Huggins v. State, SC02-2364.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation889 So.2d 743
Docket NumberNo. SC02-2364.,SC02-2364.
PartiesJohn Steven HUGGINS, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Decision Date02 December 2004

889 So.2d 743

John Steven HUGGINS, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee

No. SC02-2364.

Supreme Court of Florida.

December 2, 2004.

889 So.2d 749
James B. Gibson, Public Defender and Christopher S. Quarles, Assistant Public Defender, Seventh Judicial Circuit, Daytona Beach, FL, for Appellant

Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, and Kenneth S. Nunnelley, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, FL, for Appellee.


We have on appeal a judgment of conviction for first-degree murder and a sentence of death. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the convictions and sentence of death.


This is a direct appeal from John Steven Huggins' second trial for the murder of Carla Larson on June 10, 1997. Huggins was indicted on May 28, 1998, in Orange County. Venue was later transferred to Duval County, where, on February 3, 1999, Huggins was convicted of first-degree murder, carjacking, kidnapping, and robbery. The jury recommended a sentence of death, and the trial court imposed the jury's recommendation. However, within weeks of the conclusion of the case, defense counsel learned of information that the State knew but never disclosed. On March 25, 1999, Huggins filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the trial court, alleging that the State had withheld Brady1 material. In light of the pending petition, this Court relinquished jurisdiction over Huggins' first direct appeal. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted Huggins a new trial, finding that the State had violated the dictates of Brady.2 The State appealed that ruling, and

889 So.2d 750
this Court affirmed, finding that the suppressed evidence was material and failure to disclose it resulted in a verdict not worthy of confidence. See State v. Huggins, 788 So.2d 238, 244 (Fla.2001)

Upon this Court's remand, the trial court granted a change of venue to Osceola County, and in April 2002, an unsuccessful attempt was made to select a jury in Osceola County. Pursuant to a joint stipulation, venue was then transferred to Hillsborough County. Jury selection began in Hillsborough County on July 15, 2002, and a six-day trial followed. On July 25, 2002, the jury found Huggins guilty of murder in the first degree, carjacking, kidnapping, and petit theft as a lesser included offense under the robbery charge.

The facts of the case as presented at Huggins' second trial were as follows. The victim, Carla Larson, was married and had a daughter. She was an engineer for Centex-Rooney, a construction company, and was working on Disney's Coronado Springs project in June 1997. She drove a white Ford Explorer with a black bug guard on the front, light blue pinstripes, a Passport radar detector hard-wired to the dash, and air conditioning and radio controls in the back seat. On the morning of June 10, 1997, Larson took her daughter to day care and went to work. Just prior to lunch, Larson told a co-worker, Cindy Garris, that she was going to a grocery store to pick up food for an afternoon meeting. Garris suggested that she go to a new Publix grocery store on International Drive, just off of the Osceola Parkway, and Larson indicated that she would go there. Larson left work at approximately noon. A Publix receipt indicated that she purchased food at 12:11 p.m. However, Larson never returned to work.

Numerous witnesses testified to various sightings that afternoon of a white sport utility vehicle (SUV) on a dirt road off of the Osceola Parkway that led into a wooded area. Between 12:30 and 12:45 p.m., Barry O'Hearn and his landscaping crew were eating lunch in that wooded area when O'Hearn saw a white Ford Explorer drive past him on a dirt road. He could only describe the driver as white. Between 12:45 and 1 p.m., Floyd Sparks, Disney's superintendent of drainage and roadways in the area, was driving on the Osceola Parkway and saw, through a fire break line in the woods, that an SUV was parked

889 So.2d 751
in an unauthorized area of the woods. Though normally part of his job, Sparks was not able to investigate it at that time. Gary and Brad Wilson, a father and son who both worked for Centex-Rooney, were returning from lunch on the Osceola Parkway just prior to 1 p.m. when they saw a white Ford Explorer exit from the dirt road onto the Osceola Parkway at an unusually high rate of speed. Their vehicle soon passed the Ford Explorer, and both looked at the driver. Brad Wilson later told a sketch artist that the driver was a white male with a dark tan, weathering of the face, highlights in his hair, and a moustache and beard. He testified at trial that the driver had longer, brownish hair and described his facial hair as a close growth. Gary Wilson, however, described the driver as a white male who was flushed in the face, had medium-length dark hair, and no facial hair. Finally, between 2:30 and 3 p.m., Chris Smithson, a subcontractor on the Coronado Springs project, saw a white Ford Explorer exit from the dirt road, partially cross the Osceola Parkway, stop in the median and wait to merge with on-coming traffic. Smithson noticed the vehicle because it was nice and seemed out of place in the woods. Smithson later saw Huggins in the median and identified him as the driver of that vehicle

