Slawson v. State, 75960

Citation619 So.2d 255
Decision Date01 April 1993
Docket NumberNo. 75960,75960
Parties18 Fla. L. Week. S209 Newton Carlton SLAWSON, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

Simson Unterberger, Tampa, for appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., and Robert J. Krauss, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tampa, for appellee.


Newton Carlton Slawson appeals his convictions of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of killing an unborn child by injuring the mother and sentences, which include four death sentences. We have jurisdiction, article V, section 3(b)(1), Florida Constitution, and affirm the convictions and sentences.

The following facts were developed at trial. On April 11, 1989, Peggy Williams Wood, her husband Gerald, and their two children, Jennifer, age four, and Glendon, age three, were murdered in their home. Also lost was the eight and one-half month fetus that Peggy Wood was carrying. At the time of the murders, the Wood family was living in a garage apartment next to Peggy Wood's parents' home in Hillsborough County. Around 10:00 p.m. on April 11, Peggy Wood was discovered lying on her parents' back porch. She had been shot twice, once in the abdomen and once in the back, and cut from the base of the sternum to the pelvic area. Her right thigh also had been cut several times. Still conscious, Peggy told her mother, "He killed Gerry and the kids." When asked "who," Peggy answered, "Newton did it. Newton killed Gerry and the kids." Peggy Wood died a short time later.

Gerald Wood and the two children were found dead upstairs in the couple's apartment. All three died as a result of gunshot wounds. Gerald Wood had been stabbed in the abdomen after dying from a gunshot wound to the back that entered the heart. At the foot of the couch where Gerald's body was found the body of the couple's unborn baby was discovered. The fetus had two gunshot wounds and several lacerations all of which were caused by the injuries to the mother.

Slawson was apprehended later that night. A .357 revolver, which was later determined to be the murder weapon, was found in his automobile. A magazine with incisions drawn on the abdominal area of nude women also was found.

After his arrest, Slawson told detectives that he went to the Woods' residence on the day of the murders. He took a six inch knife and a .357 revolver. At Gerald's request, Slawson put the gun in the bathroom so the children would not get it. He gave the knife to Gerald Wood to use to cut rock cocaine. Gerald Wood offered to sell Slawson some of the cocaine but Slawson refused the offer. When Peggy said Slawson might be the police, Slawson went to the bathroom to get his gun so he could leave. When Slawson returned, Gerald Wood got up with the knife in his hand. According to his statement, Slawson shot Gerald and may have shot Peggy at that time. As Slawson proceeded to the children's bedroom and shot them, Peggy Wood was screaming. After shooting the children he returned to the living room and shot Peggy again. Slawson then inserted his knife into Peggy Wood's abdomen and cut upward, causing the fetus to be expelled.

Slawson testified at trial that he believed he killed the Wood family but did not remember doing it. He believed that Gerald Wood had put drugs in his beer, causing him to feel odd and to believe he was locked in the apartment. He remembered stabbing Gerald and standing in the kitchen with the gun in his hand. He remembered determining that Gerald and Peggy were dead and trying to save the baby by making the incision into Peggy's abdomen. According to his testimony, when Slawson determined that the baby was not going to survive, he left intending to commit suicide. However, he later returned to the scene to see if he had, in fact, killed the family and was arrested soon thereafter.

Slawson further testified about his "habit" of drawing incisions on pictures of nude women. He explained that he began drawing pictures of mutilated bodies when he was eleven years old. For years, Slawson had lived with a "mental quirk" causing him to continuously think about disemboweling women. While in the Navy, Slawson discussed his problem with a psychologist, who told him the practice of drawing was "a useful tool for actualizing his aggressive tendencies" without actually harming anyone. According to Slawson, the psychologist told him to continue to draw but not to identify the pictures with anyone and to destroy the magazines after he drew on the pictures.

