State v. Hatfield

Decision Date26 January 1982
Docket NumberNos. 14904,14905,s. 14904
Citation169 W.Va. 191,286 S.E.2d 402
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia v. Crawley HATFIELD. Crawley HATFIELD v. Bobby LEVERETTE, Warden, WVP.
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. "In a criminal case, a verdict of guilt will not be set aside on the ground that it is contrary to the evidence, where the state's evidence is sufficient to convince impartial minds of the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence is to be viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. To warrant interference with a verdict of guilt on the ground of insufficiency of evidence, the court must be convinced that the evidence was manifestly inadequate and that consequent injustice has been done." Syllabus Point 1, State v. Starkey, W.Va. 244 S.E.2d 219 (1978).

2. "W.Va.Code, 61-2-1, was not designed primarily to define the substantive elements of the particular types of first degree murder, but rather was enacted to categorize the common law crimes of murder for the purpose of setting degrees of punishment." Syllabus Point 5, State v. Sims, W.Va. 248 S.E.2d 834 (1978).

3. Where there has been an unlawful homicide by shooting and the State produces evidence that the homicide was a result of malice or a specific intent to kill and was deliberate and premeditated, this is sufficient to support a conviction for first degree murder.

4. A prosecution that withholds evidence which if made available would tend to exculpate an accused by creating a reasonable doubt as to his guilt violates due process of law under Article III, Section 14 of the West Virginia Constitution.

5. "When a trial court grants a pre-trial discovery motion requiring the prosecution to disclose evidence in its possession, non-disclosure by the prosecution is fatal to its case where such non-disclosure is prejudicial. The non-disclosure is prejudicial where the defense is surprised on a material issue and where the failure to make the disclosure hampers the preparation and presentation of the defendant's case." Syllabus Point 2, State v. Grimm, W.Va., 270 S.E.2d 173 (1980).

6. "In the determination of a claim that an accused was prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel violative of Article III, Section 14 of the West Virginia Constitution and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, courts should measure and compare the questioned counsel's performance by whether he exhibited the normal and customary degree of skill possessed by attorneys who are reasonably knowledgeable of criminal law, except that proved counsel error which does not affect the outcome of the case, will be regarded as harmless error." Syllabus Point 19, State v. Thomas, 157 W.Va. 640, 203 S.E.2d 445 (1974).

7. "Where a counsel's performance, attacked as ineffective, arises from occurrences involving strategy, tactics and arguable courses of action, his conduct will be deemed effectively assistive of his client's interests, unless no reasonably qualified defense attorney would have so acted in the defense of an accused." Syllabus Point 21, State v. Thomas, 157 W.Va. 640, 203 S.E.2d 445 (1974).

Crandall, Pyles, Crandall & Poyourow, Bradley J. Pyles and Robert Poyourow, Logan, for appellant.

Chauncey H. Browning, Atty. Gen. and Donald Darling, Asst. Atty. Gen., Charleston, for appellees State and Leverette, Warden.

MILLER, Chief Justice:

In this appeal, we consider whether the defendant, Crawley Hatfield, should have his conviction for first degree murder reversed. The jury did not recommend mercy. We have consolidated defendant's criminal appeal with an appeal from a denial of a writ of habeas corpus. Hatfield, in his habeas corpus petition, claims he had ineffective assistance of counsel during his criminal trial. 1 We treat initially the errors claimed on direct appeal and find them insufficient to warrant a reversal. We next consider the habeas corpus claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and conclude it is not meritorious. We, therefore, affirm the defendant's conviction.

I. The Criminal Appeal

Defendant contends the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient as a matter of law to support a conviction for first degree murder. He claims as well that State's Instructions Nos. 2 and 3 were erroneous. He also urges that the State's failure to inform defense counsel of the ownership of a pistol found near the scene of the killing several days after the shooting constituted a failure of discovery or refusal to turn over exculpatory evidence. Finally, defendant contends that the doctrine of cumulative error elevates some or all of these errors to a level which requires a reversal of the case.

