State v. Goodwin

Decision Date24 April 2001
Citation43 S.W.3d 805
Parties(Mo.banc 2001) State of Missouri, Respondent, v. Paul T. Goodwin, Appellant. SC82205 0
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Appeal From: Circuit Court of St. Louis County, Hon. Emmett M. O'Brien

Counsel for Appellant: Richard H. Sindel

Counsel for Respondent: John M. Morris

Opinion Summary: In March 1998, in St. Louis County, Paul Goodwin attempted to sexually assault a widow in her sixties, pushed her down the stairs where she lay unmoving, and repeatedly struck her in the head with a hammer. She died in surgery. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death following a jury trial. He appeals.

Court en banc holds: (1) The state did not fail to disclose evidence in its possession favorable to the accused and material to guilt or punishment in violation of Brady v. Maryland or Missouri disclosure rules. Goodwin claimed an undisclosed witness would have impeached a state witness that Goodwin had threatened the victim with a sledgehammer. The undisclosed witness does not impeach the state's witness as it is questionable the two were speaking of the same event. The undisclosed witness contradicts other defense claims. The state did not call the undisclosed witness. Goodwin's trial preparation was not materially hindered.

(2) No error occurred in the prosecutor's asking about Goodwin's racist remarks about black school children. The question probed a potential alternative cause for his low intelligence scores--unhappiness leading to poor test performance--rather than low intelligence as his defense raised.

(3) A transcript of Goodwin's confession that mistakenly included a statement edited from the audio did not constitute evidence of uncharged crimes. The statement at issue was vague and did not implicate any specific incident or act.

(4) The evidence is sufficient to establish the requisite intent. On the facts, Goodwin knew his attack was practically certain to cause the victim's death.

(5) The trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the state's cross-examination of a defense expert as to prior bad acts. Where the defendant concedes killing the victim and the only issue is whether his mental state absolves him from responsibility, psychological expert testimony is particularly crucial. The expert's opinion was based in part on lack of significant history of crimes or violence. The state was entitled to test the depth of her knowledge about that history, upon which she relied to draw her conclusions.

(6) No plain error is evident in admitting a police officer's testimony as to what the victim told the officer before she died. It was cumulative to Goodwin's statements.

(7) The evidence was sufficient to support the statutory aggravators found by the jury.

(8) Even if an instruction was in error because the aggravating circumstances were improperly conjoined, reversal would not be necessary as a death sentence will be affirmed on even one valid aggravator. There were two others. The jury did not seem confused or misled.

(9) The death penalty in this case passes independent review pursuant to section 565.035.

Price, C.J., Limbaugh, White, Wolff and Benton, JJ., and Edwards, Sp.J., concur. Stith, J., not participating.

John C. Holstein, Judge

Defendant Paul Goodwin was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death following a jury trial held in St. Louis County circuit court. Goodwin appeals, raising nine points of error. This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


This Court reviews the facts in a light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Link, 25 S.W.3d 136, 140 (Mo. banc), cert. denied, ___U.S.___, 121 S.Ct. 634, 148 (2000).

Joan Crotts, a widow in her sixties, lived alone next door to a boardinghouse in St. Louis County. In the summer of 1996, defendant moved into the boardinghouse. During defendant's short stay at the residence, he frequently harassed Mrs. Crotts and instigated a number of verbal confrontations with her. Typically, the incidents only involved vulgar insults by the defendant, directed toward Mrs. Crotts. Eventually, defendant's behavior intensified for the worse.

One day in August, defendant and several friends assembled and began drinking in the back yard of the boardinghouse. They began throwing chicken bones to Mrs. Crotts' dogs and proceeded to toss beer cans over the fence into her yard. Mrs. Crotts, upset by the activity, came out to complain and began yelling at the defendant and his friends, telling them to stop and quit harassing her. In response, defendant picked up a sledgehammer, smashed a rock with it, and threatened Mrs. Crotts, saying "this is your head...if you keep messing with me." Following some harsh words from defendant and his companions, the episode ended without further incident.

Later that day, Mrs. Crotts left her house in order to attend a barbecue down the street. Apparently, she crossed through the front yard of the boardinghouse, and defendant walked down the driveway and began chastising Mrs. Crotts for walking across the lawn. He threatened her by saying, "Get your fat ass back in the house, bitch. I've got one coming for you." At that point, Mrs. Crotts' daughter, accompanied by an acquaintance, approached them and told defendant to leave her mother alone.

Nothing more happened until that evening, when defendant was evicted from the boardinghouse. When Mrs. Crotts stepped out on her front porch to see what all the commotion was about, defendant yelled at her, "I'm going to get you for this, bitch." According to Mrs. Crotts' daughter, defendant blamed Mrs. Crotts for his eviction.

Approximately a year and a half later, in the early morning hours of March 1, 1998, Mrs. Crotts let her dogs outside. The dogs ran through an open gate in her backyard, making her suspect someone had been in the yard during the night. She investigated and found that, in addition to the open gate, a step on her back porch was out of place and that papers she kept in her new car were lying on the ground. Fearing that someone had been on her property and had tampered with her car, Mrs. Crotts contacted the police. When a police officer arrived, he walked around the house and patrolled the neighborhood in his vehicle, but found nothing amiss. Mrs. Crotts remained awake, talked with her daughter on the phone and prepared to go to church.

Meanwhile, defendant, who originally opened the backyard gate, entered Mrs. Crotts' house through an unlocked back door, sat on a chair in the basement and smoked a cigarette. Several hours passed. Eventually, defendant, carrying a hammer, climbed the basement stairs and confronted Mrs. Crotts in her kitchen. He grabbed Mrs. Crotts arm and pushed her into the living room. They sat down on the living room couch and began talking. Mrs. Crotts asked whether he wanted money or jewelry. Defendant said "[N]o." He rose from the couch and forced Mrs. Crotts into an adjacent room. After collecting his thoughts, he pushed her into the rear bedroom. Once inside the bedroom, defendant pushed her over the bed, and they laid down next to one another. Defendant exposed his penis and tried to force her to perform oral sex. Defendant, however, was unable to maintain an erection, and pushed Mrs. Crotts back into the kitchen.

As Mrs. Crotts looked out the back door window, defendant opened the refrigerator. He looked inside and found a two-liter Pepsi bottle. He pulled out the bottle and took a drink. He found some paper and a pen on the kitchen table and wrote "You are next" on the paper. Then, he seized Mrs. Crotts from behind and forced her to the open door leading to the basement stairs. He shoved her down the stairs, and she fell to the concrete basement floor. Mrs. Crotts lay face down on the concrete, unmoving. Defendant began to descend the steps, and picked up a hammer1 by his boot. After observing Mrs. Crotts for a time, he struck her in the back of the head several times with the hammer. He tossed the hammer toward the back of the basement, exited via the same back door through which he had entered and proceeded to Mrs. Crotts' backyard. He passed through the same gate he opened before and walked to his new home, no more than one mile away.

In the afternoon, a neighbor called Debra Decker Olive, Mrs. Crotts' daughter, to report Mrs. Crotts was not answering her phone even though her car was there. This was the second call she received that day about her mother's failure to answer the phone, so she got into her car and drove over to Mrs. Crotts' home. Once there, she entered the back door leading to the kitchen and saw her mother's purse lying on the floor along with spilled Pepsi. Ms. Olive began yelling her mother's name repeatedly. From the basement, Ms. Olive heard her mother respond, "What?" Ms. Olive went to the basement stairs and found her mother lying on the basement floor, naked except for socks and shoes and a housecoat pressed under her armpit, with a pool of blood around her head. Ms. Olive asked Mrs. Crotts if she had been raped. Mrs. Crotts replied, "I don't know." After covering her mother and placing a towel under her head, Ms. Olive called 911 and her fiance. An officer arrived shortly, tried to make Mrs. Crotts comfortable, and asked her what happened. Her only response was, "I don't know. I don't know."

Soon paramedics arrived, administered first aid, and eventually transported Mrs. Crotts to a hospital. That evening, while awaiting surgery, another officer spoke with her about the attack at her home. She was able to respond that a very large white man, holding a hammer, appeared at the top of the basement stairs and sexually assaulted her. She indicated that the man was very angry and after the sexual assault, he pushed her down the basement stairs. After that, Mrs. Crotts explained that the man hit her in the back of the head with what she thought was a hammer. Later that...

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