Ex parte Taylor

Decision Date05 May 1995
PartiesEx parte Michael Shannon TAYLOR. (In re Michael Shannon Taylor v. State). 1940151.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Ellen R. Finn and Bryan A. Stevenson, Montgomery, Charles C. Hart, Gadsden, for petitioner.

Jeff Sessions, Atty. Gen., and Jean A. Therkelsen, Asst. Atty. Gen., for respondent.

BUTTS, Justice.

Michael Shannon Taylor was convicted of the capital murders of Ivan Moore and his wife Lucille, and the trial judge sentenced him to death following the jury's recommendation of that sentence. We affirm both the convictions and his death sentence.

On November 4, 1991, Taylor, then a 19-year-old high school graduate who had returned to his hometown of Gadsden while absent without leave from the Navy, solicited a ride to the home of the Moores, an elderly couple he knew. Taylor left a duffel bag outside the house and asked Mr. Moore, who was age 83, if he could use the telephone. Once inside, Taylor pretended to make a telephone call, and then Mr. Moore asked him if he would like something to drink. Taylor said he would, and Mr. Moore got him a glass of water and a doughnut. After Taylor had eaten, Mr. Moore asked him if he would like something else. Taylor said he would, and Mr. Moore went back into the kitchen.

Taylor then went outside and removed a metal bar from his duffel bag. Taylor followed Mr. Moore into the kitchen, and, as the man bent into the refrigerator, Taylor began to strike him about the head with the metal bar. Mr. Moore fell to the floor. Mrs. Moore, who was age 79, entered the kitchen and bent down to see what was wrong with her husband. Taylor then struck her repeatedly about the head with the metal bar. As Mr. Moore attempted to crawl away and get up, Taylor again struck him with the bar. Taylor then took Mr. Moore's wallet, Mrs. Moore's purse, their checkbook, and their 1986 Cadillac automobile. He drove to Birmingham, cashed several checks made out to his name for a total of about $1500, and made several clothing and jewelry purchases at the Galleria shopping mall.

The Moores were discovered in their home by a neighbor two days after their beating. Mr. Moore was dead at that time; Mrs. Moore was then unconscious, but later died. The cause of both their deaths was severe blunt force injuries to their heads, which had fractured their skulls. Mr. Moore had been struck with the bar approximately 17 times and had 11 wounds on his head; Mrs. Moore had been struck with the bar at least 10 times.

Taylor was arrested outside the Galleria shopping mall, after he had entered the Moores' vehicle and attempted to drive away. Upon being returned to Gadsden, Taylor confessed to beating the Moores during the course of a robbery. It is disputed whether he stated, while giving his confession, that he had intended to kill the Moores.

Taylor was indicted on two counts of murder committed during a robbery in the first degree, made capital by Ala.Code 1975, § 13A-5-40(a)(2), and on one count of murder of two or more persons during one act or course of conduct, made capital by § 13A-5-40(a)(10). The jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts and unanimously recommended the death sentence. The trial judge imposed the recommended sentence.

Taylor appealed his convictions and sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeals, raising more than 25 issues. After remanding for the trial court to make specific written findings regarding each aggravating and mitigating factor, as required by Ala.Code 1975, § 13A-5-47(d), see Taylor v. State, 666 So.2d 36 (Ala.Crim.App.1994), the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentence in Taylor v. State, 666 So.2d 71 (Ala.Crim.App.1994). Because of Taylor's death sentence, we automatically granted his petition for a writ of certiorari to review his convictions and sentence. Rule 39(c), A.R.App.P.

Taylor has raised 25 issues for our review; all were raised on appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals and were discussed in that court's lengthy opinion. We have thoroughly reviewed all those issues. We also have carefully reviewed the record for "plain error," in accordance with Rule 39(k), Ala.R.App.P., and we have found none. We discuss here only the three issues that Taylor's counsel specifically addressed on oral argument before this Court. As to the other issues raised by Taylor, we find no error in the opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

