florida, after being convicted of first-degree murder for the strangulation murder of Tyresa Mack. The evidence presented at trial established the following facts. On July 26, 1999, between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., Mack and a friend applied for employment at various business establishments. Eyewitnesses placed Durousseau at Mack's Jacksonville apartment sometime between noon and 2 p.m. One of the eyewitnesses saw Durousseau carrying a television out of the apartment and watched as he placed it in his car. The last time anyone heard from Mack was

[55 So.3d 549]

around 1:25 p.m. that afternoon when Mack spoke with a friend on the phone. Mack did not pick her children up from daycare that day and missed a 3 p.m. doctor's appointment for her youngest child. Around 7 p.m. that same evening, Mack's sister and her stepfather went to Mack's apartment in an attempt to locate her. At that time, they discovered Mack's body, lying in a semi-fetal position on the bed. Her body was nude from the waist down and a white cord was wrapped around her neck. The living room television and a “X's and O's” necklace and bracelet set that Mack always wore were missing. Durousseau's DNA was found in Mack's vagina and the medical examiner concluded that Mack died from asphyxia.

On June 23, 2003, Durousseau was indicted on five counts of first-degree murder for the murders of Nichole Williams, Nikia Kilpatrick, Shawanda McCallister, Jovanna Jefferson, and Surita Cohen. The similar methodology employed by the perpetrator, as well as DNA evidence from each crime scene, caused investigators to conclude that Mack was one of Durousseau's victims. On August 26, 2003, Durousseau was arrested for the murder of Mack. While in the booking area, Detective Rodney McKean informed Durousseau that he was being formally charged with the murder of Mack. Durousseau stated, “I don't know no [Tyresa] Mack.” When the police informed him that Mack had been murdered on Florida Avenue, Durousseau responded, “I don't know that girl.” On September 4, 2003, Durousseau was charged, by separate indictment, with the murder of Mack. The trial court permitted the State to introduce Williams1 rule evidence of the Kilpatrick and McCallister murders. At the close of the State's evidence, Durousseau moved for judgment of acquittal, which was denied. On June 8, 2007, the jury found Durousseau guilty of first-degree murder.

During the penalty phase, the State alleged the existence of four aggravators: (1) Durousseau was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence, (2) the murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of a robbery or sexual battery, (3) the murder was committed for pecuniary gain, and (4) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel (HAC). Durousseau asserted the existence of the following statutory mitigating circumstances: (1) Durousseau's capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was substantially impaired at the time he committed the murder, and (2) Durousseau suffered from an extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the murder. He presented two mental health experts and seventeen lay witnesses. Durousseau also presented evidence of seventeen nonstatutory mitigators.

The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of ten to two. Following a Spencer2 hearing, the trial court imposed a sentence of death after finding the four requested aggravators,3 rejecting both of

[55 So.3d 550]

the requested statutory mitigators,4 and finding sixteen of the seventeen nonstatutory mitigators.5 The trial court gave great weight to the jury recommendation of death and concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced Durousseau to death. This appeal followed.

Durousseau now raises five issues: (1) the trial court erred in admitting Williams rule evidence of the two other murders, (2) the trial court erred in denying Durousseau's motion for judgment of acquittal of felony murder with robbery as the underlying offense and that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the pecuniary gain aggravator, (3) the trial court erred in rejecting an expert's opinion testimony regarding mental mitigation in favor of conflicting lay testimony, (4) the evidence was insufficient to support a first-degree murder conviction, and (5) the trial court erred in denying Durousseau's motion to declare Florida's capital sentencing scheme unconstitutional under Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002).

Williams Rule Evidence

In his first claim, Durousseau asserts that the trial court erred in admitting Williams rule evidence of two other murders. Prior to trial, the State filed a “Notice of Other Crimes, Wrongs or Acts Evidence,” pursuant to section 90.404(2), Florida Statutes (1999), indicating that the State wished to introduce similar fact evidence at trial that Durousseau had also murdered Kilpatrick and McCallister. In response, Durousseau filed a motion in limine asking that the trial court exclude evidence of the collateral murders. In its memorandum supporting admissibility of the similar fact evidence, the State argued that each of the five collateral crime homicides were admissible, but stated that it chose to limit the evidence to the Kilpatrick

[55 So.3d 551]

and McCallister homicides in order to “(1) facilitate more streamlined discovery and a quicker more efficient trial, and (2) to avoid similar crime evidence becoming a feature of the trial.” On June 16, 2006, the parties filed a joint stipulation of facts for the “Similar Fact Evidence” hearing. The joint stipulation enumerated twenty-nine facts regarding the Mack murder and twenty-nine facts regarding the Kilpatrick and McCallister murders. After the hearing on June 28, 2006, the trial court denied defense counsel's motion in limine and ruled that the evidence was admissible, stating:

[W]hat the state can, I believe, prove at trial if this evidence is allowed in is that we have three young women in their early 20's, all black, all young mothers, all in similarly struggling situations, all found dead with home use wire wrapped around their necks, all with the DNA of Mr. Durousseau somewhere on or around their person and two of which or at least one of which without question he was seen with. I believe the state has shown the Williams Rule is sufficiently—not only relevant but that the similarities are sufficiently clear and convincing and that it should be admitted.

Durousseau now argues that the trial court erred in admitting the evidence because (1) the State did not meet its burden of proving that Durousseau committed the collateral crimes, (2) the collateral crimes did not exhibit unique or sufficiently unusual facts to establish modus operandi sufficient for proving identity, (3) the danger of any unfair prejudice far outweighed any probative value, and (4) the collateral crime evidence became an impermissible feature of the trial.

As codified in section 90.404(2)(a), Florida Statutes (1999), “[s]imilar fact evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is admissible when relevant to prove a material fact in issue, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.” However, such evidence is “inadmissible when the evidence is relevant solely to prove bad character or propensity.” § 90.404(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (1999).6 This type of evidence is known as Williams rule evidence. “The test of admissibility [of Williams rule evidence] is relevancy. The test of inadmissibility is a lack of relevancy.” Williams, 110 So.2d at 660. However, even if relevant, a trial court may not permit the collateral crime evidence to become an impermissible feature of the trial. Collateral crime evidence becomes an impermissible feature of the trial when inquiry into the crimes “transcend[s] the bounds of relevancy to the charge being tried” and the prosecution “devolves from development of facts pertinent to the main issue of guilt or innocence into an assault on the character of the defendant.” Williams v. State, 117 So.2d 473, 475 (Fla.1960). Based upon these legal principles, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the Williams ruled evidence presented at Durousseau's trial.

First, we conclude that the collateral crime evidence established that Durousseau committed substantially similar crimes on two other occasions, which was

[55 So.3d 552]

relevant to several material issues, including identity and premeditation. See, e.g., Conde v. State, 860 So.2d 930, 945 (Fla.2003) (upholding admission of Williams rule evidence where defendant was on trial for strangulation of a prostitute and the State introduced evidence of five other murders as relevant to identity, intent, and premeditation); Bradley v. State, 787 So.2d 732, 741–42 (Fla.2001) (affirming admission of collateral crime evidence that was relevant to prove intent and premeditation); Mason v. State, 438 So.2d 374, 377 (Fla.1983) (finding admission of...

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