Perez v. State, SC03-1651.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation919 So.2d 347
Docket NumberNo. SC03-1651.,SC03-1651.
PartiesDaniel Ely PEREZ, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Decision Date27 October 2005

Diamond R. Litty, Public Defender and Gary Lee Caldwell, Assistant Public Defender, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, FL, for Appellant.

Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, Mitchell Egber and Leslie T. Campbell, Assistant Attorneys General, West Palm Beach, FL, for Appellee.

PER CURIAM.

We have on appeal a judgment of conviction of first-degree murder and a sentence of death. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the appellant's conviction but vacate the death sentence, and remand for a new penalty phase proceeding.

Facts and Procedural History

On October 1, 2004, the grand jury indicted appellant, Daniel Ely Perez, and Calvin Cedric Green for the first-degree murder of Perez's wife's aunt, Susan Martin,1 for burglary of Martin's home during which an assault or battery upon Martin was committed while the assailant was armed with a dangerous weapon, and for robbery with a deadly weapon. The charges against Perez and Green resulted from the stabbing of Martin and removal of certain property from her residence. On August 29, 2001, Martin's body was found lying in a large amount of blood in the front entrance of her home in Port St. Lucie. The cases of Green and Perez were severed prior to trial pursuant to a Stipulated Motion for Severance. Perez's trial began on April 28, 2003, and on May 8, 2003, he was found guilty of all three counts of the indictment as charged.

At trial, Officer James Weinart of the Port St. Lucie Police Department testified that on August 29, 2001, at approximately 1:45 p.m., he responded to a 911 call requesting that a welfare check be conducted at Martin's residence. Upon arriving at Martin's residence, Officer Weinart knocked on the front door and rang the doorbell but received no response. After several unsuccessful attempts to make contact with the occupant, the officer opened the front door, which was unlocked, and found Martin lying "on her back with several stab wounds, head trauma and blood all over the floor." The officer immediately closed the door and notified police headquarters. Subsequently Detective Anthony Sakala, a police detective who had previously investigated a theft that was reported by Martin in July of 2001, was called to the crime scene to identify the victim.

The lead detective on the case, Michael Beath, requested the phone records for both of the land lines registered to Martin as well as her cell phone. Detective Beath discovered that Martin had called Bell South from her cell phone at 1:07 a.m. on the morning of the crime. Bell South operator Vanlesha Gaskins testified that Martin had called to report that her house phone was not working. Gaskins testified that in response to the call she conducted several tests that led her to conclude that a phone line may have been cut. Gaskins stated that Martin was talking in a low whisper and ended the call in a low tone sounding somewhat scared and simply stating that she "had to go." David Gose, a service technician for Bell South, was dispatched to Martin's residence on August 29, 2001, and ascertained that both the phone line going from the street to Martin's house and the line connecting the phone box on the outside of the house to the inside of the house had been cut.

At trial, several witnesses for the State testified with regard to evidence discovered at the crime scene. Ron Schoener, a crime scene investigator for the Port St. Lucie Police Department, testified that a side entrance door leading into the garage of Martin's house was ajar and that the screen to a window in the door was cut in two pieces and removed. The investigator further testified that the glass of the window had also been removed and was leaning against some boxes just inside this side entrance door. The molding from a window adjacent to the garage had also been removed and was found lying in the grass, and the light bulbs of two spotlights on the exterior of the house had been disabled.

The interior of the house appeared to have been ransacked because drawers were opened with the contents dumped out and strewn about. Martin's body was found directly inside the front door of the house, with her head approximately seven feet from the door, and her body was lying on the back with the hands above her head in a large amount of blood. A white sock was on the floor near the head of the body. A shoeprint was discovered in the blood near Martin's body, and there were several additional shoeprints that led from the body toward the bathroom area. A cane with a large brass duck head was found in the bathroom and a gray or silver sock was recovered from the area between the master bedroom and the bathroom. No fingerprints of any value were found inside the house, which was consistent with the conclusion that any assailant was wearing something over his or her hands and corresponded with the socks found at the scene.

The medical examiner, Dr. Roger Mittleman, described Martin's injuries in detail. Her autopsy revealed that she had suffered a blunt force injury to the left side of the head resulting in bruising and a laceration of the scalp but which did not result in a skull fracture or any damage to her brain. The bruising underlying the laceration indicated that Martin was alive when she was struck, and Mittleman opined that Martin most likely survived the blow. In total, Martin suffered ninety-four stab wounds, which averaged one-half inch in length with a penetration depth from one-half inch to one-and-one-half inches indicating that one weapon made all of the wounds. The wounds included eight stab wounds to the left side of her neck, four striking the jugular vein; twenty-four stab wounds to the right lateral torso, several of which punctured the liver and right lung resulting in hemorrhaging into the right lung cavity, which indicated she was alive at the time these wounds were inflicted; twenty stab wounds on the left side of her body; twenty-four stab wounds to her middle and lower back; and eighteen stab wounds to her abdominal area. Red marks on Martin's neck indicated that something had been pulled against her neck, such as a thin necklace. There were also defensive wounds to Martin's hand area indicating that she had been attempting to ward off an attack.

The medical examiner testified that although he could not definitively conclude the exact sequence of the wounds, it was his opinion that the wounds to the abdominal area and back occurred after the wounds to the neck and the right side of the body. Four of the wounds to Martin's neck were determined to have been of a character to be lethal, as were several to the right side torso, where the weapon entered her liver. Mittleman testified that Martin would have lost consciousness within seconds to a minute or two as a result of the wounds inflicted to her neck, but that she could have survived ten to fifteen minutes from the wounds inflicted to her right torso area. He was unable to determine whether the stabber was right or left-handed.

Detective Beath's investigation included three separate interviews with Perez. Beath initially interviewed Perez on August 29, 2001, the same day he was called to the scene to investigate the crime. Beath testified that he met with Perez at the police department, where Perez arrived voluntarily upon request. Subsequently, on August 31, 2001, Beath again interviewed Perez on a voluntary basis. At this point, Beath knew through Detective Sakala that Perez had been implicated by Martin in the previous jewelry theft from her residence and that Perez was aware of this fact. During these initial interviews, Perez denied any involvement in the earlier theft. Additionally, when Perez was asked whether he was in the habit of carrying a knife he responded that he carried one while at work. Beath noted that Perez was wearing new shoes during these interviews. Subsequently, it was discovered that Perez had pawned the ring and earrings Martin had previously reported stolen during the prior theft. The police also discovered that Perez had sold some of Martin's missing coins.

Beath again interviewed Perez at the police department when he arrived looking for his wife, who was being interviewed at the time. During this interview, Beath confronted Perez with the evidence of his possession of the previously stolen jewelry. Perez's initial story, denying any involvement, changed several times during the interview from stating that a drug addict gave him the jewelry, to stating that he had taken a pill bottle from Martin's house and gave it to the owner of a pawn shop to sell its contents, to ultimately admitting that he had removed a pill bottle from the home and discovered jewelry inside that he later pawned. After Perez was advised of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), he told the police he wanted to continue the interview. Perez was subsequently advised that he was under arrest for the prior jewelry theft.

After further questioning with regard to Martin's stabbing, Perez revealed a plan that he had with Gary Reed and Calvin Green to steal Martin's car. Initially, Perez admitted that he provided Reed and Green with directions to Martin's house to steal the car on the night of the murder but denied that he was ever present at the scene. Perez admitted that he came into possession of the coins taken from the house in return for giving Reed and Green directions to Martin's house. Thereafter Perez changed his story, admitting that he actually drove to Martin's house in his sister's car and that...

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