Osgood v. State

Decision Date21 October 2016
Docket NumberCR-13-1416
Citation341 So.3d 170
Parties James OSGOOD v. STATE of Alabama
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Alabama Supreme Court 1160543

Randall S. Susskind, Jennae R. Swiergula, and Alison N. Mollman, Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, for appellant.

Luther Strange, atty. gen., and J. Clayton Crenshaw, William D. Dill, and John A. Selden, asst. attys. gen., for appellee.

BURKE, Judge.

James Osgood was convicted of two counts of murder made capital because it was committed during the course of a first-degree rape and during the course of a first-degree sodomy. See § 13A–5–40(a)(3), Ala. Code 1975. The jury unanimously recommended that Osgood be sentenced to death. The trial court accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Osgood to death. This appeal follows.


The evidence presented at trial revealed that on October 13, 2010, Tracy Brown was found dead in her home. Brown's landlord made the discovery after being contacted by Brown's employer when the employer became concerned because Brown had failed to show up for work. Officer David Moses of the Chilton County Sheriff's Department testified that he and his partner were the first to arrive on the scene. Officer Moses testified that he went into Brown's bedroom and saw Brown lying on the floor next to her bed. According to Moses, Brown was naked and had stab wounds to her back as well as a gruesome wound to her neck causing him to believe that she had been murdered. Moses stated that he then left the room, secured the scene, and called other officers for assistance.

Lieutenant Shane Lockhart, a detective with the Chilton County Sheriff's Department, testified that he was the lead investigator on the case. After eliminating one potential suspect, Lockhart learned that Brown had last been seen in the company of Osgood and Osgood's girlfriend, Tonya Vandyke. Lockhart eventually interviewed Osgood early the next morning after Osgood voluntarily agreed to come to the sheriff's office to speak with Lockhart. During that interview, Osgood told Lockhart that he and Vandyke had been with Brown the previous day. Osgood stated that the three of them had gone to Brown's place of employment to pick up her paycheck and then ran various errands, including cashing the check, paying Brown's electric bill, and driving to a nearby town in order to look at a vehicle that Brown was considering purchasing. Further testimony from various witnesses corroborated Osgood's story regarding their activities that morning.

Lockhart testified that he then asked Osgood whether he had ever had sex with Brown. Osgood initially denied any type of sexual relationship with Brown. However, after further questioning, Osgood admitted to Lockhart that he and Vandyke had engaged in a "threesome" with Brown on the day she was murdered. (R. 760.) Osgood explained to Lockhart that Brown first performed oral sex on him. Osgood told Lockhart that Brown then got on her hands and knees on her bed and performed oral sex on Vandyke while Osgood had both vaginal and anal sex with Brown from behind. Osgood stated to Lockhart that he and Vandyke had agreed to lie about the sexual encounter because Vandyke and Brown were cousins and Vandyke was ashamed of their behavior.

Lockhart also testified that a handgun was found at the crime scene. When asked about the gun, Osgood admitted that he and Vandyke brought the gun to Brown's home. According to Osgood, they gave the gun to Brown for protection because Brown had previously told them that a man in her trailer park was harassing her.

Lockhart further testified that, during the interview, he observed a cut on the small finger of Osgood's right hand. According to Lockhart, people often get that type of wound when they stab another person "because of the slickness of the knife once blood gets on it." (R. 764.) Lockhart stated that he had seen similar wounds on suspects in previous investigations in which a victim had been stabbed. Although Osgood steadfastly denied killing Brown, Lockhart placed him under arrest for Brown's murder. Lockhart testified that he then obtained search warrants for Osgood's residence and vehicle and began the process of collecting additional physical evidence.

Approximately one month later, on November 16, 2010, Osgood, who was incarcerated in the Chilton County jail, asked the jail staff about the location of his vehicle and cellular telephone. Lockhart learned about his request and went to the jail along with Captain Erick Smitherman to talk with Osgood. Prior to this encounter, Lockhart had obtained a written statement from a woman named Tiffany Matthews, who was incarcerated with Vandyke. According to Matthews's statement, Vandyke admitted that she and Osgood were involved in Brown's murder and gave Matthews and another prisoner a detailed description of the killing. (C. 573-76.) Lockhart brought a copy of that statement to the jail on November 16 and read portions of it to Osgood. However, Lockhart changed the pronouns in the statement in order to make it seem like the statement was written by Vandyke. Lockhart stated that Osgood asked him to read the statement a second time, after which Osgood "put his head down, and appeared to be in deep thought." (R. 787.) After a short time, Osgood "looked up and said, you might want to get a pen and a piece of paper." (R. 788.)

