Harris v. State

Decision Date08 September 1983
Docket NumberNo. 61343,61343
Citation438 So.2d 787
PartiesTheodore HARRIS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Harold Long, Jr., Miami, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen. and Calvin L. Fox, Asst. Atty. Gen., Miami, for appellee.


The appellant, Theodore Harris, was convicted of first-degree murder, burglary with an assault, and robbery. The trial judge imposed the death sentence for the murder conviction in accordance with the jury's advisory recommendation and imposed sentences of one hundred years each for the burglary and robbery convictions. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. We affirm the convictions, the death sentence, and the sentences of imprisonment.

A full statement of the facts in this case, including the circumstances surrounding Harris's confession, is necessary to our discussion of the issues raised by Harris in this appeal. The victim, a seventy-three-year-old woman, was found dead in her home on the morning of Sunday, March 22, 1981. She had died during the night from multiple stab wounds and wounds inflicted by a blunt instrument. A knife, a bloody rock, and a blood-covered wooden chair were found in the house. The autopsy revealed that the victim had suffered numerous defensive wounds on her arms, hands, and shoulders. Blood was spattered over the walls and furnishings of the bedroom, living room, and kitchen, indicating that the victim had tried to escape her assailant while she was being stabbed and beaten.

While police officers were investigating at the scene of the murder, they were approached by Lionel Cook, who indicated that he suspected that Harris might be involved in the crime. At the time of the murder, Harris was living with Cook and his wife, the victim's granddaughter, in the same general neighborhood as the victim. Harris knew the victim, having attended a dinner at her house on a previous occasion, and having been previously married to Mrs. Cook's sister. Cook told the police that Harris had taken his wife's car late on Saturday night and that he had not returned it. Cook said that one of the staff of Jackson Memorial Hospital called him early Sunday morning to tell him that Harris had been hospitalized with a severely lacerated hand and that, when he went to the hospital to pick up his wife's car, he saw Harris and took Harris's personal effects from the hospital. He turned the personal effects over to the police on Sunday evening, along with two bloody towels he had found in his wife's car.

The police interviewed Harris in the hospital late Sunday night. At this interview, Harris stated that his hand had been cut the night before when two men attacked him in the parking lot of a bar and tried to steal a gold chain from around his neck. He explained that, in trying to defend himself against a knife attack, he grabbed the blade to deflect it from his body.

The police investigated further, focusing on Harris as a suspect. They examined the parking lot where Harris claimed he had been attacked, but they did not discover any trace of blood or any evidence of a scuffle. The chief investigating officer talked with the doctor who treated Harris's hand, and it was the doctor's opinion that the wounds could have been caused by the hand sliding down over the handle of a knife onto the blade while Harris was wielding the knife in a stabbing motion. Laboratory analysis showed that two types of blood were present in the victim's house, type A and type O. The victim had type O blood; Harris's blood was type A, and it had further characteristics that made it consistent with the type A blood found at the scene. Four partial fingerprints were found in the victim's house, but none was identified as belonging to Harris. Analysis of Harris's clothing revealed the presence of type A blood, but none of the blood on these articles of clothing was ever identified as being of the victim's blood type.

The police obtained a warrant on April 7 and arrested Harris on April 14, approximately three weeks after the murder. At the time of his arrest, Harris had a cast on his right forearm that interfered with his wrists being handcuffed behind his back, as police regulations required, so the police handcuffed his right elbow to his left wrist behind his back. Harris was interrogated at the police station from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. During this time, he was handcuffed and sat in an aluminum chair. He did not receive either food or drink during the interrogation. The investigating officers testified that Harris was calm and matter-of-fact about everything and made no complaints about the handcuffs or his treatment. 1 He consistently denied his involvement in this murder until about 7:00 p.m., when he said, "All right, I'll tell you the truth." After giving an oral statement, Harris signed a written confession which was introduced into evidence at trial. 2

The evidence presented at trial reflected three unexplained circumstances. First, police had discovered a brown paper bag in the victim's bedroom which held a plastic bag containing four hundred dollars in cash. Type A blood was found on the brown bag, but Harris said that he didn't find the bag and that, if he had, he would have taken the money. The victim's empty wallet and a knife were found in the victim's kitchen, but Harris, in his oral statement to one of the investigating officers, denied going into that room. Finally, Harris stated in his written confession that he left the victim's house through the front door although the police had found an open bedroom window from which the screen had been removed, with smears of blood on the outside of the house under the window.

