State v. Gretzler

Decision Date06 January 1983
Docket NumberNo. 3750-2,3750-2
Citation135 Ariz. 42,659 P.2d 1
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Douglas Edward GRETZLER, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

Robert K. Corbin, Atty. Gen., Phoenix by William J. Schafer, III and Jessica Gifford, Asst. Attys. Gen., for appellee.

Cary Sandman, Tucson, for appellant.

CAMERON, Justice.

Defendant, Douglas Edward Gretzler, was sentenced to death for two counts of first degree murder, following remand for resentencing pursuant to State v. Watson, 120 Ariz. 441, 586 P.2d 1253 (1978), cert. denied 440 U.S. 924, 99 S.Ct. 1254, 59 L.Ed.2d 478 (1979). This court has jurisdiction of this appeal under Art. 6, § 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution, and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031 and 13-4035.

The issues raised on appeal are:

I. Is capital punishment an unconstitutionally excessive penalty for any person found to have impaired mental capacity under A.R.S. § 13-454(F)(1)?

II. Did the court's finding of two additional aggravating factors in the second sentencing proceeding violate the prohibition against double jeopardy?

III. Did the defendant commit these murders in expectation of receiving anything of pecuniary value?

IV. Is the statutory aggravating circumstance of killing in an "especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner" unconstitutionally broad or vague, and did the defendant commit these murders in such a manner?

V. Does the Arizona death penalty statute provide adequate guidance for the use of sentencing discretion to comply with the eighth and fourteenth amendments?

VI. Is there a constitutional right to jury sentencing in capital cases?

VII. Did resentencing pursuant to State v. Watson, supra:

a. Violate the prohibition against ex post facto laws,

b. Violate double jeopardy, or

c. Constitute judicially created penalties in violation of due process and separation of powers?

VIII. Was it error to consider the defendant's prior convictions in aggravation of sentence?

IX. Does this court, in its independent review of the evidence, find that the death sentence was inappropriate punishment for this offense and this offender?

Although the facts of this case have been fully described in previous appeals, see State v. Gretzler, 126 Ariz. 60, 612 P.2d 1023 (1980) [Gretzler I]; see also State v. Steelman, 120 Ariz. 301, 585 P.2d 1213 (1978) [Steelman I], a summary of these facts is included here as necessary for the determination of this appeal.

The defendant was convicted in the instant case of kidnapping one Vincent Armstrong, of murdering and robbing a young couple, Michael and Patricia Sandberg, and of burglarizing the couple's home. This incident comprises only a small part of a series of crimes engaged in by Douglas Gretzler and Willie Steelman in the fall of 1973, involving kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, burglary, and the murders of at least seventeen people.

This series of crimes began on 11 October 1973 when Gretzler and Steelman arrived in Arizona and during the succeeding four days robbed four persons in three separate incidents. On 17 October they next kidnapped two young men, commandeered their van, drove them to Stanislaus County, California, and murdered them. Three days later Gretzler and Steelman were hitchhiking near Petaluma, California. They kidnapped a young couple who stopped for them, with Steelman raping the female victim before the couple was released. They then returned to Arizona in a stolen car. On the way they picked up a hitchhiker, whom they murdered near the Superstition Mountains. In Phoenix, on 25 October, they murdered two more persons, a couple that had been friends of Steelman's and had seen Gretzler and Steelman in the company of the two young men murdered the week before. Gretzler and Steelman now proceeded to Tucson. While hitchhiking near Tucson on 2 November, they killed and robbed a man who stopped to give them a ride. Then began the events upon which the instant convictions and sentencing are based.

On 3 November, Gretzler and Steelman were again hitchhiking in Tucson. They kidnapped Vincent Armstrong when he stopped for them, holding him at gunpoint. Armstrong escaped, however, by diving out of the moving automobile. He then reported his abduction and theft of his car to the police.

