Steinhorst v. State

Decision Date04 March 1982
Docket NumberNo. 55087,55087
Citation412 So.2d 332
PartiesWalter Gale STEINHORST, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Clifford L. Davis, Tallahassee, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen. and Miguel A. Olivella, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, for appellee.


This cause is before the Court on appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, in Bay County. The appellant was convicted on four counts of murder in the first degree and received three death sentences and one sentence to life imprisonment. We have jurisdiction of his appeal. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla.Const.


The testimony at trial showed that the appellant was a participant in a marijuana importation conspiracy. In accordance with the smuggling plan he was present on the night of January 23, 1977, near a beach landing site at Sandy Creek in Bay County. Appellant's job was to guard the entrance to a dirt road leading to the beach where the marijuana was to be brought ashore and loaded on trucks.

Two men, Harold Sims and Douglas Hood, and two teenage girls, Sheila McAdams and Sandra McAdams, approached the place where appellant was standing guard. Although there is nothing to explain their presence at that time and place, one reasonable inference is that they stumbled on the site of the smuggling operation by chance. The testimony indicates that there was then an exchange of fire between Harold Sims and the appellant. Harold Sims was shot and killed. Appellant then took the other three people captive, and confined them in a passenger van.

The testimony of several witnesses shows that appellant then proceeded to consult with several of his co-conspirators. It appears that Douglas Hood and the two McAdams girls were held captive for several hours while appellant and the leaders of the group decided what to do with them. Meanwhile, the landing and loading of marijuana proceeded almost until morning.

Bobby Joe Vines, the organizer of the smuggling scheme, testified that after the shooting of Harold Sims, appellant asked that his friend Charles Hughes be brought to him. Hughes was summoned from the landing site where he was bringing marijuana ashore. There was testimony from which the jury could infer that when Vines and the other men left the area with their loads of marijuana, appellant and Hughes departed with a human cargo of one dead and three living persons.

Several months later divers discovered the bodies of the victims in a sinkhole in Taylor County. The evidence showed that all four victims had been shot to death. The bodies were weighted down with concrete blocks.

Various participants in the smuggling operation met over the next several days at a farm house in Gadsden County. Several of the participants testified that appellant and Hughes stated that they had disposed of the victims and put them where they would never be found. Also, David Capo testified that appellant admitted the killings of all four victims.

Appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdicts of the jury. This contention is without merit.


Appellant presents several arguments concerning procedural errors which he contends require a new trial.

Appellant argues that the trial court erred in granting the state's challenges for cause to prospective jurors who indicated that they were opposed to capital punishment. Under Florida law, there is a ground for excusal for cause when jurors indicate that they would be unable, after finding the accused guilty of a capital offense, to participate in the required weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and to consider death as a possible penalty. Another ground exists when prospective jurors' opposition to the death penalty might interfere with their deliberation on the question of guilt or innocence.

Appellant concedes that these standards were followed by the trial court, but argues that in view of the wide prevalence of opposition to capital punishment, the exclusions deprived him of his right to be tried by a jury representative of the community. Our ruling on this contention is controlled by precedent. The argument is without merit. Jackson v. State, 366 So.2d 752 (Fla.1978), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 885, 100 S.Ct. 177, 62 L.Ed.2d 115 (1979); Riley v. State, 366 So.2d 19 (Fla.1978).

Appellant contends that the court erred in allowing the state to present the testimony of relatives of the victims. He relies on the rule that a member of a murder victim's family may not testify for the purpose of identifying the deceased where a non-related witness is available for such purpose. See Lewis v. State, 377 So.2d 640 (Fla.1979); Rowe v. State, 120 Fla. 649, 163 So. 22 (1935). The wife of Harold Sims and the mother of Sheila McAdams were allowed to testify, but not for the purpose of identifying the bodies of the victims. The defense had stipulated to the matter of identity. The testimony of these witnesses was presented to establish that the victims were seen alive on the day preceding the murders.

When Mrs. McAdams broke down on the witness stand, the judge ordered the jury removed. Following this occurrence, the defense stipulated to the admission in evidence of a police missing-persons report so that Mrs. McAdams would not have to testify further. The judge instructed the jury to disregard the unexpected emotional outburst. The impropriety, if any, was harmless.

Appellant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to strike the testimony of a state witness and in denying his motion for mistrial, both motions being grounded on a violation of the rule of sequestration of witnesses. On cross-examination of state witness Lloyd Woods, defense counsel brought out the fact that the witness had overheard testimony while waiting outside the courtroom and had also heard testimony by live radio broadcast while waiting in the state attorney's office. Defense counsel moved to strike Woods's testimony.

The trial judge conducted an inquiry. Woods told the judge that there was a radio on in the state attorney's library and that he and several other witnesses had heard parts of the testimony. He said he also heard some in the hall outside the courtroom. Examination by state and defense counsel focused on whether Woods's testimony had been affected by what he heard. Upon inquiry by the court, it developed that a number of state witnesses had overheard the testimony of other state witnesses either in the hall outside the courtroom, or, by radio, in the state attorney's office or in the jail. In his brief appellant relies on the impropriety of these witnesses testifying. At trial, however, appellant through counsel moved to strike only Woods's testimony and moved for a mistrial after the inquiry into Woods's rule violation. Defense counsel declined the court's offer to allow examination of other state witnesses concerning what testimony they had overheard and whether it influenced them.

Appellant contends that Dumas v. State, 350 So.2d 464 (Fla.1977), applies and requires a new trial. There the trial court refused to allow a defense witness to testify, on the ground that he had remained in the courtroom in violation of the rule. This Court pointed out that the rule is intended to prevent a witness from shaping his testimony by what he hears from other witnesses. "Balanced against the rule, however, is the criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment and due process right to present witnesses in his own behalf." Id. at 465. Without indicating precisely what circumstances will justify excluding a defense witness for violation of the rule, we simply held that it was error to exclude the witness without conducting an inquiry "to determine whether the witness acted with the knowledge, consent, procurement or connivance of the defendant or defense counsel ...." Id. at 466.

Just as the defendant has the constitutional right to present witnesses in his behalf, the people of the state, acting through the state attorney, have the inherent sovereign prerogative to present evidence of the defendant's criminal conduct. It is the duty of the state attorney to carry out this prerogative of the people. Art. V, § 17, Fla.Const.; § 27.04, Fla.Stat. (1979). Just as a defense witness, as Dumas held, should not be excluded without inquiry into whether the rule violation occurred with the knowledge or by the connivance of the defendant or defense counsel, so also should a state witness who has violated the rule not be excluded without similar inquiry. In the present case there was inquiry into the effect of the violation on Woods' testimony.

Dumas does not outline the circumstances under which a court may properly exclude a witness for violating the rule. The test, however, is whether the testimony of the challenged witness was substantially affected by the testimony he heard, to the extent that his testimony differed from what it would have been had he not heard testimony in violation of the rule. Defense counsel tried to show that the testimony of Woods may have been affected by what he heard. The state attorney elicited testimony contradicting this, and the court made a determination and ruling. The defense waived the opportunity for a similar examination of the other witnesses. Now appellant argues that the court, on its own motion, should have inquired into the effect of and state complicity in the violations. This contention is without merit.

Appellant contends that the trial judge improperly limited defense counsel's cross-examination of a state witness and that this was reversible error. Appellant relies on our decision in Coxwell v. State, 361 So.2d 148 (Fla.1978).

During the direct examination of state witness David Capo, it was brought out that the witness had a conversation with appellant a few days after the smuggling operation. The conversation took place at the home of David Goodwin in...

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