DWAYNE F. WHITE, Appellant,
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF
Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Seminole County,
Kenneth Russell Lester, Judge - Case No. 592011CF004012A000XX
S. Purdy, Public Defender, and John M. Selden, Assistant
Public Defender, Seventh Judicial Circuit, Daytona Beach,
Florida, for Appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida; and Vivian
Singleton, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach,
Florida, for Appellee.
F. White, who was forty-one years old at the time of the
offense, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of
his estranged wife, Sarah Yvonne Rucker, who was forty-three
years old at the time of her death. By a vote of eight to
four, the jury recommended that White be sentenced to death,
and the trial court imposed a death sentence. This is
White's direct appeal of his conviction of first-degree
murder and sentence of death. We have jurisdiction.
See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const.
reasons that follow, we affirm White's conviction of
first-degree murder but vacate his death sentence because we
cannot conclude that the Hurst v. State
(Hurst), 202 So.3d 40 (Fla. 2016), error is harmless
beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we remand his case to
the circuit court for a new penalty phase.
evidence introduced at trial during the guilt phase
established the following facts. Dwayne Fitzgerald White and
the victim, Sarah Yvonne Rucker, had been involved in a
romantic relationship since 1988. Although White and the
victim were married at the time of the murder, they had
become estranged and lived in separate houses. White lived in
Orlando, Florida, with his girlfriend of eight years. The
victim lived in a house she owned with White in Deltona,
Florida, with their four children.
approximately two a.m. on August 29, 2011, White unexpectedly
arrived at the victim's home. Dwayne White, Jr.
("Dwayne"), the couple's eldest son, who was
approximately seventeen years old at the time of the
incident, awoke to the sound of the dog barking and went to
the window, where he saw his father, White, walking up the
called to his mother to alert her that White was outside, but
White walked into the house and told Dwayne he wanted to
speak with him. White spoke with Dwayne in his room for a few
minutes while the victim went outside.
end of the conversation with White, Dwayne stayed in his room
while White walked outside to see the victim. Dwayne then
heard his younger sister yelling for him. Dwayne went outside
in response and observed a beer bottle flying toward the
victim. He saw the victim on her back, with her hands up
holding her cell phone, and White attempting to pry her phone
from her hands. White eventually was able to take the phone
and then got in his car and drove away. Dwayne had to
restrain his mother from going after White as he left with
the altercation the victim was on the phone with an emergency
dispatcher, who was reached by dialing 911. She made five
calls to 911 between 1:56 and 2:01 a.m. A recording of the
calls was entered into evidence and played for the jury at
trial. The victim can be heard on the calls telling White:
"Don't hit Dwayne, stop the violence. You are so
violent. Stop. Just stop." She also stated: "He
scared me. I'm tired of this. He is always doing this. .
. . I just need to get my phone back."
victim told the 911 operator that White came over to the
house that night because he was mad that the victim was no
longer romantically interested in him. At one point, the
victim told the operator: "I'm going to have to get
me a gun and blow his head off for coming into my yard."
She continually emphasized how badly she needed to get her
phone back and how important it was to her, even stating at
one point, "I'm going to go find him myself."
She told the operator that it was critical that she have her
phone because she worked at a surgical center and was on call
that night. She could be called in at a moment's notice
and could be fired if she did not have her phone. The victim
told the 911 operator this was not the first time this had
happened. White had stolen two other phones from her and gone
through all of her phone calls and text messages.
also saw White's pocket knife, which he often carried
with him, clipped to his pants pocket that night. After White
left, Dwayne left the house intending to go down the street
to his neighbor's house to get a shotgun for protection
in the event that White might return. Dwayne did not make it,
however, as the victim went after him and was able to bring
him home. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived at the
victim's residence. White called Dwayne's phone while
the police were there. Dwayne handed the phone to the
officer, who intended to convince White to come back to the
victim's house and return her phone; however, White
immediately hung up.
the police left, White called Dwayne's phone again. When
Dwayne answered the phone, White told him to go in to the
bathroom by himself. White then told Dwayne that it was not
Dwayne's place to be involved in his parents'
business. White told Dwayne that he needed the victim to take
back her report of the crime. At that point, the victim came
into the bathroom, snatched Dwayne's phone, and began
yelling at White that she needed her phone ...