Jones v. State

Decision Date17 March 1998
Docket NumberNo. 92234,92234
Citation709 So.2d 512
Parties23 Fla. L. Weekly S137 Leo Alexander JONES, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Martin J. McClain, Litigation Director, Office of the CCRC--South, Miami, for Appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, Richard B. Martell, Chief, Capital Appeals, and Curtis M. French, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.


Leo Alexander Jones, under sentence of death and warrant for execution, appeals the trial court's denial of his third motion for postconviction relief filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. We have jurisdiction. See Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the trial court's denial of Jones' 3.850 motion.


Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1981. This Court affirmed the conviction and sentence on direct appeal. See Jones v. State, 440 So.2d 570 (Fla.1983). Since that time, Jones has made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain relief. Specifically, this Court denied Jones' first petition for writ of habeas corpus alleging ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, see Jones v. Wainwright, 473 So.2d 1244 (Fla.1985), and affirmed the denial of his first 3.850 motion alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. See Jones v. State, 528 So.2d 1171 (Fla.1988). This Court then denied his second petition for writ of habeas corpus, wherein Jones alleged several procedurally barred claims regarding the sentencing phase of his trial. See Jones v. Dugger, 533 So.2d 290 (Fla.1988). The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals also affirmed the denial of a habeas petition filed by Jones. See Jones v. Dugger, 928 F.2d 1020 (11th Cir.1991).

Jones filed a second 3.850 motion in 1991 based on a claim of newly discovered evidence. The trial court summarily denied this motion because the evidence alleged "would not have compelled a verdict for Jones" if it had been introduced at trial. Jones v. State, 591 So.2d 911, 915 (Fla.1991). However, on appeal this Court remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing after enunciating a less stringent standard that requires a new trial where the newly discovered evidence would "probably produce an acquittal on retrial." Id. Following an evidentiary hearing on remand, the trial court again denied Jones' 3.850 motion, and this Court affirmed. See Jones v. State, 678 So.2d 309 (Fla.1996), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 1088, 137 L.Ed.2d 221 (1997). Jones has since filed multiple "all-writs" petitions, 1 as well as petitions for writs of prohibition and mandamus.

In his most recent 3.850 motion, Jones alleged that newly discovered evidence established his innocence and that he was denied due process because he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by a judge who violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. Jones orally amended his motion at the evidentiary hearing to include a claim that the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). Due to Jones' allegations of misconduct by the presiding judge, this Court appointed Senior Circuit Judge Clarence Johnson to conduct the 3.850 evidentiary proceedings.

After a four-day evidentiary hearing, Judge Johnson denied Jones' motion for a new trial, finding the evidence presented would not probably produce an acquittal on retrial. Jones now appeals that decision.

In reviewing the trial court's decision, we are mindful that "this Court, as an appellate body, has no authority to substitute its view of the facts for that of the trial judge when competent evidence exists to support

the trial judge's conclusion." State v. Spaziano, 692 So.2d 174, 175, 177 (Fla.1997); see also Blanco v. State, 702 So.2d 1250 (Fla.1997). A trial court's order on a motion for new trial will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Spaziano, 692 So.2d at 178.


The basic facts of the underlying crime are detailed in this Court's original opinion affirming Jones' conviction and sentence:

[O]n May 23, 1981, shortly after 1:00 A.M., Officer Thomas J. Szafranski was shot in his squad car at the intersection of 6th Street and Davis Street, Jacksonville, Florida. Officer Wilmouth was first on the scene. While Wilmouth waited for medical assistance to arrive a group of people came out of a nearby bar and approached him. One unidentified member of the group indicated that the shots had come from the two-story apartment building fronting the 6th and Davis Street intersection. Thereafter Wilmouth proceeded to investigate this building.

Officer Mundy had been informed of the incident by radio and quickly joined Wilmouth in the investigation. According to Mundy, the reputation of the apartment building in question was well travelled in law enforcement circles. Mundy entered the building fully aware that the vacant lower left apartment was a known "stash house" harboring drug users, vagabonds and other street criminals.

