Samra v. State

Decision Date18 June 1999
Citation771 So.2d 1108
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
PartiesMichael Brandon SAMRA v. STATE.

Richard W. Bell, Birmingham; Joe W. Morgan, Jr., Birmingham; Richard W. Vickers, Pelham; and John H. Wiley III, Birmingham, for appellant.

Bill Pryor, atty. gen., and J. Clayton Crenshaw, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.


The appellant, Michael Brandon Samra, was convicted of capital murder for the killings of Randy Gerald Duke, Dedra Mims Hunt, Chelisa Nicole Hunt, and Chelsea Marie Hunt. The murders were made capital because the appellant committed them by one act or pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct. See § 13A-5-40(a)(10), Ala.Code 1975. After a sentencing hearing, the jury recommended, by a vote of 12-0, that the appellant be sentenced to death. The trial court accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced the appellant to death by electrocution.

Because the appellant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction, a lengthy recitation of the facts of the case is not necessary. However, we have reviewed the evidence, and we find that it is sufficient to support the appellant's conviction. The evidence showed that the appellant, along with three codefendants, planned to kill Randy Gerald Duke. To conceal the murder of Randy Gerald Duke, they also killed Dedra Mims Hunt, Chelisa Nicole Hunt, and Chelsea Marie Hunt, who were present at the scene. The four codefendants obtained two handguns to carry out the plan. The appellant and one codefendant then went to the home of Randy Gerald Duke, and the codefendant shot Randy Gerald Duke. The appellant shot Dedra Mims Hunt in the face, but the shot did not immediately kill her. Dedra Mims Hunt and her two minor children, Chelisa Nicole Hunt and Chelsea Marie Hunt, ran upstairs, and the appellant and his codefendant followed them and killed them. After shooting Dedra Mims Hunt several times, they ran out of ammunition for the handguns. Therefore, they used kitchen knives to cut the throats of Chelisa Nicole Hunt and Chelsea Marie Hunt. The evidence showed that the appellant actually cut the throat of one of the minor children. They tried to make it look like the murders had occurred during a robbery, and then they left to dispose of the weapons. Upon being questioned by law enforcement officials, the appellant helped locate the weapons and made a statement in which he admitted his involvement in the murders.


The appellant first challenges the validity of §§ 15-12-21 and 15-12-22, Ala. Code 1975, as applied to attorneys who represent indigent defendants.1 Specifically, he contends that the limitations of $1,000 for out-of-court work in a capital trial, based on an hourly rate of $20, and $1,000 for work performed on appeal to this court, based on an hourly rate of $40, "curtail this court's inherent power to insure the adequate representation of the criminally accused" and should be declared unconstitutional. (Appellant's brief at p. 9.)

These limitations on compensation have withstood repeated challenges that they violate the separation of powers doctrine, constitute a taking without just compensation, deprive indigent capital defendants of the effective assistance of counsel, and deny equal protection in violation of the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Alabama Constitution, and Alabama state law. See Ex parte Smith, 698 So.2d 219 (Ala.), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 957, 118 S.Ct. 385, 139 L.Ed.2d 300 (1997); May v. State, 672 So.2d 1310 (Ala.1995); Ex parte Grayson, 479 So.2d 76 (Ala.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 865, 106 S.Ct. 189, 88 L.Ed.2d 157 (1985); Sparks v. Parker, 368 So.2d 528 (Ala.), appeal dismissed, 444 U.S. 803, 100 S.Ct. 22, 62 L.Ed.2d 16 (1979); Stewart v. State, 730 So.2d 1203, 1212 (Ala.Cr.App.1997), aff'd, 730 So.2d 1246 (Ala.1999); Boyd v. State, 715 So.2d 825 (Ala.Cr.App.1997), aff'd, 715 So.2d 852 (Ala.), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 968, 119 S.Ct. 416, 142 L.Ed.2d 338 (1998); Slaton v. State, 680 So.2d 879 (Ala.Cr.App.1995), aff'd, 680 So.2d 909 (Ala.1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1079, 117 S.Ct. 742, 136 L.Ed.2d 680 (1997); Barbour v. State, 673 So.2d 461 (Ala.Cr.App.1994), aff'd, 673 So.2d 473 (Ala.1995), cert. denied, 518 U.S. 1020, 116 S.Ct. 2556, 135 L.Ed.2d 1074 (1996); Johnson v. State, 620 So.2d 679 (Ala.Cr.App.1992), rev'd on other grounds, 620 So.2d 709 (Ala.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 905, 114 S.Ct. 285, 126 L.Ed.2d 235 (1993); Smith v. State, 581 So.2d 497 (Ala.Cr.App. 1990), rev'd on other grounds, 581 So.2d 531 (Ala.1991). Because this court is bound by the decisions of the Alabama Supreme Court, we are not in a position to reverse that court's approval of the current compensation system.

