State v. Landrigan

Decision Date25 February 1993
Docket NumberNo. CR-90-0323-AP,CR-90-0323-AP
Citation859 P.2d 111,176 Ariz. 1
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Jeffrey Timothy LANDRIGAN aka Jeffrey Dale Page, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court
OPINION

ZLAKET, Justice.

This is an automatic appeal from a death sentence following defendant's conviction of first degree murder. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Ariz. Const. art. 6, § 5(3) and A.R.S. §§ 13-4033 and -4035.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Evidence at trial established that the victim's body was found in his residence on December 15, 1989. According to the testimony of a friend ("Michael"), the victim had been a promiscuous homosexual who frequently tried to "pick up" men by flashing a wad of money. This would invariably occur after he got paid. The victim told Michael that he had recently met a person named "Jeff," with whom he wanted to have sex. The victim's physical description of Jeff was later found to closely approximate defendant.

Michael received three phone calls from the victim on Wednesday, December 13, 1989. During the first, the victim said he had picked up Jeff, that they were at the apartment drinking beer, and he wanted to know whether Michael was coming over to "party." Approximately 15 minutes later, the victim called a second time and said that he was in the middle of sexual intercourse with Jeff. Shortly thereafter, the victim called to ask whether Michael could get Jeff a job. Jeff spoke with Michael about employment, and asked if he was going to come over. Michael said no. During one of these conversations, the victim indicated that he had picked up his paycheck that day.

The victim failed to show up for work the following day, and calls to him went unanswered. On Friday, a co-worker and two others went to the victim's apartment and found him dead. He was fully clothed, face down on his bed, with a pool of blood at his head. An electrical cord hung around his neck. There were facial lacerations and puncture wounds on the body. A half-eaten sandwich and a small screwdriver lay beside it. Blood smears were found in the kitchen and bathroom. Partial bloody shoeprints were on the tile floor.

Cause of death was ligature strangulation. Medical testimony at the presentence hearing indicated that the victim probably was strangled after being rendered unconscious from blows to the head with a blunt instrument.

Acquaintances testified that the apartment usually was neat. When the body was found, however, the apartment was in disarray. Drawers and closets were open; clothes and newspapers were strewn on the floor. The remnants of a Christmas present lay open and empty at the foot of the bed. In the kitchen area were two plates, two forks, a bread wrapper, luncheon meat, cheese wrappers, and an open jar of spoiled mayonnaise. A five-pound bag of sugar was spilled on the floor. A clear impression of the sole of a sneaker appeared in the sugar. Neither the paycheck nor its proceeds were located. Although the apartment had been ransacked, nothing else seemed to be missing.

When defendant first was questioned, he denied knowing the victim or ever having been to his apartment. When arrested, however, he was wearing a shirt that belonged to the victim. Seven fingerprints taken from the scene matched defendant's. The impression in the sugar matched his sneaker, down to a small cut on the sole. Tests also revealed that a small amount of blood had seeped into the sneaker. The blood matched that found on the shirt worn by the victim.

Defendant's ex-girlfriend testified that she had three telephone conversations with him in December of 1989. During one of those, defendant told her that he was "getting along" in Phoenix by "robbing." Defendant placed the last call to her from jail sometime around Christmas. He said that he had "killed a guy ... with his hands" about a week before.

The jury found defendant guilty of theft, second degree burglary, and felony murder for having caused the victim's death "in the course of and in furtherance of" the burglary. The jury also determined that defendant previously had been convicted in Oklahoma of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, second degree murder, and possession of marijuana. At the time of the Arizona incident, defendant was an escapee from an Oklahoma prison.

At the sentencing hearing, the trial judge found two statutory aggravating circumstances under A.R.S. § 13-703(F): that defendant was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence on another person; and, that defendant committed the offense in expectation of the receipt of anything of pecuniary value. In making the latter finding, the trial judge noted that the victim's apartment had been ransacked, and it appeared the culprit was looking for something.

