Matthews v. Com., 83-SC-348-MR

Decision Date26 September 1985
Docket NumberNo. 83-SC-348-MR,83-SC-348-MR
Citation709 S.W.2d 414
PartiesDavid Eugene MATTHEWS, Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky

Kathleen Kallaher, Randall L. Wheeler, Asst. Public Advocates, Frankfort, for appellant.

David L. Armstrong, Atty. Gen., Virgil W. Webb, III, David A. Smith, Asst. Atty Gen., Frankfort, L.D. Simon, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Louisville, for appellee.

LEIBSON, Justice.

David Eugene Matthews appeals from a judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court sentencing him to the death penalty for the murder of his estranged wife, to the death penalty for the murder of his mother-in-law, and to twenty years' imprisonment for the first-degree burglary of his wife's residence.

Matthews and his wife, Marlene, had been married for about two and a half years before the murders. During the last year their marriage had undergone repeated periods of separation, during which Matthews lived with his mother. These separations were marked by extreme hostility, and Marlene often swore out criminal warrants against her husband for harassment.

In the five week period immediately before the murders occurred, Marlene had procured two separate warrants against Matthews. The first charged him with sexual abuse of his step-daughter, Marlene's six year old daughter. The second charged him with burglary by breaking into Marlene's residence. Matthews had been arrested on the first warrant and released under a court order forbidding him further contact with Marlene. He was not served with the burglary warrant until after the crimes at issue had occurred.

During the early morning hours of June 29, 1981, the victims were murdered in separate rooms at the home occupied by Marlene and her daughter. The house was rented from Marlene's family. Both victims were shot with a .22 caliber revolver fired from no more than eighteen inches away. Apparently Marlene died almost immediately. Marlene's father, Lawrence Cruse, came over the next morning and discovered her mother still alive, but mortally wounded. She had been shot in the head. He also found his daughter who had been shot twice, once in the chest and once in the back. Cruse found the side door screen had been cut and the glass broken, and a pocketknife on the steps.

Appellant did not testify at trial. The evidence that he had broken into the house and that he was responsible for the shootings, however, was both overwhelming and uncontradicted. Defense counsel conceded from the outset of the trial that the appellant killed the two victims. His defense consisted of presenting evidence that he was acting under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance at the time, so that it was manslaughter, not murder.

To establish extreme emotional disturbance, appellant relied on the combined effect of testimony from a number of people about the long history of significant marital strife. Appellant also introduced testimony from a psychiatrist to show that, at the time of the homicides, he was suffering from an adjustment disorder, designated "a temporary emotional and behavioral disturbance" causing temporary impairment of judgment, poor self-control and diminished awareness.

In the account of the events on the night of the murder given by the appellant to the psychiatrist, the appellant said that he broke into his wife's home at about 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. He found his mother-in-law in bed and shot her. She was left mortally wounded. He then went into the next room, had sexual relations one or two times with his wife, stayed with her until about 6:00 a.m., and shot and killed her. He shot his wife twice because he thought he had missed the first time.

Appellant presents thirty-seven (37) separate assignments of error. We have considered all of these issues. In this opinion time and space dictate that we limit to the issues that merit discussion. As to those we do not discuss, we note, for the record, that they have been considered and rejected.

The assignments of error which we will discuss are appellant's claims that:

1) Evidence of the burglary warrant and the sexual abuse warrant taken out before the murders occurred should not have been admitted.

2) The appellant's presentation of evidence of domestic conflict occurring before the murders took place was unduly limited.

3) Testimony admitted on cross examination of appellant's psychiatrist violated the psychiatrist/patient privilege.

4) The evidence did not sustain using the burglary charge as an aggravating factor justifying the death penalty.

5) The evidence did not sustain using multiple murder as an aggravating factor justifying the death penalty, and the jury's findings were insufficient on this point.

6) The use of the word "recommend" in the death penalty in the court's instructions was error.

7) The trial court failed to adequately instruct the jury when the jury inquired about parole.

8) The trial judge used improper and erroneous considerations in imposing sentence.

