Jackson v. State

Decision Date02 November 2006
Docket NumberNo. D-2003-470.,D-2003-470.
PartiesShelton Dewayne JACKSON, Appellant v. STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma

Appellant, was tried by jury and convicted of First Degree Murder in the District Court of Tulsa County, Case No. CF-97-1765. The Honorable Jesse S. Harris, District Judge, presided and sentenced Jackson to death in accordance with the jury's verdict. Jackson perfected this appeal. Judgment and Sentence is

AFFIRMED.

Craig Corgan, Mary Bruehl, Emma Rolls, Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, Capital Trial Division, Norman, OK, attorneys for Jackson at trial.

Matthew D. Haire, Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, Capital Trial Division, Norman, OK, attorney for appellant at trial and appeal.

Bill Musseman, Eric Johnston, Julie Doss, Assistant District Attorneys, Tulsa County, Tulsa, OK, attorneys for the State at trial.

W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General of Oklahoma, Robert Whittaker, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, OK, attorneys for appellee on appeal.

OPINION

JOHNSON, Judge.

¶1 Shelton Dewayne Jackson, Appellant, was tried by jury in the District Court of Tulsa County, Case No. CF-1997-1765, and convicted of Count 1 — First Degree Murder in violation of 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(A), Count 2 — First Degree Arson in violation of 21 O.S.Supp.1996, § 1401 and Count 3 — Injury to a Minor Child in violation of 10 O.S.Supp. 1996, § 7115. The jury fixed punishment at death for Count 1, 35 years imprisonment and a $25,000.00 fine for Count 2 and life imprisonment and a $5,000.00 fine for Count 3. The district court sentenced him accordingly and he appealed. This Court affirmed his non-capital judgments and sentences, but reversed and remanded his first degree murder conviction for new trial because of ineffective assistance of counsel. Jackson v. State, 2001 OK CR 37, 41 P.3d 395.

¶2 Jackson's case was retried March 10-27, 2003 before the Honorable Jesse S. Harris. The jury convicted him of First Degree Murder and fixed punishment at death, after finding that (1) he knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person; (2) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; and (3) the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution. See 21 O.S.2001, §§ 701.12(2), (4) and (5). The district court sentenced Jackson to death and he appeals.1

I. FACTS

¶3 Jackson had been living with his girlfriend Monica Decator and her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Oz, for several months before he killed her during the early morning hours of April 8, 1997. On April 7th, as was their practice, Jackson took care of Decator's son while she worked a twelve hour shift at a Tulsa hospital. According to Jackson, the child was fussy and crying uncontrollably that morning. Jackson said he lost his patience, picked the child up by the neck, and tossed him to the ground several times. Afterwards the child was quiet for some time. When the child began crying again that afternoon, Jackson pushed him down repeatedly. Following that episode, Jackson said the child could not walk, his eyes were "glazy," and he had so much difficulty breathing that Jackson used a screwdriver to pry the child's mouth open in an effort to help him breathe.

¶4 The timing and sequence of events that followed was disputed at trial. The State contended that Jackson put the critically injured child in the crawlspace of a nearby vacant house and covered him with a large piece of carpet so no one could find him. He then went to a nearby Texaco and used Decator's ATM card to empty her bank account. He bought a gallon of gasoline there. That evening he watched wrestling at his uncle's apartment as he regularly did. Afterwards, he returned home and killed Decator so she could not report him for injuring her son. Earlier in the day Jackson provided an explanation for the absence of Decator and her child to his mother. He told her over the telephone that he, Decator, and the boy were leaving town together. He told his uncle the next morning he was going to Louisiana. He actually left town at noon on April 8, 1997.

¶5 The account Jackson gave to the police differs from this sequence of events. He told police he did not put the child under the vacant house until after he fought with Decator. He said he had left the child at home in bed when he went to his uncle's house to watch wrestling, and that when Decator returned to the house that evening, she believed her son was with him. Jackson said that Decator discovered her son's injuries when she heard him crying and went to him. That discovery led to a fight that ended when Jackson hit Decator several times in the head with a brick knocking her unconscious. Jackson said it was then he carried the child to the crawlspace of the nearby house. When Jackson returned from that mission, Decator was conscious. She attacked him with a knife. In response, he hit her again with the brick, gained control of the knife and fatally stabbed her.

