Harris v. State

Citation632 So.2d 503
Decision Date12 June 1992
Docket Number3 Div. 332
PartiesLouise HARRIS v. STATE.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Page 503

632 So.2d 503
3 Div. 332.
Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama.
June 12, 1992.
Rehearing Denied Nov. 25, 1992.

Page 508

Ruth E. Friedman, Atlanta, GA, and Bryan A. Stevenson, Montgomery, for appellant.

James H. Evans, Atty. Gen., and Robert Lusk and Sandra Stewart, Asst. Attys. Gen., for appellee.

McMILLAN, Judge.

The appellant was indicted for two counts of capital murder in the murder of Isaiah Harris: murder for pecuniary gain or pursuant to a contract for hire and murder of a deputy sheriff while the deputy was on duty. Following the introduction of the State's evidence, the appellant moved that the second count of the indictment be dropped, because, she argues, the State failed to prove that Harris was on duty at the time of the offense. The trial court granted this motion, and the case went to the jury only on the first count of the indictment. The jury found the appellant guilty as charged in the first count of the indictment and recommended that she be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, seven jurors voting for life without parole and five voting for death by electrocution. Thereafter, a sentencing hearing was held before the trial court, after which the court ordered that the appellant be sentenced to death by electrocution.

The record indicates that the appellant was involved in an affair with Lorenzo McCarter, a codefendant, while she was married to Harris. The appellant and Harris had experienced marital problems in the past, which the victim apparently believed he had solved when he promised to buy the appellant a house. The record indicates that the appellant asked McCarter to hire someone to kill her husband. McCarter approached a co-employee about doing "the job"; however, the co-employee refused and told his supervisor about the solicitation. McCarter then approached Michael Sockwell and Alex Hood, other codefendants, to commit the offense. McCarter knew that Sockwell owned a gun. Prior to the offense, the appellant met with the three men and was shown the gun. Sockwell and Hood were paid $100 in advance to commit the offense, with the promise that more money would be paid upon completion of the murder. The State presented evidence of the existence of various insurance policies on the victim's life, with the appellant specified as the beneficiary.

The victim, who worked the night shift as a jailer, left his home at approximately 11:00 p.m. to go to work, after being awakened by the appellant a little later than usual. Immediately after Harris left home, the appellant paged McCarter on his beeper, giving the message that her husband was leaving. There was evidence that the appellant had paged McCarter on his beeper many times in the past to arrange liaisons. When he received the message in the instant case, McCarter was seated in Hood's car, located across the street from the entrance to the subdivision in which Harris and appellant lived. Also present in the car were Alex Hood and Freddie Patterson. Patterson was unaware of the conspiracy. Sockwell was hidden behind the hedge located at the entrance to the subdivision. Harris was driving to work in his own 1979 black Ford Thunderbird automobile. When Harris stopped at the stop sign at the entrance of the subdivision, Sockwell shot him once in the face at close range with a shotgun. As a result, the lower half of the victim's face was blown off, leaving his teeth, tongue, and "matter" from his face blown across the car. After the shot, the victim's vehicle traveled slowly across the highway and came to a stop in a ditch.

When the victim failed to arrive at work by 11:25 p.m., a co-employee telephoned his home twice and spoke with the appellant. There was testimony that the appellant offered no assistance and that her speech was slow or sluggish. Two men, returning from

Page 509

work, discovered the victim's body shortly after midnight and telephoned the Montgomery Police Department. After the police arrived at the scene and identified the victim, several officers of the police department and employees of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department went to the house of the victim and the appellant to notify the appellant of the victim's death. There was testimony that, upon being notified of the victim's death, the appellant began screaming and sobbing, but she shed no tears. Moreover, she became completely calm instantly in order to answer questions. A member of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, who knew both the appellant and the victim, testified that she asked the appellant why she did not appear to be upset, and that the appellant responded that she and the victim had been experiencing marital problems for some time. She also told the witness that she had engaged in several extramarital affairs, the current one being with Lorenzo McCarter. The appellant stated that she was in love with McCarter. In response to questions asked by an investigator with the sheriff's department, she responded that McCarter's car was broken down in the vicinity, and when asked if McCarter could have killed the victim, the appellant responded, "If he did kill him I didn't tell him to." At trial, McCarter elected to testify against the appellant, in exchange for the prosecutor's promise not to seek the death penalty in his case.

