State v. Stith

Decision Date19 October 1983
Docket NumberNo. 13149,13149
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Michael STITH, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Lee M. Nation, Kansas City, for defendant-appellant.

John Ashcroft, Atty. Gen., Kristie Green, Dan Crawford, Asst. Attys. Gen., Jefferson City, for plaintiff-respondent.

FLANIGAN, Presiding Judge.

A jury found defendant Michael Stith guilty of capital murder, § 565.001, 1 and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 50 years. Defendant appeals.

Defendant's first point is that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. In ruling this point this court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the state and accept all substantial evidence and all legitimate inferences fairly deducible therefrom which support the verdict. All evidence unfavorable to the state must be disregarded and the submissibility of the case will be determined upon the basis of all the evidence, including those portions of defendant's evidence which favor the state. State v. Moody, 645 S.W.2d 152, 154 (Mo.App.1982).

The murder victim was Dr. Duncan Danforth and the offense took place on Sunday, August 17, 1980. Dr. Danforth was survived by his widow, Loretta Danforth, 2 whom he had married the preceding Wednesday, August 13. Defendant was Loretta's "boyfriend" and he lived with her until a few days before the murder. Dr. Danforth was an elderly man of substantial means.

The record supports the following account:

Tuesday, August 12, 1980

Defendant met Harrison "Detroit" Williams and Jack Pearcy at Sedalia. Williams and Pearcy, both ex-convicts, lived in Olathe, Kansas. Defendant had previously telephoned Williams and told Williams that "an old man was hassling" him and defendant wanted to know if Williams would kill the old man in return for a payment of $4,000.

Defendant was accompanied by Loretta, although she remained in defendant's car while defendant conferred with Williams and Pearcy. Defendant gave the other two men $1,500. An additional payment was to be made after the murder. Defendant gave them a photograph of Dr. Danforth's car and a photograph of Dr. Danforth. Defendant told them that Danforth and his bride-to-be were going to spend Wednesday night at the Breckenridge Inn in Kansas City and that the killing could take place at that time. Defendant said that Loretta would arrange for the victim to be in the parking lot of the hotel at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday. Defendant also said that the Danforth vehicle would carry a bumper sticker reading, "The world's greatest citizen," which defendant would place on that vehicle. Defendant admitted that the Sedalia meeting took place but his testimony was that the purpose of it was a sale by Williams to defendant of $3,000 worth of stolen drugs and some marijuana.

Wednesday, August 13, 1980

Defendant telephoned Williams and told him that Dr. Danforth would be in the parking lot of the Breckenridge Inn at 9:00 p.m. That afternoon the marriage of Loretta and Dr. Danforth took place. Williams and Pearcy went to the Breckenridge, stalked Danforth, but did not kill him. The bumper sticker was on the Danforth car. There were "many windows facing the parking lot and many people were in the parking lot" so the two would-be murderers decided to postpone their fatal mission. They talked with Loretta who told them that Danforth was returning to his home at Climax Springs, Missouri, and was going to change his will because Loretta had not slept with him. The plan was made for the murder to take place after Danforth's return to his home.

Thursday, August 14, 1980

Williams and Pearcy returned to Olathe. Williams telephoned defendant and told defendant they had not killed Dr. Danforth. Defendant told Williams that he had to "have it done and quick," and he wanted the two convicts to come to Climax Springs to do the job. Also on this day defendant had a conversation with Dr. Danforth in which Danforth called defendant "a mooch."

Friday, August 15, 1980

Williams and Pearcy met defendant at Edwards, Missouri, near Climax Springs. Defendant took the two men to Loretta's house to show them the area. Defendant told them that he could arrange for Danforth to leave Loretta's house around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. and the killing could take place at that time. Defendant also showed the two men where they could dispose of the body. Pearcy testified that in the evening he and Williams went to the area previously shown them by the defendant and waited for Danforth to appear. Pearcy got out of his vehicle and stood by the side of the road. Pearcy was armed with a pistol. Danforth drove by but Pearcy decided not to kill him. Pearcy told Williams that he did not know it was Danforth but Pearcy said, "I knew it was the doctor but I did not shoot."

