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Criminal Law: Death Penalty-Voir Dire-Photographic Evidence

Staff Report//July 22, 2019//

Criminal Law: Death Penalty-Voir Dire-Photographic Evidence

Staff Report//July 22, 2019//

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(1)Where a defendant in a first-degree murder case challenged his death sentence, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by sustaining the state’s motion to strike a prospective juror for cause because the juror’s ambiguous statements created uncertainty about whether the juror could apply capital punishment, and the judgment is affirmed because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling the defendant’s objections to the admission of photographs from the victim’s cell phone or of the defendant’s other guns, which were not used in the crime, there was no plain error from statements made at closing argument and the procedure allowing the court to impose a death sentence when the jury deadlocks does not violate the Sixth Amendment.

(2) Where the defendant randomly abducted, raped and murdered a child,  the death penalty was not disproportionate in comparison with other cases, and there was no indication that he was sentenced to death based on any improper factors.

Prejudicial error

Dissenting opinion by Stith, J.: “I disagree with the principal opinion’s determination it was not prejudicial error to permit the prosecution to introduce testimony and some 29 photographs of weapons and gun accessories that were not used in the murder. I also disagree with its handling of the prosecution’s intentional reference to evidence of the family’s wishes for a death sentence, for such evidence is categorically inadmissible. The error was compounded by the fact the prosecutor had purposely kept out evidence that the victim’s mother did not wish a death sentence to be imposed.

“Finally, while I agree the jury made the three factual determinations required by section 565.030.4 and, therefore, the statute permitted the judge to determine whether to impose a death sentence, I disagree with the principal opinion that the third of the four questions the statute requires does not require the jury to make a factual determination. It does. It requires the jury to weigh and balance the evidence supporting mitigation with the evidence in aggravation – a weighing and balancing each of our jurors is called on to make every day in our courts. The principal opinion’s conclusion otherwise makes question three merely redundant of question four, which allows the jury to exercise mercy even if it has not found any of the three facts set out in questions one, two or three that would have required imposition of a life sentence.”

Judgment is affirmed.

State v. Wood (MLW No. 73588/Case No. SC96924 – 56 pages) (Supreme Court of Missouri, Fischer, J.; Wilson, Russell, Powell, and Breckenridge, JJ., concur; Stith, J., dissents in separate opinion filed; Draper, C.J., concurs in opinion of Stith, J.; Breckenridge, J., concurs in section III of the opinion of Stith, J.) Appealed from circuit court, Greene County, Mountjoy, J. (Rosemary E. Percival, Kansas City, Missouri, for appellant) (Daniel N. McPherson, Jefferson City, for the state).

RELATED: Supreme Court affirms man’s death sentence

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