According to Lockhart, Osgood then began to give him a detailed description of Brown's killing and what led up to it. A video recording of the November 16, 2010, interview was admitted into evidence as State's exhibit 36 and was played for the jury. (R. 825.) In the video, Osgood told Lockhart that he had seen an episode of the television program "CSI" in which two brothers kidnapped a person, held them in a cage, and tortured them. (R. 788-89.) Osgood told Lockhart that "for a long time he had watched stuff like that and could see himself doing something like that for pretty much as long as he could remember." (R. 789.) Osgood told Lockhart that he discussed his fantasies with Vandyke and learned that she had similar fantasies as well. Osgood and Vandyke then began to form a plan in which they would find "a bad person, like somebody who had molested a child" to be their victim or "maybe going to Wal-Mart and snatching someone at random." (R. 789.) However, they eventually decided that Brown would be their victim.

Osgood then began to give Lockhart details about Brown's murder. Osgood stated that after he, Brown, and Vandyke finished running errands, the three returned to Brown's trailer and engaged in conversation. A short time later, Brown and Vandyke went into the hallway near the bathroom, at which point Vandyke slapped Brown in the face. According to Osgood, the slap was a pre-planned signal for him and Vandyke to set their plan in motion.

Osgood stated that he approached Brown from behind and put her in a choke hold until she was almost unconscious. Osgood and Vandyke then took Brown into the bedroom where Osgood forced Brown to perform oral sex on him while Vandyke pointed a gun at her. Osgood stated that he told Vandyke to shoot Brown if Brown bit his penis. Brown then asked if she could use the bathroom at which point Osgood followed her into the bathroom while she defecated. When the two returned to the bedroom, Vandyke undressed and sat at the head of the bed and told Brown to perform oral sex on her. Osgood explained that he was having both vaginal and anal sex with Brown while she was performing oral sex on Vandyke.

According to Osgood, Brown asked to use the bathroom again. Osgood stated that he again accompanied Brown to the bathroom and made her perform oral sex on him while she was defecating. Osgood told the detectives that, after Brown finished using the bathroom, she attempted to escape by running out of the back door of the trailer. Osgood stated that he prevented the escape by grabbing Brown's hair and dragging her back into the bedroom.

Osgood then told detectives that he then resumed having sex with Brown until he and Vandyke looked at each other and shook their heads. At that point, Osgood stated that he took his knife out of his sock and cut Brown on the side of her neck in an attempt to cut her jugular vein. Osgood told detectives that he began to get scared because Brown was not dying fast enough. Osgood admitted that he then stabbed Brown in the back and continued to cut her throat. According to Osgood, he apologized to Brown, told her that it "was nothing against her," and that she just "needed to quit fighting and just let go." (State's Exhibit 36.) Osgood stated that after Brown was dead, he went into Brown's bathroom and took a shower. Afterwards, he and Vandyke left the trailer, went to Vandyke's house, and had sex with each other.

Osgood raises several issues in his brief to this Court, some of which were not raised at trial and are consequently not preserved for appellate review. However, because Osgood was sentenced to death, his failure to object at trial does not preclude this Court from reviewing those issues for plain error. Rule 45A, Ala. R. App. P., provides:

"In all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, the Court of Criminal Appeals shall notice any plain error or defect in the proceedings under review, whether or not brought to the attention of the trial court, and take appropriate appellate action by reason thereof, whenever such error has or probably has adversely affected the substantial right of the appellant."

In Wilson v. State, 142 So.3d 732, 751 (Ala. Crim. App. 2010) (opinion on return to remand), this Court stated:

" ‘[T]he plain-error exception to the contemporaneous-objection rule is to be "used sparingly, solely in those circumstances in which a miscarriage of justice would otherwise result.’ " United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 15, 105 S.Ct. 1038,

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    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • September 2, 2022
    ...of a previous trial mandates reversal on appeal')." Sneed v. State, 1 So.3d 104, 114 (Ala.Crim.App.2007). See also Osgood v. State, 341 So.3d 170, 225-26 (Ala.Crim.App.2020) (opinion on return to remand) (finding that the trial court did not err when it denied Osgood's motion for a mistrial......

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