State v. LaRette

Decision Date29 March 1983
Docket NumberNo. 63569,63569
Citation648 S.W.2d 96
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Anthony Joe LaRETTE, Jr., Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Donald C. Tiemeyer, St. Charles, for appellant.

John Ashcroft, Atty. Gen., Kelly Klopfenstein, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.

BILLINGS, Judge.

Defendant Anthony J. LaRette, Jr., was sentenced to death for the capital murder of 18-year-old Mary Fleming. In this appeal he contends he was denied his statutory right to a speedy trial; the evidence was insufficient for the jury to find torture as an aggravating circumstance; torture or depravity of mind as aggravating circumstances gives the jury a roving commission to return the death penalty; Missouri's death penalty statutes are unconstitutional; the evidence fell short of demonstrating deliberation and premeditation; the death penalty is excessive and disproportionate in this case; and, the trial court erred in certain evidentiary rulings. We affirm.

In our determination of whether there was sufficient substantial evidence to support the guilty verdict of capital murder, we consider the facts in evidence and all favorable inferences reasonably to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the State and disregard all contrary evidence and inferences. State v. Franco, 544 S.W.2d 533 (Mo. banc 1977), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 957, 97 S.Ct. 2682, 53 L.Ed.2d 275 (1977).

Mary Fleming lived with her mother and sister in an apartment complex in St. Charles, Missouri. Her mother left for work about 6:30 a.m. the morning of July 25, 1980, and the sister left for work approximately thirty minutes later. The mother exited the apartment by the back door, locking it. The sister locked the front door when she left the apartment. Mary was still asleep.

A grocery store is located adjacent to the apartment complex and at 10:30 a.m. Mary, wearing a swimming suit bikini top and cutoff jeans, cashed a check and purchased groceries. She was seen walking towards her apartment a short time later. During this same time frame a cream-colored convertible automobile had been seen slowly circling the neighborhood. There was only one individual in the convertible, a white man, the driver.

Sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. a friend of Mary Fleming, Mary Ellen Sommerville, telephoned the Fleming apartment. A strange male voice answered the telephone. Mary Ellen asked to speak to Mary. The male voice said she was not there and asked who was calling. The girl replied "Elly" and the male voice said he would have Mary call her back and hung up. Mary Ellen testified the male voice "was a high pitched voice because he seemed to be laughing or something, being in a good mood or maybe drinking or something." Because Mary Ellen had talked with Mary Fleming earlier that morning and did not know the voice that answered the telephone and "it was kind of weird," she immediately dialed the Fleming number again. There was no answer.

At approximately 11:00 a.m. a man, identified as defendant, was seen running from the direction of the apartment complex to a cream-colored convertible automobile which was parked on the grocery store parking lot. Defendant got into the vehicle and drove away. At about the same time a man and his wife who lived in another apartment complex behind and across a yard and street from the Fleming apartment saw Mary running towards their home. She was bloody and naked except for the bikini top which had been pulled up, exposing her breasts. She made it to the front door of the neighbors' apartment before she collapsed, bleeding profusely. Police and medical aid arrived shortly. Despite on-the-scene and hospital emergency medical efforts, Mary died shortly thereafter.

Death was attributed to the young blond girl having bled to death. Her throat had been cut from ear to ear by a sharp instrument and photographic exhibits graphically illustrate she was nearly decapitated. She had two stab wounds to the chest, one of which penetrated her lung, the second penetrating her heart. The second stab wound had passed through the heart, leaving the tip of a metal blade in her lung. Her forehead and right arm were bruised and she had numerous cuts, termed "defense wounds", to her fingers and hands.

An examination of the Fleming apartment quickly demonstrated it was the scene of the bloody slaying. In the front living room there was a pair of cutoff jeans on the floor, blood and hair on the walls, blood on the end and coffee tables, and a large puddle of blood in the middle of the floor. An unopened and blood splattered purse, containing money, was on a coffee table. In a hallway between the living room and kitchen was a trail of blood. Female panties, spotted with blood, were on the kitchen floor. The back door was blood smeared and there was a trail of blood across the back porch and steps. A burner on the kitchen stove was still on and a pot of water with eggs in it were on the burner. A partially completed green salad was on a kitchen counter.

