State v. Neal

Decision Date04 December 1984
Docket NumberNo. 5893,5893
Citation692 P.2d 272,143 Ariz. 93
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Gentry G. NEAL, Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

Robert K. Corbin, Atty. Gen. by William J. Schafer III, Diane M. Ramsey and Stanley L. Patchell, Asst. Attys. Gen., Phoenix, for appellee.

Wallace R. Hoggatt, Tucson, for appellant.

HAYS, Justice.

Appellant, Gentry Garnett Neal, was tried by a jury and convicted of first degree murder. A.R.S. § 13-1105. Pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-703, Neal was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for twenty-five years. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Ariz.Const. art. 6, § 5(3) and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031 and 13-4035.

The issues we must decide on appeal are:

I. Did the trial court err when it denied defendant's motion for a new trial?

II. Did the trial court err when it refused to grant the defendant's Rule 20 motion?

III. Did the trial court fundamentally err in instructing the jury?

IV. Did the trial court err in admitting the testimony of Dr. Hinton, a psychologist for the Pima County Court Clinic?

V. Did the trial court err in refusing to allow the defendant to present evidence of drugs in the victim's bloodstream?

VI. Was the defendant denied effective assistance of counsel?

The facts necessary for a determination of these issues are as follows. On August 9, 1982 Neal, his girlfriend, Mary Carter, her son Chad, aged 11, and a friend, Jan Jordan, drove to Mount Lemmon, just outside of Tucson. While on Mt. Lemmon, Neal and his girlfriend took some quaaludes, and all the adults drank beer. Toward the end of the day the group drove up to the small Mt. Lemmon town of Summerhaven. There they met two friends in a bar and drank more liquor. At the bar, Neal became angry because he thought Mary was flirting with other men. On the way down the mountain the atmosphere in Neal's vehicle was tense. Neal accused the others of dirtying his truck by the sloppy way in which they were eating their supper. Angered by something that Mary said, Neal grabbed her by the throat and threw her head against the back window of the pickup. At one point Neal stopped the truck, took the keys from the ignition and walked away. He told the others he wanted to "cool down."

When Neal, Mary and Chad returned to Mary's apartment, Chad overheard the two adults mumbling in Mary's bedroom. Chad saw Neal come into the kitchen. He testified that Neal appeared angry, rummaged around in the silverware drawer, hid something by his left leg, and walked back into the bedroom. Within a minute or two, Neal came back out of Mary's bedroom, still appeared angry, slammed the back kitchen door, and sped away in his truck.

Chad found his mother in her bedroom, stabbed in the back with a butcher knife. The knife was from a set owned by Mary Carter. (It was thrust through her body from the back, with the front tip protruding from her chest.) It appeared she may have been lying on her stomach when she was stabbed, because the knife also cut into her waterbed.

A short time later, Neal turned himself in at a Tucson police station. Agitated and crying, he told the police, "I did it. Take me." At trial he did not dispute killing Mary Carter. Rather, he claimed he was temporarily insane and thus was not responsible for his actions.

I. DID THE TRIAL COURT ERR WHEN IT DENIED DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL?
A. The Rule 24.1(c)(1) motion.

After the guilty verdict was returned, Neal moved for a new trial on the ground that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. 17 A.R.S. Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, rule 24.1(c)(1) (verdict contrary to the weight of the evidence). Neal claims that the trial court improperly denied his motion because it used the wrong standard of review. In support of this proposition, Neal cites to the trial court's language denying the ruling:

With respect to the motion for new trial, I think basically all the points that you have raised in the motion, Mr. Grills [Neal's attorney] have been raised and considered previously, [as Rule 20 motions] ....

Appellant alleges that the trial court's denial of the new trial motion was based on the substantial evidence test of Rule 20, rather than the weight of the evidence test of Rule 24.1(c)(1). See 17 A.R.S. Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, rule 20 (judgment of acquittal).

We believe that there was no confusion as to the standard of review because a few pages further in the transcript the trial court explicitly distinguished between and denied both of appellant's motions. The trial judge said, "So I'm going to deny the motion for a new trial and I'm going to deny the motion for judgment of acquittal." The trial court neither confused these two motions nor incorrectly applied the standard of review.

