State v. Stuard, CR-90-0355-AP

CourtSupreme Court of Arizona
Citation176 Ariz. 589,863 P.2d 881
Docket NumberNo. CR-90-0355-AP,CR-90-0355-AP
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. James William STUARD, Appellant.
Decision Date18 November 1993

FELDMAN, Chief Justice.

James William Stuard ("Defendant") was convicted of three counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted first degree murder, three counts of first degree burglary, one count of second degree burglary, two counts of attempted sexual assault, and one count of armed robbery. All counts arise from four separate attacks on elderly women. Defendant, age fifty-three at the time of his conviction, was sentenced to death for the murders and received lengthy prison sentences for the remaining convictions. Appeal to this court is automatic. Ariz.R.Crim.P. 26.15, 31.2(b). We have jurisdiction pursuant to Ariz. Const. art. VI, § 5(3), Ariz.R.Crim.P. 31, and A.R.S. § 13-4031.

Although Defendant was convicted of numerous crimes in addition to the capital offenses, his three notices of appeal fail to specify exactly which convictions he appeals. Because Defendant's brief does not specifically challenge any of the non-capital convictions, we confine ourselves solely to those issues raised and to a search for fundamental error. Cf. State v. Schaaf, 169 Ariz. 323, 326, 819 P.2d 909, 912 (1991).


Beginning in May 1989, four elderly women were assaulted in their homes. Three lived in the same general neighborhood and were attacked within days of each other. They did not survive. Following the third attack, Defendant was questioned as part of the general investigation, although apparently he was not yet a suspect. Police took Defendant's fingerprints and photographed the boots he was wearing.

The fourth victim was not attacked until nearly three months later. This victim lived in a different neighborhood and, although badly injured, was able to call the police. Defendant was apprehended; he admitted the last attack but denied any involvement in the three murders. Each incident is described in turn.


Mrs. C was seventy-seven years old and lived by herself. She weighed 125 pounds and stood five feet seven inches tall. On the evening of May 8, 1989, her son-in-law went to her home after being unable to reach her by telephone. He found her dead body in a spare bedroom. A picture was knocked over on the bed's headboard. In the kitchen, Mrs. C's eyeglasses and a drinking glass lay broken on the floor. The protective grating had been knocked off a fan near the kitchen entrance.

Mrs. C's house coat was open at the top and pulled up and tucked underneath the buttocks and the small of the back, exposing part of her thighs. A bra strap was unfastened and her panties were found lying on top of her abdomen. Dentures, apparently belonging to Mrs. C, were found under the body.

The medical examiner determined that Mrs. C died from strangulation, probably by hand. Her neck was bruised and the bone at the base of the tongue was broken. The choking could have lasted up to five minutes. There were other injuries as well, some of which would have been fatal had she survived the strangulation. Stab wounds were found in her heart, spleen, and stomach. There was also bruising on the chest, the back of both forearms, and the back of both hands. A bruise on the top of the head was probably due to a blow--perhaps by a fist. Mrs. C's sternum and nine of her ribs were also fractured. These injuries could have been caused by kneeling on the sternum area and were consistent with multiple blows up and down the side of the body. Again, a fist could have inflicted these injuries. Despite the condition of Mrs. C's clothing, the medical examiner found no injury consistent with sexual assault.

Evidence linked Defendant to the scene. Hair that did not belong to Mrs. C, but that was consistent with Defendant's, clung to a blanket on which the body was found. Also, Defendant knew Mrs. C because he had done yard work for her. There were also unusual similarities between this murder and the other attacks, where more incriminating evidence existed. Aside from the victims' obvious likeness in age and gender, there was also a likeness among the injuries. Mrs. C's sternum and rib injuries were, according to the medical examiner, "very, very similar" to those inflicted on the second victim. Finally, the close proximity of the murders--both temporal and geographic--pointed to a single perpetrator.


Mrs. L was seventy-five years old and also lived alone. She weighed eighty-nine pounds and was five feet three inches tall. On May 9, 1989, her body was found lying face up in a hallway at her home, with her head extending into a spare bedroom.

