Harrington v. State

Decision Date25 October 2002
Citation858 So.2d 278
PartiesJaime Denise HARRINGTON v. STATE of Alabama.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Paul R. Cooper, Montgomery, for appellant.

William H. Pryor, Jr., atty. gen., and Stephanie N. Morman, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.

COBB, Judge.1

Jaime Denise Harrington was charged with murder following the shooting death of her common-law husband, Anthony Moen. § 13A-6-2, Ala.Code 1975. Following a jury trial, Harrington was convicted of the lesser-included offense of reckless manslaughter. The trial court sentenced Harrington to serve 12 years in the penitentiary. This appeal follows.

The evidence presented at trial disclosed the following. Jaime Denise Harrington and Anthony Moen met when Harrington was approximately 15 years old and Moen was 21 years old. They lived together as common-law spouses for over seven years, and they had two children together. Alfred Loucks, the victim's stepfather, testified that on May 27, 2000, Moen, Harrington, and their two children were living with Loucks and his wife. Loucks testified that Moen and Harrington "fussed a lot," but that he was not aware that Moen had abused her. He acknowledged that, on May 17, 2000, he posted bond to secure Moen's release from jail following his arrest on a harassment charge filed by Harrington. Loucks said that he and his wife returned from a trip on May 27, 2000, and upon entering their home, he observed Moen on the couch. Harrington ran down the hall wearing blue jeans and a bra, and she asked where the telephone was located because she needed to call the police. She said there had been an accident. Harrington said that she had accidently shot Moen. Moen had been shot in the back of the head, but he was conscious and was able to talk to Mrs. Loucks. He told her that Harrington had shot him. Moen died the following day at a hospital.

Officer Alonzo Gibbs responded to the scene and found Harrington outside of the residence. Harrington stated that she had accidently shot Moen. Gibbs testified that Moen was on the couch and was in and out of consciousness. He told Gibbs that his girlfriend had accidently shot him, and he told the officer where the gun was located. The medical personnel who arrived at the scene before the police had responded to the call testified that Moen stated on several occasions that "she" had shot him intentionally.

The crime scene was examined, photographed, and videotaped. A .25-caliber shell casing was recovered, as was a .25-caliber handgun. Two plastic sandwich bags containing what appeared to be marijuana were in plain view and were recovered from the house. The house was described as very disorganized and dirty.

After she was transported to the police station, Harrington gave a statement which was videotaped. The video was played for the jury. Harrington initially claimed that the shooting had been accidental, but she later stated that that was not true. Harrington appeared to be extremely upset during the interview, and she spoke about Moen's abusing her. She told the police about an incident that occurred on May 17, 2000, when, she said, Moen drove her to a secluded location and placed a gun to her head.

The pathologist testified that Moen sustained a gunshot wound to the back of his head, a few inches behind and slightly below his left ear. The bullet entered the skull, injured the brain, and caused Moen's death. He testified that the gun was at most a few inches from Moen's head when the shot was fired. Toxicology tests revealed that at the time of his death Moen had cocaine in his system.

Dr. Guy Renfro, a psychologist, testified that he had conducted a psychological evaluation of Harrington pursuant to a court order directing him to determine her competency to stand trial and her mental state at the time of the crime. Pursuant to that order, he conducted a clinical interview and administered two tests. The test results indicated that Harrington's responses to the tests were valid and that she was not "trying to make herself out to be worse than she was or better than she was." (R. 309.)