The appellant also presented us with the usual package of stock arguments related to statutory construction and administration of Kentucky's death penalty statute, subjects upon which we have already written at length and which need no repetition here.

For the reasons that follow we find no error justifying reversal of this case, and affirm.

I. WARRANTS FOR BURGLARY AND SEXUAL ABUSE

The sexual abuse warrant had a direct bearing on the appellant's state of mind at the time that Marlene and her mother were killed. This kind of evidence is admissible to prove intent or state of mind. Ringstaff v. Commonwealth, Ky., 275 S.W.2d 946 (1955).

The appellant complains that before trial the trial judge advised that, when such evidence was to be admitted, the court would instruct the jury to the effect that it could be considered only as bearing on the accused's state of mind and not as proof of guilt of the offense charged. No such instruction was given, but since none was requested, we perceive no error in this respect.

It is quite evident that the warrant issued at the behest of Marlene, charging the appellant with sexual abuse of his step-daughter, and the court order to stay away from Marlene's house which resulted from this warrant, in the time framework of this case, are relevant not only as evidence of motive or state of mind, but as part of the immediate circumstances bearing on the crimes charged. In Francis v. Commonwealth, Ky., 468 S.W.2d 287 (1971), we stated:

"While the prosecution is not privileged to show unconnected and isolated unlawful conduct that had no bearing whatsoever upon the crime under scrutiny, yet all the circumstances may be shown which have a relation to the particular violation of the law imputed, even if, in so doing, other offenses may be brought to light." Id. at 289.

Next, regarding the warrant charging the appellant with burglary of the same house on an occasion three days before the occurrence of the burglary and murders with which we are presently concerned, although there was no direct evidence that appellant was aware that this burglary warrant was outstanding, the circumstances that led to the warrant, and the warrant itself, reflected on a relevant pattern of conduct. It was part of the circumstances which evidenced the existing domestic difficulties between the appellant and his wife. As such, it bears a direct relation to the events of the tragedy and was admissible. Dye v. Commonwealth, Ky., 477 S.W.2d 805 (1972). Indeed, appellant was using the supposedly unjustified bringing of warrants to explain his emotional state.

Standing alone, the prior burglary warrant may have had little evidentiary value. But there was other evidence tying the appellant to this previous break-in, and there were striking similarities between the vandalism on the previous occasion and the vandalism on the occasion of the burglary charged in the present indictment. There was no error in admitting the burglary warrant in the particular circumstances of this case. The general rule foreclosing evidence of other, unrelated crimes, does not apply. Dye v. Commonwealth, supra.

II. WAS THE APPELLANT IMPROPERLY PREVENTED FROM INTRODUCING FURTHER EVIDENCE ABOUT PRIOR DOMESTIC CONFLICT?

Appellant claims that he was prevented from presenting certain evidence tending to further explain why he acted under extreme emotional disturbance. This claim of error runs to objections sustained as to certain details of the testimony from appellant's mother, from a longtime friend, and from a former attorney who had been involved in representing both the appellant and his wife when various domestic warrants between the two surfaced in court.

As stated in Shumate v. Commonwealth, Ky., 433 S.W.2d 340, (1968):

"The question of remoteness of evidence is one of degree, a relative concept with no fixed standard. What is or is not remote depends upon the facts of each case." Id. at 342.

In this case, the trial court permitted extensive presentation of evidence regarding previous domestic difficulties. The instances which are the subject of appellant's complaint were remote transactions between third parties and the deceased wife. Connection to appellant's state of mind at the time of the crime was nonexistent. If anything, the trial court permitted the appellant greater latitude than was reasonable in presenting evidence from third persons as to their problems with Marlene. Certainly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion with regard to those instances of which the appellant complains.

III. THE PSYCHIATRIST/PATIENT PRIVILEGE

Appellant utilized the services and testimony of a psychiatrist to testify in support of his claim that he acted under extreme emotional disturbance. On cross-examination the Commonwealth pursued the same line of inquiry as used by defense counsel on direct, only with more details about the statements that appellant made to the psychiatrist describing the...

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