Slawson was found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of killing an unborn child by injury to the mother. Slawson was sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for manslaughter of the unborn child. In accordance with the jury recommendation, Slawson was sentenced to death for each of the first-degree murders. The trial court found in aggravation as to each of the four murders that Slawson had been convicted of the three other capital felonies. As to the murder of Peggy Wood, the trial court found that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. The trial court found the following statutory mitigating factors: 1) no significant history of criminal activity, although from Slawson's admissions and statements to mental health experts Slawson used illegal drugs habitually for years; 2) in the opinion of a defense expert, Slawson's capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was substantially impaired; and 3) in the opinion of a defense expert, the murders were committed while Slawson was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance. As nonstatutory mitigating factors the court found that Slawson was abused as a child and he was capable of acts of kindness and could be a friendly person. Slawson appeals both his convictions and sentences.

Slawson raises two claims in connection with the guilt phase of his trial. First, he argues that his statement to police should have been suppressed because it was taken in violation of the principles set forth in Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477, 101 S.Ct. 1880, 68 L.Ed.2d 378 (1981). Our review of the record supports the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress.

Detectives Grossi and Bell interviewed Slawson soon after his arrest. Prior to the detectives' contact with Slawson, he had not been given Miranda 1 warnings. When the detectives entered the interrogation room, they advised Slawson that they were investigating a homicide. Slawson immediately responded, "What about an attorney?" Treating the statement as a question, the officers told Slawson they would explain about an attorney. Officer Bell then read the consent to be interviewed form to Slawson, stopping after each sentence to ascertain whether Slawson understood. After the form was read, Slawson again indicated that he understood, stated that he was willing to talk to the officers, and signed the form. At no time during the interview did Slawson indicate that he did not want to talk to the detectives or that he wished to have an attorney present. After Slawson had given his statement, he was asked if he would like his statement taped. Slawson again responded "What about an attorney?" and the interview was concluded.

In Edwards v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court made clear that once an accused invokes the right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, all questioning must cease until counsel has been provided. After the right has been invoked, a valid waiver cannot be established by merely showing that the accused responded to further police-initiated interrogation even if the accused was given further Miranda warnings. 451 U.S. at 484, 101 S.Ct. at 1884; Long v. State, 517 So.2d 664, 666 (Fla.1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1017, 108 S.Ct. 1754, 100 L.Ed.2d 216 (1988). However, where a request for counsel is equivocal, the police are permitted to initiate further communications for the sole purpose of clarifying the equivocal request. See Long, 517 So.2d at 667; Valle v. State, 474 So.2d 796, 799 (Fla.1985), vacated on other grounds, 476 U.S. 1102, 106 S.Ct. 1943, 90 L.Ed.2d 353 (1986); Waterhouse v. State, 429 So.2d 301, 305 (Fla.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 977, 104 S.Ct. 415, 78 L.Ed.2d 352 (1983); Cannady v. State, 427 So.2d 723 (Fla.1983). Slawson's question "What about an attorney?" asked prior to being advised of his rights was at best an equivocal request for counsel. 2 Reading the consent form to the defendant and insuring that he understood his rights was proper clarification of the request. See Aycock v. State, 528 So.2d 1223 (Fla. 2d DCA) (giving of Miranda warning proper clarification of equivocal request for counsel), review denied, 536 So.2d 243 (1988). Slawson does not take issue with the fact that after having his rights thoroughly explained, he freely and voluntarily waived the presence of counsel. Therefore, the motion to suppress was properly denied.

We also reject Slawson's second claim that it was fundamental error for a State expert witness to testify that in his opinion the insanity and impairment defenses are a charade. Slawson's defense was lack of capacity to form a premeditated intent to kill because of cocaine and alcohol intoxication. Two mental health experts testified for the defense that in their opinions Slawson's acute intoxication rendered him incapable of premeditating. To rebut this testimony, the State called Dr. Stanton Samenow. On direct examination Dr. Samenow testified that, based on a long-term study he had conducted, it is virtually impossible to reconstruct the mental state of a defendant at the time of the crime. He explained that the study indicated that people who had been adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity were "not mentally ill at all, but that the insanity defense had been a charade by which they calculatingly were able to get into a hospital rather than go to prison."

This entire line of questioning proceeded without...

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