State v. Winfield

Decision Date07 December 1999
Docket NumberNo. SC 81165.,SC 81165.
Citation5 S.W.3d 505
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. John E. WINFIELD, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court



William J. Swift, Asst. Public Defender, Columbia, for appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Cheryl Caponegro Nield, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.


Defendant, John Winfield, was convicted by a St. Louis County jury of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of first degree assault, and four counts of armed criminal action. The circuit court sentenced defendant to two death sentences, life and fifteen years, and four seventy-five year sentences for the crimes respectively. Defendant challenges his convictions. This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction. Mo. Const., art. V, sec. 3. The judgment is affirmed.


This Court reviews the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Clark, 981 S.W.2d 143, 145 (Mo. banc 1998). In September 1996, defendant lived in a St. Louis County home one block from a second floor apartment where his ex-girlfriend and mother of his children, Carmelita Donald, lived. Living with Carmelita and her children were Carmelita's sister, Melody Donald, and friend Arthea Sanders. In the apartment below them lived their friend, Shawnee Murphy, and her three children.

Defendant began dating Carmelita in 1989 and continued to have an on-and-off relationship with her through the spring of 1996. During that time, they had two children over whom they shared physical custody. In the late summer of 1996, Carmelita began dating Tony Reynolds. They succeeded in keeping that relationship a secret from defendant for about a month. On the night of September 9, 1996, Carmelita went out for the evening with Reynolds. Meanwhile, defendant began making a series of calls to Carmelita's apartment asking Melody about her sister's whereabouts and instructing her to have Carmelita call him when she returned home. Melody told defendant that she did not know where Carmelita was.

Shortly thereafter, defendant went to the apartment and began inquiring further about Carmelita. Melody again replied that she did not know where Carmelita could be found. He made a phone call and left the apartment for approximately ten minutes. He returned with Arthea, who had been drinking. Once inside, he tried once more to find out where Carmelita had gone. One last time, Melody informed defendant that she did not know. At some point, Arthea, who knew Carmelita was out with Tony Reynolds, took Melody aside and told her where Carmelita was and to lie to defendant by telling him that Carmelita was at Arthea's mother's house. Apparently, the pair believed this would satisfy the already agitated defendant and get him to return home. Eventually, Melody went downstairs to Shawnee's apartment to call Arthea's parents to tell them of the story they had concocted. In Shawnee's apartment, Melody found Shawnee, her three children, and a guest, James Johnson. While there, Melody heard a crashing sound coming from her apartment upstairs. When she returned to the upstairs apartment, Melody found the entertainment center "knocked over" and broken. Defendant then asked Melody how she could do this to him. She denied knowing what he was talking about. Melody returned to Shawnee's apartment and reported that defendant was upstairs turning over furniture because he was angry about Carmelita being absent. The two women decided to go back upstairs. Defendant began pacing the apartment. He became increasingly agitated and angry, at one point making threats toward Carmelita.

Around midnight, Carmelita returned to the apartment with Tony Reynolds. They saw defendant's white Cadillac parked in front. To avoid trouble with defendant, they drove to Reynolds' female cousin's house. There they persuaded her to drive Carmelita home. When the two women arrived back at Carmelita's apartment, defendant's car was still there. As Carmelita started to climb the stairs to her apartment, defendant came down, said he needed a word, and pushed her down the stairs. They walked outside, and defendant asked Carmelita about her relationship with Tony Reynolds. Meanwhile, Arthea walked outside and slashed the tires on defendant's car. Upon her return to the downstairs apartment, Arthea told Melody to call the police and yelled outside, asking Carmelita if she was alright. Carmelita said she was fine. Despite Arthea's request, Melody did not call the police.

A car door "slammed" shut. Melody assumed it was defendant leaving. However, defendant had run into the downstairs apartment, Carmelita in pursuit. From outside, she warned Arthea to run because defendant was armed and coming to get her. Defendant entered Shawnee's downstairs apartment and began chastising Arthea. He then shot her in the head. Then he walked outside and pointed the gun at Carmelita. Carmelita pleaded with him to no avail; he shot her several times. Although permanently blinded, Carmelita survived.