For several days before July 25 defendant had been staying with Richard Roberson. On that Friday morning defendant was dressed in light trousers and a button shirt. He drove Roberson to work in Roberson's yellow Buick convertible and borrowed the car "to go on a job interview". Defendant picked Roberson up at 1:15 p.m. and at that time was dressed in a t-shirt and cutoff jeans. Roberson never again saw the clothing defendant was wearing Friday morning.

Two days later, Sunday, Roberson drove defendant to defendant's parents' home in Topeka, Kansas. As Roberson was leaving for the return trip, defendant said: "If you have any problems down there, call me and I'll take care of them." Roberson did not know what defendant was talking about.

By Tuesday, July 29, Roberson became concerned because of news articles which appeared to link his convertible with the killing. He called defendant in Topeka but defendant was reluctant to talk about the murder over the telephone. Further telephone calls elicited admissions from the defendant that he had killed the 18-year-old girl. Defendant said he first saw the girl when she was cashing a check at the grocery store and he followed her back to her apartment. He said he had thrown the murder weapon, a stilleto-type lock blade knife, in the river. He told Roberson that he went into the Fleming apartment for the purpose of burglarizing it and the victim walked in on him. He said he struck the girl and knocked her down; that he had stabbed her; and, cut her throat as she attempted to run away from him. Although he had earlier told Roberson he did not know why he had killed the girl, he later said she started yelling and tried to run. At the time of one of the telephone conversations a police officer at Roberson's residence listened on an extension telephone and heard the defendant say the knife he used was in the river and he planned to stay away from his parents' home for thirty days until "the heat was off."

St. Charles detectives first questioned defendant about the murder early in the morning of August 7, 1980, in the Shawnee County jail in Topeka, Kansas, after first giving him Miranda 1 warnings and having him initial and sign a printed form which explained his constitutional rights. When he was asked about his involvement in the crime he put his hands over his eyes and said: "I'm responsible for her death." In this interview he told the officers he had picked up a hitchhiker near Roberson's house and the hitchhiker asked him if he would take him to the house of a girl who owed him some money. He said he drove the hitchhiker to a grocery store parking lot and parked at the edge of the lot next to some apartments. The hitchhiker got out of the car and went into one of the apartments. After waiting about 15 minutes he got worried about the hitchhiker and went to the front door of the apartment and looked inside. He said the hitchhiker was either standing or bending over a girl. The girl was covered with blood. The hitchhiker was stabbing her while she was pleading for her life. He said the hitchhiker ran out of the front door of the apartment when he entered it. He told the officers the girl's throat was cut but he wasn't worried about that too much because she wasn't gurgling, but was worried about the stab wounds to her chest and tried to apply direct pressure to her chest to stop the bleeding. The girl started fighting him and broke away and ran out the back door. He had her blood all over his hands, was scared, and ran out the front door.

Later that morning at the Shawnee County jail, a deputy sheriff was advising defendant of his extradition rights. During the course of this procedure the defendant exclaimed: "I tried to choke her first but I couldn't. She promised not to scream, but she lied to me. I caused an 18-year-old to die."

Defendant was returned to St. Charles that day and interviewed again that evening. He was again advised of his constitutional rights and signed another written waiver. He told the officers he took the hitchhiker to the girl's apartment but said that when he went to find the hitchhiker he saw him either kneeling or laying on the girl; that the hitchhiker's pants were pulled down and his buttocks exposed, and there was blood all over the girl. In this version he told the officers the hitchhiker ran out the back door of the apartment. When the officers related what witnesses had told them about the convertible circling the neighborhood and neighbors had seen only Mary Fleming exiting via the back door, defendant began crying and admitted there was no hitchhiker and said "I did it."

Defendant then told the officers he entered the Fleming apartment by means of an unlocked rear door to burglarize the apartment. He first went downstairs and then came back up the stairs and the victim was standing in her living room and had already removed her shorts. He had...

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