Young v. State, CR-17-0595

CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Writing for the CourtMINOR, JUDGE
PartiesBenjamin Young v. State of Alabama
Docket NumberCR-17-0595
Decision Date06 August 2021

Benjamin Young
v.

State of Alabama

No. CR-17-0595

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

August 6, 2021


Appeal from Colbert Circuit Court (CC-16-339)

MINOR, JUDGE

A Colbert County jury convicted Benjamin Young of capital murder for the shooting death of Ki-Jana Freeman while Freeman sat in his car, see § 13A-5-40(a)(17), Ala. Code 1975, and of first-degree assault, see § 13A-6-20(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975, for the shooting of Tyler Blythe. The jury unanimously found the existence of two aggravating factors and recommended, by a vote of 11-1, that the circuit court sentence Young to death for the capital-murder conviction. After receiving a presentence-investigation report and conducting a sentencing hearing, the circuit court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Young to death for the capital-murder conviction. For the first-degree-assault conviction, the circuit court sentenced Young to 20 years' imprisonment.

This appeal, which is automatic in cases involving the imposition of the death penalty, followed Young's sentence of death. See § 13A-5-53, Ala. Code 1975. After careful review and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm Young's convictions and sentences, including the imposition of the death penalty.

Facts

On March 1, 2016, Young attended a meeting of a gang called the "Almighty Imperial Gangsters"[1] held by Thomas Hubbard, the leader of the gang, in Hubbard's bedroom at his mother's house on Midland Avenue in Muscle Shoals. Other members at the meeting were Peter Capote, Dewayne Austin Hammonds, Riley Hamm III, De'Vontae Bates, and Michael Blackburn. Two days earlier the Hubbards' house had been burglarized while Hubbard was attending his grandmother's funeral. Several items were stolen from the house, including a television, an Xbox game console, a PlayStation game console, and some cash. Hubbard reported the burglary to the Muscle Shoals Police Department. Officer Raymond Schultz of the Muscle Shoals Police Department, who responded to the burglary call, testified at trial that Hubbard was upset and angry about the burglary. (R. 463.)

Hubbard told everyone in the meeting on March 1 that he wanted to find and kill the person who burglarized his house. Hubbard asked the gang for help. Bates testified that in the meeting they developed a plan to find out who broke into Hubbard's house and then "lure him to a place" and kill him. (R. 749.)

Hammonds, who owned the Xbox game console stolen from Hubbard's house, testified that he told Hubbard at the meeting that Freeman might have taken the Xbox. Hammonds knew Freeman from working with him in the past, and he had seen a Facebook post by Freeman advertising an Xbox for sale. The gang developed a plan for Hammonds to meet with Freeman to see if the Xbox Freeman was offering to sell was Hammonds's Xbox. Although the plan changed throughout the meeting, the gist of the plan was that Hammonds (either alone or with Hamm) would meet with Freeman and, if the Xbox was the one stolen from Hubbard's house, Hammonds would signal to or call Young and Capote, who would take Freeman somewhere to interrogate and kill him. Hammonds testified that Young, Capote, and Hubbard planned to use Hubbard's SKS rifle and a pistol to kill Freeman. (R. 815.) Bates testified that besides the SKS rifle, Hubbard owned a .22-caliber revolver and a .45-caliber handgun. The State introduced an undated photograph showing Hubbard standing in his bedroom holding an SKS rifle.

Hammonds testified that he sent a message to Freeman on Facebook Messenger[2] about the Xbox. Hammonds and Freeman communicated throughout the day about Hammonds purchasing the Xbox from Freeman. Hammonds's Facebook Messenger exchange with Freeman was introduced at trial.

A little before 9:00 p.m., Young and his girlfriend, Meagan, along with Capote and his girlfriend, Bridgette, left Hubbard's house to buy ammunition for the SKS rifle. Meagan testified that Young drove Meagan's car to the Gander Mountain outdoor retail store in Florence. Young asked Meagan to buy the ammunition, and he told her what kind of ammunition to buy. The State introduced surveillance footage from Gander Mountain showing Meagan's car pulling into the Gander Mountain parking lot. Surveillance footage from inside the store showed Meagan buying the ammunition at 9:01 p.m., and a receipt from the store showed that Meagan bought a box of 7.62X39-millimeter ammunition. The surveillance footage showed Meagan returning to the car and the car leaving the parking lot. Meagan testified that after she bought the ammunition Young drove them back to Hubbard's house.

