Gray v. Com.

Decision Date08 June 2007
Docket NumberRecord No. 062659.
Citation645 S.E.2d 448
CourtVirginia Supreme Court
PartiesRicky Javon GRAY, a/k/a Ricky Jovan Gray v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia.

Theodore D. Bruns (Jeffrey L. Everhart; Blackburn, Conte, Schilling & Click; Rice, Everhart & Baber, on brief), for appellant.

Matthew P. Dullaghan, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Robert F. McDonnell, Attorney General; Jerry P. Slonaker, Senior Assistant Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: HASSELL, C.J., LACY, KEENAN, KOONTZ, KINSER, and AGEE, JJ., and RUSSELL, S.J.

OPINION BY Justice G. STEVEN AGEE.

In this appeal, we consider the capital murder convictions and death sentences imposed upon Ricky Javon Gray1 in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond. A grand jury indicted Gray on five counts of capital murder arising from the murders of Bryan Harvey, Kathryn Harvey, Stella Harvey and Ruby Harvey, in violation of Code §§ 18.2-31(4), (7), (8), and (12).

In the first stage of a bifurcated trial conducted under Code § 19.2-264.3, a jury convicted Gray of the following offenses: capital murder of Bryan Harvey in the commission of robbery or attempted robbery under Code § 18.2-31(4); capital murder of Bryan Harvey, Kathryn Harvey, Stella Harvey and Ruby Harvey as part of the same transaction under Code § 18.2-31(7); capital murder of Bryan Harvey, Kathryn Harvey, Stella Harvey and Ruby Harvey within a three-year period under Code § 18.2-31(8); capital murder of four year old Ruby Harvey while Gray was twenty-one years of age or older under Code § 18.2-31(12); and capital murder of nine year old Stella Harvey while Gray was twenty-one years of age or older under Code § 18.2-31(12).

In the separate penalty phase of the trial, the jury found the aggravating factor of vileness and fixed Gray's sentence at death for each of the two convictions under Code § 18.2-31(12) and life imprisonment for the remaining capital murder convictions. After reviewing the post-sentence report required by Code § 19.2-264.5, the circuit court sentenced Gray in accordance with the jury's verdicts and entered final judgment. We review the circuit court's judgment and death sentences pursuant to Code § 17.1-313(A).

After consideration of Gray's assignments of error, the record, and the arguments of counsel, we find no error in the judgment of the circuit court and will affirm that judgment, including the sentences of death.2

I. BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL PROCEEDINGS BELOW

Under well-settled principles of appellate review, we consider the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the prevailing party in the circuit court.3 Juniper v. Commonwealth, 271 Va. 362, 376, 626 S.E.2d 383, 393, cert denied, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 397, 166 L.Ed.2d 282 (2006); see also Burns v. Commonwealth, 261 Va. 307, 313, 541 S.E.2d 872, 877, cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1043, 122 S.Ct. 621, 151 L.Ed.2d 542 (2001); Lovitt v. Commonwealth, 260 Va. 497, 502, 537 S.E.2d 866, 870 (2000), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 815, 122 S.Ct. 41, 151 L.Ed.2d 14 (2001).

A. GUILT PHASE

On the morning of January 1, 2006, Kathryn and Bryan Harvey and their two daughters, Stella and Ruby, were killed in the Harveys' home in the City of Richmond. Firefighters, responding to a call that the Harveys' home was burning, discovered the bodies of Kathryn and Ruby in the basement as they attempted to fight the fire. The house was filled with "black smoke" and the basement was burning and had "[z]ero visibility and a lot of heat." Soon after the firefighters removed the bodies of Kathryn and Ruby from the basement, they determined that the bodies showed evidence of "battle signs" and that the victims' legs had been bound. At that point the firefighters stopped their rescue efforts and summoned the police.

Detective Dwyer of the Richmond Police Department then discovered Stella in the basement under a futon "with her hands behind her back, tape around her mouth." Bryan was discovered on the floor of the basement with orange electrical cord wrapped around his wrists and feet, with "melted tape around his face [and a] large wound to his neck area." Detective Dwyer also found two claw hammers, two broken wine bottles, a knife handle and a separate knife blade in the basement. Those items, as well as several photographs of the scene, were admitted into evidence at trial.

An autopsy revealed that Bryan had been cut eight times in his neck and underneath his chin, and those wounds, although "[v]ery painful," were not immediately fatal. His mouth had been gagged and taped. Six lacerations were made to the left side and back of Bryan's skull, each caused by blows from a hammer. He experienced severe third degree burns to his skin. Bryan died from the wounds to his skull.