B. Did the Trial Court Abuse its Discretion When it Denied Appellant's Motion for a New Trial?

Appellant next contends that, even if the proper standard of review was applied, the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial because the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. 17 A.R.S. Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, rule 24.1(c)(1). In particular, appellant urges that the evidence does not support a finding of premeditated murder.

Motions for new trial are not looked upon with favor. State v. Schantz, 102 Ariz. 212, 214, 427 P.2d 530, 532 (1967). Absent an abuse of discretion, we will not disturb the trial court's ruling. State v. Fisher, 141 Ariz. 227, ---, 686 P.2d 750, 774 (1984). The operative question becomes whether there was an abuse of discretion.

In this context, there was an abuse of discretion warranting a new trial only if the evidence was not sufficient to allow the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Neal premeditated Mary Carter's murder. State v. Moya, 129 Ariz. 64, 66, 628 P.2d 947, 949 (1981). We review the record with this standard in mind. State v. Moya, id.

In order to show premeditation, the state must prove Neal acted with either the intent or knowledge that he would kill Mary Carter and that such intent or knowledge preceded the killing by a length of time to permit reflection. A.R.S. § 13-1101(1). This length of time could have been as instantaneous as it takes to form successive thoughts in the mind, and premeditation may be proven by circumstantial evidence. State v. Lacquey, 117 Ariz. 231, 234, 571 P.2d 1027, 1030 (1977).

Appellant contends that psychiatric testimony establishes his lack of premeditation. At trial Neal testified he could not remember any of the events of the killing. Both psychiatrists agreed that Neal neither knew right from wrong nor knew the nature and quality of his acts at the time of the murder. Both stated, however, that their diagnoses were based on the assumption that Neal told them the truth during examination. If Neal lied to them, their opinions would be unreliable. Clearly, the evaluation of Neal's truthfulness was for the jury to decide. Similarly, the credibility of the experts and the weight to be given their testimony was also a jury question. See State v. Ganster, 102 Ariz. 490, 493, 433 P.2d 620, 623 (1967).

The defense psychiatrist, Dr. Gurland, testified that Neal's memory loss indicated a disassociative state. According to Dr. Gurland, Neal was insane at the time of the murder. The state's psychiatrist, Dr. Biegal, testified differently. He stated that Neal's violent behavior stemmed from a rage reaction "... which was partially a consequence of his state of intoxication and his using drugs on the date in question, and that it was as a result of loss of control of his impulses secondary to this intoxication that the offense itself occurred." Biegal also testified that if Neal did not know right from wrong, or the nature and consequences of his actions, it was because of his intoxication.

It is clear from the verdict that the jury did not believe the defendant's psychiatrist. Had they believed him, they would have been obliged to acquit the defendant by reason of insanity. See A.R.S. § 13-502. The jury may have believed the state's psychiatrist. If the jury believed Neal's voluntary intoxication caused the murder, they could have still found him guilty of first degree murder. This is because first degree murder requires an "intentional" or "knowing" mens rea on the part of the assailant and voluntary intoxication only negates the "intentional" mens rea. See A.R.S. §§ 13-1101(1), 13-1105(A)(1) and 13-503. Thus, even assuming Neal was intoxicated and the jury believed Dr. Biegal's testimony, the jury could still properly convict him of first degree murder if they believed he "knowingly" caused the victim's death. See A.R.S. § 13-503.

The third expert, Dr. Hinton, testified that Neal was able to distinguish right from wrong and understand the nature and quality of his acts at the time of the murder. He testified that memory loss among people who drink alcohol and take barbiturates is not uncommon.

Aside from this evidence, there was other evidence to indicate premeditation. Before the murder, the couple had been quarreling. Neal was jealous because he thought Mary had been flirting with other men. On the way down the mountain, Neal grabbed Mary's throat so powerfully that later photographs show bruises. While driving, Neal felt the need to pull off the road to "cool down." Upon returning to Mary's house, he went into the kitchen and selected a knife. On the way back to the bedroom, he hid the knife so Mary's son could not see it. He stabbed Mary in the back. Mary's son Chad testified that Neal appeared angry when he first went into the kitchen and after he left Mary's bedroom. At the police station, Neal told officers, "I did it. Take me."

The trial judge did not act capriciously in refusing to grant appellant's motion for a new trial. There was sufficient evidence for the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Neal premeditated Mary Carter's murder.

II. DID THE TRIAL COURT...

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