State v. Cromwell

Decision Date17 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. CR-03-0083-AP.,CR-03-0083-AP.
Citation119 P.3d 448,211 Ariz. 181
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Robert Louis CROMWELL, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General by Kent E. Cattani, Chief Counsel, Capital Litigation Section, James P. Beene, Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for the State of Arizona.

Susan M. Sherwin, Maricopa County Legal Advocate by James L. Logan, Deputy Legal Advocate, Consuelo M. Ohanesian, Deputy Legal Advocate, Phoenix, Attorneys for Robert Louis Cromwell.


JONES, Justice (retired).

¶ 1 On February 19, 2003, a Maricopa County jury convicted Robert Louis Cromwell of one count of first-degree murder and one count of sexual assault in the October 8, 2001 death of eleven-year-old Stephanie Shortt. The jury also convicted Cromwell of two counts of aggravated assault, one against Ella Speaks, Stephanie's mother, and the other against Ella's friend, Kim Jensen. On March 6, 2003, Cromwell was sentenced to death for the murder, to life imprisonment without the possibility of release for thirty-five years for the sexual assault, and to ten years' imprisonment each for the two aggravated assault charges.

¶ 2 On March 14, 2003, notice of appeal was filed in this court under Rules 26.15 and 31.2(b), Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, and Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") § 13-4031 (2001). This court has jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6, Section 5.3, of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 13-4031.


¶ 3 Stephanie Shortt lived with her mother, Ella Speaks, and two younger sisters, Amanda and Heather, in a one-bedroom apartment located on Flower Street, near the intersection of 32nd Street and Osborn Road in Phoenix. Ella met the defendant, Robert Cromwell, in the early evening hours of October 7, 2001 while walking from her apartment to a nearby convenience store to purchase transmission fluid for her car. Ella passed a building where she saw Cromwell sitting on a bench. Cromwell yelled out to her, "Hey, are you a prostitute or a police officer?" Ella continued walking and replied, "I'm neither one. I'm a mother and I'm having a bad day. Leave me alone." Cromwell then got on his bike and rode toward Ella. Upon reaching her, he said, "I just want to apologize to you. That was a very rude thing I said. In this area, there's a lot of prostitutes. I can't believe that I disrespected you that way and I want to give you my fullest apology." Ella told Cromwell, "It's okay. I'm just having a bad day. I don't mean to lash out at you, but I'm not in the mood for those kind of comments." Cromwell then told Ella he would escort her to the store because "this is a bad area and it's now dark at this time." Ella saw some men off to her left and was "almost relieved" that Cromwell was going to walk with her to the store.

¶ 4 Ella went into the store alone where she purchased transmission fluid. When she emerged, Ella found Cromwell waiting for her. The two walked back to her apartment and according to Ella's testimony, Cromwell seemed "kind" and "caring."

¶ 5 At the apartment, Cromwell helped Ella put the transmission fluid into the automobile. Ella then asked Cromwell if he would like to accompany her and her three daughters to a nearby fast-food restaurant. Cromwell agreed to go, but wanted first to take the bicycle back to his apartment. Ella and the children followed Cromwell and parked the car to wait for him outside the apartment. Cromwell parked his bike, changed his clothes, then drove with Ella and her three girls to the restaurant.

¶ 6 On the way, Cromwell and the children sang songs. At the drive-through window, Ella offered to buy Cromwell a hamburger. He declined. They obtained food for Ella and the children and went back to Ella's apartment. While the children ate, Ella and Cromwell went into her bedroom where the two talked and Ella smoked methamphetamine. After spending about an hour in the bedroom, Cromwell agreed to accompany Ella to a number of local bars where she filled out job applications and played a few games of pool.

¶ 7 Cromwell had one drink during the bar visits, and Ella had none. At one bar location, Cromwell leaned over a pool table and tried to kiss Ella on the mouth, but she turned her cheek. Cromwell said, "I can tell you didn't like it, but I will do it again." Ella replied, "I don't think you will," at which time Ella noticed that Cromwell smiled as if he understood, and he apologized once again.

¶ 8 When Ella and Cromwell returned to her apartment around 1:00 a.m., the children were on a mattress in the living room, still awake. Ella told the girls to go to sleep, and Ella and Cromwell went into the bedroom where they played cards for about an hour.

¶ 9 At some point, with Cromwell still in the apartment, Ella received a phone call from a friend, Kelly Lancaster, asking that she come to his house to help resolve a disturbance being caused by a mutual acquaintance, Kim Jensen. Ella agreed and determined to leave her children with Cromwell because "he seemed so nice." Cromwell told Ella he would just stay in her room while she was gone. Ella was gone from the house for a little more than an hour.

¶ 10 During Ella's absence, Stephanie's nine-year-old sister Amanda was awakened by the sound of Stephanie making a noise as if "she was really hurt." Amanda then saw Stephanie standing in the bathtub, unclothed, while Cromwell, with socks on both of his hands, washed her with soap. Amanda got out of bed on several occasions while Ella was gone, but Cromwell angrily told her to get back to bed each time. Eventually, Amanda saw Stephanie follow Cromwell into Ella's bedroom. Although Stephanie remained in Ella's bedroom, Amanda saw Cromwell move from the bedroom to the kitchen several times. During one such trip, Amanda heard a noise like "silverware shatter," and while Cromwell and Stephanie were in the bedroom, she heard noises that made her think Stephanie was hurt. She then heard a "big bang" that sounded like a television dropping to the floor. Amanda finally fell asleep while Stephanie was in the bedroom with Cromwell.

¶ 11 When Ella returned to the apartment, accompanied by Kim Jensen, Cromwell attacked both of them with a pool cue, resulting in injuries to each. Cromwell ran out of the apartment after the attack and Ella quickly followed, after looking unsuccessfully for Stephanie.

¶ 12 Cromwell's attack on Ella and Kim awakened Amanda. She saw her mother chase Cromwell out of the apartment. Kim Jensen was lying on the floor with a head injury. Amanda and Heather, the youngest sister, then got up and went to the bedroom to look for Stephanie. Amanda reached into the bed, felt Stephanie's legs and saw that the television set was resting on Stephanie's head. She and Heather removed it, then ran downstairs and asked the landlord to call 9-1-1, which he did. After the call, Amanda and Heather went back upstairs and into the bedroom. They observed blood stains on the bedding and found Stephanie's body, bruised and bloody.

¶ 13 Police Officer Tallon Busby responded to the 9-1-1 call. When he arrived, the door was open and Kim Jensen was on the floor. Officer Busby described the scene: "Laying [sic] inside the doorway was a white female. From the waist down she was outside the apartment, from the waist up, she was laying [sic] facedown in the apartment. There was a blood smear on the door." He asked Kim, who was semi-conscious, if anyone else was in the apartment. She replied that the baby was in the bedroom. He then asked Kim where she was injured, and she replied that she had been hit on the back of the head. Officer Busby observed that the hair on the back left side of Kim's head was "matted in blood."

¶ 14 The officer then went into the dark apartment and observed a light in the bedroom. He walked toward the doorway and saw Stephanie lying face up on the bed. A blanket covered her unclothed body from the waist down. She had "visible wounds on her face and blood coming out of her nose and lips and out of her mouth." There was a "huge pool of blood" under her head and shoulders. Officer Busby checked to see if Stephanie was breathing and if she had a pulse. He felt a "slight pulse" at her neck. He placed his hand on Stephanie's chest and "felt a slight rise and fall." Visible evidence of severe vaginal trauma indicated that Stephanie also had been sexually abused.

¶ 15 By the time Gary Ford, a Phoenix Fire Department paramedic, arrived, Stephanie no longer had a pulse and had stopped breathing. While performing cardiac pulmonary resuscitation, Ford observed that Stephanie had suffered a head wound and multiple stab wounds to her back. Ford also observed the vaginal injuries. After attempting CPR and other life-saving procedures, the paramedics rushed Stephanie to Good Samaritan Hospital.

¶ 16 Dr. Wendy Lucid was on duty at the Good Samaritan emergency room when Stephanie arrived. Stephanie had no heartbeat and was not breathing. Initially, Dr. Lucid did a full body assessment. She found a large laceration on Stephanie's forehead. Closer inspection revealed a skull fracture. Due to the severity of Stephanie's head injuries, Dr. Lucid stopped all life support efforts and pronounced her dead. Dr. Lucid then turned Stephanie onto her side and observed eleven stab wounds on her back. Further examination also revealed the vaginal injuries.

¶ 17 The medical examiner performed an autopsy on Stephanie's body. Based on the injuries, he determined Stephanie had received a minimum of five blows to the head and thirteen stab wounds to the back. The stabbing punctured her right lung, causing it to collapse. In the opinion of the examiner, Stephanie was alive at the time she suffered the vaginal trauma and at the time she was stabbed. The cause of death was multiple blunt force and stabbing injuries inflicted on her head and back.

¶ 18 The grand jury indicted Cromwell ...

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