Morrison v. State

Decision Date21 March 2002
Docket NumberNo. SC94666.,SC94666.
Citation818 So.2d 432
PartiesRaymond MORRISON, Jr., Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, and Chet Kaufman, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, and Curtis M. French, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellee.


We have on appeal the judgment and sentence of the trial court imposing the death penalty upon Raymond Morrison, Jr. We have jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 3(b)(1) of the Florida Constitution. For the reasons expressed below, we affirm the judgment and sentence.

Raymond Morrison, Jr. was charged with first-degree murder for the January 8, 1997, killing of Albert Dwelle, which occurred during the course of a robbery upon Dwelle in his apartment in Duval County. Morrison was also charged with armed robbery with a deadly weapon and burglary of a dwelling with intent to commit a battery, with an assault or battery on Dwelle.

The evidence presented at trial revealed the following facts. On January 9, 1997, the dead body of eighty-two-year-old Dwelle was found on the floor of his bedroom by service personnel from Meals on Wheels. An autopsy revealed numerous injuries on the body of Dwelle, including contusions and abrasions to the head, chest, arms, and hand. According to the medical examiner, Dwelle died from loss of blood due to two lethal knife wounds to the throat. One was a stab wound to the left side of the neck which penetrated to the depth of almost five inches, perforating the esophagus and nicking the cervical vertebrae. A second wound to the neck was described as an incised wound across the front of the throat. As a consequence, Dwelle aspirated the blood caused by the knife wounds to his neck.

Dwelle was disabled for many years, having suffered a stroke during a bout of typhoid fever at age six or seven. He could not use his left hand or arm, he could hardly stand up and walk, and he needed assistance to bathe, dress, and cook. Meals on Wheels delivered his meals once a day.

Investigation by police revealed that Morrison had visited his girlfriend, Sandra Brown, on January 8, 1997. Brown lived at the Ramona Apartments in an upstairs apartment directly across from Dwelle's apartment. Morrison spent the afternoon of January 8, 1997, socializing with Brown and her uncle at Brown's apartment. At some point in the late afternoon or early evening, Brown and Morrison walked to the local convenience store to buy some beer. Brown paid for the beer with money she had just received for babysitting. To her knowledge, Morrison did not have any money. They returned to Brown's apartment where they drank the beer with Brown's uncle. Brown's uncle later left to return to his own home. At about 9 p.m., Morrison prepared two steaks and placed them in the oven to cook. He then told Brown that he was going to take the trash out. He did not return to Brown's apartment and was not seen again by Brown until the next day at a different location. On that occasion, Morrison apparently avoided contact with Brown, who was attempting to talk to him to find out why he had left so abruptly the previous night.

Morrison was arrested on January 10, 1997, by Officer Anthony Richardson, on a warrant for failure to pay child support. Immediately upon arrest, Morrison asked Richardson if "this [his arrest] was about that old man." Richardson told him that he was being arrested for failure to pay child support but that some homicide detectives also wanted to talk to him, so Richardson was taking him to the homicide office of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Richardson then advised Morrison of his constitutional rights. Morrison learned that Richardson, in addition to being a police officer, was also a pastor in a local church. On the way to the police station, Morrison and Richardson discussed religion and Morrison's need to get his life in order. Richardson then turned Morrison over to homicide detectives Terry Short and T.C. Davis.

During a lengthy interview about the Dwelle murder, Morrison told Short that he wanted to talk to Richardson again. Short paged Richardson and Richardson returned to the police station to talk with Morrison. On the morning of January 11, 1997, and following a discussion with Richardson, Morrison gave a written statement detailing his involvement in the death of Albert Dwelle. The text of Morrison's written statement seen by jurors is as follows:

