Johnson v. State

Decision Date31 March 2005
Docket NumberNo. SC03-382.,No. SC03-1680.,SC03-382.,SC03-1680.
Citation921 So.2d 490
PartiesRonnie JOHNSON, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee. Ronnie Johnson, Petitioner, v. State of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Charles G. White, Miami, FL, for Appellant/Petitioner.

Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida and Sandra S. Jaggard, Assistant Attorney General, Miami, FL, for Appellee/Respondent.


Ronnie Johnson appeals an order of the circuit court denying his motion for post-conviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 and petitions the Court for a writ of habeas corpus.1 We affirm the circuit court's order denying Johnson's rule 3.850 motion, and we deny Johnson's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.


Johnson was convicted of the March 11, 1989, first-degree murder of Tequila Larkins. The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of nine to three. The trial court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Johnson to death. His conviction and sentence were affirmed by this Court on direct appeal. The relevant facts in this case are contained in this Court's opinion on direct appeal. See Johnson v. State, 696 So.2d 326, 327-29 (Fla.1997).

In a separate trial conducted after the Larkins trial, Johnson was convicted of the March 20, 1989, first-degree murder of Lee Arthur Lawrence. See Johnson v. State, 696 So.2d 317 (Fla.1997). The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of seven to five, and Johnson was sentenced to death by the trial court. Johnson's conviction was affirmed by this Court on direct appeal.

Johnson filed a motion for postconviction relief regarding the Larkins case on March 1, 2001, and an amended motion on January 18, 2002. In the amended motion Johnson asserted nine ineffective assistance of counsel claims and eight other claims.2 After a Huff3 hearing, the circuit court ordered an evidentiary hearing on only one claim: whether counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate Johnson's mental health. The evidentiary hearing was held on October 4, 2002. Johnson presented the testimony of Dr. Merry Haber, a clinical and forensic psychologist, his mother, and himself. The State presented the testimony of Raymond Badini, Johnson's trial counsel.

Testimony of Defense Mental Health Expert

Dr. Haber testified that she reviewed the transcript of the penalty phase of Johnson's trial and his prison records, that she spoke to Johnson and his family, and that she reviewed a brief memo prepared by defense counsel that detailed the facts of the case. Dr. Haber's review of the penalty phase testimony alerted her to a need to psychologically evaluate Johnson. She thought a psychological evaluation was needed for two reasons: (1) most of the witnesses from the penalty phase said that Johnson did not have a substance abuse problem, yet his brother, Lamont, and his stepfather, Mr. Ferguson, said he had an alcohol problem; (2) during his penalty phase testimony, Johnson refused to talk about his friend, Ant, who was killed. Dr. Haber was also interested in whether there had been domestic violence between Johnson's mother and stepfather. She found that there had been no domestic violence, but there had been conflict in the home, which was in part due to the stepfather's drinking. In addition, she felt that Johnson's account of his grandmother's death raised issues.

Dr. Haber met with Johnson on August 7 and 21, 2001. She also met with Johnson's mother and two younger stepbrothers. Dr. Haber administered the MMPI-2 and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory to Johnson. Based on her conversations with Johnson and his family and the results of her tests, Dr. Haber believed that Johnson was depressed and anxious, had behavioral problems, and had not resolved certain issues in his life.

Dr. Haber believed that one source of conflict in Johnson's life was that he knew that he was a homosexual by the time he was seven years old, but he attempted to hide this from his family. She testified that this caused him serious conflict because he was not comfortable with his homosexuality. It was Dr. Haber's understanding that Johnson used alcohol and drugs to have sex and that he prostituted himself for money.

