State v. Taylor

Decision Date29 April 1997
Docket NumberNo. 78086,78086
Citation944 S.W.2d 925
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Leon V. TAYLOR, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Melinda K. Pendergraph, Asst. Public Defender, Columbia, for appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Attorney General, Becky Owenson Kilpatrick, Asst. Attorney General, Jefferson City, for respondent.

BENTON, Judge.

A jury convicted Leon Taylor of first degree murder, first degree robbery, first degree assault, and three counts of armed criminal action. After the jury deadlocked on punishment for first degree murder, the judge sentenced Taylor to death on the murder charge and life imprisonment plus 315 years for the other charges. The post-conviction court overruled Taylor's Rule 29.15 motion. This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V., sec. 3. This Court affirms the convictions, affirms the sentences except for the sentence of death which is reversed, and remands for a new penalty phase proceeding. The appeal of the judgment on the Rule 29.15 motion is affirmed in part and dismissed as moot in part.


This Court reviews the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Shurn, 866 S.W.2d 447, 455 (Mo. banc 1993), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 837, 115 S.Ct. 118, 130 L.Ed.2d 64 (1994). On April 14, 1994, Taylor, his half-brother Willie Owens, and his half-sister Tina Owens were driving in Tina's car, discussing various robbery possibilities. Taylor suggested a gas station in Independence where only one person would be working. The trio went to the station and purchased some gasoline. Taylor asked whether they were going to rob it. Tina Owens said no because a little girl was inside. Sarah Yates, an eight-year-old, was keeping company with Robert Newton, her stepfather and the gas station manager.

The three left the station, only to return a few moments later after the oil light came on. Willie Owens went into the station and asked for some oil. Taylor next entered the store and stated they needed a different weight of oil. Taylor then drew a pistol and stated that he would shoot Newton unless he gave them money. Newton complied, handing Owens approximately $400 in a bank money bag. Owens took the money and returned to the car.

Taylor directed Newton and the child to the station's back room. Taylor shot Newton once in the head, killing him. Taylor then pointed the gun at the child. Taylor pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed and did not discharge. Frustrated, Taylor locked the child in the back room and returned to the car. Taylor told Willie and Tina Owens that he had shot the man and that he had to go back inside to get the little girl. However, because the Owenses wanted to leave, they then drove away.

II. Pretrial Issues
A. Continuance

Taylor claims that the circuit court abused its discretion and violated the United States and Missouri constitutions by denying a one-day continuance. Taylor argues that the continuance was needed to remedy the prosecutor's bad faith acts: (1) late endorsement of a witness; (2) interference with deposing the late endorsed witness; and (3) failure to inform the defense of a deal with Willie Owens.

The decision to grant or deny a continuance is within the sound discretion of the trial court. State v. Schaal, 806 S.W.2d 659, 666 (Mo. banc 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1075, 112 S.Ct. 976, 117 L.Ed.2d 140 (1992). A very strong showing of abuse and prejudice must be shown. Id. citing State v. Nave, 694 S.W.2d 729, 735 (Mo. banc 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1098, 106 S.Ct. 1500, 89 L.Ed.2d 901 (1986). Inadequate preparation does not justify a continuance where counsel had ample opportunity to prepare. Id. citing State v. Crahan, 747 S.W.2d 721, 722 (Mo.App.1988).

Regarding the first two issues, defense counsel Zembles traveled to Kansas City four days before trial to depose the witness, was unable to do so, and lost a day of preparation. While this incident may have inconvenienced counsel, Taylor never demonstrated what specific matters defense counsel did not complete due to the trip.

Regarding the State's dealings with Willie Owens, Taylor concedes that the State cannot be blamed for reaching agreement on the day of trial. Although defense counsel Zembles missed part of individual voir dire in order to depose Owens, Taylor did not demonstrate how the jury selection or trial was compromised by Zembles' temporary absence. Moreover, Taylor had two attorneys, Zembles for the guilt phase and McKerrow for the penalty phase. McKerrow was present throughout the voir dire. Since individual voir dire here was primarily designed to question potential jurors about their attitude towards punishment and the death penalty, McKerrow's presence sufficiently protected Taylor's interests.

On this record, the trial court did not abuse its discretion nor violate Taylor's constitutional rights in denying a continuance.

