Woolf v. State

Decision Date02 May 2014
Docket NumberCR–10–1082.
Citation220 So.3d 338
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Parties Michael Bragg WOOLF v. STATE of Alabama.

Glenn L. Davidson, Mobile; and Randall S. Susskind and Martha Geron Gadd, Montgomery, for appellant.

Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Jess R. Nix, deputy atty. gen., and J. Clayton Crenshaw and Lauren A. Simpson, asst. attys. gen., for appellee.

JOINER, Judge.

Michael Bragg Woolf was convicted of two counts of capital murder for killing his wife, Angel Marie Woolf, and their two-year-old son Charles Ayden Woolf ("Ayden"). See § 13A–5–40(a)(10), Ala.Code 1975 (making capital the killing of two or more persons by one act or pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct), and § 13A–5–40(a)(15), Ala.Code 1975 (making capital the killing when the victim is less than 14 years of age). The jury, by a vote of 11 to 1, recommended that Woolf be sentenced to death. The circuit court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Woolf to death. Woolf appeals.

The evidence at trial tended to demonstrate the following. On February 15, 2008, Woolf went to Resultz Corp. in Mobile with his wife Angel, their two-year-old son Ayden, and Woolf's mother, Lynn Tullos.

Woolf and Angel had what witnesses described as a turbulent relationship, and, because Woolf had begun to doubt that he was Ayden's biological father, Woolf and Angel went to Resultz Corp., "a biomedical testing laboratory" that performed drug screenings and "DNA collections and testing," for a paternity test to determine whether Woolf was Ayden's biological father. Woolf seemed stressed about the results of the test and said "that other people were saying [Ayden] [might] not be his." After completing the test, Woolf asked an employee of Resultz Corp. to pray for him.

After he received the results, Woolf returned to Resultz Corp. with Ayden on March 3, 2008. Woolf told a Resultz Corp. employee that he needed to have the results of the test "explain[ed] to him because he was a little confused about [them]."1 The employee explained the results to Woolf who said "he was just worried about" what other people were saying regarding Ayden's paternity. As Woolf left Resultz Corp., he asked the owner whether she believed in God and asked her to pray for him.

Shortly after midnight on the morning of March 5, 2008, Woolf called the Mobile County emergency 911 number and reported that he had killed his family and needed to go to jail. Paramedics with the Mobile Fire Department and officers with the Mobile Police Department were dispatched to Woolf's mobile home.

At 1:05 a.m., Jonathan Parker and Coye Lucky, paramedics with the Mobile Fire Department, were parked in a rescue truck at a Circle K store located at the corner of Schillingers Road and Moffett Road waiting to be told when they could safely enter Woolf's mobile home. Woolf, after parking his car in front of the rescue truck at the Circle K, got out of his car and approached the rescue truck. Parker got out of the truck and walked toward Woolf, who said, "You need to call the cops." When Parker asked him if he had shot his family, Woolf "said that [his] son came into the room and said pow-pow and then [he] heard two gunshots, [he] blacked out and [he] left." Woolf started to leave, but the paramedics told him not to.

Officer Shannon Payne of the Mobile Police Department, who was responding to the call to Woolf's mobile home, stopped at the Circle K when she saw the paramedics. As Officer Payne got out of her patrol car, Woolf approached her with "his hands ... facing out ... with his palms facing almost as if they were going to be in a handcuffed position." Woolf said, "I poisoned my wife and put me in handcuffs." As Officer Payne was placing Woolf inside her patrol car he said, "I heard two noises pow-pow, then I blacked out." (R. 1373.)

Corporal Brian Reeher of the Mobile Police Department arrived at the Circle K, and he and Officer Payne transferred Woolf to Cpl. Reeher's patrol car.2 As Cpl. Reeher placed Woolf in his patrol car, Woolf said, "My wife poisoned me." Cpl. Reeher also heard Woolf say that Woolf's "wife made me do it." Officer Payne later checked on Woolf who said, "I may have actually done it." Officer Payne asked Woolf what he may have actually done, and he said, "I might have gotten a gun."

Angela Prine, an investigator with the Mobile Police Department, arrived at the Circle K store and got in the backseat of Cpl. Reeher's patrol car with Woolf. Prine read Woolf his Miranda3 rights and briefly interviewed him to get personal information about Angel and Ayden.

Mobile police officers went to Woolf's mobile home, where they found the bodies of Angel and Ayden; both Angel and Ayden had been shot. The officers also located a "sock print impression that was in blood" and several bloody shoe impressions. On the living-room floor officers found a .38 caliber revolver that held two spent casings and one cartridge.