Harris did not testify nor did the defense call any witnesses in the trial phase of the proceeding. The case was presented to the jury by defense counsel on the theory that the confession should not be believed because it was involuntary and that, without the confession, the state had failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Harris had committed this offense. At the charge conference, defense counsel requested that no instructions be given to the jury regarding lesser included offenses for any of the crimes charged. The trial court, before agreeing not to include the required lesser-included-offense instructions, questioned Harris and obtained an unambiguous waiver from Harris of his right to have these instructions given. The jury returned a verdict of guilty to all counts as charged.

In the sentencing phase, the state presented medical testimony concerning the nature and extent of the injuries sustained by the victim, as well as expert opinion testimony regarding the pain experienced by the victim as a result of her wounds. Additional testimony was presented by the state to establish that Harris had previously been convicted of robbery and to confirm that Harris was on parole at the time of the murder. Harris presented no evidence in mitigation or rebuttal during the penalty phase. The jury returned a verdict recommending the imposition of the death sentence.

The trial judge imposed the death sentence, finding the following aggravating circumstances: (1) that Harris was under a sentence of imprisonment when he committed the murder; (2) that he had previously been convicted of a felony involving violence; (3) that the murder was committed while Harris was engaged in committing a robbery or burglary; (4) that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel; and (5) that the murder was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner. The trial judge found a "complete absence" of any mitigating factors. The trial judge also sentenced Harris to one hundred years imprisonment for armed burglary with an assault and one hundred years for robbery with a deadly weapon, with the sentences to be served consecutively.

Trial Phase

Appellant contends that his convictions should be reversed because: (1) his confession should have been suppressed on the grounds that it resulted from an unlawful arrest and that it was involuntary; (2) the prosecutor made improper comments during closing argument concerning appellant's silence at trial; and (3) the trial judge erroneously denied a requested jury instruction on inculpatory statements and failed to properly instruct the jury on necessarily included lesser offenses to the crimes charged. For the reasons stated, we reject each of these contentions.

Admissibility of the Confession

Appellant first contends that his confession should have been suppressed because it resulted from his unlawful arrest and was part of an uninterrupted chain of events following that arrest. See Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979). In attacking his arrest on the basis of Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674, 57 L.Ed.2d 667 (1978), appellant asserts that the arrest warrant was not supported by probable cause because the sworn affidavit upon which the warrant was issued contained factual misrepresentations and inaccuracies. At an evidentiary pre-trial suppression hearing, these allegedly incorrect factual statements of the police-officer affiant were presented to the trial court, which found

that there was no deliberate falsity or reckless disregard by the investigating police agencies. Here, at best, there was a possible negligence or innocent mistake concerning a blood typing and evidence on that regard.

Moreover, assuming arguendo, there even was a falsity or disregard, there remains sufficient contents within the warrant affidavit to support a finding of probable cause.

We agree with the trial judge and find that he scrupulously adhered to the requirements of Franks, as well as to the dictates of this Court in Antone v. State, 382 So.2d 1205 (Fla.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 913, 101 S.Ct. 287, 66 L.Ed.2d 141 (1980), in concluding that the arrest was supported by probable cause and that, even...

To continue reading

Request your trial
77 cases
  • Torrence v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • October 4, 1983
    ...jury instructions as to the uncharged crime. As to the impropriety of implying waivers of fundamental errors consider also Harris v. State, 438 So.2d 787 (Fla.1983), where the supreme court stated that a defendant could waive his procedural right to have the jury instructed on necessarily i......
  • Harich v. Wainwright
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • March 18, 1987
    ...could have been found to be cold and calculated. Thus, these cases are not inconsistent. Mills is also distinguishable from Harris v. State, 438 So.2d 787 (Fla.1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 963, 104 S.Ct. 2181, 80 L.Ed.2d 563 (1984). In Harris, the defendant chased his victim throughout her......
  • Morrison v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • March 21, 2002
    ...that, in order to preserve an objection, a party must object after the trial judge has instructed the jury. See, e.g., Harris v. State, 438 So.2d 787, 795 (Fla.1983). 17. Morrison was convicted of attempted robbery on September 27, 1988. In connection with this conviction, Mike Holton, an o......
  • Sochor v. Florida
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 8, 1992
    ...that, in order to preserve an objection, a party must object after the trial judge has instructed the jury. See, e.g., Harris v. State, 438 So.2d 787, 795 (Fla.1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 963, 104 S.Ct. 2181, 80 L.Ed.2d 563 (1984); Vazquez v. State, 518 So.2d 1348, 1350 (Fla.App.1987); Wa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT