Snyder v. State

Decision Date31 October 2003
Citation893 So.2d 488
PartiesWilliam A. SNYDER, alias Corky Snyder v. STATE of Alabama.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

[893 So.2d 503]

Jeb Stuart Fannin, Talladega; Mark Smith Nelson, Talladega; and Sonya M. Rudenstine, Montgomery, for appellant.

William H. Pryor, Jr., atty. gen., and George A. Martin, Jr., and Henry M. Johnson, asst. attys. gen., for appellee.

On Remand from the Alabama Supreme Court


The appellant, William A. Snyder, was convicted of four counts of capital murder for murdering Nancy Burkhalter, Dixie Gaither, and her son, Carey Gaither, during the course of a burglary and for killing two or more people pursuant to one course of conduct, violations of § 13A-5-40(a)(4) and 13A-5-40(a)(10), Ala.Code 1975. Snyder asked the jury to sentence him to death. The jury, by a vote of 10 to 2, recommended that Snyder be sentenced to death. The trial court then sentenced Snyder to death.

In March 2001, this Court reversed Snyder's convictions based on the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Ex parte Minor, 780 So.2d 796 (Ala.2000) — in which the Supreme Court held that when evidence of prior convictions is admitted the trial court must give a limiting instruction on the use of the evidence. See Snyder v. State, 893 So.2d 471 (Ala.Crim.App.2001). In December 2001, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed our judgment, dramatically limiting its earlier holding in Minor. That court then remanded this case for further proceedings. See Snyder v. State, 893 So.2d 482 (Ala.2001). We now address the remaining issues on return to remand.

A multitude of witnesses testified in this case. The State's evidence tended to show the following. On August 11, 1995, the bodies of Dixie Gaither and Carey Gaither were discovered in Dixie Gaither's home on Stockdale Road in Talladega County. On that same day Nancy Burkhalter's body was discovered in her home, which was adjacent to Gaither's home.1 The coroner testified that the Gaithers both died of multiple blunt-force injuries to the head and that Burkhalter died of three gunshot wounds to the head. Jewelry and a .38 caliber handgun had been taken from Gaither's home. Burkhalter was killed with the .38 caliber handgun that was stolen during the robbery-murders of the Gaithers.

After Dixie Gaither failed to report for work at a local McDonald's fast-food restaurant, her supervisor went to Dixie's house. When he saw that the door had been damaged he telephoned the police. Officer Bob Curtis of the Talladega Police Department discovered the two bodies in the living room — Carey's body was lying across Dixie's feet. Captain Joe Hare of the Talladega Police Department found

[893 So.2d 504]

Nancy Burkhalter's body in a bedroom in her home. Snyder's fingerprints were discovered on a soft-drink can found in Burkhalter's house.

While police were manning a barricade near the crime scenes Snyder approached one of the officers and told her that he had been trying to telephone Dixie for two days and he hoped that she had not been murdered. The officer said that Snyder appeared nervous. Snyder knew all three victims and did odd jobs for Dixie Gaither. He said that immediately before the murders he had mowed a portion of her yard.

Claude "Butch" Snyder, Snyder's brother, was reluctant to testify and was treated as a court witness — he was called as a witness by the court so both parties could cross-examine him. See Rule 19.3(a)(1), Ala.R.Crim.P. Butch testified that on August 11 when he returned to the house he shared with Snyder, Snyder was crying. Butch said that Snyder told him about the authorities' finding the three bodies. Butch had made a sworn statement to police in which he said that he was with Snyder when he disposed of a .38 caliber gun, a pair of tennis shoes, and several cartridges immediately after the murders. He also said that he accompanied Snyder to Georgia where Snyder "got rid" of some jewelry. Butch also testified that he told police that his brother said on their way to Georgia, "I did it."

Gary Creek, Snyder's uncle, worked at pawnshop in Georgia. He testified that after the murders Snyder came to his house in Georgia and asked him if he could help him sell some jewelry. Creek and his girlfriend agreed to buy the jewelry. After the murder investigation focused on Snyder, Creek's girlfriend turned the jewelry over to the Cobb County, Georgia, police. The jewelry was identified as having belonged to Dixie and Carey and was valued at approximately $8,800.

Snyder owned a pest-control business at the time of the murders and was employed by a local apartment complex. Around the time of the murders a worker at the apartment complex saw Snyder dispose of a bag in one of the garbage dumpsters in the complex. Police discovered a purse wrapped in towels inside that dumpster. The purse was similar to the one Dixie carried and some of its contents were identified as having belonged to Dixie.

After Snyder was seen disposing of something in the dumpster where Dixie's purse was found, the police obtained a search warrant for his house. A search revealed a reindeer necklace that was identified as Dixie's. Behind Snyder's house police discovered shell casings that matched the .38 caliber handgun that was used to kill Burkhalter. Some distance from his house police discovered the handgun that was used in the murder.

Snyder testified in his own behalf; he told the jury that he was framed. He said that on August 9 he saw a truck parked outside Dixie's house and he went to Dixie's door and saw that the door had been kicked in. He went inside and discovered the bodies. He said that he checked to see if Dixie and Carey were alive and that as he was leaving two masked men grabbed him, put a gun under his chin, and pulled the trigger a few times. They knocked him out. He said that the two men then put the items taken from Gaither's house in his truck. Snyder admitted that he took a container of jewelry into his house and went through the contents and that was why, he said, the reindeer necklace was found in his house — it had dropped out of the bag and he had put it on his television.