On Wednesday 01-08-97 at approximately 9:00 PM I had been smoking crack with Big Man. I ran out of crack and had no money. I went to Apt. 68 and sat on the steps. I was drinking a beer. I wanted a cigar. I knocked on the door of Apt. # 64. The man came to the door and I ask him for a cigar. He started telling me he couldn't let me come in. I ask for a light for the cigar he gave me. He went back into his bed room to get me a light. I follow him to the bed room. He reached into his shirt pocket hanging on a chair by the bed and handed me a light. I put the lighter back on the chair. I saw money in the shirt pocket. I reached over and grabbed a few bills out of his shirt pocket. He saw me take the money. He got a knife from somewhere and began swinging it at me. I tried to grab him to defend myself and also not to hurt him. I grabbed him by the arm and turned him around so he was facing away from me. He was thrusting the knife back over his shoulders at me. I was holding his right arm and he was still thrashing the knife trying to cut me. While he was trying to cut me the knife accidentally cut across his throat. I didn't know at the time that it had cut him. I was still holding him and he got even wilder thrusting the knife and I guess he got cut again. That's when I saw he was cut.
I laid him down on the floor and picked up the knife. I left the apartment and went to another part of the complex where I hid the knife under a brick.
I then went to Big Mans house and got him to take me to the Chevron. We got gas and he took me to Marietta. When we got to Marietta I bought some drugs with the money I took from the old man. I then went back to Ramona Park where Big Man dropped me off and he went home. I saw my uncle Cap and I got in the car with him. I stayed with Cap until Friday morning and continued smoking dope and drinking till then. Police picked me up Friday after noon.

Morrison also said he took the victim's money and spent it on drugs and prostitutes. In addition, Morrison was seen shortly after the murder attempting to sell silver coins, similar in size and appearance to coins owned by Dwelle and missing from Dwelle's apartment after the murder. Finally, Morrison led the detectives to the knife that he said he used to kill the victim.

On September 25, 1998, the jury found Morrison guilty as charged. After penalty proceedings, the same jury returned a recommendation of death by the vote of twelve-to-zero. The court sentenced Morrison to death for the first-degree murder, and on the other charges found Morrison to be a habitual violent felony offender and sentenced him on each count to life imprisonment, including a minimum mandatory term of fifteen years, to be served consecutively. The court found five aggravating circumstances but said it weighed four: (1) Morrison had prior violent felonies for a 1988 conviction of attempted robbery and a 1991 conviction of aggravated battery, given "great weight"; (2) the murder was committed during a robbery and burglary with assault, given "great weight"; (3) the murder was committed for pecuniary gain, which had no weight because it merged with the murder committed during a robbery aggravator; (4) the murder was heinous, atrocious, or cruel, given "great weight"; and (5) the victim was particularly vulnerable due to advanced age and disability, given "great weight".

Although the court found no statutory mitigating circumstances, it did find and weigh eight nonstatutory mitigators: (1) good jail conduct in that Morrison presented no danger to the police when arrested, cooperated with the police during his detention, and led police to the murder weapon, given "some weight"; (2) there would be no parole or other release from prison from a life sentence for first-degree murder, given "some weight"; (3) Morrison cooperated with the police, given "some weight"; (4) Morrison abused alcohol and cocaine and most likely used the robbery proceeds to purchase more alcohol and cocaine, accorded "some weight"; (5) Morrison was employed, accorded "some weight"; (6) Morrison has only borderline intellectual ability, and when combined with alcohol and drug abuse, it results in bad judgment, accorded "great weight"; (7) Morrison has a positive family background and character, and assumed some responsibility for management of the home at an early age, accorded "some weight"; and (8) Morrison adjusted well to incarceration, albeit with a record of an escape conviction, given "some weight." Morrison timely filed this appeal.1

Request for New Counsel

First, Morrison claims the trial court erred in failing to adequately address Morrison's request for new counsel prior to trial. In Hardwick v. State, 521 So.2d 1071 (Fla.1988), this Court adopted the procedure announced in Nelson v. State, 274 So.2d 256 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973), to be followed when a defendant complains that his appointed counsel is incompetent. When this occurs, the trial judge is required to make a sufficient inquiry of the defendant to determine whether or not appointed counsel is rendering effective assistance to the defendant. See Howell v. State, 707 So.2d 674, 680 (Fla.1998). However, as a practical matter, the trial judge's inquiry can only be as specific as the defendant's complaint. See Lowe v. State, 650 So.2d 969 (Fla.1994). This Court has consistently found a Nelson hearing unwarranted where a...

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