A. Insufficiency of Evidence

Much of the critical evidence surrounding the homicide is not in dispute. The defendant was tried for killing Arbie Williamson, a tenant of the defendant who lived next door. At the time of the homicide, the defendant was fifty-nine years of age and lived with his wife and two daughters. He had some physical disability to his back as a result of a mine accident.

The events that led to the homicide had their roots in an argument over property Williamson rented from Hatfield. The victim, Williamson, had become delinquent in his rent and the defendant had instituted legal proceedings to have the victim and his family evicted. On the day of the homicide, the victim discovered that the gas service to the tenant house had been disconnected. Williamson went into the defendant's yard where he had an argument with the defendant about the cutting off of the gas. The victim then left and went to an adjoining neighbor's house to make a telephone call.

While he was gone, his wife, Patricia Williamson, came out of the tenant house and had a further argument with the defendant. She threatened to sue the defendant if anything happened to her and the children because of the cutting off of the gas. The defendant summarily ordered her out of the yard and into her house. Mrs. Williamson's husband returned home from making the telephone call. He and his wife decided they would spend the night at her mother's house. The victim then left the house to go back to the neighbor's to make another telephone call. It was while the victim was crossing from the neighbor's house that the shooting occurred.

Mrs. Williamson testified that her husband crossed back from the neighbor's porch and was near their parked car when several shots were fired. She saw her husband fall. She ran to him and discovered that he had been shot through the head. She became hysterical and ran toward the neighbor's house. Mrs. Williamson also testified that as she ran more shots were fired.

Another State's witness, Sherry Gearheart, testified that while standing in the front yard of her mother's home with a friend she heard the argument between the defendant and the victim's wife. A short time later, she observed the defendant standing on the porch of his house with a gun and saw the victim come off the front porch of the tenant house and proceed toward a neighbor's home. At this point, Sherry Gearheart went into her mother's house. While inside her mother's house she heard shots. She ran to the window and saw the victim fall to the ground near the car. She then went to the front door and saw the defendant on his porch with a gun in his hand. She saw the victim's wife run to the spot where her husband had fallen and then run toward the neighbor's house. She also testified that she saw the defendant shoot at Mrs. Williamson.

Sherry's mother, Alma Gearheart, also a State's witness, testified that she saw the victim's wife run to her husband's body and that the defendant fired two shots at Mrs. Williamson as she ran toward the neighbor's house. Further, Daleen Roberts, another woman who had been talking with Sherry Gearheart, testified that she saw the defendant shoot at the victim's wife. None of these witnesses saw any weapon on the victim.

After the shooting, the defendant left his porch, got into his truck and drove away. He was later taken into custody by the State Police and gave a confession in which he admitted shooting the victim. At trial, he claimed that during his first argument with the victim, the latter had threatened to kill him if he did not turn the gas on. He stated that in the second confrontation with both the victim and his wife, the victim stated, "You're a cripple. I can handle you any way I want to," and "I'll tear you into strings." It was at this point that the defendant went onto his porch and obtained his rifle. He stated he kept his rifle on the porch to shoot rats that would come through his yard.

The defendant testified that after the second confrontation, the victim and his wife went into the tenant house. The defendant then stated that the victim came back out of the house and proceeded toward the car, which had been measured to be some sixty-three feet from the defendant's porch. The porch was about 8 1/2 feet above ground level. The defendant stated that he saw the victim reach down to pick up something. He thought the victim had dropped a gun. When the victim raised up the defendant stated the victim shot at him. The defendant then shot several times killing the victim. He was cross-examined extensively on this point because in his confession he made no mention of the victim having or firing a gun at him but stated he shot the victim when he saw him pick up a rock. The defendant offered no other fact or witness to corroborate his version of the shooting.

The defendant's instructions on self-defense were given to the jury. The defendant does not argue that he was entitled to exercise the right of self-defense as a matter of law. See State v. W.J.B., W.Va., 276 S.E.2d 550 (1981). What he does urge is that the jury's verdict of first degree murder is not warranted on the facts. However, under the standard of appellate review of the facts set in Syllabus Point 1 of State v....

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