Freguson v. State

Decision Date30 June 2000
Docket NumberCR-97-2524
PartiesThomas Dale Ferguson v. StateALABAMA COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court


LONG, Presiding Judge

The appellant, Thomas Dale Ferguson, was indicted for four counts of capital murder in connection with the shooting deaths of Harold Pugh and his 11-year-old son Joey Pugh. The jury found Ferguson guilty of all counts charged in the indictment: two counts of murder made capital because the killings were committed during the course of a robbery in the first degree, see § 13A-5-40(a)(2), Ala. Code 1975; one count of murder made capital because it involved the murder of two or more persons by one act or pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct, see § 13A-5-40(a)(10), Ala. Code 1975; and one count of murder made capital because the victim was less than 14 years old, see § 13A-5-40(a)(15), Ala. Code 1975. The jury recommended, by a vote of 11-1, that Ferguson be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Ferguson to death by electrocution.

On appeal, Ferguson raises numerous issues, most of which he did not raise by objection in the trial court. Because Ferguson was sentenced to death, his failure to object at trial does not bar our review of these issues; however, it does weigh against Ferguson as to any claim of prejudice he now makes on appeal. See Dill v. State, 600 So. 2d 343 (Ala.Crim.App. 1991), aff'd, 600 So. 2d 372 (Ala. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 924, 113 S.Ct. 1293, 122 L.Ed.2d 684 (1993); Kuenzel v. State, 577 So. 2d 474 (Ala.Crim.App. 1990), aff'd, 577 So. 2d 531 (Ala.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 886, 112 S.Ct. 242, 116 L.Ed.2d 197 (1991).

Rule 45A, Ala.R.App.P., provides:

"In all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, the Court of Criminal Appeals shall notice any plain error or defect in the proceedings under review, whether or not brought to the attention of the trial court, and take appropriate appellate action by reason thereof, whenever such error has or probably has adversely affected the substantial right of the appellant."

This court has recognized that "`the plain error exception to the contemporaneous-objection rule is to be "used sparingly, solely in those circumstances in which a miscarriage of justice would otherwise result."'" Burton v. State, 651 So. 2d 641, 645 (Ala.Crim.App. 1993), aff'd, 651 So. 2d 659 (Ala. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1115, 115 S.Ct. 1973, 131 L.Ed.2d 862 (1995), quoting United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 15, 105 S.Ct. 1038, 1046, 84 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985) (quoting in turn United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 163, 102 S.Ct. 1584, 1592, 71 L.Ed.2d 816 (1982)). Accordingly, we will address the issues raised by Ferguson on appeal.

The State's evidence tended to show the following. On July 21, 1997, Harold Pugh and his 11-year old son Joey Pugh were reported missing to the Colbert County Sheriff's Department. Mike Sennett, a friend of the Pughs, testified that in the early evening hours of July 21, after hearing that the Pughs were missing, he and several friends went looking for the Pughs at Cane Creek in Colbert County. The local authorities and a rescue squad were also searching for the Pughs in this same area. Sennett testified that Harold and his son were avid fishermen. Making one more pass up Cane Creek in his boat before going home, Sennett found the bodies of Harold and Joey Pugh floating in the creek. Autopsies conducted the following day revealed that each victim had been shot twice in the head.

Several days later, on July 26, 1997, a boat was found in a clearing in a remote wooded area in neighboring Franklin County. In the boat were rods and reels, a tacklebox, life jackets, a baseball-style cap with a wristwatch inside it (on the boat's frontseat), and another baseball-style cap on the backseat. At Ferguson's trial, the individual who found the boat testified that because he had heard television and radio reports that the sheriff's department was looking for a boat, a description of which matched that of the boat he found in the wooded area, he telephoned the sheriff's department.

Oscar Hood of the Colbert County Sheriff's Department testified that he received the call concerning the boat and that when he arrived at the location, the boat appeared to be the boat that the authorities were looking for in connection with the Pughs' murders. Hood ran a registration check on the boat and determined that it was in fact Harold Pugh's boat. Other testimony at trial showed that a pedestal-type seat had been removed from the boat and that two spent 9mm shell casings were found inside the boat.

