Gissendanner v. State

Decision Date03 March 2006
Docket NumberCR-03-0935.
Citation949 So.2d 956
PartiesEmanuel Aaron GISSENDANNER, Jr. v. STATE of Alabama.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Joseph J. Gallo, Daleville; and Bill Kominos, Ozark, for appellant.

Troy King, atty. gen., and J. Clayton Crenshaw and Jasper B. Roberts, Jr., asst. attys. gen., for appellee.

COBB, Judge.

Emanuel Aaron Gissendanner, Jr., was indicted on three counts of capital murder and one count of possession of a forged instrument. Count I of the indictment alleged that Gissendanner murdered Margaret Snellgrove by inflicting head and neck injuries and that he did so during the course of a rape, § 13A-5-40(a)(3), Ala. Code 1975. Count II alleged that Gissendanner murdered Snellgrove during the course of a kidnapping, § 13A-5-40(a)(1), Ala.Code 1975. Count III alleged that Gissendanner murdered Snellgrove during the course of a robbery, § 13A-5-40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975. A separate indictment charged Gissendanner with possessing or uttering a forged check drawn on Snellgrove's bank account, in violation of § 13A-9-6, Ala.Code 1975. Following a jury trial, held on August 13, 2003, through August 16, 2003, Gissendanner was convicted of the two counts of capital murder — charging murder during the course of a robbery and murder during the course of a kidnapping — and possession of a forged instrument; the jury found him not guilty of murder made capital because it was committed during the course of a rape. The trial court held a sentencing hearing before the jury, and the jury recommended, by a 10-2 vote, that Gissendanner be sentenced to death. On December 19, 2003, after a separate sentencing hearing before the court, the judge sentenced Gissendanner to death on the capital-murder convictions. The trial court also sentenced Gissendanner, a habitual offender, to life imprisonment for the forgery conviction. On January 12, 2004, Gissendanner filed a motion for a new trial. After a hearing on February 11, 2004, the trial court denied the motion. This appeal follows.

The trial court's sentencing order contains a detailed summary of the relevant evidence presented in this case. We adopt the trial court's findings as our own and will include additional facts to the extent necessary to resolve the issues presented on appeal. The trial court's December 19, 2003, order states, in pertinent part:

"On Friday, June 22, 2001, [Gissendanner] intentionally caused the death of Margaret Snellgrove by inflicting severe head and neck injuries to her. The assault occurred at the victim's home. On Saturday, June 23, 2003, neighbors and relatives became concerned about the victim, as she could not be located. She had missed several appointments on June 22nd and on June 23rd. She was last seen June 21, 2001. The police were contacted and examination of the victim's home revealed that she had been assaulted in her carport. Hair and blood, as well as the victim's broken glasses and an earring were discovered in the carport. The victim's car, a 1998 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, was missing. No one witnessed the assault and there is no evidence of an accomplice in the case. [Gissendanner] had been to the victim's residence previously. He helped witness Reverend David Brown with yard work at her house for about three hours in March or April, 2001.

"A witness testified that she saw a black guy driving an automobile matching the description of the victim's car at approximately 6:30 a.m. on the morning of June 22nd.2 The location where the witness saw the automobile was in close proximity to the victim's home. The witness could not identify the driver as [Gissendanner], but her attention was drawn to the vehicle because her sister-in-law had an automobile that looked the same.

"On the morning of June 22nd, [Gissendanner], driving the victim's vehicle, picked up his best friend, Bernard Campbell, nicknamed `Nobbie,' and they went to Clio. [Gissendanner] told Nobbie that the car belonged to one of his girl-friends. In Clio [Gissendanner], driving the victim's automobile, picked up three females who knew both [Gissendanner] and Nobbie, and they rode around drank beer, and smoked weed. [Gissendanner] was wearing a brown pair of Dickey pants, a red shirt and a white tee shirt. [Gissendanner] told the females that he had bought the car from an `old white woman.' They all noticed a Bible in the car.3

"Queen Esther Morris testified that she saw [Gissendanner] the morning of June 22nd in the victim's car. [Gissendanner] told Morris that he was going fishing.