The two officers' search of the building's lower level produced nothing. However, Wilmouth informed Mundy that he had heard "shuffling" in the upper left apartment. Thereafter Mundy approached this apartment, knocked on the door, and proceeded to identify himself as a police officer. His repeated knocking, however, went unanswered. When Mundy continued to hear voices coming from within he entered the apartment; there he confronted appellant and appellant's cousin, Bobby Hammond[s], charging them both with attempted first-degree murder. During a cursory search of the apartment, assisting officers located several high-powered rifles, resting in plain view, but did not, at that time, disturb them.

Both appellant and Hammond[s] were then transported to the Police Memorial Building. There, after being given repeated Miranda warnings by Officer Eason, appellant signed [the following] statement incriminating himself and exonerating his cousin, Hammond[s]....

I, Leo Jones have been given my rights and I fully understand them and am making this statement on my own free will. I have given Det. Eason permission to write this statement for me. I, Leo Jones on 23 May 81 took a rifle out of the front room of my apartment and went down the back stairs and walked to the front empty apartment and shot the policeman through the front window of the apartment. I then ran back upstairs and hid the gun or rifle and then the police came.

Jones v. State, 440 So.2d at 572-73.

In a later opinion, we elaborated on Jones' confession:

Prior to trial, Jones moved to suppress his confession. He and Hammond[s] testified that the police beat them both at the scene and at the police station. The police acknowledged striking them at the scene but testified that it was necessary to do so because they were resisting arrest. The police denied hitting them at any other time. Prior to obtaining Jones' short two-sentence confession, they took him to the hospital. The attending doctor testified that Jones had only superficial injuries. The trial judge refused to suppress the confession, and this ruling was ultimately approved on direct appeal. 2

At trial, the State relied heavily upon the confession. However, there was also testimony that about a week prior to the murder Jones had told a police officer that he was tired of being hassled by the police Jones, 591 So.2d at 912-13.

and that he intended to kill a pig. Further, Hammond[s] testified that on the night of the murder, he saw Jones leave the apartment with a rifle in his hand. Hammond[s] then heard gunshots and shortly thereafter Jones returned to the apartment still carrying the rifle. This testimony was consistent with the State's theory that Jones had fired the shots from a downstairs apartment. However, Hammond[s] was impeached by an earlier sworn statement to the effect that he did not see Jones with a gun that night. 3

In our opinion affirming the trial court's order denying Jones' previous 3.850 motion, we further observed that:

The record also reflects that Jones maintained his innocence at trial and testified that the rifles discovered in his apartment belonged to Glen Schofield, a friend who stayed in his apartment on occasion. Further, Hammonds testified that Schofield was at Jones' apartment the night of the shooting and that Schofield left the apartment armed with a handgun at approximately 12:15 a.m. The defense, however, did not present any additional evidence that might have linked Schofield to the murder. Moreover, Jones' trial attorney did not argue to the jury that Schofield might have committed the murder.

Jones, 678 So.2d at 311.

Because all of the evidence presented in Jones' original trial is important to our analysis of the issues Jones raises in the present 3.850 appeal, we set forth the following additional, pertinent facts from the record of the original trial. Officer Szafranski's car was the third in a series of police cars turning at the intersection of 6th and Davis Streets. The officers were returning from a nearby hostage situation. Officer Dyal, who was driving one of the two police cars immediately preceding Officer Szafranski's vehicle, testified that after he heard the first shot, he looked back and saw "flashes" from two more gunshots emanating from Jones' apartment building.

Expert testimony revealed that Officer Szafranski was shot with a .30-.30 calibre Winchester Marlin rifle. Two such rifles were found in Jones' apartment, each with one spent shell casing. Jones' fingerprint was found on the breach area of one of the rifles.

As to other evidence presented at trial, Officer Mundy testified that while searching the downstairs, vacant apartment in Jones' apartment building after the shooting, he found a fresh recoil mark on the sill of one of the windows. A ballistics expert testified that the bullet's trajectory was consistent with the bullet having been fired from the downstairs apartment. The...

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