"The decisions of the Supreme Court shall govern the holdings and decisions of the courts of appeals, and the decisions and proceedings of such courts of appeals shall be subject to the general superintendence and control of the Supreme Court as provided by Constitutional Amendment No. 328."

§ 12-3-16, Ala.Code 1975. See also Barbour, supra.

Furthermore, in addition to the $1,000 for out-of-court work, § 15-12-21(d) provides that counsel shall be paid $40 per hour for all hours spent in court and shall be reimbursed for any expenses reasonably incurred, as long as the trial court approves them in advance. With regard to appellate work, § 15-12-22(d) provides that counsel may be paid up to $1,000 for services performed on an appeal to this court and up to $1,000 for services performed on an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, in addition to reimbursement for any expenses approved in advance by the appellate court. Such expenses may include overhead expenses reasonably incurred in representing an indigent defendant. May v. State, 672 So.2d 1307 (Ala. Cr.App.1993), cert. quashed as improvidently granted, 672 So.2d 1310 (Ala.1995). Finally, in certain circumstances, an indigent defendant may be entitled to expert assistance at the expense of the State. Ex parte Moody, 684 So.2d 114 (Ala.1996).

In this case, the trial court approved approximately $11,800 in expenses for expert assistance for the defense—$5,300 for Dr. Natalie Davis to conduct a statistical investigation regarding pretrial publicity; $5,000 for an investigator; and $1,500 for Dr. George Twente, who provided expert testimony about gangs. At the appellant's request, the trial court also approved the payment of expenses for an MRI examination to help evaluate the appellant's mental condition. (C.R.462.) For these reasons, the appellant's argument is not well taken.


The appellant's second argument is that the trial court erroneously denied his motion for a change of venue due to allegedly prejudicial pretrial publicity.

"`A trial court is in a better position than an appellate court to determine what effect, if any, pretrial publicity might have in a particular case. The trial court has the best opportunity to evaluate the effects of any pretrial publicity on the community as a whole and on the individual members of the jury venire. The trial court's ruling on a motion for a change of venue will be reversed only when there is a showing that the trial court has abused its discretion. Nelson v. State, 440 So.2d 1130 (Ala.Cr.App.1983).'
"Joiner v. State, 651 So.2d 1155, 1156 (Ala.Cr.App.1994)."

Clemons v. State, 720 So.2d 961, 977 (Ala. Cr.App.1996), aff'd, 720 So.2d 985 (Ala. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1124, 119 S.Ct. 907, 142 L.Ed.2d 906 (1999). "The mere fact that publicity and media attention were widespread is not sufficient to warrant a change of venue. Rather, Ex parte Grayson [, 479 So.2d 76 (Ala.1985),] held that the appellant must show that he suffered actual prejudice or that the community was saturated with prejudicial publicity." Slagle v. State, 606 So.2d 193, 195 (Ala.Cr.App.1992). "`Moreover, the passage of time cannot be ignored as a factor in bringing objectivity to trial.'" Whisenhant v. State, 555 So.2d 219, 224 (Ala.Cr. App.1988), aff'd, 555 So.2d 235 (Ala.1989), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 943, 110 S.Ct. 3230, 110 L.Ed.2d 676 (1990) (citations omitted) (quoting Dannelly v. State, 47 Ala.App. 363, 254 So.2d 434, cert. denied, 287 Ala. 729, 254 So.2d 443 (1971)).

"In connection with pretrial publicity, there are two situations which mandate a change of venue: 1) when the accused has demonstrated `actual prejudice' against him on the part of the jurors; 2) when there is `presumed prejudice' resulting from community saturation with such prejudicial pretrial publicity that no impartial jury can be selected. Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 16 L.Ed.2d 600 (1966); Rideau [v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 10 L.Ed.2d 663 (1963)]; Estes v. Texas, 381 U.S. 532, 85 S.Ct. 1628, 14 L.Ed.2d 543 (1965); Ex parte Grayson, 479 So.2d 76, 80 (Ala.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 865, 106 S.Ct. 189, 88 L.Ed.2d 157 (1985); Coleman v. Zant, 708 F.2d 541 (11th. Cir.1983)."

Hunt v. State, 642 So.2d 999, 1042-43 (Ala. Cr.App.1993), aff'd, 642 So.2d 1060 (Ala. 1994).

The appellant first contends that there was prejudicial pretrial publicity that resulted in "presumptive prejudice," thus depriving him of his right to be tried by an impartial jury. For prejudice to be presumed under this standard, the defendant must show: 1) that the pretrial publicity was prejudicial and inflammatory and 2) that the prejudicial pretrial publicity saturated the community where the trial was held. Coleman v. Kemp, 778 F.2d 1487 (11th Cir.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1164, 106 S.Ct. 2289, 90 L.Ed.2d 730 (1986). Under this standard, a defendant carries an extremely heavy burden of proof.

"Hunt relies on the `presumed prejudice' standard announced in Rideau, and applied by the United States Supreme Court in Estes and Sheppard [v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 16 L.Ed.2d 600 (1966) ]. This standard was defined by

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