Sheffield v. State Of Ala.

Decision Date05 November 2010
Docket NumberCR-09-0357
PartiesJames Linden Sheffield v. State of Alabama
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Appeal from Chilton Circuit Court


MAIN, Judge.

James Linden Sheffield was indicted for two counts of reckless murder; the deaths occurred as a result of arson. He was convicted of reckless murder, as charged in the indictment, for the death of Charles Edward Morrow, Jr., see § 13A-6-2(a) (2), Ala. Code 1975 (count I), and the lesser-included offense of reckless manslaughter for the death of Charles Edward Morrow III, see § 13A-6-3(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975 (count II). The circuit court sentenced him to 600 months' imprisonment on the murder conviction and to 204 months' imprisonment on the manslaughter conviction, the sentences to run consecutively. The court ordered him to pay costs, a crime victim's compensation assessment, and restitution. After sentencing, Sheffield's appointed trial counsel withdrew, and Sheffield's retained appellate counsel filed motions for a new trial and for a judgment of acquittal. The parties agreed to extend the time for the court to rule on the motions. See Rule 24.4, Ala.R.Crim.P. After conducting a hearing, the court denied the motions. This appeal followed.

The evidence at trial revealed the following facts. On December 10, 2003, at around 8:00 a.m., a small, one-story house on County Road 802, just off of County Road 323, near U.S. Highway 82, in Maplesville burned to the ground. Charles Edward Morrow, Jr., also known as "Chucky," and his three-year-old son, Charles Edward Morrow III, who was nicknamed "Main Man," lived in the house, and died as a result of thefire.1 The autopsies showed they died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns. The toxicology report indicated Chucky had Xanax and marijuana in his system when he died.

Floyd Smitherman, a customer at a nearby convenience store, GGG's, first noticed the fire. As Smitherman entered the store, he spotted a small fire in the distance. By the time he left the convenience store and walked to his pick-up truck, the fire had increased in size, so he drove in the direction of the fire. He found a house that was fully engulfed in flames. An unknown man in a pick-up truck, who was near the burning house, told Smitherman he was going to drive into Maplesville to get help. Smitherman continued to watch the fire consume the house before deciding that no help was coming. He drove back to GGG's and asked the clerk to call the fire department. The 911 emergency call reporting the fire came from the convenience store at around 7:57 a.m.

Harold Morrow, Chucky Morrow's cousin, received a telephone call the morning of the fire, informing him of the fire. He drove a quarter of a mile from his house to Chucky's house and found it consumed by flames, and his cousin wasnowhere to be found. He went to Sheffield's home, which was located a block and a half away from Chucky's house, to see if Chucky might be there because Sheffield, who was nicknamed "Scoff," and Chucky had been friends for several months and were frequently together. According to Harold Morrow, they both owned pit-bull dogs and shared an interest in those types of dogs. When Harold Morrow arrived at Sheffield's house, although a pit-bull dog was tied to the porch, no one came to the door when he knocked. He went back to Chucky's house and was later joined there by Sheffield and another friend.

Lt. Freddie Mayfield, a detective with the Clanton Police Department, who was chief of police for the Maplesville Police Department in December 2003, arrived at the scene around 8:03 a.m. When he arrived, the house was almost completely burned. Officer Mayfield also explained that several days before the fire, on December 5, 2003, he took an incident and offense report from Sheffield, who listed his address as 336 County Road 323, Maplesville, regarding the theft of eight pit-bull puppies, valued at around $2,400. (C. 227-28; R. 68-70.)

Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis, a police officer for the Maplesville Police Department, who worked in the narcoticsdivision in December 2003, also testified about the report of the stolen puppies that was filed by Sheffield on December 5, 2003. Officer Davis testified that, after filing the report earlier that day, Sheffield came to the police department upset and made a statement to him that Chucky Morrow was getting away with stealing his puppies and selling drugs. According to Officer Davis, Sheffield threatened to burn Chucky Morrow's house. More particularly, Officer Davis testified Sheffield said: "'I'm so mad about my dogs, I am a good mind to screw his doors and windows shut and set his house on fire with him in it.'" (R. 85). Officer Davis told Sheffield there was no reason to kill someone over some dogs and suggested Sheffield buy drugs from Chucky Morrow as a confidential informant. Sheffield agreed to the arrangement, and effected a controlled buy a few days later on December 8, 2003.

