State v. Hall, 77481

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Citation982 S.W.2d 675
Docket NumberNo. 77481,77481
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Donald Joe HALL, Appellant.
Decision Date01 December 1998

Page 675

982 S.W.2d 675
STATE of Missouri, Respondent,
Donald Joe HALL, Appellant.
No. 77481.
Supreme Court of Missouri,
En Banc.
Dec. 1, 1998.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 20, 1999.

Page 678

Deborah B. Wafer, St. Louis, for Appellant.

Cassandra K. Dolgin, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for Respondent.


A jury convicted Donald Hall of first-degree murder for killing Bill White on December 15, 1992. The jury recommended, and the trial court imposed, a death sentence. Hall then filed a post-conviction motion pursuant to Rule 29.15 alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The motion court held a three-day hearing, took evidence, and overruled the motion.

Hall now appeals his conviction and the motion court's denial of post-conviction relief. Because Hall was sentenced to death, we have exclusive jurisdiction over the appeals. Mo. Const. art. V, Section 3. We affirm the judgments.


Around December 10, 1992, Kimball Morton took Donald Hall to Bill White's jewelry store in Springfield, Missouri, to have a necklace fixed. While Morton and Hall were in the store, White looked at the necklace and the three men discussed gold coins. Morton and Hall left the store with the necklace. Later that day, Hall talked to Morton about "going in there and robbing and killing Bill

Page 679

White." Hall told Morton it would be "real easy going in there and robbing and killing Mr. White, there wasn't no security, no cameras or nothin'." Morton told Hall he was not "up to that." Hall then asked Morton if he wanted to "be the wheel man, to drive," and Morton said he was not sure. Hall told Morton that "[a]ll [they would] have to do is walk in there and shoot him in the head," and then steal his jewelry and money. Morton expressed reluctance in helping Hall commit the crime, and Hall dropped the subject.

On December 15, 1992, Donald Hall's ex-wife Donna Hicks, who was living with Hall, woke up around 10 a.m. to find Hall and Hall's car gone. Hall was seen walking toward Bill White's jewelry store at approximately 10:30 a.m. on that day. Charles Ingram testified that he and Charles Slater were parked near White's jewelry store around 10:30 a.m. The two men saw Hall walking toward the jewelry store and noticed a white car parked down the street. Later both Ingram and Slater were shown a photograph of Hall's car and recognized it as the car they saw parked down the street from the jewelry store.

Around 11 a.m., Hall returned to the apartment and told Hicks that he wanted her to drive him to White's jewelry store. Hall said he wanted to have a necklace fixed. Hicks agreed. She dropped Hall off at White's store and parked about one block away.

Hall returned to the car less than ten minutes after Hicks dropped him off. He was carrying a paper bag and he had blood on his hands. Hall said he "just blew the man's brains out." When Hicks asked him whether White was dead, Hall responded, "If I took this gun and put it to your head and pulled the trigger and blew your brains out, don't you think you'd be dead?"

Hall told Hicks that he went into the store and approached White, who was sitting behind the store counter. He showed White a necklace and asked him to fix it. Hall told Hicks that when White bent over to get a clasp to fix the necklace, Hall "put [the gun] straight - close to his head, right up against his head, and pulled the trigger...." He then pulled White's body from the chair to the floor so that he could retrieve White's wallet from his back pocket. Hall told Hicks several times that he killed White because "the only good witness is a dead witness."

Hall told Hicks that while he was still in the store, Linda Garrison approached White's storefront with her son, mother, and stepfather. Hall crept to the door and locked it before the Garrisons could enter. He waited for them to leave and then filled a paper bag with a metal jewelry box, the wallet from White's pocket, and the gun he used to shoot White, and returned to the car.

Hall and Hicks drove to Springfield Lake to dispose of the gun. Hall sat in the passenger seat and removed the wallet from the paper bag and looked through the jewelry box, which contained car titles, other documents, and jewelry. On the way to the lake they stopped at a gas station where they purchased gas and where Hall washed the blood off of his hands with gasoline. When they reached Springfield Lake, Hall threw the gun and clip into the lake. He also weighted the metal jewelry box with rocks and threw it into the lake.

On their way back from the lake, the two stopped along a roadside to burn White's wallet and some documents that were in White's jewelry box. Hall also hid the stolen jewelry inside a guardrail along another roadside. Hicks and Hall then returned to their apartment, and Hicks washed Hall's bloodstained jeans. Three days after White's murder, on December 18, Hall and Hicks retrieved the jewelry from inside the guardrail and left for Kansas City where they spent about one week selling the jewelry at various pawn shops.