I. Alleged Juror Bias in Favor of the Death Penalty

Taylor contends that he should receive a new trial, because, he claims, his right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was violated when the trial judge failed to strike for cause three prospective jurors that Taylor claimed were fixed in their opinion that death would be the only appropriate sentence if he were found guilty. Taylor also claims that one of the three prospective jurors should have been struck for another cause, claiming that that prospective juror viewed Taylor's young age, a statutory mitigating factor, as an aggravating factor in determining the appropriate sentence. Taylor argues that because he was forced to use preemptory strikes to remove these prospective jurors from the jury, he was not able to freely strike a jury from a body of impartial prospective jurors, and that this situation violated the requirements of Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 112 S.Ct. 2222, 119 L.Ed.2d 492 (1992); Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 105 S.Ct. 844, 83 L.Ed.2d 841 (1985); and Ex parte Beam, 512 So.2d 723 (Ala.1987).

In response, the State contends that these three prospective jurors were impartial and did not have a fixed opinion regarding death as the proper sentence in this case, but, rather, only stated that they thought death would be the appropriate sentence, given the hypothetical facts provided to them by defense counsel on voir dire examination. The State argues that the trial court was not required to strike these prospective jurors for cause, because each of them stated that he would be able to render a verdict based on the evidence presented and would consider any mitigating factors. Citing Thomas v. State, 539 So.2d 375 (Ala.Crim.App.), affirmed, 539 So.2d 399 (Ala.1988), cert. denied, 491 U.S. 910, 109 S.Ct. 3201, 105 L.Ed.2d 709 (1989), the State notes that under Alabama law, a trial court's ruling on challenges for cause will be accorded great weight and will not disturbed on appeal unless shown to be an abuse of discretion, which, the State says, Taylor has not shown.

In reviewing this issue, we first keep in mind that "[n]o right of an accused felon is more basic than the right to 'strike' a petit jury from a panel of fair-minded, impartial prospective jurors." Ex parte Beam, 512 So.2d at 724. In Morgan, the United States Supreme Court held that a capital murder defendant has the constitutional right to conduct voir dire examination of prospective jurors to inquire whether they "would unwaveringly impose death after a finding of guilt." 504 U.S. at 732, 112 S.Ct. at 2232. The trial judge allowed Taylor such an opportunity, and he acted upon it; Taylor's counsel extensively questioned the prospective jurors regarding their views on sentencing. Thus, the focus here is on the specific statements made by the three prospective jurors in response to that questioning. We must determine whether the views expressed by those prospective jurors required that they be struck for cause.

As to whether the three prospective jurors were impermissibly biased in favor of the death penalty, we note that the applicable standard was explained by the United States Supreme Court in Morgan:

"A juror who will automatically vote for the death penalty in every case will fail in good faith to consider the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances as the instructions require him to do. Indeed, because such a juror has already formed an opinion on the merits, the presence or absence of either aggravating or mitigating circumstances is entirely irrelevant to such a juror. ... Even if one such juror is empaneled and the death sentence is imposed, the State is disentitled to execute the sentence."

504 U.S. at 727-31, 112 S.Ct. at 2229-30 (emphasis added). Under that standard, a prospective juror is disqualified if he is so biased in favor of the death penalty that he would automatically vote to impose it in every case, regardless of the evidence presented and the trial court's instructions to consider both aggravating and mitigating factors. 1

We find it critical that, before questioning each panel of prospective jurors, Taylor's counsel presented in extensive detail the evidence he believed would be presented at trial. Only after providing a "nightmarish" description of the murders and asking the prospective jurors to assume that Taylor was "a thousand percent guilty" did defense counsel question them on what they believed Taylor's punishment should be.

A. Prospective Juror Nance

The record shows that the following colloquy occurred during voir dire examination of the panel of prospective jurors of which prospective juror Mr. Nance was a member:

"[COUNSEL FOR TAYLOR]: Let me go a little farther now and I'm going to get into the particular facts of this case. ... The evidence in this case is going to be that Mr. and Mrs. Moore were killed. We anticipate the State of Alabama will introduce photographs in this case of the victims. Gruesome photographs. Going to be gory. Going to be bloody. They're going to be something like you might see in a horror movie. They're going to be as gory and gruesome and awful as you've ever seen in your life. The kind of photographs that might give some people nightmares.


"Okay. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, what I think the facts are. I'm going to tell you what the facts are going to be in this case. The facts in this case are going to be,...

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