Gavin v. State

CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Citation891 So.2d 907
PartiesKeith Edmund GAVIN v. STATE of Alabama.
Decision Date26 September 2003

Stephen P. Bussman, Fort Payne; and Steven G. Noles, Fort Payne, for appellant.

William H. Pryor, Jr., atty. gen., and Tracy Daniel and Andy Scott Poole, asst. attys. gen., for appellee.

SHAW, Judge.

The appellant, Keith Edmund Gavin, was convicted of two counts of capital murder in connection with the murder of William Clinton Clayton, Jr. The murder was made capital (1) because it was committed during the course of a robbery in the first degree, see ž 13A-5-40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975, and (2) because Gavin had been convicted of another murder within 20 years of the present murder, see ž 13A-5-40(a)(13), Ala.Code 1975. Gavin was also convicted of one count of attempted murder for shooting at a law-enforcement officer. The jury recommended, by a vote of 10-2, that Gavin be sentenced to death for his capital-murder convictions. The trial court accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Gavin to death. In addition, the trial court sentenced Gavin, as a habitual felony offender, to life imprisonment for the attempted-murder conviction.

The evidence adduced at trial indicated the following. A little after 6:30 p.m. on March 6, 1998, Clayton, a contract courier for Corporate Express Delivery Systems, Inc., was shot and killed while sitting in a Corporate Express van outside the Regions Bank in downtown Centre. Clayton had finished his deliveries for the day and had stopped at Regions Bank to obtain money from the ATM in order to take his wife to dinner.

There were four eyewitnesses to the crime, two of whom positively identified Gavin as the shooter. Ronald Baker and Richard Henry, Jr., testified that they were stopped at a traffic light near the Regions Bank and the courthouse in downtown Centre at the time of the shooting. According to Baker and Henry, they saw a man get out of a vehicle, walk to a van parked on the street, and shoot the driver of the van. Upon hearing the gunshots, Baker and Henry immediately fled the scene; neither could identify the shooter.

Larry Twilley testified that he, too, was stopped at a traffic light by the Regions Bank in downtown Centre at the time of the shooting. Twilley testified that while he was stopped at the light, he heard a loud noise, turned, and saw a man with a gun open the driver's side door of a van parked on the street and shoot the driver of the van two times. According to Twilley, the shooter then pushed the driver to the passenger's side, got in the driver's seat, and drove away. Twilley testified that when he first saw the shooter, he noticed something black and red around his head, but that after the shooter got in the van and drove away, the shooter no longer had anything on his head; at that point, Twilley said, he noticed that the shooter had very little hair. At trial, Twilley positively identified Gavin as the shooter.

Dewayne Meeks, Gavin's cousin and an employee of the Illinois Department of Corrections, testified that in early February 1998, he and Gavin traveled from Chicago, Illinois, where they were living, to Cherokee County, Alabama "[t]o pick up some girls ... and just to really get away." (R. 651.) Meeks said that they stayed for a weekend and then returned to Chicago. In early March 1998, Meeks said, Gavin wanted to return to Alabama to find a woman he had met in February. Meeks testified that Gavin told him that if he drove Gavin to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to meet the woman, the woman would reimburse him for the travel expenses. Meeks said that he agreed to drive Gavin to Tennessee and that Meeks's wife and three-year-old son also accompanied them.

Meeks testified that they left Chicago on the night of March 5, 1998, arrived in Chattanooga on the morning of March 6, 1998, and checked into a Super 8 Motel. Meeks said that he rented two rooms at the motel, one for him and his family, and one for Gavin. After they arrived, Meeks said, Gavin made a telephone call, and he and Gavin then drove to a nearby gasoline service station to wait for the woman Gavin had come to see. According to Meeks, the woman did not show up and Gavin then asked him to drive to Fort Payne, Alabama, so that Gavin could find the woman. Meeks agreed and they drove to Fort Payne, but they were again unsuccessful at locating the woman. After they failed to locate the woman in Fort Payne, Meeks said, they drove to Centre to find the woman.