Meanwhile, Melody and James ran into Shawnee's kitchen, hoping to escape through the back door. The door was jammed and would not open. Shawnee, while attempting to collect her children, began pleading with defendant. Defendant shot her in the head. Next, defendant turned and pointed the gun at Melody. She fell to the floor. Defendant pointed the gun at James and said, "You next." James grabbed the gun, and he began wrestling with defendant. During this time, James heard the gun "click." Defendant broke free and struck James with the gun. Defendant fled, and James attempted to follow. Melody escaped while James struggled with defendant and ran to a neighbor's house to call the police. An officer with the University City Police Department arrested defendant at his home. Both Arthea Sanders and Shawnee Murphy died as a result of their wounds.

At trial, a firearms examiner employed by the St. Louis County Police Department Crime Laboratory testified that he analyzed six spent shell casings and five recovered rounds from the crime scene and from the body of Shawnee Murphy. From his study of the casings and recovered bullets, the examiner concluded that they were most likely .380 caliber bullets fired by a Davis pistol. Furthermore, he explained, this weapon would hold six rounds if one was loaded into the chamber and the magazine was full. He further testified that when empty, pulling the trigger causes the gun to make a clicking sound.

Defendant testified in his own defense. He said that when he retrieved the gun from his car, he "just snapped." He stated that he did not intend to hurt anyone. Defendant also testified that he did not even remember shooting either Shawnee or Carmelita. In addition, defendant maintained that his memory also failed him when trying to recall his fight with James Johnson.

The jury found defendant guilty on all counts. During the penalty phase, the jury recommended he be sentenced to death for the murders of Arthea Sanders and Shawnee Murphy. To sustain a sentence of death, the jury found that the murder of Shawnee Murphy was committed while defendant was engaged in the unlawful commission of another unlawful homicide, that of Arthea Sanders and vice-versa.


Defendant argues that the trial court improperly sustained the state's motion to strike a venireperson for cause due to her views on capital punishment. He contends this deprived him of his rights to an impartial jury, due process, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment under both the United States and Missouri Constitutions. The standard for reviewing the exclusion of a venireperson during the death-qualification phase of jury voir dire is whether the venireperson's views would prevent or substantially impair the performance of the duty as a juror in accordance with the instructions and the oath. Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 105 S.Ct. 844, 852, 83 L.Ed.2d 841 (1985); State v. Barnett, 980 S.W.2d 297, 303 (Mo. banc 1998), cert. denied, ___ U.S.___, 119 S.Ct. 1074, 143 L.Ed.2d 77 (1999). This Court will not disturb the trial court's ruling on the qualification of a juror unless it is clearly against the evidence and is a clear abuse of discretion. Barnett, 980 S.W.2d at 303.

In this case, defendant argues the trial court abused its discretion because venireperson Stokes' initial reluctance to consider the death penalty was somehow eliminated or overshadowed by her willingness to follow the court's instructions and to follow the law. When the prosecution asked Stokes whether she could consider both life without parole and the death penalty, she replied, "That's tough." The record further reveals:

PROSECUTION: It's not supposed to be an easy decision.
STOKES: I probably would have to say no.
* * *
STOKES: No. No. I'm a nurse. I been sic a nurse for 35 years. It would be extremely difficult for me under any circumstance cause sic I spent my life taking care of people. To say that I could impose the death penalty, I just don't think I could.
* * *

Defendant, however, claims Stokes' later responses indicate a willingness to impose the death penalty.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Nothing. All that you have to do is to be able to give meaningful consideration to that and life without parole. Can you give meaningful consideration and follow the court's instructions?
STOKES: I believe I could.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: All right. And you can follow the law in the case, is that correct?
STOKES: Um-hum.
* * *
DEFENSE COUNSEL: All right. And then finally, in my death penalty case there will be — well, let me put it this way: if on Saturday morning as Ms. Constantin's saying, she believes she's going to be up here asking for the death penalty. Is there anyone that feels just because we've gotten that far that the imposition of the death penalty must then follow? Another way, Ms. Brown, if we get to the second stage you don't

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