Taylor v. State

Citation808 So.2d 1148
PartiesJarrod TAYLOR v. State.
Decision Date04 February 2000
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

808 So.2d 1148



Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama.

February 4, 2000.

Rehearing Denied March 24, 2000.

808 So.2d 1159
Glenn L. Davidson, Mobile; and Richard D. Horne, Mobile, for appellant

Bill Pryor, atty. gen., and J. Clayton Crenshaw, asst. atty. gen., for appellee.

808 So.2d 1160
COBB, Judge

Jarrod Taylor appeals from his conviction of four counts of capital murder, see § 13A-5-40(a)(2) and (10), Ala.Code 1975. Taylor was tried before a jury on the charges that he intentionally murdered Sherry Gaston, Bruce Gaston, and Steve Dyas pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct and also murdered each of the victims during the commission of a first-degree robbery. Following a guilty verdict on each count, the jury recommended, by a 7-5 vote, that Taylor be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. On August 25, 1998, the trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Jarrod Taylor to death by electrocution. This appeal follows.

The State's evidence tends to show the following. On the morning of December 12, 1997, Jarrod Taylor and his friend, Kenyatta McMillan, took a .380 caliber pistol from the home of a friend of Taylor's and then bought a BB-pellet pistol from a nearby Wal-Mart discount department store. According to McMillan, who was the State's main witness against Taylor, Taylor was armed with the pistol and McMillan had the BB gun. Later that morning, the two men entered Steve Dyas Motors, a used car dealership in Mobile, for the purpose of robbing it. Jarrod Taylor pretended to be interested in purchasing a Ford Mustang automobile. Taylor negotiated the purchase of the automobile with Sherry Gaston, a salesperson at Steve Dyas Motors, and told her that he was from Louisiana and that his father-in-law was going to give him the money to purchase the automobile as an early Christmas present. Taylor and McMillan spent the day test-driving the automobile, filling out the paperwork for the purchase of the car, and waiting for Taylor's fictitious father-in-law to arrive with the $13,700 to purchase the car. At one point, Taylor asked Sherry Gaston for a bill of sale that he could take to his father-in-law to show him the price of the automobile. They came and went from the used car dealership several times during the day. As closing time neared, the employees of Steve Dyas Motors began leaving the dealership to prepare for their annual Christmas party. When Taylor and McMillan entered the car dealership for the last time, around dusk, only Sherry Gaston, who was awaiting Taylor's return to complete the sale, her husband, Bruce Gaston, and Steve Dyas, the owner, were in the office. When Taylor and McMillan entered the office, Taylor immediately shot Bruce Gaston in the chest with the .380 pistol. Bruce Gaston fell to the floor as Sherry Gaston ran to a bathroom and locked herself in and Steve Dyas ran to a back room and tried to escape through a window. Kenyatta McMillan stopped Steve Dyas and brought him back to the office at gunpoint. Taylor and McMillan were demanding to know where the money and the safe was, and Steve Dyas was on his knees begging for his life. Dyas tried to convince them that he did not have a safe and did not keep money in the office; he offered the two gunmen any car on the lot and the money and credit cards from his wallet. As Steve Dyas begged for his life, Taylor placed the .380 pistol to Dyas's head and shot him, killing him instantly. Taylor then went to the bathroom door and ordered Sherry Gaston to come out. Sherry Gaston obeyed and opened the bathroom door. She begged for her life and told them that she was the mother of two children who needed her; Taylor put the .380 pistol to her head and shot her, killing her instantly. The two gunmen then rummaged the office area, taking Sherry Gaston's purse and the wallets from the two male victims. They took the paperwork Sherry Gaston had prepared for the sale of the automobile, leaving copies

808 So.2d 1161
of the paperwork on Sherry Gaston's desk that they thought would make it appear that Jarrod Taylor had bought the automobile. As they were preparing to leave, Taylor noticed Bruce Gaston move, so he walked over to Gaston's body, put the .380 pistol against Bruce Gaston's head and shot him, killing him instantly.1 The two gunmen took the automobile they had been negotiating for and fled to Selma, where they were apprehended the next morning


Taylor argues that the trial court erred in prohibiting him from asking the State's forensic pathologist a question in cross-examination concerning the position of Steve Dyas's body when he was shot. Specifically, Taylor objects to the following sequence of events:

"Q [Defense counsel]: Now, Dr. Goodin, if you would, you said you went to the scene before the bodies had been moved. Given the [trajectory2] of this bullet and also the location of the entrance wound and location of the exit wound, did it appear to you that Mr. Dyas had been shot while his head was on the floor?"