Officers transported Woolf to the Mobile Police Department headquarters and placed him in an interview room. Officer Payne checked on Woolf, who was alternating between pacing and lying on the floor. Woolf said, "I'm a fucking dumb ass." He also said, "Shoot me, just shoot me." (R. 1415.) When Officer Payne asked why he should shoot him, Woolf said, "because I'm guilty." (R. 1415.) Investigator Prine arrived at police headquarters and again advised Woolf of his Miranda rights. Woolf did not sign the waiver-of-rights form, but he did speak with Prine and Cpl. Jeremy March.

Following his conversation with Prine and Cpl. March, Woolf was placed under arrest. As he got undressed to change into a white jail jumpsuit, Woolf pulled off a sock that appeared bloody, "kind of wadded it and touched it to his mouth and kissed it and said, 'oh, my baby.' "

An autopsy revealed that the cause of Angel's death was a "gunshot wound to the face." The autopsy performed on Ayden revealed that he also "died as a result of a gunshot wound to the face." (R. 1717.)

Woolf called several witnesses to testify during the guilt phase of the trial. Two friends testified about seeing Woolf, Angel, and Ayden interact with each other. A lieutenant with the Mobile Police Department testified that he saw no evidence indicating that Angel and Ayden received any medical assistance on the night of the shooting. Woolf called Lucky, who testified about the events that occurred in the Circle K parking lot and stated that neither he nor Parker entered the mobile home that morning.

Woolf called three Mobile police officers, two of whom told the jury about the actions law-enforcement personnel had taken as they approached, entered, and searched Woolf's mobile home on the morning of March 5, 2008. The third officer testified about securing Woolf's car at the Circle K store and assisting in a search of that car.

Three of Woolf's neighbors testified on his behalf. One neighbor testified about her interaction with the officers on the morning of March 5, 2008, and stated that after the officers left the trailer park she noticed that skirting had been removed from around the base of her trailer. Another neighbor testified that Woolf, Angel, and Ayden "seemed like a really happy family." The last neighbor testified about her interactions with the Woolf family.

Woolf testified in his own behalf. He told the jury that he "knew Ayden was [his but he] just wanted the paper [with the DNA test results]." Woolf further said that he did not understand the DNA results and decided to go back to Resultz Corp. to have the results explained to him.

Woolf also testified that he and a friend went riding around on March 4, 2008. When he returned home, he said, Angel confronted him about him having been away from home. He left again, this time by himself. While riding around, Woolf said, he smoked marijuana, "took two Darvocets and drank five or six beers." When he returned home, he took the gun inside the mobile home with him. Angel confronted him and grabbed his arm. Woolf said he pulled away from Angel and shot the gun behind him to scare her. Angel "screamed and said, 'You shot Ayden.' " (R. 1902.) After Woolf saw that Ayden had been shot, he shot Angel. Woolf called emergency 911 and left the mobile home, stopping when he saw the emergency responders at the Circle K store.

Woolf presented a psychologist who testified about his evaluation of Woolf and Woolf's interactions with law enforcement after the shooting.

The circuit court charged the jury, and the jury returned a guilty verdict on both counts of the indictment. At the conclusion of the penalty phase of the trial, the jury recommended the death sentence by an 11–1 vote. Following the sentencing hearing, the circuit court sentenced Woolf to death.

Standard of Review

Because Woolf has been sentenced to death, we apply the standard of review set out in Rule 45A, Ala. R.App. P., which requires that,

"[i]n all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, the Court of Criminal Appeals shall notice any plain error or defect in the proceedings under review, whether or not brought to the attention of the trial court, and take appropriate appellate action by reason thereof, whenever such error has or probably has adversely affected the substantial right of the appellant."

The Alabama Supreme Court has explained:

" ' "To rise to the level of plain error, the claimed error must not only seriously affect a defendant's 'substantial rights,' but it must also have an unfair prejudicial impact on the jury's deliberations." ' Ex parte Bryant, 951 So.2d 724, 727 (Ala.2002) (quoting Hyde v. State, 778 So.2d 199, 209 (Ala.Crim.App.1998) ). In United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 15, 105 S.Ct. 1038, 84 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985), the United States Supreme Court, construing the federal plain-error rule, stated:
" 'The Rule authorizes the Courts of Appeals to correct only "particularly egregious errors," United
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