State v. Schneider, 67941

Citation736 S.W.2d 392
Decision Date15 September 1987
Docket NumberNo. 67941,67941
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Eric Adam SCHNEIDER, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri

Page 392

736 S.W.2d 392
STATE of Missouri, Respondent,
Eric Adam SCHNEIDER, Appellant.
No. 67941.
Supreme Court of Missouri,
En Banc.
Sept. 15, 1987.
Rehearing Denied Oct. 13, 1987.

Page 394

Kathleen M. Markie, Columbia, Mo., for appellant.

William L. Webster, Atty. Gen., Elizabeth A. Levin, John M. Morris, Asst. Attys. Gen., Jefferson City, Mo., for respondent.


Defendant appeals from his conviction on two counts of First Degree Murder, Section 565.020, RSMo 1986, for which he was sentenced to death. 1 The cause falls within this Court's exclusive appellate jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, Sec. 3. We affirm.

In his numerous points on appeal defendant presents no general challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence and we detail only those facts necessary to and supportive of the verdict which the jury reasonably could have found from the evidence. On the afternoon of January 7, 1985, defendant and two friends, David Morgan and Charles Palmer, went to the home of Rolland Johnson. While there defendant commented he "needed a better job," that his girlfriend was not well paid and he "had to do a job or rob somebody." Johnson noted that defendant had his personal weapon, a sawed-off .22 caliber rifle nicknamed "Baby," and Palmer was carrying a sawed-off shotgun.

On Friday, January 11, defendant and Morgan returned to Johnson's house where defendant borrowed twenty dollars, stating he was "planning something" and would repay Johnson Sunday. The following afternoon defendant, Morgan, and Palmer were seen leaving defendant and Palmer's south St. Louis apartment at 2246A Jules Avenue in defendant's car. During the same afternoon the victims entertained visitors at their secluded home in House Springs until approximately 7:30 P.M., which was the last time they were seen alive. Sometime after 10:30 that night, defendant, Palmer, and Morgan returned to the Jules Avenue apartment with a number of items of personal property, including a safe, video cassette recorder, microwave oven, jewelry, men's watches, antique

Page 395

clock, camera and movie projector. Palmer arrived at the residence in a car later identified as belonging to one of the victims. While unloading the cars, defendant handed a knife to Tom Herrick covered with something resembling light brown paint which he asked Herrick to clean. Later defendant divided the stolen goods, which he displayed to several people, including Patricia Woodside, who agreed to purchase the video cassette recorder. While being shown around defendant's apartment she commented that he had "made a killing." Defendant, who was "playing" with a knife, laughed and replied, "Yes. A couple of them." Somewhat later Palmer left for California in the victim's car.

On Sunday morning, January 13, defendant and Morgan discussed the events of the previous evening with Patrick Schaffer, a friend of Tom Herrick. Morgan bragged that he had kicked in the door to the victims' residence "like Clint Eastwood" and defendant described how the victims were taken to the basement and bound. When the "fat guy" "got tough," defendant shot him in the back. Defendant "smirked" and laughed as he described later shooting the "fat guy" in the head and mimicked the "funny face" the victim made. He explained that Morgan was supposed to hold the other victim while Palmer cut his throat, but Morgan was unwilling to participate so Palmer "did the job" himself. Defendant and Palmer then went upstairs and Morgan stayed to watch the victims. Morgan apparently wandered away and when he returned the victim whose neck had been cut was missing. Morgan "yelled for" the defendant, who came downstairs, and they found the victim staggering on the pool side patio and saw him fall into the pool.

Later that day, defendant repaid Johnson the twenty dollars and told how he had robbed a couple of "faggots" after kicking in their door as they were about to have dinner. Defendant said that one of the victims "kept rattling off with his mouth," so defendant "stomped" him "with his boots" in the back and head. After breakfast, defendant, Morgan, and Johnson drove to defendant's apartment, but had a flat tire en route. As they were changing the tire, a patrolman stopped, admonishing them to be careful of the traffic, and during this encounter the officer observed a brown box through the open car door which Morgan, who was visibly nervous, attempted to hide. The box was found to contain jewelry and a short time later defendant, Morgan, and Johnson were arrested. 2