Dr. Renfro testified that he found it significant that Harrington's parents divorced when she was 12 years old, and she had a great deal of difficulty after the divorce. Specifically, she ran away from home, had problems when her mother remarried, and she alternated living with her mother and her father, who sometimes lived in Arkansas. When Harrington met Moen, she was 15 years old and on her own, living with friends. Dr. Renfro testified that, when Harrington and Moen met, she was vulnerable and looking for stability, "looking for someone who could love her or take care of her, and that's who she picked, someone who was older, who was more experienced in the world, who seemed to tell her what to do and how to do it." (R. 302.) Dr. Renfro made multiple diagnoses for Harrington: he found that Harrington was suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic major depression, and a personality disorder with patterns of relating to people in ways that created difficulty for her and/or others. Dr. Renfro described PTSD as follows:

"When a person has been exposed to a potentially life-threatening situation, either direct[ed] towards them or witnessing it towards someone else, or even learning about it from somebody else, and they feel powerless, helpless, and experience great fear. The human being tends to develop a pattern of common reactions. These common reactions have been diagnosed or put into [the] category of post-traumatic stress disorder. They typically involve the individual re-experiencing, to some degree, the traumatic event, maybe by spontaneous recollections, just remembering it, having events, dates, objects, people trigger those memories, disturbing dreams or nightmares, or, what's commonly called, flashbacks that refer to very intense and vivid re-experiencing of the event.
"The second component of post-traumatic stress disorder is the person either tends to try to avoid those situations that remind them of that or that they develop an emotional numbness where they just seem not to react like most people would."

(R. 304-05.) The witness stated that any repetitive situation, including sexual and physical abuse, could cause PTSD. Dr. Renfro testified that fear is a central component in the diagnosis of PTSD. He stated, "The person has to be exposed to a situation that would cause almost anyone to fear for their life or fear that they would be harmed.... So when it's fear, intense fear, the person feels helpless, unable to do anything." (R. 310.) Dr. Renfro said that Harrington reported that Moen had sexually abused her; he had held her down, had raped her, had sodomized her, and had forced her to be photographed while nude. The sexual abuse was important to his diagnoses. Dr. Renfro testified that the PTSD symptoms arose in Harrington's relationship with Moen, when Harrington started to anticipate when Moen was "about to go off, he's about to go crazy, that sort of thing, that is part of the post-traumatic stress disorder." (R. 355.)

Dr. Renfro further testified that, based on his review of police reports and witness interviews provided by the prosecutor and based on reports Harrington gave and which he corroborated to some extent by speaking to others who knew her, he determined that there had been an increasing pattern of physical violence toward her by Moen. He described an event that occurred in early May 2000, in which Moen took Harrington to an isolated area, became aggressive and violent, placed a gun to her head and told her to make her peace with God. Following "some arguing and raving," Moen allowed Harrington to get back in the truck. He then took her from the area and dropped her off.

Dr. Renfro viewed the videotape of Harrington's statement to the police. He found it helpful because it provided information about Harrington's mental state at the time of the crime. Dr. Renfro testified that victims of domestic violence typically remain at the scene; they do not run away from the scene and create an alibi. Regarding the videotape, Dr. Renfro further stated:

"Certainly, there were things she said and emphasized that would indicate that this was a building process of fear— repeated fear, incidents of helplessness, reaching out to law enforcement officials for protection from the ultimate victim in this case, and feeling helpless like she would be not be helped by this person."

(R. 314.) He observed that one year before this incident, during the Jubilee City Fest in 1999,2 Moen and Harrington had a very large altercation and Moen threatened her because she planned to attend the festival with a person Moen did not like. Dr. Renfro testified that Jubilee City Fest and the month of May brought back associations for Harrington. Furthermore, Dr. Renfro noted that Harrington talked in her statement to the police about the automatic pistol that Moen had given her to protect herself. The pistol was the same one that Moen had placed to her head a few weeks before the shooting when Moen told her he was going to kill her. Dr. Renfro testified that he was certain that the pistol caused Harrington to experience flashbacks of what he said would have been an extremely traumatic incident. (R. 315-16.)

Dr. Renfro provided a detailed explanation of his opinion of how Harrington's fear of Moen related to her acts on May 27, 2000:

"[P]eople who are in an abusive relationship, [there are] cycles, that there's a tension buildup. And the person who has typically been the victim of the abuse starts noticing signs that the person is about to go off, the person has had physical abuse. It's like they hear the ticking of the time bomb going off, and they know it's there. And I think Ms. Harrington's statement to the police officers that were shown on the tape indicated that sometimes he would get very nice to her.
...

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