¶6 Decator's body was discovered around 8:30 a.m. on April 8, when firefighters responded to a fire at her home. Fire investigators noted that gasoline had been poured throughout the house and concluded that the fire had been set intentionally. Decator did not sustain any injuries from the fire or smoke; she died as a result of blood loss from various stab wounds and head injuries caused by blunt force trauma. Police found two bloody knives on the floor and a brick with Decator's hair and flesh on it in the backyard.

¶7 Police apprehended Jackson later that afternoon when his bus bound for Houston stopped in McAlester. He had no visible injuries. Two Tulsa police detectives went to McAlester and returned Jackson to Tulsa where he made his statement confessing to injuring the child and killing Decator. In McAlester, he gave the detectives the child's general location, but the police could not find him. Later, before making his statement in Tulsa, Jackson gave police specific directions to the location of the critically injured child.

¶8 The salient question for the jury during first stage was whether Jackson acted with a deliberate intent to kill Decator, in self-defense, or in the heat of passion when he killed her.

II. JURY SELECTION ISSUES

¶9 In Proposition I, Jackson claims that the district court erred by denying his repeated motions for mistrial and to quash the venire for juror misconduct. When evidence surfaced during jury selection that some prospective jurors had talked about the case and Jackson, the defense moved for a mistrial. The district court denied the motion, electing to question the remaining venire members and excuse for cause any members tainted by exposure to improper conversation. Jackson renewed his motion several times during that process, arguing that the number of jurors involved in or exposed to the improper conversations and information was significant enough to taint the entire jury pool. The district court overruled Jackson's motion each time he renewed it. Jackson asserts that the district court abused its discretion because the court's repeated denial of his motion deprived him of a fair trial.

¶10 Jackson maintains that the entire jury pool was infected by the widespread violation of the trial court's instruction not to discuss the case and to report any violation of that instruction. He contends his ability to intelligently exercise peremptory challenges was impaired because most of the voir dire regarding juror fitness took place before evidence of misconduct surfaced.2 He also contends that the court's questioning was ineffective because it was impossible to tell which prospective jurors were being candid about violating the court's admonition. According to Jackson, the reluctance of jurors to come forward makes it likely that jurors who were either incapable or unwilling to follow the law and the court's instructions decided his fate. The State argues that the trial court's individual voir dire and subsequent dismissal of all potential jurors touched by the misconduct cured any error.

¶11 This Court reviews a trial court's ruling on a motion for mistrial for an abuse of discretion. Harris v. State, 2004 OK CR 1, ¶ 10, 84 P.3d 731, 740. The juror misconduct here was investigated by the trial court to determine if improper communications resulted in any prospective jurors being biased by exposure to extraneous information about the case. Whether a prospective juror is biased depends heavily on the trial court's appraisal of the juror's credibility and demeanor and often the basis for these credibility findings cannot be readily discerned from an appellate record. Harris, 2004 OK CR 1, ¶ 11, 84 P.3d at 741. The trial court is in a better position to make decisions regarding juror fitness; hence we have accorded the judgment of the jurist-observer presumptive weight. Id. We defer to the trial court's ruling on these issues unless it is clearly erroneous. See Matthews v. State, 2002 OK CR 16, ¶ 3, 45 P.3d 907, 912.

¶12 The record shows the district court questioned all remaining prospective jurors extensively regarding their exposure to any improper communications about the case or the defendant. None of the twelve jurors seated in the jury box undergoing the final selection process had heard any discussion about the case or the defendant. The district court carefully conducted the individual voir dire questioning to avoid tainting the entire venire and pursued every allegation of misconduct. Questions were tailored to elicit whether potential jurors had been exposed to any extraneous information and, if so, whether it affected their ability to be fair and impartial. The district court exercised...

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