One of the officers who had questioned Morgan went to the victims' home and found it had been ransacked. The body of Richard Schwendemann was discovered in the basement and that of Ronald Thompson in the swimming pool. Schwendemann's hands and feet were bound with cords, wires, and a string of Christmas lights and a dog chain was around his neck. He had been shot in the back and the forehead and had two broken ribs. Thompson, who also was bound, suffered 15 stab wounds to the neck, scalp, chest, side and back. Ballistics evidence indicated the shots that killed Schwendemann were fired from defendant's .22 caliber rifle and it was established that the knife defendant had given Herrick to clean bore traces of blood. Subsequent investigation connected defendant, Morgan, and Palmer with the articles and property missing from the victims' house. Palmer was apprehended in California with the victims' credit cards in his possession.

Defendant was charged with and convicted of two counts of first degree murder, first degree robbery, first degree burglary and two counts of armed criminal action. He was sentenced to death for the murders.

We first determine whether the court erred during the penalty phase of trial in prohibiting defendant from introducing evidence pertaining to the plea agreement between codefendant Morgan

Page 396

and the State. Under the terms of that agreement Morgan was to plead guilty to two counts of felony murder and "testify truthfully" if called as a witness. In exchange the State agreed to recommend that Morgan be sentenced to concurrent thirty-year terms of imprisonment on the felony murder counts and enter orders of nolle prosequi to other charges against him, including "two counts of capital murder."

Morgan was endorsed as a witness by both the State and defendant; however, the State announced, prior to defendant's trial, that it did not intend to have Morgan testify and filed a motion in limine to prohibit any reference to Morgan's plea agreement. The motion was sustained on the condition that the State not call Morgan as a witness, and in fact Morgan testified at neither the guilt nor the penalty stage of defendant's trial. Nonetheless defendant attempted to introduce evidence of the plea agreement as a "mitigating circumstance" during the punishment phase. The offer of proof was denied and it was ordered that neither side mention the disposition of the codefendant's case. It is this ruling which defendant contends deprived him of the opportunity to present relevant mitigating evidence in contravention of Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 57 L.Ed.2d 973 (1976) and subsequent cases.

In Lockett the Supreme Court concluded that an Ohio death penalty statute which did not permit consideration of mitigating circumstances other than the three it specifically enumerated was incompatible with the commands of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because those Amendments "require that the sentencer, in all but the rarest kind of capital case, not be precluded from considering as a mitigating factor, any aspect of a defendant's character or record (emphasis added) and any of the circumstances of the offense (emphasis added) that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death." Lockett, 98 S.Ct. at 2964-65 (footnotes omitted). The Court noted, however, that "[n]othing in this opinion limits the traditional authority of a court to exclude, as irrelevant, evidence not bearing on the defendant's character, prior record, or the circumstances of his offense." 98 S.Ct. at 2965 n. 12 (emphasis added). In Skipper v. South Carolina, 476 U.S. 1, 106 S.Ct. 1669, 90 L.Ed.2d 1 (1986), the Court, after quoting Lockett, stated: "Equally clear is the corollary rule that the sentencer may not refuse to consider or be precluded from considering 'any relevant mitigating evidence.' " Id. 106 S.Ct. at 1671 (emphasis added). However, in his opinion concurring in the judgment Justice Powell noted that:

the States, and not this Court, retain "the traditional authority" to determine what particular evidence within the broad categories described in Lockett and Eddings [v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 102 S.Ct. 869, 71 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985) ] is relevant in the first instance. As long as those determinations are reasonable--as long as they do not foreclose consideration of factors that may tend to reduce the defendant's culpability for his crime, this Court should respect them.

Id. at 1674 (citations omitted).

Thus, although it is "desirable for the jury to have as much information before it as possible when it makes the sentencing decision," Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2939, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976), evidence introduced in mitigation must be relevant to "the defendant's character, prior record, or the circumstances of his offense." Lockett, 98 S.Ct. at 2965 n. 12.

This limitation on the broad range of factors to be considered in mitigation is reflected in Section 565.032(3), which provides that the jury shall consider, in addition to the factors specified in the statute,

a]ny mitigating or aggravating circumstances otherwise authorized by law and supported by the evidence and requested by a party including any aspect of the defendant's character, the record of any prior criminal convictions, and pleas and findings of guilty and admissions of guilt of any crime or pleas of nolo contendere of the defendant [.


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