Kirksey v. State

Decision Date19 December 2014
Docket NumberCR–09–1091.
Citation191 So.3d 810
Parties Ronnie Lynn KIRKSEY v. STATE of Alabama.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Alabama Supreme Court 1140749.

Randall S. Susskind, Alicia A. D'Addario, and Kristen M. Nelson, Montgomery, for appellant.

Troy King and Luther Strange, attys. gen., and Kristi Deason Hagood, deputy atty. gen., and James C. Crenshaw, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.


The appellant, Ronnie Lynn Kirksey, appeals from his conviction for murder made capital because the victim, 23–month–old Cornell Norwood, was less than 14 years old. See § 13A–5–40(a)(15), Ala.Code 1975


On February 18, 2010, the jury returned a guilty verdict to murder made capital because the victim was less than 14 years old. Following the penalty phase of the trial, the jury unanimously found that the crime was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel compared to other capital offenses and unanimously recommended that Kirksey be sentenced to death. On April 30, 2010, the trial court sentenced Kirksey to death. Kirksey appeals his conviction and sentence of death. After careful review, we affirm.

The evidence adduced at trial tended to show that, on Saturday, April 15, 2006, Kirksey lived with Yolanda Norwood at 313 North Sixth Place, Apartment F, in Gadsden, Alabama. Also living there were S.J. and T.N., Yolanda's minor daughters, and her infant son, Cornell. A kitchen, laundry room, and living room were located on the first floor of the apartment, and three bedrooms were on the second floor. At approximately 12:45 that afternoon, while the children were taking a nap and Yolanda was watching television, Kirksey left the apartment to rent a movie. Cornell awoke while Kirksey was gone. Kirksey returned with movies and a six-pack of beer. He took two beers and went upstairs with Cornell. Kirksey did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol at that time.

Around 2:00 p.m., Yolanda and her daughters left the apartment, walking to a store to buy diapers for Cornell. When Yolanda got to the store, she discovered that she did not have enough money to pay for the diapers, so she and the girls walked back to their apartment. When they got to the apartment, they saw Kirksey and Cornell playing in the living room. After getting the additional money she needed from Kirksey, Yolanda returned to the store with her daughters. When Yolanda returned home from the store, she went upstairs to change Cornell's diaper. At that time Kirksey and Cornell were lying on the bed watching television. While Yolanda was changing Cornell's diaper, Kirksey asked her whether Cornell had a habit of biting his jaw or lip. Yolanda noticed some blood near Cornell's mouth and wiped his mouth with a rag. She also observed that Cornell looked tired, as if he had just awakened. Yolanda went back downstairs and took her daughters to Lashonda Simmons's apartment, which was two apartments down from her own apartment.

A few minutes later, Yolanda came back to her apartment; Kirksey came running down the stairs and told her that something was wrong with Cornell. Yolanda followed Kirksey back upstairs and found Cornell lying in the middle of the floor. Kirksey began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation

(“CPR”) on Cornell, whose eyes were closed and who was bleeding from his mouth. Yolanda told Kirksey to continue the CPR, and then, because she did not have a telephone, she ran to a neighbor's apartment to call emergency 911. After placing the call, Yolanda went to Simmons's apartment and told her daughters about Cornell's condition; then she returned to her own apartment, where she found Kirksey still performing CPR on Cornell, who was gasping for air. Kirksey paused long enough to use a rag to wipe blood from Cornell's mouth and then continued CPR. Yolanda noticed blood on Kirksey's T-shirt and on the floor beside Cornell's head.

Three units from the Gadsden Fire Department (“GFD”) were dispatched to the apartment. After being informed that someone upstairs was not breathing, paramedics Melvin Colegrove and Wilburn Reed entered the apartment and went upstairs. They found that Cornell had agonal1 respirations, a very weak pulse, and a very small amount of blood and vomit coming from his mouth. Colegrove spoke with a black male2 who was in the bedroom, asking him what had happened to Cornell. The black male responded: “Well, I left the room, I come [sic] back in and he wasn't breathing.” (R. 1380.) Jason McAlister, a fireman with the GFD who had entered the bedroom, took Cornell downstairs to an ambulance, where Colegrove and Reed began administering fluids and medication intravenously, started performing CPR, and intubated Cornell. As Cornell was being brought downstairs, William Maddux, a GFD commander and paramedic, entered the apartment. Because the GFD had been dispatched in response to a “respiratory problem” and because Cornell was not breathing on his own, Maddux spoke with Kirksey in an attempt to get information about Cornell. (R. 1373.) Kirksey told Maddux that he did not know Cornell's medical history and that he “was just there on weekends mostly.” (R. 1374.) Kirksey also told Maddux that he had been watching movies with Cornell when he left the room to go to the bathroom; when he returned, he said, Cornell was on the floor.

