Knight v. State

Decision Date24 February 1981
Docket NumberNo. 59741,59741
PartiesThomas KNIGHT, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Page 997

394 So.2d 997
Thomas KNIGHT, Petitioner,
STATE of Florida, Respondent.
No. 59741.
Supreme Court of Florida.
Feb. 24, 1981.

Page 998

Jesse J. McCrary, Jr., Miami, Fletcher N. Baldwin, Jr., and Susan Cary, Gainesville, for petitioner.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen., and Calvin L. Fox, Asst. Atty. Gen., Miami, for respondent.


We have for consideration a petition for writ of habeas corpus by Thomas Knight

Page 999

whose conviction and sentence of death were affirmed by this Court in Knight v. State, 338 So.2d 201 (Fla.1976). We originally transferred this petition to the Eleventh Judicial Circuit and directed that it be treated as a motion for post-conviction relief. The trial judge in considering the petition properly determined that since petitioner's claim for relief is predicated on the assertion of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, such relief can only be granted by habeas corpus in the appellate court unless it was caused by an act or omission of the trial court. The ineffective assistance of counsel allegations stem from acts or omissions before this Court, and therefore we have jurisdiction and will consider the petition for habeas corpus on its merits.

The Governor has signed a death warrant for petitioner's execution, which has been set for March 3, 1981. We received a motion for stay of execution and supporting briefs from the petitioner, Knight, as well as the extensive legal arguments contained in the petition for writ of habeas corpus. The state has filed a responding brief, and the Court has heard oral argument in the cause.

In summary, and for the reasons hereafter expressed, we deny the petition for writ of habeas corpus. We find that counsel on the initial appeal for the petitioner was court appointed and his representation was a result of state action. We have considered each of the asserted failures and omissions of this appellate counsel and have determined that the assertions individually and collectively are without merit. We expressly find that none of the asserted failures or omissions establish a serious incompetency that falls measurably below the performance expected of appellate counsel and that these specific asserted failures or omissions did not affect the outcome of the appellate proceedings to the prejudice of the appellant. We reach this conclusion and finding after a review of not only the record on this petition for habeas corpus but also the record on the initial appeal to this Court.

I. Facts in the Instant Case

Because of the issues and circumstances in this proceeding, we restate the facts of this unusual and bizarre abduction and slaying.

On July 17, 1974, at approximately 8:00 a. m., one of the victims, Sydney Gans, left his wife at their home and drove his gold 4-door Mercedes to his business. As he began to get out of his car at his business, he was met by a black male who approached him with an automatic rifle and told him to get back into the car and drive to his residence and get his wife. The black male abductor got into the rear of the car and Mr. Gans drove back to his home and obtained his wife, who got into the front passenger seat. The black male abductor told Mr. Gans that he wanted $50,000. Mr. Gans drove to a bank in downtown Miami, got out of the car and went inside the bank while his wife moved into the driver's seat and began driving the car around the downtown area. Once inside the bank, Mr. Gans advised the president of the circumstances and the demand for $50,000. The president called the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which sent agents to the president's office and coordinated surveillance of the vehicle driven by Mrs. Gans with the City of Miami police department. Officers stationed in the vicinity of the bank, including an agent for the FBI, observed the Gans vehicle stopped at a traffic light and observed the weapon on the lap of the abductor in the rear seat. Mr. Gans received $50,000 in marked funds which were placed in a paper bag. He went outside and was picked up by his wife and the abductor. Surveillance units followed the Gans vehicle but lost it for about four or five minutes. Subsequently, two officers came upon the vehicle in a construction area with the front passenger door open, the right rear passenger door open, and the trunk open. As the officers approached the vehicle, they observed the back of a black male approximately 150 feet from the vehicle who turned and had a rifle-type weapon in his hands. No shots were fired, and the black male turned and ran into a thick growth of scrub trees and

Page 1000

bushes. The body of Mrs. Gans was found behind the steering wheel. The body of Mr. Gans was found lying about 25 feet from the vehicle. It appeared he had been dragged from the vehicle after he had been shot. Both died as a result of gunshot wounds perforating their necks, the fatal shots having apparently been fired from the rear seat of the Gans vehicle. A search of the surrounding area was commenced. Approximately four and a half hours later, the petitioner, Thomas Knight, was apprehended in a high weeded area about 2000 feet from the Gans vehicle. Underneath the petitioner when he was apprehended was an automatic rifle and a paper bag containing $50,000 buried in the dirt.

There were numerous law enforcement eyewitnesses to the events subsequent to Mr. Gans leaving the bank and immediately prior to the victims being killed. Four law enforcement officers positively identified Knight as being the abductor in the Gans vehicle. Knight's fingerprint was on the trunk of the vehicle.

The issue of the petitioner's competency at the time of the offense was presented to the jury. Five expert witnesses testified, four of whom rendered opinions that the petitioner was sane at the time of the offense. The fifth expert witness, presented on the behalf of the petitioner, believed Knight was not sane at the time of the offense and that he had a severe paranoid-schizophrenic mental condition.

Four private attorneys were appointed to represent the petitioner at his trial, including a former United States District Attorney and a former Assistant United States District Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. One of the four trial counsel was also the counsel on appeal.

II. Effectiveness of Counsel Standards

The state contends that petitioner's original counsel on appeal was in reality the same as privately retained counsel and that the standard for effective assistance of counsel under these facts, especially in light of this Court's mandatory review in death penalty cases, is not far above the "farce and mockery" test rejected for trial counsel effectiveness in Meeks v. State, 382 So.2d 673 (Fla.1980). We reject this contention by the state. Counsel who represented the petitioner on appeal was appointed by the trial court immediately following the sentencing. Although the petitioner did ask for the named appellate counsel to be appointed, it should be noted that this counsel was one of four appointed counsel who represented the petitioner at trial. In view of this holding, we need not address in this cause the differences, if any, in standards of competency between appointed and privately retained counsel.

Establishing the appropriate test or standard for determining reasonably effective assistance of counsel has been considered by some a bramble bush thicket. The United States Supreme Court has avoided speaking definitely on this issue. See Maryland v. Marzullo, 435 U.S. 1011, 98 S.Ct. 1885, 56 L.Ed.2d 394 (1978) (White and Rehnquist, JJ., dissenting). Numerous commentators have written recently on this issue. 1 Several courts have found guidance in the American Bar Association Standards for Criminal Justice ch. 4 (2d ed. 1980), relating to the function of defense counsel. 2

In determining whether defendant has been provided with reasonably effective assistance of counsel, we believe the...

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