Gretzler and Steelman continued on in Vincent Armstrong's car to the condominium complex where the Sandbergs resided. They accosted Michael Sandberg, who was washing his automobile in the parking lot. Steelman displayed his gun to Sandberg, and the two men forced Sandberg to take them to his condominium where his wife Patricia was studying. While inside the men tried to change their appearance, forcing Pat to assist them, and trading their clothing for some of Michael's. Gretzler and Steelman then tied up the Sandbergs; the couple was put in the bathroom while their captors finished preparations to leave. Michael and Patricia were both gagged and bound, tied at the wrists with heavy twine. After about an hour in the bathroom, Patricia became so terrified that her captors gave her some of her own Valium in an attempt to calm her down. The Sandbergs were then separated, with Patricia being placed in the living room and Michael in the bedroom; each was now also bound at the legs. Patricia was placed face down on the living room couch and was covered entirely by a blanket. Michael was placed in a crouched position on his bed, and his legs were attached with heavy twine to more twine around his neck, so that he would choke if his legs were straightened. The couple was forced to remain in these positions for some time. Gretzler then went into the bedroom and shot Michael in the head. Next Gretzler returned to the living room and shot Patricia in the head. Steelman took the gun and fired one more shot into Patricia's body, to be completely satisfied that they had killed her. Gretzler and Steelman then thoroughly wiped down the apartment in an attempt to eliminate their fingerprints. They gathered together those items in the apartment they had decided to steal, including credit cards, checks, an expensive camera, and other personal property belonging to the Sandbergs. They then took the Sandbergs' car, making their escape. They returned to California, where, near the town of Lodi, they entered the home of a local family and forced the father to open his safe, from which they stole between $3,000 and $4,000. Gretzler bound and gagged the four adults and three teenagers in the home, and then shot each of them to death. Afterwards, he proceeded to a bedroom where Steelman had pulled a blanket over the heads of two sleeping children. Gretzler shot one sleeping child to death, and then waited while Steelman shot and killed the other child.

Gretzler and Steelman were arrested by California authorities on 8 November 1973 in connection with the mass murder in Lodi. Each was convicted of nine counts of first degree murder. The pair was then brought to Arizona on charges arising from the Sandberg murders and Armstrong kidnapping. Each was tried separately, and each was convicted on the first degree murder and related charges. They received prison sentences for the related charges, and were sentenced to death for the murders. Their convictions, and the sentences received for the related charges, were affirmed on appeal. In light of new constitutional interpretations in State v. Watson, supra, each of their death sentences was vacated, and their cases remanded to the Superior Court for resentencing. Steelman I, supra; Gretzler I, supra. Upon remand, each was again sentenced to death. We have already reviewed and affirmed the death sentence of Steelman in State v. Steelman, 126 Ariz. 19, 612 P.2d 475 (1980) [Steelman II]. While Gretzler has brought some isolated issues regarding his sentencing before this court previously on special action, State v. Superior Court of Arizona, Douglas Edward Gretzler, Real Party in Interest, 128 Ariz. 583, 627 P.2d 1081 (1981) [Gretzler II], it is our present task to examine the propriety of his resentence to death.


The defendant did not raise an insanity defense at trial, and in fact the psychiatric testimony which was adduced for the purpose of sentencing supports the conclusion that defendant was legally sane at the time of the killings. Under the M'Naghten rule adopted in Arizona, this specifically means that defendant Gretzler both understood the nature and quality of his actions, and knew that they were wrong. See Steelman I, supra, 120 Ariz. at 311-13, 585 P.2d at 1223-25; State v. Schantz, 98 Ariz. 200, 207, 403 P.2d 521, 525 (1965), cert. denied 383 U.S. 1015, 86 S.Ct. 628, 15 L.Ed.2d 530 (1966).

At resentencing, however, the trial judge found that the mitigating circumstance described in former A.R.S. § 13-454(F)(1), presently § 13-703(G)(1), was established--that "defendant's capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law was significantly impaired, but not so impaired as to constitute a defense to prosecution." We thus have a situation in which defendant's mental capacity was only partially, though significantly, impaired.

While Arizona has not adopted the standard of "partial" responsibility in complete abrogation of criminal responsibility, State v. Schantz, supra, our capital sentencing statute specifically requires that significant mental impairment be taken into account as a mitigating circumstance in determining sentence. This mitigating circumstance, together with other mitigating circumstances, is to be carefully weighed against aggravating circumstances present in the case, to determine whether leniency is appropriate. Former A.R.S. § 13-454(D), presently § 13-703(E). Defendant attacks this procedure, claiming that a finding of significant impairment calls for leniency in every case, regardless of the degree of that impairment and the other...

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