Kathryn had been cut three times in her neck and chest, once in her back, and those wounds caused bleeding and pain but were not fatal. Multiple lacerations were made to Kathryn's skull as a result of blows from a hammer. The hammer blows caused a fracture to the plate above Kathryn's eyes, resulting in bleeding behind her eyes. Kathryn died from the blunt force injuries to her head.

Ruby's throat had been sliced through to her trachea, a wound that was not fatal but obstructed her breathing. Her head was also fractured and cut, causing brain tissue to exude from her skull. She had also been stabbed in the back with enough force that the knife had passed through her ribs and into her lungs. Ruby died from the blunt force injuries to her head and the stab injury to her lungs.

Stella's neck had been cut six times, with the stab wounds having penetrated her trachea and esophagus. Stella's head was also bludgeoned by a hammer, causing brain tissue to exude from her skull. She died from a combination of smoke inhalation, carbon monoxide poisoning and blunt force injury to her head.

Forensic evidence showed that the knife blade recovered from the Harveys' home had traces of blood from Kathryn, Stella, Ruby and Bryan. Bryan and Stella's DNA was discovered on the shaft of one of the recovered hammers. Kathryn's DNA was identified on the handle of the other hammer.

Evidence at trial established that Gray, Ray Dandridge and Ashley Baskerville were driving the streets of Richmond in Gray's van during the mid-morning of January 1, 2006 "looking for a house to rob." Gray and Dandridge "spotted a door open" at the Harveys' home, entered the house, and forced Kathryn, Bryan and Ruby into the basement.4 Stella was not home when Gray and Dandridge entered. In the basement, Gray assured the three family members that he and Dandridge would leave after they took what they wanted from the home. Gray then used electrical cords to tie Bryan's wrists behind his back and bind his ankles together.

Before Gray and Dandridge could plunder the house, they heard a noise upstairs on the home's main level. Kiersten Perkinson, a family friend, had arrived at the Harveys' home to deliver the Harveys' daughter, Stella, along with Perkinson's own daughter, Grace Lynn, from a slumber party the previous evening.

Hearing the commotion, Kathryn explained to Gray that her daughter had returned from a slumber party, so Gray permitted Kathryn to go upstairs to bring her daughter downstairs to the basement. Perkinson heard Kathryn "running up the stairs" from the basement, and upon reaching the top of the basement stairs, she appeared "pale and ashen." Stella ran past her mother and down the stairs into the basement, but Kathryn blocked Grace Lynn's path so she could not follow Stella downstairs. Kathryn told Perkinson that she did not feel well, so Perkinson and Grace Lynn left the house.

Downstairs, Gray bound the hands and feet of all the Harveys and placed clear packing tape over their mouths, but he assured them that everything would be okay. Gray and Dandridge then began collecting the items from the home they intended to steal. Kathryn attempted to comfort her distraught daughters, and she told Gray that he should take what he wanted and just leave. Suddenly, Gray took a razor knife and cut Kathryn's throat and then cut the throats of the young girls and Bryan.5 When Gray saw that his victims were still moving, he took a nearby claw hammer and began repeatedly beating each of the Harveys in the head. When they stopped moving, Gray poured two bottles of wine on an easel in the basement and lit a match, starting the fire. Gray and Dandridge then left the burning home with the items they had stolen.

John Hott, a family friend of the Harveys, arrived at the Harveys' home for a New Year's Day party at about 1:45 p.m. and noticed smoke coming from the house. He immediately ran to a neighbor's home and called "911".

Less than a week later, Richmond police received a tip that Gray was a suspect in the murders, and a member of the Richmond Police Department contacted the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Police Department requesting they investigate a location where Gray may be staying and to be on the lookout for a particular vehicle believed related to the Harvey murders. In the early morning hours of January 7, 2006, Philadelphia police obtained a search warrant, and a SWAT team entered the location where Gray was suspected to be staying and found him in the basement. Gray was arrested and advised of his Miranda rights. After learning that Dandridge was also being questioned, he asked the Philadelphia police: "Can I tell you my side of the story?"

As part of a signed confession, Gray described in detail how he and Dandridge entered the Harveys' home and attacked the Harveys, in which he stated:

[I]t was a real nasty scene. How am I suppose[d] to explain something like what happened? I started cutting their throats and they kept getting up and they [were] scaring me. I remember seeing the hammer and picking it up, and then . . . I was just hitting them all with the hammer. All I know is nobody was moving when I left out there.

Gray admitted that Dandridge spent most of...

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