Saturday, August 16, 1980

Williams and Pearcy met defendant at Edwards. Defendant drove the two men to the house of Dr. Danforth and showed them that area. Defendant told the two men that the Danforth house contained money and drugs and was worth burglarizing. Defendant suggested that the two convicts wait at the Danforth house until the doctor got home and then kill him.

On Saturday evening Williams and Pearcy were on a road near the doctor's house but a neighbor woman who lived nearby saw them and her suspicions were aroused. The two men "figured that she was writing down our license tags," so they left the area and returned to their home in Olathe.

Sunday, August 17, 1980

Williams and Pearcy, having abandoned their intention to murder Danforth, were at their homes in Olathe and stayed there throughout the day. That morning Williams telephoned defendant and told him that "we could not kill the doctor because we had been seen in the area and it wasn't safe." A telephone bill showed the call was made at 9:36 a.m. Dr. Danforth, according to his son's testimony, some time after 4:30 p.m. went to Loretta's home. Danforth was driving his Chevrolet pickup. Early in the evening defendant, on Highway 5 south of Versailles, met two relatives, Angela Knoll and Julia Cable. Defendant asked them if they would take him to Climax Springs and they did so, arriving about 9:00 p.m. Defendant asked the women to drive him to Loretta's house so he could see how many vehicles were at the house. Dr. Danforth drove by and defendant, upon seeing Danforth, said, "That is who I have been waiting for," and slumped down in the seat. Defendant asked the women to drive to a nearby point where they let him out and defendant "went down in the woods toward Loretta's house." At 10:15 p.m. Mary Daugherty, who lived "about a block" from Loretta's house, heard "a loud bang." An autopsy later revealed that Danforth was killed by a .45 caliber bullet.

Monday, August 18, 1980

Defendant made a long distance call to Williams in Olathe and told Williams, "The old man is dead." Williams said, "Maybe Pearcy snuck back and done it," and defendant said, "there was no ______ way." Defendant asked both Julia Cable and Angela Knoll to "be his alibi" for the evening of Sunday, August 17, "because an old man had gotten the ______ beat out of him." On August 26 defendant made a similar request of another relative, Larry Cable.

Tuesday, August 19, 1980

Dr. Danforth's blood-stained truck was found by the highway patrol.

Friday, August 22, 1980

Dr. Danforth's body was found. An autopsy revealed bullet wounds to the head and to the chest. The time of death was calculated to include Sunday, August 17 as the possible date of death.

Testifying in his own behalf defendant admitted being with Angela Knoll and Julia Cable on Sunday evening, August 17, when he saw Dr. Danforth. Defendant said, "I slumped down in the seat because I was more or less hiding from him." Defendant admitted that the two women let him out at a point nearby where defendant awaited Williams and Pearcy. According to defendant, Pearcy arrived in Danforth's truck and Williams pulled his car up behind the truck. Williams and Pearcy left the scene. Defendant opened the door of the truck and noticed blood on the seat. Defendant wiped the seat clean. Defendant drove the truck to a remote area where he wiped his fingerprints off the steering wheel and threw away his blood-soaked pants and shirt. Defendant admitted that he had asked his three relatives to provide him with a perjurious alibi.

State's witness, David Hibdon, who was a cellmate of defendant after the latter was jailed, testified that defendant told Hibdon, "I was the one that killed the doctor." Defendant also told Hibdon that he shot Danforth twice and that he had "ditched" the body and the truck.

Defendant's brief says: "The state's proof consisted solely of the fact that defendant, along with many, many others, was in the general location where the murder occurred, at a time when the murder could have occurred." That statement ignores the evidence that defendant hired Williams and Pearcy to do the killing, paid them money to do so, furnished them with photographs of the victim and his vehicle, apprised them of the victim's movements in Kansas City, marked the Danforth car with the bumper sticker, had an argument with the victim on August 14, showed Williams and Pearcy the murder area, arranged for Angela Knoll and Julia Cable to drop him near Loretta's house shortly before the shooting, sought perjurious alibis from three relatives, hid his own blood-soaked clothing, "ditched" the victim's body and the truck, and told his cellmate that he was the murderer. It would be difficult to conceive more incriminating facts, short of actual eyewitness testimony. Defendant's first point has no merit.

Defendant's second point is that the trial court erred in "overruling defendant's motion to voir dire the jury after it had come to defendant's attention that the jury might have received information about ...

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