Rigterink v. State, SC05-2162.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation2 So.3d 221
Docket NumberNo. SC05-2162.,SC05-2162.
PartiesThomas William RIGTERINK, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Decision Date30 January 2009

Bill McCollum, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, and Scott A. Browne, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, FL, for Appellee.


Thomas William Rigterink appeals his convictions for first-degree murder and sentences of death. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons provided in our analysis, we reverse Rigterink's convictions and sentences and remand for a new capital proceeding.


This case involves the stabbing and murder of Jeremy Jarvis and Allison Sousa, which occurred in a in a dual-use1 warehouse complex in Polk County, Florida, on September 24, 2003. After an investigation by the Polk County Sheriff's Office ("PCSO"), Rigterink was indicted for these offenses on November 4, 2003.

On September 9, 2005, the jury found Rigterink guilty as to each count of first-degree murder. Following the penalty phase, the jury recommended a death sentence for each murder through two seven-to-five votes. The trial court later held a hearing pursuant to Spencer v. State, 615 So.2d 688 (Fla.1993).2 At the ensuing sentencing hearing, which was held on October 14, 2005, the trial court adopted the jury's death recommendations. With regard to the murder of victim Jarvis, the trial court found the following aggravators:

(1) Rigterink's prior conviction of another capital felony or a felony involving the use or threat of violence to a person (i.e., the contemporaneous murder of victim Sousa) (great weight);3 and

(2) The murder of victim Jarvis was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel ("HAC") (great weight).4

With regard to the murder of victim Sousa, the trial court found the following aggravators:

(1) Rigterink's prior conviction of another capital felony or a felony involving the use or threat of violence to a person (i.e., the contemporaneous murder of victim Jarvis) (great weight);

(2) Rigterink murdered victim Sousa to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest (great weight);5 and

(3) HAC (great weight).

The trial court found one statutory mitigator — no significant history of prior criminal activity6 — but only assigned this mitigation "some weight" because of Rigterink's admissions that he has: (a) used illegal drugs, primarily marijuana, since his late teens; (b) stolen from his former employer; and (c) driven with a suspended driver's license. The trial court also found and considered twelve nonstatutory mitigators.7 Rigterink later filed a timely notice of appeal with this Court.

The evidence presented during Rigterink's trial for these offenses revealed the following facts.

A. The Murders of Jeremy Jarvis and Allison Sousa

Shortly after 3:00 p.m. on September 24, 2003, a male in his late twenties to early thirties, who fit the general description of Rigterink, attacked victim Jeremy Jarvis with a ten-to-eleven-inch knife. The attack began inside the warehouse residence of Jarvis, which was located in the fifth unit of the complex, and eventually moved outside. A male eyewitness testified that as he drove past this location, he slowed his vehicle and viewed two men-one, an apparent attacker, standing above another, an apparent victim. The victim was lying on the sidewalk immediately in front of one of the building units. The witness's attention was drawn to the men because he saw red or crimson on the victim's clothing. It appeared that the attacker was attempting to drag the victim into the last unit of the building. As the victim struggled to free himself, the attacker grabbed him and tore off his T-shirt. When the victim fled toward the first unit of the complex, the witness observed a significant amount of blood flowing from wounds on his chest. The witness observed the victim approach and open the door of the first unit, while the attacker — who was "about halfway down" the sidewalk at this point — remained in pursuit. According to the witness, the victim was a 5'8" male, in his late twenties to early thirties, between 150 and 200 pounds, with dark brown hair, and the attacker was a 6'0" to 6'3" male in his late 20s to early 30s, between 150 and 200 pounds, with dark brown hair. These general descriptions are consistent with the physical characteristics and appearance of Jarvis and defendant-appellant Rigterink on September 24, 2003. Further, the attacker wore a white T-shirt and dark-colored shorts, which is consistent with the clothing Rigterink later admitted that he wore on the afternoon of September 24.

At the time, units 1 and 2 of this dual-use warehouse complex served as the office of a construction business. A second victim, Allison Sousa, and a female eyewitness were both secretaries at this establishment, and each woman was working on Wednesday, September 24, 2003. That afternoon, Sousa and the female witness heard screaming outside of the construction office. They approached and opened the door of unit 1, and a dirty, sweaty, bloody, and shirtless male — who was later identified as the first victim, Jeremy Jarvis — entered the office and sat down in a chair near the door. The female eyewitness testified that Jarvis appeared to be experiencing serious blood loss from a wound on the right side of his chest. The witness remained composed at this point, but Sousa was "more frantic." Sousa began to care for the man and to call 911. She instructed the female witness to go to the office kitchen in the back to obtain some towels to address the obvious injuries that Jarvis had sustained. The witness obeyed, and as she began to return to the front of unit 1, the witness heard the door slam. She continued forward toward a pass-through window located between the main-office and lobby areas. Through this window, the witness observed a second male aggressively approaching Sousa. At this point, Sousa was approximately six feet away from the witness on the other side of the window. The witness saw that Sousa was still attempting to call 911, and she also caught a glimpse of the second man's profile and a side view of his body. At trial, she described him as a white male, early-to-late twenties, with dark hair, wearing a long white T-shirt and dark shorts, about 6'3", 170 pounds, with an olive or tan complexion, and no facial hair or hair on his forearms. With the possible exception of the hairless forearms, this description is consistent with Rigterink's appearance on September 24, 2003. The witness could not see whether the second man had anything in his hands, but she felt that he was "going after" Sousa and that he had seen her (the witness) approach the window. For that reason, the witness fled to an office located further toward the rear of unit 1. As the witness ran, she heard Sousa scream, "Don't hurt me. Don't hurt me." When the witness reached the rear office, she closed the door, locked the deadbolt, and dialed 911.