The trial judge found no statutory mitigating circumstances sufficient to call for leniency. As for non-statutory mitigating circumstances, she identified family love and absence of premeditation. She stated, however, that the mitigating factors did not outweigh the aggravating circumstances. Defendant was sentenced to an aggravated term of 20 years on the burglary count, to six months in the county jail for theft, and to death for murder.

MOTIONS FOR ACQUITTAL AND NEW TRIAL

Defendant argues that the trial judge erred in denying his motions for acquittal and for new trial under Rules 20 and 24, Ariz.R.Crim.P., 17 A.R.S. He claims that the evidence was insufficient to find him guilty of burglary and felony murder. We disagree.

A judgment of acquittal under Rule 20 is appropriate only where there is "no substantial evidence to warrant a conviction." State v. Mathers, 165 Ariz. 64, 67, 796 P.2d 866, 869 (1990). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is such proof that 'reasonable persons could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.' " Id. (quoting State v. Jones, 125 Ariz. 417, 419, 610 P.2d 51, 53 (1980)). Evidence may be direct or circumstantial, State v. Blevins, 128 Ariz. 64, 67, 623 P.2d 853, 856 (App.1981), but if reasonable minds can differ on inferences to be drawn therefrom, the case must be submitted to the jury. State v. Hickle, 129 Ariz. 330, 331, 631 P.2d 112, 113 (1981). A trial judge has no discretion to enter a judgment of acquittal in such a situation.

Under Rule 24, a new trial is required only if the evidence was insufficient to support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. State v. Neal, 143 Ariz. 93, 97, 692 P.2d 272, 276 (1984). Whether to grant or deny a new trial is, however, within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of that discretion. State v. Hickle, 133 Ariz. 234, 238, 650 P.2d 1216, 1220 (1982).

A. Burglary

The evidence here, although circumstantial, is sufficient to uphold the burglary conviction. It supports the conclusion that defendant entered or remained in the apartment with the intent to commit a theft. A.R.S. § 13-1507(A). The fact that the victim was found on his bed fully clothed, next to a half-eaten sandwich, suggests he was killed before the apartment was ransacked. Any other conclusion would require an inference that the victim entered his apartment, found it trashed, then calmly made himself a sandwich and sat down on his bed to eat it. As the trial judge noted, the ransacked apartment indicates that the culprit was probably looking for things of value. The evidence clearly placed defendant, who admitted getting along by "robbing," and who was wearing one of the victim's shirts when arrested, in the ransacked apartment.

This case is not, as defendant argues, similar to State v. Hill, 12 Ariz.App. 196, 469 P.2d 88 (1970), in which the evidence showed only that the accused was present at the scene of a burglary. In Hill, unlike here, no evidence linked defendant to the crime itself. Id. at 197, 469 P.2d at 89.

Since reasonable minds could differ on the inferences to be drawn, the trial judge properly denied the Rule 20 motion. Additionally, because the verdict on the burglary count was not contrary to the weight of the evidence, the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in denying the Rule 24 motion.

B. Murder

On the charge of felony murder, it was for the jury to decide whether defendant committed or attempted to commit burglary in the second degree and, in the course of and in furtherance of that crime, caused the victim's death. A.R.S. § 13-1105(A)(2); State v. Hallman, 137 Ariz. 31, 38, 668 P.2d 874, 881 (1983). As noted above, the record contains substantial evidence to support the burglary conviction. Additionally, defendant admitted to his ex-girlfriend that he killed a man about a week before December 23rd, and the blood on his shoe matched that on the victim's shirt.

Defendant's reliance on State v. Lopez, 158 Ariz. 258, 762 P.2d 545 (1988), is misplaced. In Lopez, this court concluded that a felony murder conviction could not stand because the evidence did not support the elements of the underlying armed robbery (the coexistence of intent to commit robbery with the use of force). The evidence showed only that defendant and his brother took the victim's car and wallet to leave the scene and delay detection of the victim's identity. Id. at 264, 762 P.2d at 551.

The record here contains much more. The trial judge could not properly have granted defendant's motion for acquittal, nor did she abuse her discretion in denying the motion for new trial....

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