Simmons drove Yolanda to Gadsden Regional Medical Center, where Cornell had been taken, while Kirksey stayed at the apartment. Doctors at that hospital decided that Cornell should be transported by helicopter to Children's Hospital in Birmingham. Kirksey arrived at Gadsden Regional Medical Center before the helicopter departed, but he did not speak to Yolanda.

After being notified that personnel with the GFD had requested an investigator, Detective Teri Farris, a juvenile investigator with the Gadsden Police Department (“GPD”), went to the trauma room at Gadsden Regional Medical Center, where she was shown the bruising on Cornell's face. Det. Farris located Yolanda and asked her what had happened to Cornell. Yolanda responded: “I don't know. I don't know. I wasn't there.” (R. 1432.) After the helicopter departed, Det. Farris told Yolanda that she needed to go to the apartment.

When Yolanda arrived back at the apartment, she found Kirksey already there, standing outside his truck; he did not speak to her. After giving Det. Farris and GPD support personnel permission to enter the apartment, Yolanda and Simmons obtained transportation to Children's Hospital.

Inside the bedroom where Cornell had been treated by paramedics, Det. Farris and the GPD support personnel collected photographs and other evidence. The only blood Det. Farris found in the bedroom was on a rag and T-shirt. Det. Farris went outside, where she found Kirksey. While obtaining his personal information, Det. Farris noticed the smell of alcohol on Kirksey's breath. After a check revealed an arrest warrant for Kirksey's failure to appear for a hearing, Det. Farris had officers take Kirksey into custody and transport him to the Etowah County Jail.

After Det. Farris learned from Yolanda that Kirksey and Cornell had been alone at the apartment, Det. Farris had Kirksey retained in custody. At 1:00 a.m. the next day, April 16, 2006, Det. Farris learned from Dr. Nancy Tofil that Cornell had died. Dr. Tofil also informed Det. Farris that Cornell's skull had been fractured just behind his nose and that he had suffered massive brain swelling.

Yolanda's daughters were placed in a “safety plan” by the Alabama Department of Human Resources. Det. Farris had Yolanda's eight-year-old daughter taken to the Barrie Center for Children3 for an interview.

Det. Farris also had an officer retrieve Yolanda and bring her to the GPD facility for questioning. Det. Farris conducted a lengthy interview with Yolanda and had her write a statement. During the interview, Yolanda told Det. Farris about having walked with her daughters to the store to buy diapers for Cornell; Yolanda's daughter had described this same event during her interview at the Barrie Center. Upon concluding the interview with Yolanda, Det. Farris went to the store indicated by Yolanda and viewed a video recording, taken by a surveillance camera, of Yolanda and her daughters in the store on the afternoon of April 15.

Det. Farris had Kirksey transported from the jail to her office at the GPD facility, where she advised him of his rights by reading from a waiver-of-rights form and then allowing him to read the form himself. Kirksey signed the form. During the initial interview that followed, Kirksey stated that, on the previous day, after drinking four or five beers without having eaten anything, he had been in bed watching movies when he went into the bathroom. When he returned, he said, Cornell was on the floor. Kirksey also told Det. Farris that he had asked Yolanda about Cornell having seizures and that Cornell had had a far away look in his eyes and had bitten his tongue. Det. Farris then asked Kirksey to write out a statement concerning the events surrounding Cornell's death. In that statement, Kirksey wrote:

“I awakeing Sat morning about 9:30 or 9:45 use the bathroom and want donw stair's got my breakfood and speak to the kids. I went back up stair's to eat. Once I got done I put my plate away. An I back up stair to watch T.V. Some friend come over about 11:00 or 11:30 we were all up stair's and the kid's was in the old's girld room playing I had a sode I gave them sum and I went back with the grow flok's and I am going watch a move an take nap me and the lil one. So we watch the move but the bady wood sleep a lil and wake-up. I got up and went donw stair's I said to Yolanda that I will B back I went to North Gaseden to the move store. I got my moveins and I stop at the B.P. store got some beer once I got my beer my truck brack's out so I went home. I walk in the house Yolanda was feeding the kid's the lil one had food all over him and she was going up stair's to

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