Price v. State

CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Citation725 So.2d 1003
PartiesChristopher Lee PRICE v. STATE.
Decision Date20 June 1997

725 So.2d 1003

Christopher Lee PRICE


Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama.

June 20, 1997.

Rehearing Denied November 14, 1997.

725 So.2d 1010
Joel L. Sogol, Tuscaloosa, for appellant

725 So.2d 1011
Bill Pryor, atty. gen., and Thomas Leverette and Steve Willoughby, asst. attys. gen., for appellee

McMILLAN, Judge.

The appellant was convicted of capital murder, see § 13A-5-40(a)(2), Code of Alabama 1975, for the intentional murder of Bill Lynn during a robbery in the first degree. He was also convicted of robbery in the first degree, a violation of § 13A-8-41, Code of Alabama 1975, for the robbery of Bessie Lynn, Bill Lynn's wife.1 Following the guilt phase of the appellant's trial, a sentencing hearing was held before the jury. The jury returned an advisory verdict on the capital murder conviction recommending that he be put to death by electrocution. Thereafter, a separate sentencing hearing was held before the trial court, wherein the trial court initially sentenced the appellant to life imprisonment without parole2 as to the robbery in the first degree conviction and to death by electrocution as to the capital murder conviction.

Through the testimony of Bessie Lynn and through the admission of a statement the appellant gave to authorities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, approximately one week after the offense, the State established evidence tending to show the following:

On the evening of December 22, 1991, Bill and Bessie Lynn returned to their home following a church service at the Natural Springs Church of Christ, where Bill Lynn had served as minister. The victims' home was located in the Bazemore community of north Fayette County. Bill Lynn had begun assembling Christmas toys for his grandchildren, while Bessie Lynn had dressed for bed and was upstairs in her bedroom watching television. The electricity suddenly failed and, because the security lights outside remained on, and because the electricity was still on in a neighbor's home, Bill Lynn told his wife to call the power company to report the outage. He then walked outside to check the power box. Bessie Lynn heard a noise outside and, upon looking out of her window, saw an individual in what she called a "karate stance," holding what appeared to be a sword in his right hand, high above his head in a striking position. Bessie Lynn testified that the individual was dressed completely in black. Bill Lynn yelled for his wife to telephone the police, and, upon discovering that the telephone lines had been cut, she hurried downstairs, where she picked up a candle and armed herself with a pistol that the Lynns kept in a kitchen drawer by a bank deposit bag. The bank deposit bag contained cash and checks received from an automobile parts business operated by Bill Lynn. Bessie Lynn testified that she then hurried outside and that when she did someone struck her and knocked her to the ground. She testified that she got up and fired a gunshot into the air and began calling for her husband. She found him in the yard and tried to give him the gun, telling him to shoot the people, but Bill Lynn, who had been severely wounded told her there were no bullets left in the gun. She then told her husband that she was going for help; he told her to give the culprits anything that they wanted. Bill Lynn had told his wife at that point that he knew he was going to die. Bessie Lynn, who was in their van and attempting to insert the key into the ignition, became aware of two men, one on each side of the van. They ordered her out of the van, and when she got out she was beaten with an object. One of the individuals was demanding money. They ordered her back into the house, where the two individuals, both dressed in black, demanded her money and jewelry. They took a rifle and shotgun from the house, the pistol that Bill Lynn still had, and the checks and cash from the bank deposit bag. They also ordered Bessie Lynn to give them her jewelry. She responded that she did not wear jewelry other than her two rings and asked if she might keep her wedding ring. She was

725 So.2d 1012
instructed to take her rings off and to drop them in a bag, which they took. The culprits instructed Mrs. Lynn to remain where she was and they searched for something in the kitchen and then outside the house. Bessie Lynn testified that when the two men came back in the house, a vehicle apparently drove by the house. The two men then went out the back door, and Bessie Lynn testified that she then ran out the front door. She ran back to her husband to tell him that she was going to go for help. He asked her to hurry, and she ran to her father's house, which was located nearby. From her father's house she telephoned for help. Bill Lynn died before he reached the hospital. Bessie Lynn was treated for wounds to her head, her hands, her chest, and her thighs

Several days later, the appellant was arrested in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he had been visiting friends. He gave a statement to the authorities in Tennessee, admitting his participation in the offenses, but claiming that his accomplice had actually killed Bill Lynn and wounded Bessie Lynn. He subsequently gave another statement to Alabama authorities.