Meeks testified that at approximately 6:30 p.m. on March 6, 1998, he and Gavin arrived in downtown Centre. When they stopped at the intersection near the courthouse and the Regions Bank, Meeks said, Gavin got out of Meeks's vehicle and approached a van that was parked nearby. According to Meeks, he thought Gavin was going to ask the driver of the van for directions. However, when Meeks looked up, he saw that the driver's side door of the van was open, and Gavin was holding a gun. Meeks stated that he watched as Gavin fired two shots at the driver of the van. According to Meeks, immediately after seeing Gavin shoot the driver of the van, he fled the scene, and Gavin got in the van and followed him. Meeks testified that Gavin honked the horn of the van and flashed the lights in an attempt to get Meeks to stop. However, Meeks refused to stop because, he said, he was scared. Meeks stated that he drove back to Chattanooga and told his wife what had happened. He and his wife and child then checked out of the motel and drove back to Chicago.

Meeks testified that when he arrived in Chicago, he immediately informed several of his friends who were in law-enforcement about the shooting. As a result of his conversations with friends, Meeks said, he realized the gun used by Gavin was probably the gun that had been issued to him by the Illinois Department of Corrections. Meeks said that he then checked his home and determined that his gun was, in fact, missing. According to Meeks, he kept the gun in a drawer at home and he had not seen the gun for approximately two weeks before the shooting. Meeks testified that he immediately reported the gun as missing to law enforcement. Meeks admitted that he did not mention to law enforcement when he reported the missing gun that he believed the gun had been used in a shooting in Alabama, but he said that he did inform his boss at the Illinois Department of Corrections that he believed the gun had been used in the shooting. After reporting the gun missing and discussing the shooting with several friends, Meeks said, he then contacted Alabama law enforcement to inform them of his knowledge of the shooting. On March 9, 1998, and again on April 6, 1998, Meeks was interviewed in Chicago by investigators from Alabama. After the interviews, Meeks said, he was indicted for capital murder in connection with the murder of Clayton; that charge was subsequently dismissed.

Danny Smith, an investigator with the District Attorney's Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, testified that on the evening of March 6, 1998, he was returning to Centre from Fort Payne when he heard over the radio that there had been a shooting and that both the shooter and the victim were traveling in a white van with lettering on the outside. As he proceeded toward Centre, Investigator Smith said, he saw a van matching the description given out over the radio, and he followed it. According to Investigator Smith, the van was traveling approximately 75 miles per hour and the driver was driving erratically. Investigator Smith testified that he was speaking on the radio with various law-enforcement personnel regarding stopping the van when the van turned on its blinker and stopped on the side of the road. When he pulled in behind the van, Investigator Smith said, the van abruptly pulled back onto the road and sped away. Investigator Smith said that he continued pursuing the van and that, after he turned on his emergency lights, the van stopped in the middle of the road, near the intersection of Highways 68 and 48. Investigator Smith testified that when the van stopped, the driver got out of the vehicle, turned, fired a shot at him, ran in front of the van, turned and fired another shot at him, and then ran into nearby woods. Investigator Smith testified that the driver of the van was black, and that he was wearing a maroon or wine-colored shirt, blue jeans, and some type of toboggan or other type of cap. At trial, Investigator Smith positively identified Gavin as the person who had gotten out of the van and shot at him.

After Gavin fled into the woods, Investigator Smith said, he went to the van and checked the victim. According to Investigator Smith, the victim was still alive, but barely, and he radioed for an ambulance. Investigator Smith testified that when he first went to the van, he saw blood between the two front bucket seats and on the passenger seat; however, there was "very little blood" on the driver's seat. (R. 567.) Investigator Smith said that when emergency personnel removed the victim from the van, blood was transferred to the driver's seat by the personnel who had to enter the van to secure the victim and remove him.

Investigator Smith also testified that, within minutes of Gavin's fleeing into the woods, several law-enforcement officers arrived at the intersection of Highways 48 and 68, and the wooded area into which Gavin had fled was encircled and sealed off so that "no one could come out and cross the road without being seen." (R. 563.) Members of several different law-enforcement agencies then conducted a search for Gavin.

At approximately 9:45 p.m., Tony Holladay, a dog handler for the Limestone Correctional Facility, arrived at the scene with his beagle. Holladay testified that when he first arrived, he obtained information indicating that Investigator Smith had chased the suspect for approximately 20 yards, but had stopped short of the woods. At that...

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