State v. Taylor

Decision Date20 August 1996
Docket NumberNo. 77365,77365
Citation929 S.W.2d 209
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Michael TAYLOR, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Elizabeth Unger Carlyle, Lee's Summit, for Appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Attorney General, Becky Owenson Kilpatrick, Jill C. LaHue, Assistant Attorneys General, Jefferson City, for Respondent.

WHITE, Judge.

Michael Taylor pleaded guilty to first degree murder, section 565.020, RSMo 1986; armed criminal action, section 571.015, RSMo 1986; kidnapping, section 565.110, RSMo 1986; and forcible rape, section 566.030, RSMo 1986. He was sentenced to death for the murder. This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 3. We affirm.

I.

According to Taylor's testimony at his guilty plea, Taylor's videotaped statement and other evidence adduced in the sentencing hearing, 1 Taylor and a companion, Roderick Nunley, spent the night of March 21, 1989, driving a stolen Chevrolet Monte Carlo, stealing "T-tops," smoking marijuana and drinking wine coolers. At one point during the early morning hours of March 22, they were followed by a police car, but lost the police after a high speed chase on a highway. About 7:00 a.m., they saw fifteen-year-old Ann Harrison waiting for the school bus at the end of her driveway. Nunley told Taylor, who was driving at the time, to stop so Nunley could snatch her purse. Taylor stopped the car, Nunley got out, pretended to need directions, grabbed her and put her in the front seat between Taylor and Nunley. Once in the car, Nunley blindfolded Ann with his sock and threatened to stab her with a screwdriver if she was not quiet. Taylor drove to Nunley's house and took Ann to the basement. By this time her hands were bound with cable wire.

Nunley removed Ann's clothes and had forcible sexual intercourse with her. Taylor then had forcible intercourse with her. They untied her, and allowed her to dress. Ann tried to persuade them to call her parents for ransom, and Nunley indicated he would take her to a telephone to call home. They put the blindfold back on her and tied her hands and led her to the trunk of the Monte Carlo. Ann resisted getting into the trunk until Nunley told her it was necessary so she would not be seen. Both men helped her into the trunk.

Nunley then returned to the house for two knives, a butcher knife and a smaller steak knife. Nunley argued with Taylor about whether to kill her. Nunley did not want Ann to be able to testify against him and emphasized he and Taylor were in this together. Nunley then attempted to slash her throat but the knife was too dull. He stabbed her through the throat and told Taylor to "stick her." Nunley continued to stab, and Taylor stabbed Ann "two or three times, probably four." He described how "her eyes rolled up in her head, and she was sort to like trying to catch her, her breath."

Nunley and Taylor argued about who would drive the Monte Carlo, and Nunley ended up driving it following Taylor who was driving another car. Taylor picked up Nunley after he abandoned the Monte Carlo with Ann Harrison in the trunk. They returned to Nunley's house where Nunley disposed of the sock, the cable wire, and the knives.

When the school bus arrived at the Harrison home to pick up Ann, the driver honked because she was not there. Mrs. Harrison looked out of the window and noticed Ann's purse, gym clothes, books, and flute lying on the driveway. She waved for the bus to go on and began to look for her daughter. Police quickly mounted a ground and air search. Ann Harrison's body was discovered the evening of March 23rd when police found the abandoned Monte Carlo and a friend of the car's owner opened the trunk.

The State's physical evidence included hair matching Taylor's collected from Ann Harrison's body and the passenger side of the Monte Carlo, hair matching Ann's collected from Nunley's basement, sperm and semen belonging to Taylor found on Ann's clothes and body. An autopsy revealed a lacerated vagina, six stab wounds to Ann's chest, side, and back which penetrated her heart and lungs, and four stab wounds to her neck. The medical examiner testified Ann Harrison was alive when all the wounds were inflicted and could have remained conscious for ten minutes after the stabbing. She probably lived thirty minutes after the attack.

II.

Taylor pleaded guilty to the four crimes on February 8, 1991. He testified he did not receive or expect a plea bargain and understood the State would seek the death penalty. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court found aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances and sentenced Taylor to death for the first degree murder, with consecutive sentences of ten years for armed criminal action, fifteen years for kidnapping, and life for aggravated rape.