Ida Morrow, Chucky Morrow's mother and Main Man Morrow's grandmother, testified that, after she heard about the fire, she learned that Chucky's pit-bull dog was at Sheffield's house. She had given her son $60 to purchase that particular pit-bull dog, which she claimed Sheffield had also wanted tobuy. The day of the fire, she called Sheffield and told him to bring her the dog or pay her $60 for it. Sheffield brought her $60 that day.

Harold Morrow stated that both he and Sheffield had been at Chucky's house the evening before the fire. Harold Morrow explained that when he left Chucky's house at around 9:00 p.m., Sheffield was still there along with Chucky and Main Man, and everyone was getting along and everything seemed fine. Jerry Joe Gordon, who lived next door to Chucky Morrow, also testified that he saw Sheffield with Chucky and Main Man on the evening before the fire, and they appeared to be on friendly terms. Ida Morrow also stated that Sheffield and her son were friends. She indicated that she knew of no dispute between the two of them and never saw any signs of any problems between them.

Tiffany Cooper, who was Sheffield's girlfriend in December 2003, also testified to similar facts leading up to the fire. She said on December 5, 2003, Sheffield was mad about some stolen puppies and filed an incident report. According to Cooper, Sheffield believed Chucky had taken thepuppies. After Sheffield filed the report, they went to Demopolis.

Cindi Tremaine, the mother of Cooper's friend, Lisa London, and in whose home Sheffield and Cooper resided in Maplesville in December 2003, testified that before Sheffield went to Chucky's home on the night before the fire, he told her that he was going over there to see if he could get information from Chucky about the stolen puppies because he believed Chucky had taken the puppies.2 She stated that Sheffield told her that he was going to give Chucky some Xanax pills in order to get him to talk. London also testified that Sheffield told her that he thought Chucky had taken the puppies and that he was going to give Chucky some Xanax that night. Records from a doctor's office in Demopolis were introduced into evidence that showed that Sheffield had refilled a prescription for Xanax on December 6, 2003.

Deputy Fire Marshal Jay Edwards investigated the scene after the fire. He determined that the fire had originated in the back bedroom of the approximately 50-70 year-old house, which still had its original electrical wiring. There was an electric space heater in the back bedroom. Deputy Edwards brought in dogs that were trained in detecting the presence of an accelerant, and none was detected. Deputy Edwards testified that the remains of an adult and a small child were found. He was, however, unable to determine the cause of the fire.

Deputy Edwards first questioned Sheffield about the fire shortly after the fire, when Sheffield came to the police station voluntarily. Sheffield was questioned because of the statement he made to Officer Davis in December 2003, threatening to burn Chucky's house in retaliation for Chucky having stolen some pit-bull puppies from him. During his first statement, Sheffield denied any involvement in the fire but showed Deputy Edwards where a fire could be set that would burn down Chucky's house. The location Sheffield indicated was where the actual fire originated. After the first interview, Deputy Edwards placed the case on inactive status because he concluded there was not enough evidence to present it to a grand jury.

Cooper stated that she and Sheffield dated for over five years and that they had a daughter together on January 26, 2006. Cooper and Sheffield were living together in December 2003 and were staying in Tremaine's home. Cooper did not recall anything unusual about the evening before or the morning of the fire except that Sheffield had on blue jeans when they woke up in the morning and she did not remember him having them on when they went to bed the night before. Cooper and Sheffield moved from Maplesville to Marengo County on December 26, 2003.

Several months after the fire, Cooper told Sheffield that it was "bad enough that Chuck[y] died, but it made it even worse that there was a little child in the house that got killed." (R. 122.) According to Cooper, Sheffield replied that "it wouldn't have mattered because he would have grown up just like his father." (R. 123.) Cooper stated that one time in February 2006, after the fire and after their daughter was born, she and Sheffield discussed spirituality. Specifically, Cooper testified as follows:

"A. We were just having the discussion about if something happened I would be able to get to see my child again in heaven. And he made thecomment that he wouldn't be going to heaven because he had killed somebody."

(R. 121-22.) Cooper and Sheffield broke up in February 2007. Cooper provided a statement to Deputy Edwards in late July 2007.

Brandye Slocumb testified that in Demopolis in January 2007, in the...

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