B. Discovery Issues
1. Sarah Yates' Counseling Records

The circuit court refused Taylor's request for Sarah Yates' counseling records. Taylor claims this violated his rights to compulsory process, confrontation, due process, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The compulsory process claim falls under the due process clause, and Taylor cites no applicable cruel and unusual punishment authority, so only the confrontation and due process claims need be addressed. State v. Parker, 886 S.W.2d 908, 916 (Mo. banc 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1098, 115 S.Ct. 1827, 131 L.Ed.2d 748 (1995). See Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39, 56, 107 S.Ct. 989, 1000-01, 94 L.Ed.2d 40 (1987).

The accused has the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." U.S. Const. amend. VI; See Mo. Const. art. I, sec. 18(a); State v. Hester, 801 S.W.2d 695, 697 (Mo. banc 1991). The right to confront is satisfied if defense counsel has wide latitude at trial to cross-examine witnesses; it does not include a right to pretrial disclosure of any and all information that might assist cross-examination. Ritchie, 480 U.S. at 53, 107 S.Ct. at 999. Taylor seeks pretrial disclosure of potentially helpful information; he does not assert that the trial court limited cross-examination. Thus, there was no confrontation clause violation.

Taylor's due process claim invokes Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). The State must disclose evidence in its possession that is favorable to the accused and material to guilt or punishment. Brady, 373 U.S. at 87, 83 S.Ct. at 1197. The accused, however, must make "some plausible showing [of] how the information would have been material and favorable." Ritchie, 480 U.S. at 58 n. 15, 107 S.Ct. at 1002, n. 15, quoting United States v. Valenzuela-Bernal, 458 U.S. 858, 867, 102 S.Ct. 3440, 3446, 73 L.Ed.2d 1193 (1982).

After reviewing the counseling records in camera, the trial court found "absolutely nothing in those records that would be relevant to whether or not she's been coached." The court also stated that the records did not contain any pre-deposition statements except "very vague remembrances of blood coming out of my daddy's head and things like that. None of the circumstances of how it happened, okay?" Since the records were not material and favorable, the trial court's ruling was proper.

Taylor also claims the circuit court had a sua sponte duty to disclose the records for use in the penalty phase. The counseling records were briefly mentioned in the penalty phase to show Yates' psychological harm. However, since most of the testimony was non-expert and factual, the trial court had no sua sponte duty to order disclosure of the counseling records at that point.

2. Arrest Records of State Witnesses

Taylor claims the circuit court violated his confrontation and equal protection rights by not ordering disclosure of Willie and Tina Owens' arrest records.

In reviewing criminal discovery claims, this Court will overturn the trial court only if it appears that the trial court abused its discretion to the extent that fundamental unfairness to the defendant resulted. State v. Mease, 842 S.W.2d 98, 108 (Mo. banc 1992), citing State v. Royal, 610 S.W.2d 946, 951 (Mo. banc 1981).

Rule 25.03(A)(7) requires disclosure of the prior convictions of the State's intended witnesses. Rule 25.04(A) permits disclosure of additional material if the defense specifies the material or information sought and the court finds the request is reasonable and the information sought is relevant and material to the defendant's case. Arrests that do not result in convictions are relevant and material only to show a specific interest, motive to testify favorably for the state, or expectation of leniency. See State v. Wise, 879 S.W.2d 494, 510 (Mo. banc 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1093, 115 S.Ct. 757, 130 L.Ed.2d 656 (1995).

Taylor asserts that the arrest records were relevant and material to show self-interest or motive. In fact, Taylor fully cross-examined and impeached Willie and Tina Owens regarding their conversations with the State and Willie's leniency agreement. Because Taylor did not demonstrate that additional material was relevant and material, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying disclosure of the arrest records.

Taylor also asserts, for the first time on appeal, that the court allowed the State to use witnesses' arrest records and denied the defense an opportunity to do the same. In fact, the record simply has no evidence of the State's use of the arrest records. Point denied.

III. Juror Issues

A. Juror Misconduct

Taylor asserts that the circuit court plainly erred in failing to quash the venire panel sua sponte after learning that the victim's relatives conversed with four females that Taylor alleged were on the venire.

The trial court is vested with broad discretion in determining if a jury panel should be dismissed, and, absent a clear abuse, the trial court's ruling should not be...

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