Patton v. State

Decision Date09 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. F-96-1460,F-96-1460
Citation973 P.2d 270,1998 OK CR 66
Parties1998 OK CR 66 Eric Allen PATTON, Appellant, v. STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma


¶1 Appellant Eric Allen Patton was tried by jury and convicted of First Degree Murder (Count I) (21 O.S.1991, § 701.7) and First Degree Burglary, After Former Conviction of Two or More Felonies (Count II) (21 O.S.1991, §§ 1431 & 51), Case No. CF-95-55, in the District Court of Oklahoma County. In Count I, the jury found the existence of four (4) aggravating circumstances and recommended the punishment of death. In Count II, the jury recommended as punishment one thousand one hundred and twenty (1,120) years imprisonment. The trial court sentenced accordingly. From this judgment and sentence Appellant has perfected this appeal. 1

¶2 On December 16, 1994, Appellant was employed as a brick mason. During the morning, Appellant left the job site in Edmond, Oklahoma, ostensibly to purchase electrical connection boxes at a local hardware store. Appellant drove co-worker Chris Williams' car and was gone four hours. When he returned, he did not have the electrical boxes and was wearing clothes belonging to his co-worker Chris Williams, clothes different than he had worn earlier in the day.

¶3 During the time Appellant was gone, he went to the home of Les and Charlene Kauer in northeast Oklahoma City. Charlene Kauer answered Appellant's knock at the front door. He asked to borrow money. Mrs. Kauer gave him ten dollars ($10.00). Not satisfied, Appellant forced his way into the home, grabbed Mrs. Kauer by the throat and dragged her through the house looking for money and valuables. He took her to the bedroom where he forced her to undress and then struggled with her. He stabbed her numerous times, then dragged her down the hallway into the kitchen. The struggle between Appellant and Mrs. Kauer continued and he stabbed her several more times with a variety of knives. As the fierceness of the attack broke a succession of knives, Appellant resorted to a barbecue fork. Unsure if the severely wounded Mrs. Kauer was dead, he plunged a pair of scissors into her chest. Appellant left the scene, cleaned up and traded his bloody clothes for a pair of coveralls found in Williams' car. The bloody clothes were dropped in a field in northwest Oklahoma City and Appellant returned to his job in Edmond.

¶4 Appellant initially was not a suspect in the victim's murder, but at the request of the police, he came to their office for questioning, as he had previously done some painting work for the Kauers and worked with them at Dial American Marketing. Through a series of interviews, Appellant gave body samples and answered questions. He was eventually arrested when fingerprint comparison revealed his prints at the murder scene. During this series of interviews, Appellant initially denied any involvement in the murder. He then stated that he had seen a suspicious vehicle at the victim's residence and suggested Mr. Kauer was involved in the murder. When asked about a scratch on his lip and cuts on his hands he explained that he was changing a tire and the jack slipped and hit him.

¶5 During a subsequent interview, Appellant inculpated his co-worker Chris Williams in the murder. He told police he had a lot of information to give them, but he was protecting someone. He said he was guilty just because he was at the Kauer's home but that the other person committed the murder. Appellant went on to say that Mrs. Kauer was not supposed to be home that day, that he had gone over to steal some items from the house and discovered her there by accident. He said the other person assaulted Mrs. Kauer and tore her clothes off. Afraid Mrs. Kauer was going to be raped, Appellant intervened. That was when he was cut on the hand and scratched on the lip. He added that they "had only gotten a lousy $14.00 and the woman didn't even put up a fight." Appellant took the officers to a field in northwest Oklahoma City where he had disposed of his bloody clothes and showed the officers several convenience stores which he admitted robbing.

¶6 In another interview, Appellant admitted that Chris Williams was not involved in the murder but there had been a woman with him at the victim's home. This woman, called a "strawberry" 2 by Appellant, took part in the murder. Appellant said the woman stabbed the victim while he wrestled with the victim's dog, eventually stabbing the dog. He said the cuts on his hand and the scratch on his lip came from the victim's dog which bit him. At the end of the interview, Appellant admitted there had been no "strawberry" with him. When asked who the woman with him was, Appellant only indicated she was a family member.