Taylor filed a timely Rule 24.035 motion, which alleged the trial court was under the influence of alcohol during sentencing and the sentencing hearing and counsel was ineffective for failing to learn of the trial court's alcohol problem before advising Taylor to plead guilty. The trial court promptly recused. The presiding judge of the sixteenth circuit notified this Court all judges in the circuit were recused. This Court then appointed a special judge to conduct the Rule 24.035 proceeding. After an evidentiary hearing, the special judge denied the Rule 24.035 motion. Taylor appealed the sentence and denial of his Rule 24.035 motion. This Court issued a summary order in June 1993, stating, "Judgment vacated. Cause remanded for new penalty hearing, imposition of sentence, and entry of new judgment."

The original trial court transferred the remanded case to the presiding judge for reassignment. The presiding judge assigned the case to division nine of the sixteenth circuit. This Court ordered the cause transferred to a judge from the first circuit on March 31, 1994, but rescinded the order on April 5. Before the second sentencing hearing, the court denied Taylor's Rule 29.07 motion to withdraw the guilty plea, his motion requesting a jury for sentencing, and his motion asking for disqualification of the entire sixteenth circuit. The court received evidence on sentencing in five days of hearings during May and June 1994. The court found beyond a reasonable doubt nine aggravating circumstances were not outweighed by the mitigating circumstance. Taylor was sentenced to death for the first degree murder and consecutive terms of fifty years for armed criminal action, fifteen years for kidnapping, and life for rape.

Taylor filed a timely Rule 24.035 motion and amended motion. He also moved for disqualification of the judge. On the death of the judge who heard the most recent sentencing, the cause was transferred to another division of the sixteenth circuit. After a two-day hearing, the court overruled the Rule 24.035 motion.

III.

Taylor attacks denial of his Rule 29.07(d) motion to withdraw his plea of guilty on several grounds. He claims the sentencing court should have sustained his motion to withdraw the guilty plea because he did not receive the benefit of his plea bargain, the court failed to personally admonish him as required by Rule 24.02, the plea was not knowingly and voluntarily made because Taylor was not informed of the elements of first degree murder and the possibility of jury sentencing, there was insufficient factual basis to support the plea, and the plea was offered to a defective information. The State, instead of addressing the merits of these claims, argues the sentencing court was limited by the remand from this Court to determine only sentencing issues and was without authority to consider a motion to withdraw a guilty plea.

As discussed in State v. Nunley, 923 S.W.2d 911, 919 (Mo. banc 1996), this Court's summary order remanding the cause neither affirmed nor reversed the guilty plea, and the sentencing court could consider the Rule 29.07 motion. We review denial of a presentencing motion to withdraw a guilty plea to determine if the court's ruling is an abuse of discretion. State v. McCollum, 610 S.W.2d 81, 83 (Mo.App.1980). The accused is not entitled to withdraw a guilty plea as a matter of right; such relief is reserved for extraordinary circumstances, such as a showing of fraud, mistake, misapprehension, fear, persuasion, or the holding out of false hopes. Id.

A. Benefit of the Plea Bargain

Taylor argues he was denied the benefit of his plea bargain when he was sentenced by a different judge than the one before whom he originally agreed to plead guilty. He expected to be sentenced by the original judge, sober and in full possession of his faculties. Although it is preferable if the judge to whom a plea is made sentences the defendant, sentencing by a different judge if the original judge proves unavailable for sentencing does not create manifest injustice. 2 Nunley, 923 S.W.2d at 921-22. The determining factor is whether the sentencing judge has the familiarity with the prior proceedings to make an informed ruling on sentencing. Id. The record reveals the sentencing court after remand from this Court conducted five days of hearings, took judicial notice of all prior proceedings, and made an informed decision.

Taylor argues the consideration for his open guilty plea was not only having the original judge sentence him, but the judge would be unimpaired at sentencing. As previously discussed, Taylor was not entitled, as a matter of right, to be sentenced by the judge before whom he entered his plea. The Rule 29.07 motion was filed before sentencing on remand. Because he had not yet been sentenced, there was no impaired sentencer issue remaining. See Nunley, 923 S.W.2d at 919 ("By remanding for a new penalty hearing and imposition of sentence, certain allegations regarding the original trial judge were rendered moot."). In the present case, Taylor makes no allegations regarding the competence of the remand sentencing...

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