The appellant argues that the trial court erred in removing her appointed attorneys from the case when they sought "reasonable compensation" for representing her as a capital defendant. She further alleges error in the fact that she was not present at the hearing at which they were dismissed. A hearing was held on counsel's motion, during which appointed counsel requested that they receive $90 per hour or that they be excused. Although these appointed attorneys indicated that they preferred not to be excused from the appellant's case, the trial judge stated that because he was without authority to authorize higher compensation, he would relieve the attorneys of their appointment. The attorneys did not object. This matter was never raised again, either by the attorneys or by the appellant at any time prior to this appeal. See Fisher v. State, 587 So.2d 1027 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 587 So.2d 1039 (Ala.1991), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 941, 112 S.Ct. 1486, 117 L.Ed.2d 628 (1992) ("The appellant refers to § 15-1221(d), Code of Alabama 1975, which states that compensation for appointed counsel's trial preparation is limited to $1,000, at a rate of $20 an hour. The record contains no request by appellant or his counsel for additional fees, nor were any claims made concerning the constitutionality of this statute. Therefore, this matter is waived on appeal.") Although the failure to object during a capital case does not preclude review of the alleged error, such failure weighs against a finding of error. Kuenzel v. State, 577 So.2d 474, 523 (Ala.Cr.App.1990), affirmed, 577 So.2d 531 (Ala.1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 886, 112 S.Ct. 242, 116 L.Ed.2d 197 (1991).

According to § 15-12-21, Code of Alabama 1975:

"(a) If it appears to the trial court that such defendant is entitled to counsel, that such defendant does not expressly waive the right to assistance of counsel and that such defendant is not able financially or otherwise to obtain the assistance of counsel, the court shall appoint counsel to represent and assist the defendant; and it shall be the duty of such appointed counsel, as an officer of the court and as a member of the bar, to represent and assist said defendant.


"(d) Counsel appointed in cases described in subsections (a), (b), and (c) above ... shall be entitled to receive for their services a fee to be approved by the trial court. The amount of such fee shall be based on the number of hours spent by the attorney in working on such case and shall be computed at a rate of $40.00 per hour for time expended in court and $20.00 per hour for time reasonably expended out of court in the preparation of such case. The total fees to any one attorney in any case, from the time of appointment through the trial of the case, including motions for new trial, shall not, however,

Page 510

exceed $1,000.00, except as follows: In cases where the original case involves a capital offense or a charge which carries a possible sentence of life without parole, the limit shall be $1,000.00 for out-of-court work, plus payment for all in-court work, said work to be billed at the aforementioned rates. Counsel shall also be entitled to be reimbursed for any expenses reasonably incurred in such defense to be approved in advance by the trial court. Retrials of a case shall be considered a new case."

In Ex parte Grayson, 479 So.2d 76, 79-80 (Ala.1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 865, 106 S.Ct. 189, 88 L.Ed.2d 157 (1985), the appellant argued that Alabama's system of compensation for appointed counsel denied him of his rights to due process and equal protection of the laws, because of its application to capital cases. Apart from his equal protection argument, the appellant argued "that a capital defendant can not have effective assistance of counsel and, therefore, is deprived of liberty without due process, with such a limit on the amount to be paid to counsel." Id. at 79. The Alabama Supreme Court held adversely to the appellant on both issues, stating:

"These contentions are made on the premise that lawyers will not provide effective assistance unless paid a certain amount of money. But the legal profession requires its members to give their best efforts in 'advancing the "undivided interest of [their] client[s]." ' Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 318-19, 102 S.Ct. 445, 449-50, 70 L.Ed.2d 509 (1981). This Court, in Sparks v. Parker, 368 So.2d 528, 530 (Ala.1979), quoted the New Jersey Supreme Court as follows:

" 'We know of no data to support a claim that an assigned attorney fails or shirks in the least the full measure of an attorney's obligations...

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