Knotts v. State

Decision Date16 June 1995
Docket NumberCR-92-0462
Citation686 So.2d 431
PartiesWilliam Thomas KNOTTS v. STATE.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Richard Lawrence, Paul Lowery, Montgomery, for Appellant.

Jeff Sessions, Atty. Gen., and Beth Poe, Asst. Atty. Gen., for Appellee.

PATTERSON, Judge.

The grand jury of Montgomery County returned seven separate indictments (CC-91-2531 through CC-91-2537) against the appellant, William Thomas Knotts, on November 8, 1991. 1 In case CC-91-2531, he was charged with and convicted of escape in the third degree and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. 2 In case CC-91-2532, he was charged with and convicted of theft of property in the second degree and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. 3 In case CC-91-2533, he was charged with and convicted of burglary in the third degree and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment and was ordered to pay $3,088 restitution. 4 In case CC-91-2534, he was charged with and convicted of theft of property in the first degree and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. 5 In case CC-91-2535, he was charged with and convicted of burglary in the first degree and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. 6 In case CC-91-2536, he was charged with and convicted of theft of property in the second degree and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. 7 In each of these cases, the appellant was also ordered to pay $150 to the victims compensation fund, court costs, and attorney fees. All of the above sentences were to be served consecutively.

In case CC-91-2537, the appellant was charged in a two-count indictment with capital murder. Count I charged murder committed during a robbery in the first degree, a violation of Ala.Code 1975, § 13A-5-40(a)(2), and Count II charged murder committed during a burglary in the first degree, a violation of § 13A-5-40(a)(4). 8

At arraignment, the appellant entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. He subsequently withdrew his plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. The jury verdict on the two-count capital indictment reads, "We, the jury, find the defendant guilty of capital murder." In reference to the convictions for the capital offenses, a sentencing hearing was held before the jury, in accordance with §§ 13A-5-45 and -46, and the jury recommended that the sentence be life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, by a vote of nine to three. 9 Thereafter, the trial court held another sentencing hearing in accordance with §§ 13A-5-47 through -52, and, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and considering the presentence report and the jury's recommendation, sentenced the appellant to death. "While the jury's recommendation concerning sentence shall be given consideration, it is not binding upon the court." § 13A-5-47(e).

In October 1989, the appellant was in the custody of the Department of Youth Services at its detention facility at Mt. Meigs in Montgomery County, having been adjudicated a delinquent by the juvenile court of Jefferson County. Sometime in early October, he and a fellow inmate, M.C., escaped from the facility and, for approximately 24 hours, wandered around in the fields and on the roads nearby. According to the appellant's subsequent statement, while he and his companion were sitting in a field near the residence of Helen Rhodes, she yelled in their direction and called them names such as "cracker" and "honky." They decided to leave the field and, a short distance away, they stopped on a bridge. While they were sitting on the bridge, Helen Rhodes drove by at a high rate of speed and splashed water on them from a pothole on the bridge. M.C. fell from the bridge into the water. This made the appellant mad, and he wanted to "get back at her." They eventually turned themselves in and were returned to the detention facility.

About two weeks later, on October 17, 1989, the appellant escaped again. He hid in the shop bathroom until the shop was closed, left a note that he was going to Dothan, took a screwdriver, a jacket, and a pair of gloves from the shop, and left after dark. He took the screwdriver because he intended to use it to steal an automobile. It began to rain, and he decided to return to the shop. He took a bicycle belonging to Delbert Parker from Parker's yard and rode back to the facility. He hid in the shop until around 4:00 a.m., when he left again, riding the bicycle in the direction of the residence of Helen Rhodes, who he remembered had splashed water on him when she was driving by in her automobile. Between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m., he broke into the house of Carrie Ware by removing the screen from the kitchen window, and stole a .22 caliber pistol, a sweater, a Seiko brand wrist watch, credit cards, and other items. According to the appellant's subsequent statement, he took the pistol to "scare somebody out of their car or something." He left the Ware house, crossed the street, broke into the home of Sheila Rhodes, by breaking out a rear window, and stole a .38 caliber derringer, a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson pistol, a .22 caliber pistol, over 500 rounds of ammunition for the pistols, food, a tin can containing approximately $60 in coins, a black leather bag, and clothing. He then went into the woods where he counted the money and made plans to "get the lady ... for what she did." He then went to Helen Rhodes's house, which he entered by punching a hole in the screen and unlocking a door. He put his wet shoes in a clothes dryer, watched television, hid in the washroom, and waited for Helen Rhodes to return home. While waiting, he composed a note, which he subsequently left on the mantle. He intended for the note to mislead law enforcement officers into thinking that the crimes he was committing were gang related.