"Around 1:00 a.m. the morning of June 23rd the victim's automobile was reported abandoned on property owned by Linda Russell. Upon checking the license plate it was confirmed to be the victim's missing automobile.4 [Gissendanner] testified that the automobile was rented to him by an individual named Buster he saw early Friday morning who was looking to buy some drugs. [Gissendanner] further testified that Buster gave him a check on the victim's account, asked him to cash it and said he would use the proceeds to buy drugs from [Gissendanner].

"Following the discovery of the victim's automobile, law enforcement began a search and investigation in the area for the victim's body. The car was examined and blood was discovered in the trunk of the car, on the underside of the trunk lid. The blood was later determined to be that of the victim.

"Investigators searched a nearby abandoned trailer in which [Gissendanner] sometimes stayed. In the trailer they found several items belonging to the victim including a cell phone, the victim's purse and some papers taken from the stolen vehicle. Investigators also found some of [Gissendanner's] clothing in the trailer which matched the description of the clothing [Gissendanner] was wearing on Friday morning during his trip to Clio. The victim's bloodstains were found on the clothing.

"On Saturday evening, June 23rd, [Gissendanner] paid his former wife $100.00 to drive him to Montgomery to visit his sister. She did so. [Gissendanner] was there in Montgomery when he was identified as a suspect, and he returned voluntarily to the Ozark Police Department, where he was questioned. He denied any involvement in the death of the victim, but admitted to driving her automobile and cashing the victim's check at the SouthTrust Bank in Ozark.

"The body of Margaret Snellgrove was found with the use of a cadaver dog on June 27, 2001, near the area where the automobile was found abandoned and near the trailer where [Gissendanner's] clothes and the victim's belongings were found. The body was found in a ditch covered with tree limbs.5 It appeared to have been there for several days and was badly decomposed. An autopsy determined that Margaret Snellgrove died of severe head and neck injuries. When the body was found she was in her panties with her shirt and brassiere pulled up under her arms. Her breasts were exposed."

"2The defendant is a black male.

"3The victim's niece testified that the victim often carried a Bible.

"4[Gissendanner] did not deny having and using the victim's automobile.

"5A knife was found in the stolen vehicle. The knife appeared to be freshly used for cutting wood. The limbs covering the victim's body had been cut there in the immediate vicinity of the ditch where she was found."

(C. 140-43.)


Gissendanner first argues that the trial court erred when it denied the motion he made pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986); in his motion Gissendanner had argued that the venire should be quashed because the prosecutor exercised peremptory strikes to remove six of nine blacks from the venire. He also argues on appeal that the trial court erred when it failed to require the prosecutor to give his reasons for his strikes. Gissendanner has not identified any specific juror who he says was erroneously struck. The State argues that the trial court correctly denied Gissendanner's Batson motion because he failed to make a prima facie showing that the prosecutor had exercised his peremptory challenges in a discriminatory manner and that, because Gissendanner failed to establish a prima facie case, the prosecutor was not required to state reasons for his strikes. We agree with the State.

After the parties struck the jury, Gissendanner made a Batson motion. He listed the numbers of the black veniremembers struck by the prosecutor and stated:

"Of the nine [black veniremembers] that were left on the venire, he struck six, which is 66 percent of those. There are three left on this panel we're fixing to put in; that would be about 25 percent of the 12 members. We'd submit that he exercised those just based on the numbers how he did it — 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 — was in a racially discriminatory manner, Your Honor."

(R. 795.)

The trial court asked Gissendanner whether he had anything else to support his Batson motion; Gissendanner replied that he had nothing else. The court then determined that Gissendanner had failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The court initially indicated that it would require the prosecutor to state his reasons for his strikes, but after the prosecutor objected and the parties presented arguments to the court, the court determined that the prosecutor would not be required to give reasons for his peremptory strikes. The trial court's ruling was correct.

This Court has previously addressed the claim now raised. In Wimberly v. State, 931 So.2d 60 (Ala.Crim.App.2005), defense counsel made a Batson motion based solely on the numbers of black jurors who were struck from the venire. The trial court denied the motion without requiring the prosecutor to give his reasons for his strikes. In Wimberly we stated:

"`The party claiming a Batson violation must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination before the other side is required to state its...

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