Further testimony revealed that on the day the victims' bodies were found, two armed men wearing dark-colored army fatigues, hooded shirts, sunglasses, and gloves had robbed the Deposit Guaranty National Bank in Belmont, Mississippi. An employee at the bank testified that she could not identify the men, but that she could identify the truck the men had fled in after the robbery. She described the truck as a black Chevrolet Z-71 pickup truck with a chrome toolbox in the rear bed. Shortly after the robbery, a truck matching that description was found by an officer of the Belmont Police Department five miles from the bank, in a heavily wooded area. The truck, which had been set on fire, was discovered after the police saw the smoke from the fire. On the front passenger-side floorboard of the truck, the police found a pedestal-type seat, which, according to testimony, was typical of the seats found in the front of bass-fishing boats.

Following his arrest, Ferguson gave police a statement concerning his involvement in the robbery and murders of Harold and Joey Pugh and in the robbery of the bank in Mississippi. Ferguson told police that he and his four codefendants -- Mark Moore,(1) Michael Craig Maxwell,(2) Donald Risley, and Kino Graham -- had conspired to rob banks to get money. According to Ferguson, they bought clothing matching that described by the employee of the bank robbed in Belmont, Mississippi, to wear during the robberies, and Moore also bought guns, handheld radios, and other items to use in the robberies. Ferguson told police that Moore was the "leader" of the group.

In addition, Ferguson told police that on the day of the murders, he and the others were looking for two cars to steal to use in the Belmont bank robbery. According to Ferguson, while he, Moore, Maxwell, Graham, and Risley were looking for a car to steal, they saw the Pughs' truck parked near the boat landing at Cane Creek. When the Pughs arrived at the landing in their boat, Ferguson said, Harold Pugh got out of the boat and into his truck. According to Ferguson, before he knew it, Maxwell was holding a gun to the Pughs and was ordering the Pughs to get back into the boat. Ferguson said that Maxwell jumped into the boat, along with Moore, and that Moore then ordered Ferguson to get into the boat. According to Ferguson, Maxwell was armed with a 9mm pistol and Moore was armed with a .357 pistol. Ferguson maintained that he did not have a weapon. Ferguson stated that they then left in the boat with the victims, heading downstream, while Risley and Graham waited with the truck. According to Ferguson, he heard a shot and saw that Maxwell had shot Harold Pugh. Ferguson claimed that he did not know who shot Joey Pugh, but he did say that Maxwell and Moore threw the victims' bodies into the creek.

Ferguson stated that after the shooting he became physically ill and that he was throwing up and very upset. Ferguson further stated that after the murders, Moore threatened him, telling Ferguson that if he told anyone about what had happened, he would kill Ferguson and Ferguson's family.

Ferguson stated that after returning the boat to the landing where Graham and Risley were waiting, he and the others then loaded the boat onto the trailer and drove the Pughs' truck and the boat to a clearing in the woods in Franklin County. Ferguson said that he removed a pedestal-type seat from the boat and threw it inside the victims' truck.

The following morning, according to Ferguson, Moore came to his house and the two left together to pick up Risley. Then, Ferguson said, they went to Maxwell's apartment where everyone, except Graham, who did not come to Maxwell's apartment, discussed plans to rob the bank in Belmont, Mississippi. Ferguson stated that Maxwell and Risley, who, according to Ferguson, were going to be the ones to go inside the bank, left Maxwell's apartment in Maxwell's car, followed by him and Moore in Moore's truck, and drove to where they had left the victims' truck and boat. From that location, Ferguson said, Risley drove the victims' truck to Belmont, and Maxwell drove his own car, while he and Moore followed in Moore's truck. Maxwell stated that he and the other men then drove to a location in Belmont, near the bank, where they left Maxwell's car. From there, Ferguson said, Maxwell and Risley drove the victims' truck to the bank as he and Moore, who were to act as "covers" while the bank was being robbed, followed in Moore's truck. Ferguson stated that after Maxwell and Risley had committed the robbery, Maxwell drove the victims' truck back to the location where they left Maxwell's car, and he and Moore met them at that location. Ferguson said that they put their guns in Moore's truck, and put the clothes they had worn in the robbery in the victims' truck. According to Ferguson, Risley then poured gasoline on the victims' truck and set it on fire. Ferguson stated that he and the others then returned to Maxwell's apartment, where they divided the proceeds of the bank robbery -- approximately $40,000.

Shortly after the questioning ended and Ferguson had completed his statement, Ferguson told Investigator Frank Brians that he had something else he wanted to say. Ferguson then stated that he had lied in his...

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