The appellant argues that the trial court improperly failed to ask each prospective juror whether the juror had heard or was influenced by allegedly improper discussions that took place outside the courtroom during jury selection. The appellant argues that the trial court's failure violated his constitutional rights. The portion of the record containing a potential juror's testimony which alluded to the conversation, as well as the action taken by the court in response, is as follows:

"THE COURT: Do you [the prospective juror,] have any knowledge about the facts of this case?
"THE COURT: Do you not know anything at all about it? Have you heard or read or has anything been communicated to you about it?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: Pardon me, but I work an owl shift. My life is different from yours. I don't mean to be impolite. It's just—
"THE COURT: Well, I figured—They talk on the owl shift?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: I didn't see it on the news. I'm sorry.
"THE COURT: Are you saying to the Court that you know absolutely nothing about this case?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: The only thing I heard was that he killed a man. That's all I've heard.
"THE COURT: That's somewhat important. Mr. S., do you feel that you would be able to sit and listen to the evidence as it comes from the witness stand and base your verdict solely upon the evidence that you hear in the courtroom and disregard any knowledge or information that you might have about the trial prior to this time and render a fair and impartial verdict both for the State of Alabama and the defendant?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: May I answer it this way? I believe in being honest. I'm an honest person. The United States Government—I got a greetings letter that said that I was to join the Army. They didn't care whether I was killed or not. I hold no partiality in any way toward anybody. I don't believe in stealing. If that answers your question, I'm trying to be nice.
"THE COURT: Well, it doesn't because I would have to unravel that and try to assume what your answer is. I would like for you to give me a yes or no answer. Would you sit as a member of the jury, if you were selected to do so, and listen to the evidence in this case, base your verdict solely upon that evidence and render a fair and impartial verdict in this case both for the State of Alabama and for the defendant?
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Do you have a fixed opinion as to Mr. Price's guilt or innocence?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: I don't even know Mr. Price. I'm sorry.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: But you said that you heard something in the street that he had—
725 So.2d 1013
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: I heard it right out here just a while ago, that he might have killed him with an axe is all I've heard. I'm being polite now.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: [Prospective juror], where did you hear that?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: Sitting out there in the courtroom.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Who did you hear it from?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: I don't know. Just somebody said that—I said—My question was to a friend of mine. `If it's a murder trial, who killed him—the gun, the bullet or the man?' He laughed and said, well, I guess it's an axe because I understood he was killed with an ax. That's all that was said.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Would that have been another juror that you were talking with?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: Yes. That's all that I'm sitting with.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Do you remember who that person was?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: I'm sorry. I don't
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: White man or black man?
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: What did he have on?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: Had on britches and a shirt, I guess.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Any idea what his name was?
"THE COURT: Is he still sitting out there?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: I don't know. There was about eight of us talking.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: What else did you talk about?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: What else did we talk about?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: About we were worried about the judge. He came in to eat late out there. And I just kidded them and told them some of us ought to tell him that we had just a little while to get back to eat. I'm trying to be polite now.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: [Prospective juror], did you and those other eight jurors that were sitting there talking discuss anything else about this case?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: Not that I know of. The only thing I've been doing is joking about whatever I was saying anyway. I mean—
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Were there any other jokes made about anything to do with this case?
"PROSPECTIVE JUROR: Not that I know of.
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: But you and another juror did discuss what the murder weapon may be and someone told you it may be an

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