Around the time Young, Capote, Meagan, and Bridgette got back to Hubbard's house from Gander Mountain, Hammonds left to go to work at a Wal-Mart in Florence. At 9:28 p.m., Hammonds sent Freeman a message asking him to call him, and he gave Freeman his cellular telephone phone number. Freeman did not call Hammonds but sent a message asking if Hammonds still wanted the Xbox. Hammonds testified that he never arranged a meeting with Freeman and that when he left for work around 9:30 p.m., the plan was for Bates to "handle it" by setting up Freeman. (R. 823.) Hammonds said that Young, Capote, Hubbard, Bates, Hamm, and Blackburn were at Hubbard's house when he left for work and that the plan was for them to use "the white Ram" to "go kill him." (R. 826-27.) The State introduced Hammonds's time card from Wal-Mart showing that Hammonds clocked in to work a little before 10:00 p.m. on March 1 and clocked out a little after 6:00 a.m. the next morning.

Around the time Hammonds left for work, Bates sent Freeman a message on Facebook Messenger asking him if he had "11 hits" of acid he could purchase. (R. 757-58.) Bates explained that he volunteered to lure Freeman to the Spring Creek Apartments by asking Freeman if he could buy some acid from him. Bates admitted he knew he was setting up Freeman so that the others could kill him.

A little after 10:30 p.m., Young, Capote, Hubbard, and Hamm left Hubbard's house in a white pickup truck. Young was driving and Capote was in the front passenger's seat. Hubbard and Hamm were in the backseat. They had with them two large black garbage bags. Bates testified that he stayed at Hubbard's house and continued exchanging messages with Freeman. Bates relayed all the information he received from Freeman to one of the gang member's girlfriends, who was at the house with Bates, and the girlfriend relayed the information to Young, who was in the truck on the way to the Spring Creek Apartments.

The State introduced surveillance video from the Spring Creek Apartments showing a white four-door Dodge pickup truck pulling into the apartment complex around 10:47 p.m. Several minutes later Freeman sent Bates a message: "Boutta pull in. Just passed Fred's." Bates asked, "What kinda car u in cause im in the back." (C. 479.) Freeman responded at 10:58 p.m., "Blue Mustang. Pulling in now. The back on the right road or the left road." The surveillance video shows a blue Mustang vehicle pulling into the parking lot of the Spring Creek Apartments at 10:58 p.m.

Haley Burgner, Freeman's girlfriend, testified that on the afternoon of March 1 she and Freeman were communicating on Facebook Messenger. Freeman told her he planned to meet "Dewayne" to sell him an Xbox. (R. 508.) Freeman told Burgner that Tyler Blythe was with him in case anything "goes down." Later Freeman told Burgner that he was heading to meet "Vonte" to get some money that Vonte owed him. At 10:58 p.m., Freeman sent a message to Burgner that he was "getting my cash r[ight] n[ow]." The Facebook Messenger exchange between Freeman and Burgner was admitted into evidence.

Blythe testified that on March 1 he was with Freeman when Freeman asked him to ride with him to the Spring Creek Apartments to meet Bates. Blythe testified that Freeman pulled into the parking lot of the Spring Creek Apartment complex and parked the car. Blythe asked Freeman why they were there, and Freeman told Blythe they were there to sell some acid strips.

While they were sitting in Freeman's car in the parking lot, Blythe and Freeman turned around in their seats to look at a white pickup truck that had backed up in the parking lot. Blythe testified that they had just turned back around when Freeman looked in the rearview mirror and said something to Blythe and then, Blythe said, "they started shooting." (R. 556.) Freeman and Blythe were each shot several times. Blythe did not know how many shooters there were, but, he said, "it seemed like more than one." (R. 559.) Freeman was unresponsive at the scene and was pronounced dead a short time later. Blythe was taken by ambulance from the scene and airlifted to Huntsville Hospital, where he underwent surgery and was hospitalized for seven days.

Jodi Bohn testified that around 11:00 p.m. on March 1 she was looking out of her apartment window at the Spring Creek Apartments when she saw a white pickup truck back out of a parking space and stop next to a curb. Bohn saw the doors of the truck open. The driver and the front-seat passenger got out of the truck and started walking toward the back of the truck. Bohn heard gunfire that she thought came from more than one weapon, so she moved away from the window. Bohn described the driver of the pickup truck as "big and heavy." (R. 592.) The record shows that Young was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 270 pounds. (C. 72.)

Lt. Jeremy Wear of the Tuscumbia Police Department testified that he was working a car-accident scene on the night of March 1 when he heard gunshots around 11:00 p.m. Lt. Wear headed toward the gunshots and, while en route, his dispatcher advised him that there was a 911 call about gunshots at the Spring Creek Apartment complex. When Wear arrived at the Spring Creek Apartment complex he saw several people screaming and running. Several witnesses told Lt. Wear they saw a white...

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