(R. 1176.) The prosecutor objected to the question and the trial court cautioned defense counsel to determine the witness's qualifications to answer such a question. After defense counsel asked some questions, the trial court took over the questioning:

"THE COURT: That's not getting to it either. You have to get down to brass tacks. Dr. Goodin, have you had any training or experience in determining what position a person was in when that person was shot by figuring the [trajectory] of a bullet? Yea or nay?
"WITNESS: I can only determine the [trajectory] through the body. I cannot determine the position the body was in at the time the shot occurred."

(R. 1178.) After a few more questions, defense counsel then asked the court's permission to ask the witness whether she could state an opinion as to the position of Steve Dyas when he was shot, given the position of the entrance and exit wounds on the body and the absence of blood spatters on the wall beside the body. The judge responded:

"Well, that's not a predicate. That's a series of hypotheticals. By predicate, I mean her area of expertise. Number one, she hasn't professed expertise with regard to stating folks's positions when they have gotten shot. And no such expertise has been proved and she said she can't state that anyway. And classically, witnesses have been prevented from hazarding testimony on that topic. If you were to ask her all the questions you are asking her, basically you get her to invade the province of the jury. But we are not going to take 10 or 15 minutes trying to work out something where she can invade the province of the jury."

(R. 1183-84.) On appeal, Taylor argues that such testimony would not have invaded the province of the jury, because it was not being offered to prove an ultimate issue, but was merely evidence to impeach the testimony of Kenyatta McMillan.

The trial judge was correct in stating that expert witness testimony opining as to the position of the parties at the time of

808 So.2d 1162
the shooting has historically been held to be inadmissible.
"`In a murder prosecution it is not permissible for a witness, including a medical expert, to draw conclusions for the jury as to the relative positions of the parties at the time of the shooting from a mere examination of the wounds. It is not competent for a witness, expert or nonexpert, to draw inferences for the jury from the slant or angle of the wound as to the relative positions of the combatants when the fatal shot was fired. "This would be invasive of the province of the jury and a matter of which they would be quite as competent to judge as the witness, having been given a description of the wound." Mathis v. State, 15 Ala.App. 245, 248, 73 So. 122, 124 (1916).'
"Ivey v. State, 369 So.2d 1276, 1280 (Ala. Cr.App.1979), writ denied, 369 So.2d 1281 (1979)(on rehearing)."

Lane v. State, 673 So.2d 825, 828-829 (Ala. Cr.App.1995).

However, we need not reach the question whether the expert opinion sought by Taylor reached the ultimate issue in this case. Rule 702, Ala.R.Evid., states:

"If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise."

Dr. Goodin, by her own testimony, was not qualified to give opinion testimony on the position of a body at the time it was shot. Therefore, such opinion testimony would have been beyond her expertise and would not have assisted the factfinder in determining any fact in issue, regardless of whether it was an ultimate issue or a peripheral one. The trial court did not err in denying Taylor's request to elicit opinion testimony from Dr. Goodin.


Taylor argues that the trial court erred when, in denying Taylor's Batson3 motion, it determined that he had not established a prima facie case showing that the prosecutor had used his peremptory strike in a racially discriminatory fashion. At the end of jury selection, Taylor made the following motion:

"MR. POWELL [Defense counsel]: Along the lines of what the court indicated earlier, in other words, having the displeasure of having to do this—this motion—although, according to the numbers it doesn't meet the predicate proof which would require the state to show race-neutral reasons. For the record, we would move pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky to eliminate those strikes that the state has made as being discriminating against this defendant on the basis of race. And for the record note that, of the 11 strikes, 8 of those strikes—the first 8 strikes—were of members of the black race and the remaining 2 or 3 strikes, rather, were all white females and the alternate strike was a white female. So the majority of the state's strikes were used to remove black persons from the venire, although,

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