¶7 In a subsequent interview Appellant admitted seeing himself at the murder and stabbing the victim, but said there were demonic forces present and the victim was a demon. Appellant also said that he had ingested cocaine before the murder and believed the drug was "laced" with another drug. He said he was "tripping" from the effects of the drugs. Appellant described in detail his activities immediately before the murder, during the murder and afterwards.


¶8 In his first assignment of error, Appellant contends the trial court erred in restricting the scope of voir dire and that such restriction violated the Oklahoma and Federal constitutions. Specifically, he argues the trial court erred in prohibiting questions to prospective jurors regarding: 1) whether they believed a person given the death penalty would actually be executed and what kinds of factors would be important in determining whether the death penalty was an appropriate sentence; 2) whether meaningful consideration would be given to lesser included offenses; and 3) whether meaningful consideration would be given to psychiatric testimony.

¶9 The purpose of voir dire examination is to ascertain whether there are grounds to challenge prospective jurors for cause and to permit the intelligent use of peremptory challenges. Mayes v. State, 887 P.2d 1288, 1298 (Okl.Cr.1994); Duvall v. State, 825 P.2d 621, 631 (Okl.Cr.1991), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 878, 113 S.Ct. 224, 121 L.Ed.2d 161 (1992). The manner and extent of voir dire is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal absent a clear abuse of discretion. Duvall, 825 P.2d at 631. The trial court may properly restrict questions that are repetitive, irrelevant or regard legal issues upon which the trial court will instruct the jury. Nauni v. State, 670 P.2d 126, 130 (Okl.Cr.1983). There is no abuse of this discretion so long as the voir dire questioning is broad enough to afford the Appellant a jury free of outside influence, bias or personal interest. Duvall, 825 P.2d at 631.

¶10 This Court has previously found no error in the trial court's restriction of questioning concerning the possibilities of the death sentence being actually carried out. Id., 825 P.2d at 631. In Duvall, we held it was not relevant or proper to inquire as to whether or not a juror actually believes the penalty recommended will or will not be imposed. Id. We similarly find that such a question is not relevant in the present case. The answer to such a question would not be determinative of whether a person could discharge his or her duties as a juror. "Given the traditionally broad discretion accorded to the trial judge in conducting voir dire, and our inability to discern any possible prejudice from not allowing that particular question on voir dire, we do not find that the Appellant's constitutional rights were violated when the trial judge refused this question." Id., at 632.

¶11 This Court has also upheld a trial court's ruling prohibiting the questioning of potential jurors as to circumstances they would consider to be mitigating. McCarty v. State, 904 P.2d 110, 115 (Okl.Cr.1995); Fox v. State, 779 P.2d 562, 569 (Okl.Cr.1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1060, 110 S.Ct. 1538, 108 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990). In Sellers v. State, 809 P.2d 676, 682-683 (Okl.Cr.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 912, 112 S.Ct. 310, 116 L.Ed.2d 252 (1991), we found no error in the trial court's prohibition of inquiries into youth as a mitigating factor. We stated:

While it is proper to inquire whether a prospective juror is willing to consider the alternate punishments prescribed for First Degree Murder, we find no abuse of discretion in refusing to permit inquiry into views on particular mitigating circumstances. To permit such questioning would make voir dire an open forum for discussion of any circumstances accompanying the murder, both mitigating and aggravating. The great potential to improperly influence the jury weighs strongly in support of the trial court's ruling in this case.

While a criminal defendant in a State court is guaranteed an impartial jury by the Sixth Amendment, (cite omitted) ... the Constitution does not always entitle a defendant to propound questions during voir dire specifically directed to matters that conceivably might prejudice veniremen against him. (cite omitted) ... [t]he State in this case was able to fulfill its obligation to impanel an impartial jury with less than a specific inquiry into appellant's area of concern, and this argument must fail.

See also Bryson v. State, 876 P.2d 240, 253 (Okl.Cr.1994); cert. denied...

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