About three weeks later, on January 8, 1993, Hall was arrested for an unrelated drug charge. On January 9, Hicks contacted the Springfield police department. The police detectives took her to a motel where they videotaped Hicks as she described the events surrounding White's murder. Hicks then took the police to Springfield Lake and led them to the locations where Hall and Hicks had burned some of the items from White's store. From these locations the police recovered

Page 680

charred items, including the remains of White's wallet and White's driver's license.

Hicks also gave the police an envelope containing a diamond ring that Hall sent to Hicks' apartment. Hicks identified the ring as one that Hall had taken from White's store. She told the police that Hall wore the ring on his pinky finger up until the day he was arrested for the drug charge, at which time he placed the ring in the envelope and sent it to Hicks. At trial, Hicks identified a photograph of Hall in which he is wearing the ring on his pinky finger. Hicks testified that she took the photograph of Hall when the two were in Kansas City pawning some of the stolen jewelry.

On April 2, 1993, the Circuit Court of Greene County issued an indictment charging Hall with one count of first-degree murder. Trial for the first-degree murder charge commenced on September 6, 1994. At trial Hall testified that he went to White's store to retrieve three watches he had left there a few days earlier. Hall said White told him the watches were worthless and that he threw them away. Hall testified that he did not believe White and moved around the store counter demanding that White return the watches. Hall said White then pulled a gun from a desk drawer, the two men struggled, Hall pushed White's hand back, and the gun went off lodging a bullet in White's head.


We review the evidence presented at trial in a light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Storey, 901 S.W.2d 886, 891 (Mo. banc 1995). The trial court is vested with broad discretion to admit and exclude evidence at trial. Error will be found only if this discretion was clearly abused. State v. Simmons, 955 S.W.2d 729, 737 (Mo. banc 1997), cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 1081, 140 L.Ed.2d 138 (1998).

On direct appeal we review the trial court "for prejudice, not mere error, and will reverse only if the error was so prejudicial that it deprived the defendant of a fair trial." State v. Morrow, 968 S.W.2d 100, 105-06 (Mo. banc 1998), cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 119 S.Ct. 222, 142 L.Ed.2d 182; State v. Hutchison, 957 S.W.2d 757, 761 (Mo. banc 1997); State v. Skillicorn, 944 S.W.2d 877, 884 (Mo. banc 1997), cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 568, 139 L.Ed.2d 407 (1997). Issues that were not preserved may be considered only if the court finds that manifest injustice or a miscarriage of justice has resulted from the trial court error. Simmons, 955 S.W.2d at 737.

Our review of Hall's post-conviction claims is limited to whether the motion court clearly erred in finding that Hall's counsel was not ineffective. Rule 29.15(j); Storey, 901 S.W.2d at 900. To prove ineffective assistance of counsel, Hall must show that (1) counsel's performance did not conform to the degree of skill, care, and diligence of a reasonably competent attorney, and (2) Hall's defense was prejudiced by his counsel's poor performance. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); Simmons, 955 S.W.2d at 746; State v. Tokar, 918 S.W.2d 753, 761 (Mo. banc 1996), cert. denied 519 U.S. 933, 117 S.Ct. 307, 136 L.Ed.2d 224 (1996).

In evaluating the performance of counsel under the first prong of the Strickland test, we note that actions by counsel that constitute sound trial strategy are not grounds for ineffective assistance claims. Simmons, 955 S.W.2d at 746; Storey, 901 S.W.2d at 893. There is a presumption that any challenged action was sound trial strategy and that counsel rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of professional judgment. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689-90, 104 S.Ct. 2052; Simmons, 955 S.W.2d at 746.

Even if counsel is found to have performed deficiently, the second prong of the Strickland test requires us to ask whether Hall was prejudiced by his counsel's poor performance. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052; Simmons, 955 S.W.2d at 746. To prove prejudice, a defendant must show a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. See State v. Harris, 870 S.W.2d 798, 809 (Mo. banc 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 953, 115 S.Ct. 371, 130 L.Ed.2d 323 (1994) (noting that in a 29.15 proceeding, trial

Page 681

counsel's actions will be found to result in prejudice only if they were outcome-determinative); State v. Shurn, 866 S.W.2d 447, 468 (Mo. banc...

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