Between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m., Helen Rhodes arrived home with her two-year-old son. Shortly after she and the child entered the house, she walked past the appellant's hiding place and he shot her. The bullet passed through her arm and shattered the sliding glass door. Helen Rhodes sat down on a sofa. Her child ran into the room hollering and crying. She got up, apparently to go to her child, and fell. The appellant then shot her in the back. This shot pierced her aorta and her lungs, ultimately causing her death. She remained conscious for 30 to 60 seconds. There was evidence at the scene that a third shot was fired: a .38 caliber bullet was recovered from the kitchen wall about two feet from the floor. The appellant, fearing that someone may have heard the shots, gathered together the items he had taken in the previous burglaries, along with Helen Rhodes's purse, her husband's shoes, and a travel kit, and drove away toward Birmingham in her late model Toyota automobile. Her husband returned home between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., and discovered his wife's body and his son, whose clothing was soaked with his mother's blood, sitting beside her body, crying.

Shortly thereafter, a pickup order or "BOLO" for the appellant was broadcast statewide. Around 3:15 a.m. the following morning, the appellant was discovered by the police, who were aware of the BOLO, sleeping in the victim's automobile 10 in a parking lot in Birmingham, and they arrested him. At the time of his arrest, he was wearing the sweater he had taken from the Ware residence, and Ware's Seiko watch was attached to a belt loop of his pants. A search of the automobile revealed four pistols, the three taken from Sheila Rhodes's residence and one taken from the Ware's residence. After his arrest and after being advised of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966) and Ala.R.Juv.P. 11(B), he told Officer Julie Loebler of the Birmingham Police Department that he had killed a woman because she had called him names; that he had escaped from the juvenile detention center at Mt. Meigs; that he had broken into a house and had stolen four guns and ammunition; that he waited on Helen Rhodes to come home and, that when she did, he fired two shots, killing her; and that he had written the note left on the victim's mantle. Later that day, the appellant was returned to Montgomery, where he made a statement admitting to escaping from the juvenile facility, stealing the bicycle belonging to Parker, burglarizing the residences of Ware, Sheila Rhodes, and Helen Rhodes, taking the guns and other items from the residences, killing Helen Rhodes, and taking her automobile. He stated that he had waited approximately an hour and a half in Helen Rhodes's home for her to come home so he could shoot her for splashing water on him. The statement was videotaped. The tape and a transcript of the statement were admitted into evidence, and we have reviewed them. The appellant did not testify at either the guilt phase or the sentencing phase of the trial and offered evidence only at the sentencing phase. At the sentencing phase, the appellant introduced extensive evidence concerning his family and his social, psychological, and educational background in an effort to show statutory and nonstatutory mitigating circumstances. The appellant does not question the evidence presented by the state. He, in effect, admits that the events established by the evidence occurred. While he admits to murdering Helen Rhodes, he contends that the facts do not support convictions for capital murder. His counsel stated in closing argument, "[I]t's not a question whether a murder was committed, but there is a question of whether it's a capital murder, a murder in which death should be considered." In reference to the capital charges, he asked the jury to return a verdict of murder, not capital murder.

The appellant raises numerous issues on appeal. We will address them in the order in which they appear in the appellant's brief.

I.

The appellant contends that the trial court erred in refusing to admit into evidence certain court, hospital, social service,...

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    • United States
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    ...against a relevancy challenge if it has any probative value, however[ ] slight, upon a matter in the case.’ Knotts v. State, 686 So. 2d 431, 468 (Ala. Crim. App. 1995), aff'd, 686 So. 2d 486 (Ala. 1996). Relevant evidence should be excluded only ‘if its probative value is substantially outw......
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