The jury chose not to believe Snyder's rendition of the events; instead it convicted him of three counts of capital murder

[893 So.2d 505]

for murdering the victims during the course of a burglary and one count of capital murder for murdering three people during one course of conduct.

A separate sentencing hearing was held before the jury. See § 13A-5-46, Ala.Code 1975. At the hearing Snyder waived the presentation of any mitigating evidence and urged the jury to sentence him to death. The jury, by a vote of 10 to 2, recommended that Snyder be sentenced to death. The trial court then directed that a presentence report be prepared. See § 13A-5-47(b), Ala.Code 1975. After the report was completed, the trial court conducted a separate sentencing hearing. See § 13A-5-47(c). The trial court then sentenced Snyder to death. Synder's appeal, which is automatic in a case where the defendant has been sentenced to death, followed. See § 13A-5-53(a), Ala.Code 1975.

Standard of Review

Because Snyder has been sentenced to death we are obliged to search the record for "plain error." See Rule 45A, Ala.R.App.P. Rule 45A states:

"In all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, the Court of Criminal Appeals shall notice any plain error or defect in the proceedings under review, whether or not brought to the attention of the trial court, and take appropriate appellate action by reason thereof, when ever such error has or probably has adversely affected the substantial right of the appellant."

When applying this standard, this Court has stated:

"As is the case with every death penalty case, this court is obliged, pursuant to Rule 45A, Ala.R.App.P., to review the transcript of the proceedings for plain error, whether or not the issue was raised before the trial court or on appeal. Plain error is defined as error that has `adversely affected the substantial right of the appellant.' The standard of review in reviewing a claim under the plain-error doctrine is stricter than the standard used in reviewing an issue that was properly raised in the trial court or on appeal. As the United States Supreme Court stated in United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 105 S.Ct. 1038, 84 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985), the plain-error doctrine applies only if the error is `particularly egregious' and if it `seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.' See Ex parte Price, 725 So.2d 1063 (Ala.1998), cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1133, 119 S.Ct. 1809, 143 L.Ed.2d 1012 (1999); Burgess v. State, 723 So.2d 742 (Ala.Cr.App.1997), aff'd, 723 So.2d 770 (Ala.1998), cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1052, 119 S.Ct. 1360, 143 L.Ed.2d 521 (1999); Johnson v. State, 620 So.2d 679, 701 (Ala.Cr.App.1992), rev'd on other grounds, 620 So.2d 709 (Ala.1993), on remand, 620 So.2d 714 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 905, 114 S.Ct. 285, 126 L.Ed.2d 235 (1993)."

Hall v. State, 820 So.2d 113, 121-22 (Ala.Crim.App.1999).

Many of the issues raised on appeal were not objected to at trial. While the failure to object will not bar our review of the issue in a death case, it will weigh against any claim of prejudice. Ex parte Smith, 756 So.2d 957 (Ala.2000).

Guilt-Phase Issues

Snyder argues that he was denied his right to a speedy trial because there was a 49-month delay between his arrest and his trial.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees an accused

[893 So.2d 506]

the right to a speedy trial. This section states:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted

To continue reading

Request your trial
81 cases
  • Capote v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • January 10, 2020
    ...So. 2d 870, 882-83 (Ala. Crim. App. 1998).’ " Harris v. State, 2 So. 3d 880, 910 (Ala. Crim. App. 2007) (quoting Snyder v. State, 893 So. 2d 488, 548 (Ala. Crim. App. 2003) ). See also Belisle v. State, 11 So. 3d 256, 308 (Ala. Crim. App. 2007) ; Gobble v. State, 104 So. 3d 920, 973 (Ala. C......
  • Petersen v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • January 11, 2019
    ...State, 779 So. 2d 1225 (Ala. Crim. App. 1999)." Johnson v. State, 820 So. 2d 842, 874 (Ala. Crim. App. 2000).’ " Snyder v. State, 893 So. 2d 488, 548 (Ala. Crim. App. 2003). See alsoMaples v. State, 758 So. 2d 1, 65 (Ala. Crim. App.), aff'd, 758 So. 2d 81 (Ala. 1999)." Henderson v. State, 2......
  • Brown v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • April 28, 2006
    ...v. State, 280 Ala. 493, 195 So.2d 786 (1967) (upheld restraining defendant who attempted to escape during trial)." Snyder v. State, 893 So.2d 488, 512-13 (Ala.Crim.App.2003), writ denied, 893 So.2d 563 In the present case, there was no abuse of discretion by the trial court in requiring tha......
  • Reynolds v. State Of Ala.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • October 1, 2010
    ..." Gobble v. State, [Ms. CR-05-0225, February 5, 2010] ____ So. 3d ___, ___ (Ala. Crim. App. 2010). See also Snyder v. State, 893 So. 2d 488, 534-37 (Ala. Crim. App. 2003), cert, denied, 8 93 So. 2d 563 (Ala. 2004), cert, denied, 544 U.S. 1062 (2005). Reynolds was allowed wide latitude in cr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT