State v. Armstrong

Decision Date15 July 2004
Docket NumberNo. CR-00-0595-AP.,CR-00-0595-AP.
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Shad Daniel ARMSTRONG, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

Janet A. Napolitano, former Arizona Attorney General, Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General by Kent Cattani, Chief Counsel, Capital Litigation Section, Phoenix, and Donna J. Lam, Assistant Attorney General, Tucson, Attorneys for Appellee.

Harriette P. Levitt, Tucson, Attorney for Appellant.


JONES, Chief Justice.

¶ 1 Shad Daniel Armstrong was convicted March 10, 2000 of two counts of first degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. Following an aggravation/mitigation hearing, the trial judge sentenced Armstrong to death for each of the two murders and twenty-five years to life for the conspiracy conviction. A mandatory Notice of Appeal was filed under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 31.2(b). This court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6, Section 5(3), of the Arizona Constitution and Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") sections 13-4031 and -4033(A) (2001). For the reasons that follow, we affirm Armstrong's convictions.


¶ 2 In late August 1996, Armstrong lived in Oklahoma with his girlfriend, Rusty Medina. During that month, Armstrong, his sister Farrah, and a friend, Tommy Taylor, burglarized the home of Rob Fisher in Caddo, Texas. Sometime during the next four months, Armstrong learned that Taylor had implicated him in the burglary. He left Oklahoma in January 1997 in order to avoid arrest. He, along with Medina, Medina's child K.M., and Farrah relocated to Tucson, Arizona, where they moved into an apartment together.

¶ 3 Soon after arriving in Tucson, Farrah met Frank Williams and almost immediately began a romantic relationship with him. Shortly thereafter, Williams moved into the apartment where Armstrong, Medina, K.M., and Farrah were living. Ultimately, Farrah and Williams got engaged, and in July 1997 moved into their own apartment. By December, however, Armstrong, Medina, K.M., and a child born to Medina and Armstrong in May 1997 had left their apartment and moved in with Farrah and Williams.

¶ 4 In January 1998, Armstrong and Medina began to quarrel, so Armstrong moved to Three Points, Arizona with his friend David Doogan and his father, Tim Doogan, into the Doogans' trailer. Medina and the children remained at the apartment a few more weeks until early February, when they moved out and joined Armstrong in Three Points.

¶ 5 Meanwhile, in late January 1998, Farrah and Williams visited Farrah's parents in Oklahoma. During this trip, Farrah indicated to her parents that she planned to marry Williams and she wanted to resolve her legal problems in Oklahoma so that she could move back to the state. Farrah asked her parents to ascertain whom she should contact, but before obtaining the information, Farrah and Williams left Oklahoma to return to Arizona. Farrah's mother called the apartment in Arizona and left the Oklahoma district attorney's phone number with Armstrong. Upon arriving home, Farrah shared with Medina her plans to turn herself in. Farrah told Medina that the only way she could achieve a fresh start was by going back to Oklahoma, turning herself in, and telling the authorities of Armstrong's whereabouts. Medina called Armstrong and told him of Farrah's plan to "turn him in for his warrants[,] to clean her slate, to get everything off her back." Armstrong told Medina that he was "going to have to do something about it" because he did not want either of them to go to prison or lose their kids. Against this background, Armstrong began to lay plans to kill Farrah and Williams.

¶ 6 In early February 1998, Armstrong told David Doogan that Farrah had talked to him about turning herself in because she had been told that she would receive a break on the charges she was facing if she disclosed Armstrong's location. Armstrong told Doogan he felt Williams was influencing Farrah to turn herself in and that he intended to kill Williams in order to exert control over Farrah. Armstrong and Doogan then contrived a scheme to invite Williams over to work on Doogan's car and then shoot him while driving down the road. This plan was never pursued.

¶ 7 Armstrong and Doogan also had a number of conversations about how they would murder both Farrah and Williams. They decided to dig a grave on Doogan's property, believing that nobody would think to look for the bodies there. They dug the grave about one week before the murders.

¶ 8 Armstrong later came up with a different plan to kill Farrah and Williams. He planned to lure Farrah to the Doogan property under the pretext of getting her a puppy from his friend who lived nearby. Once she got there, he would invite her to go with him to look at a snake in a small trailer on the property. Outside the trailer, he would shoot her from behind with a gun hidden behind the back door. After shooting Farrah, Armstrong planned to lure Williams to the Doogan property under the pretext of having him work on Doogan's car. Armstrong would then shoot him, too.