Two days after Larson's disappearance, two of her co-workers instituted a search. They encountered Sparks, who mentioned the SUV he had seen two days earlier. Sparks then went to the point on Osceola Parkway from where he had seen the SUV and, via hand-held radios, directed Larson's co-workers to the point where he could see them through the same fire break line. From there, they were led by smell to a body about 200 feet away. The body, which was naked and covered by a towel, was later identified as Larson. Dr. Shashi Gore, the medical examiner in this case, testified at trial that significant decomposition indicated the body had been there for approximately two days and concluded from his autopsy that death was by strangulation. Except for her wedding band, the jewelry Larson usually wore was missing, as was her clothing and purse. Months later, on December 24, 1997, a landscaping crew found Larson's purse in the brush off of the driver's side of a ramp along World Drive between the Osceola Parkway and Highway 192.

On the day of Larson's disappearance, Huggins and his wife, Angel, were visiting Orlando with their five children. Although Huggins and Angel were estranged, the family stayed together at a Days Inn on Highway 192 near the Osceola Parkway and International Drive on the evenings of June 8 and 9, 1997. At the trial, Huggins' sixteen-year-old son, Jonathon Huggins, testified that he could not remember much about the trip, which had occurred five years earlier. The trial court found that Jonathon was effectively unavailable as a witness, and his prior deposition was admitted. In Jonathon's deposition, he stated that in the summer of 1997, his father did not have a car and the family visited Orlando in Angel's small car. On the day after visiting Gatorland, they returned to Angel's house without his father, and his father later returned in a different vehicle, which Jonathon remembered as being dark in color, new in appearance, with air vents and radio controls in the back seat, and a clean interior. Jonathon also remembered riding in that vehicle approximately three times and that later that summer, his father drove him back to Panasoffkee, where Jonathon lived with his grandmother, in a little blue car.

Angel Huggins' mother, Fay Blades, with whom Angel lived in Melbourne, testified that on June 10, 1997, she returned home from work a little after 5 p.m. and found an unfamiliar, white SUV in her

889 So.2d 752
carport. She saw Jonathon Huggins in the house but left shortly thereafter to attend night school. One of Blades' neighbors testified that she saw a white Ford Explorer at Blades' home on two consecutive days sometime around June 11, 1997. And a second neighbor testified that he once saw in Blades' driveway a white SUV and a similar vehicle that had been poorly spray-painted a dark grey or black color later the same week.

Kevin Smith, a friend of Huggins who worked in lawn maintenance and lived near Cocoa Beach, testified that on June 12, 1997, Huggins arrived at Smith's house in a white SUV that appeared new. It contained a radar detector hard-wired to the dash and may have had a "car bra" on the front and blue pinstripes. Huggins asked if he could park the vehicle at Smith's house. Two days later, Huggins returned, spoke with Smith for a while, and took the vehicle. Smith testified that sometime later, he found an unfamiliar radar detector in a box on top of his exterior water heater, realized its significance after being interviewed by police, initially threw it in a vacant lot, and ultimately showed the police where to find it. A police witness testified that it was a Passport radar detector.

Another witness, Charlotte Green, testified that sometime after she heard of Larson's murder, a white Ford Explorer that was partially spray-painted black cut in front of her at a high rate of speed in the Melbourne area. Two days later, she saw the same vehicle stopped along a fishing river in Cocoa Beach with all of its doors open and a man standing at the back hatch. Green further testified that she saw the burned remains of a vehicle in the same location the following day. After seeing Huggins on a television report, Green identified him as the driver.

At 11:23 p.m. on June 26, 1997, the police received a call that a truck was burning on a vacant lot in Cocoa Beach. An investigation revealed that the truck was the victim's Ford Explorer. The arson investigator testified to the presence of a fire accelerant and white paint partially covered with black paint. Over-spray on the tires indicated the black paint had not been professionally...

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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books The Florida Criminal Cases Notebook. Volume 1-2 Volume 2
    • April 30, 2021
    ...of guilt to permit the court to admit the evidence, and the explanation for shaving also was properly admitted. Huggins v. State, 889 So. 2d 743 (Fla. 2004) STATE OF MIND: A witness testified that, after shooting and killing the victim, the defendant got back into the car and said that the ......

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