As with Mrs. C, Mrs. L's clothing was disheveled. Eyeglasses lay askew on her face, and she wore only one shoe. The other shoe was found in a nearby bedroom. Her house dress was partially opened and pulled up to the waist, exposing her legs and undergarments. Her slip was torn and her bra pushed up, exposing one breast. Panties were on the floor near her body, and her girdle was partially rolled down.

The medical examiner estimated that Mrs. L had been dead for about one day. The examiner found no obvious signs of injury and no injury consistent with sexual assault. In fact, the examiner initially believed that Mrs. L may have died from natural causes. Upon further examination, however, the medical examiner concluded that she died from a collapsed heart caused by trauma to the sternum. The upper one-third of her sternum was fractured. Such an injury could be caused by a direct punch, by a kick, or by kneeling on the breast bone and pushing it inward. Death likely occurred within one minute of the injury. In addition to the fatal injury, Mrs. L suffered multiple rib fractures and a contusion to the back of her head.

Evidence also linked Defendant to this crime scene. His palm print was on the door frame near the body. Police also found a shoe print in the dust on the carport driveway with a "wave" or a "V" pattern. Defendant was wearing boots with soles that had a similar pattern when he was initially picked up in early May. 1 A similar print was found on the kitchen floor. As noted, Defendant had also done yard work for this victim.


Mrs. W was eighty-one years old and, like the others, lived by herself. She weighed 149 pounds and was five feet nine inches tall. On May 10, 1989, concerned neighbors called the police because they had not seen Mrs. W for about a day. The police found her dead in her home. Her body was in the living room amid substantial clutter. She was face up with the right leg bent and slightly pulled up. She was not wearing underwear. A curtain draped over her abdomen concealed stab wounds. Blood was sprayed about the room with trails on the wall and curtains. Although Mrs. W was not wearing eyeglasses, a pair was found on the kitchen floor.

The medical examiner determined that Mrs. W was stabbed to death. She suffered multiple stab wounds to the neck, chest, and left forearm. Although only three were fatal, there were more than a dozen such wounds, all likely inflicted before death. Mrs. W also suffered "blunt force" injuries to her face, chest, and right buttock. This type of injury is caused by a blunt object striking the body or the body striking a hard surface. Some of the injuries to her face were consistent with being punched. Her legs, knees, hands, wrists, and forearms were bruised. The medical examiner could not tell whether these injuries occurred before or after the fatal stab wounds. The medical examiner found no trauma consistent with sexual assault.

Evidence also connected Defendant to this scene. Numerous fingerprints identified as Defendant's were discovered in the living room, where the body was found, as well as other places in the house. Defendant's prints were discovered on a food tin, a lamp hood, a fireplace mantle, a soda bottle, a bathroom door, and a freezer door. On the tile next to the fireplace in the living room, police found a shoe print that again was similar to the boots Defendant was known to have worn. Finally, parts of an apple, apparently chewed and spit out, were found on the floor next to the fireplace and on the fireplace itself. Like the other victims, Mrs. W had employed Defendant to do yard work.


Mrs. V, eighty years old, discovered Defendant in her home on August 6, 1989. He instructed Mrs. V to lie on the floor, demanded money and sex, and threatened to kill her. Defendant also demanded that Mrs. V prepare him food because he was hungry. He ate some leftover tacos and bananas and drank a soda. He then took some change and some frozen food from Mrs. V's freezer and loaded the food into a box. Although he did not rape Mrs. V, he did assault her. He repeatedly punched her in the chest so hard that she thought each blow would literally "break" her chest. Defendant also repeatedly stabbed Mrs. V in the neck and chest and beat her on the head with a hammer.

Amazingly, Mrs. V survived. Although her wounds were very serious, none was immediately fatal. Mrs. V fortuitously suffered from an ailment that caused her skull to thicken; this condition may have helped protect her from the hammer attack. She retained enough consciousness to call the police.


A local citizen heard of Mrs. V's attack on a police scanner. On the way to Mrs. V's house, this citizen spotted Defendant carrying a box of food. The citizen called the police, who arrested Defendant.

Defendant admitted attacking Mrs. V, explaining that he had gone to her house looking for work or food. According to Detective Michael Chambers, the officer who questioned him, De...

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