¶ 9 Armstrong came closer to carrying out his second scheme. He called Farrah and she came to the trailer. They went outside to look at the snake, but as Armstrong reached for the shotgun, Farrah turned around and asked him what the gun was for. He told her he was bringing the gun just in case they needed it for the snake. She said if he needed the gun, she did not want to see the snake, and they went back in the trailer.

¶ 10 On February 18, 1998, Armstrong and Doogan made a third plan to kill Farrah and Williams. In the early afternoon of February 19, Armstrong and Doogan began to prepare. This time, Armstrong called Farrah between 4 and 5 p.m. and asked her to come to the Doogan property to collect money he owed her. He told Farrah to have Williams come as well to help work on Doogan's car.

¶ 11 Armstrong and Doogan next prepared the scene for Farrah and Williams' arrival by hanging sheets on the walls to capture any blood spatter, placing a blanket in the living room, sliding the coffee table out of the way, and gathering plastic bags that they planned to use to cover the victims' upper bodies after the shooting. Armstrong then removed ammunition from a cabinet in the kitchen and loaded the shotgun. The two men then waited for Farrah and Williams for an hour or two.

¶ 12 Farrah and Williams arrived at the Doogan property some time around dusk. As they approached the trailer, Doogan opened the front door and stood in the doorway while Armstrong hid behind the front door with the shotgun. Although the original plan had been that Armstrong would immediately shoot Farrah and Williams, Doogan waved Armstrong off as the couple walked up the front steps. Armstrong stepped away from the door and walked down the hallway and placed the gun in a room. Eventually, the four congregated in the living room, with Williams seated on the recliner, Farrah on the couch, and Doogan in a chair opposite the recliner. Armstrong remained standing, moving around much of the time. After a few moments, Armstrong headed down the hallway. He returned momentarily carrying the shotgun and stopped about two and a half feet in front of Williams. Williams cursed at Armstrong and started to get up, but Armstrong shot him in the midsection before he could stand. Farrah screamed and also started to get up, but Armstrong turned and shot her once in the midsection, followed by another shot to the head. Armstrong then turned back to Williams and shot him in the head.

¶ 13 After the shooting, Armstrong and Doogan spread the blanket on the floor and moved the victims' bodies onto it. They put plastic bags over their upper bodies to keep any smell from rising out of the gravesite. Armstrong removed some of Farrah's jewelry and went through Williams' pockets. They tied knots in each end of the blanket and dragged the bodies out the back door onto the back porch, leaving a bloody streak on the kitchen floor. They hooked one end of the blanket to the back of Farrah's truck and pulled the bodies to the gravesite. After pushing the bodies into the grave, Armstrong and Doogan partially filled the hole with dirt. They returned to the trailer and took the bloody couch and recliner and loaded them into the truck. Armstrong then gathered the sheets and rags used to clean up the bloody mess, disposed of them in the partially filled grave, and filled the remainder of the hole with dirt.

¶ 14 Meanwhile, Medina, with her children, had been in a travel trailer also located on the Doogan's property while the murders were taking place. Shortly after Armstrong returned from filling the grave, Medina left the children in the travel trailer and entered the main trailer through the back door. She saw Doogan washing his hands in the kitchen sink. As she walked back toward the bathroom, she saw the blood trail through the kitchen, as well as the blood stains and pieces of flesh in the living room. Medina found Armstrong in the bathroom, washing off bloody jewelry and money. Armstrong said, "I did it," and explained that he had shot the victims in the head and chest. Armstrong then spent much of that night and the next day covering up the murders by cleaning the trailer of the remaining blood and carnage, as well as disposing of the bloody furniture in the desert.

¶ 15 Soon after the murders, Farrah's and Williams' disappearance began to be the subject of an investigation by law enforcement. As a result, Armstrong took Medina and the children and fled Arizona in an effort to evade questioning by the authorities. Armstrong took his family to Los Angeles where they stayed for seven to eight months. It was there that Armstrong first expressed emotion to Medina over the loss of his sister and Williams and proceeded to explain to her in detail what had happened. He also told her that if they were ever caught, she should tell the police that Doogan and Farrah had been...

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