Dr. Haber believed that the results of her 2001 evaluation were valid as to Johnson's psychological state at the time the murders occurred in 1989, although she could not say so with as much certainty as she could say that they were valid as to his state at the time of the evidentiary hearing. After comparing her conclusions with the DSM-III that was used in 1989, Dr. Haber believed that in 1989 Johnson had an adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotion and conduct. She also believed Johnson had a sexual disorder in that he was not comfortable with his sexuality and had to hide it from people and suffered from a poly-substance dependence, a regular pattern of using alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana to self-medicate. She stated that these disorders resulted in Johnson's judgment being somewhat impaired at the time of the murders. She believed he was mentally confused and disturbed, felt guilty, and was depressed. In relation to these crimes, the alleged disorders led Johnson to act with reckless abandon and without regard for human life. She thought that Johnson needed to commit these crimes to "present an image to the world of being cool and tough," although she acknowledged he did commit the crimes in part for pecuniary gain.

Dr. Haber believed that at the time of the murders, Johnson was under the stress of the death of his grandmother and his friend Ant. Johnson never had a father or a healthy role model. Johnson felt guilty about the death of Ant because Ant had attempted to repair his friendship with Johnson two days before his death and Johnson had refused to speak to him. These stressors led Johnson to use illicit substances, which led to an impairment in his judgment.

Dr. Haber stated that Johnson "had a diagnosable disorder, not a major mental disorder by any stretch of the imagination, but a mental disorder which impaired his judgment, in addition to cocaine, alcohol and marijuana, and I believe he was in great conflict at the time."

On cross-examination, Dr. Haber stated that Johnson was cooperative and appropriate in her interviews with him. She admitted that the sentencing transcript reflected that Johnson's mother was a loving person who cared dearly for him, that Johnson's stepbrother was a loving person, and that his stepbrother was a good person even though he was the natural child of an allegedly alcoholic father. Johnson told Dr. Haber that he began using drugs at the age of thirteen and that the first loss of a family member had occurred when Johnson was eleven.

Dr. Haber was aware that Johnson had a criminal history. Prison records that she reviewed disclosed six disciplinary reports and four stays in solitary confinement. She was not aware that in addition to the Larkins and Lawrence murders, Johnson was convicted of the attempted murder of Marshall King. She had not been provided with information about this crime and was not aware that Johnson had been hired by the same person to commit the attempted murder of King and the Larkins and Lawrence murders. She did not review any police reports concerning the murders, did not read Johnson's confession, and was unaware that Johnson had been paid $700 for the attempted murder of King, $700 for the murder of Larkins, and was to split $1500 with two codefendants for the murder of Lawrence. She admitted that all she knew about the crimes came from brief summaries provided by defense counsel.

Dr. Haber acknowledged that she relied upon the report of Dr. Ansley, a neuropsychologist who evaluated Johnson at the request of defense counsel. Dr. Ansley's report found Johnson to be of average intelligence, with no neuropsychological damage, and no organic brain damage.

Dr. Haber agreed that Johnson did not reveal his homosexuality to his family until 1995, after he had been on death row for three years. She admitted that in some communities and at certain ages, homosexuals are uncomfortable. To Dr. Haber's knowledge, there was no correlation between being a homosexual and being a hired hit man.

Dr. Haber acknowledged that adjustment disorders begin within three months of a stressor and last no more than six months thereafter unless the stressor continues. She agreed that Johnson had adjusted to the death of his cousin when he was eleven. However, she did not believe that Johnson had adjusted as well to later deaths, especially the death of Ant. Dr. Haber also agreed that the DSM-III stated that a person should not be diagnosed with adjustment disorder if they were just grieving.

Dr. Haber understood that Johnson had been committing crimes since the age of fourteen but did not consider this to be a life of crime. She stated that he "had antisocial features and continues to have them." Her testing showed that Johnson had no trauma and did not suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. In fact, testing showed that Johnson was happy and not pessimistic. The results of the MMPI showed that Johnson was:

Somewhat immature and impulsive, a risk-taker who may do things others may not approve of just for the personal enjoyment of doing so. He is likely to be viewed as rebellious. He tends to be generally oriented toward pleasure seeking and self-gratification. He may occasionally show bad judgment and tends to be somewhat self-centered, pleasure-oriented, narcissistic, and manipulative. He is not particularly anxious and shows no neurotic or psychotic symptoms.

The MCMI-III and the MMPI-2 showed antisocial personality features, as did the diagnosis on her report. Dr. Haber acknowledged that while there is no direct correlation...

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