The PCSO received two 911 calls from this location on September 24, 2003. The dispatcher received Sousa's call at 3:07:37 p.m. and received the female eyewitness's call at 3:07:46 p.m. The recording of the first call reveals:

911 Operator: "911. What's your emergency? Hello?"

911 Caller: "Oh, my God. Don't — don't hurt me. No...."

The dispatcher then heard "people ... throwing something around" and afterward total silence. The line remained open for four minutes. During the second 911 call, the female witness told the dispatcher that an injured man entered her office and that another man was then in the process of breaking in and attempting to hurt her coworker, Allison Sousa. The caller further stated that at least one of the men had been stabbed and she feared that something terrible was happening to Sousa. The witness later requested an ambulance, and she provided a consistent description of the attacker: He was wearing a white T-shirt, dark shorts and was probably over six feet tall. The dispatcher remained on the line for several minutes with the witness until PCSO deputies arrived and the dispatcher confirmed, their identities. At trial, the female eyewitness testified that during the 911 call, she heard scuffling, banging, and impacts against the walls within unit 1. She later heard someone rub against the walls and attempt to gain access to the rear office in which she was hiding. She only opened the door and emerged from the office once PCSO deputies had arrived and secured the crime scene. After exiting unit 1, the witness provided a contemporaneous statement to PCSO investigators in which she described the attacker as a white male between 6'0" and 6'2", 160-170 pounds, tanned skin, black wavy hair,8 no facial hair, and wearing a light-colored T-shirt with dark shorts.

When PCSO personnel arrived, they secured the entire complex and discovered the lifeless bodies of Jarvis and Sousa in the rear-warehouse area of unit 1. PCSO crime-scene technicians ("CSTs"), and later three blood-spatter technicians from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ("FDLE"), processed the collective crime scene for the next several days. During the guilt and penalty phases of Rigterink's subsequent trial for these murders, the medical examiners established that the attacker stabbed or cut Jarvis a total of twenty-two times and stabbed or cut Sousa a total of six times. Both victims had several injuries to their hands and limbs that were consistent with defensive wounds. Of the twenty-two wounds inflicted upon Jarvis, four were fatal: three to his right lung, which led to its eventual collapse and internal and external bleeding; and one to his abdomen, which penetrated his stomach and produced internal and external bleeding. Of the six wounds sustained by Sousa, two were fatal: one just above her left breast, which completely severed her pulmonary trunk, a major blood vessel; and one to her to...

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28 cases
  • Florida v. Powell, No. 08–1175.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 23, 2010
    ...against self-incrimination need not track our construction of the parallel provision in the Federal Constitution. See Rigterink v. State, 2 So.3d 221, 241 (2009) ( “[T]he federal Constitution sets the floor, not the ceiling, and this Court retains the ability to interpret the right against ......
  • Mills v. State
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • December 13, 2022
    ...a custodial interrogation." State v. Muntean , 189 Vt. 50, 12 A.3d 518, 526 (2010) (emphasis in original) (quoting Rigterink v. State , 2 So.3d 221, 244 (Fla. 2009), cert. granted, judgment vacated , 559 U.S. 965, 130 S.Ct. 1235, 176 L.Ed.2d 175 (2010) ); see also State v. McKenna , 103 A.3......
  • Rigterink v. State , SC05–2162.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • June 16, 2011
    ...advise him that he had the right to counsel both before and during the custodial interrogation. See Rigterink v. State ( Rigterink I ), 2 So.3d 221, 234 (Fla.2009). Although this Court previously reversed his conviction in Rigterink v. State ( Rigterink I ), 2 So.3d 221, 254–55 (Fla.2009), ......
  • State v. Muntean, 09–241.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • November 5, 2010
    ...197 (4th Cir.2000) (emphasizing that defendant was told he was not under arrest and was “free to leave at any time”); Rigterink v. State, 2 So.3d 221, 253 (Fla.2009) (noting that appellate court “is far less likely to find that a reasonable person would have believed that he or she was in c......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Defendant's statements
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books The Florida Criminal Cases Notebook. Volume 1-2 Volume 2
    • April 30, 2021
    ...warning to prevent similar problems in the future.) State v. Powell, 66 So. 3d 905 (Fla. 2011) The decision in Rigertink v. State , 2 So. 3d 221 (Fla. 2009), was based on State v. Powell , 998 So. 2d 531. Powell I was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Florida v. Powell , 130 S. Ct. 1195......
  • Appeals
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books The Florida Criminal Cases Notebook. Volume 1-2 Volume 1
    • April 30, 2021
    ...in a manner most favorable to sustaining the trial court’s ruling. Hojan v. State, 3 So. 3d 1204 (Fla. 2009) (See Rigterink v. State , 2 So. 3d 221 (Fla. 2009) for extensive discussion of the DiGuilio harmless error standard of review in a case determining whether admission of a confession ......

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