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Heyne v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

April 6, 2017

JUSTIN CURTIS HEYNE, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF FILED, DETERMINED.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Brevard County, William David Dugan, Judge - Case No. 052006CF019237AXXXXX

          James V. Viggiano, Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, and Chelsea Rae Shirley, Maria E. DeLiberato, and Julissa Fontán, Assistant Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Middle Region, Temple Terrace, Florida, for Appellant

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida; and Stacey E. Kircher, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, Florida, for Appellee

          PER CURIAM.

         Justin Curtis Heyne filed an initial motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851, which the trial court denied after holding an evidentiary hearing. For the reasons expressed below, we affirm the denial of the guilt phase claims but remand for a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v. State, 202 So.3d 40 (Fla. 2016) petition for cert. filed, No. 16-998 (U.S. Feb. 13, 2017).[1]

          BACKGROUND

         Heyne was convicted for the 2006 murders of Sarah Buckoski, Benjamin Hamilton, and five-year-old Ivory Hamilton. Heyne v. State, 88 So.3d 113, 117 (Fla. 2012). He was sentenced to death for Ivory's murder. Id. When affirming the convictions and death sentence on direct appeal, this Court described the background as follows:

On March 30, 2006, Sarah Buckoski returned to her home with her five-year-old daughter, Ivory Hamilton, to find Heyne and Ivory's father, Benjamin Hamilton, engaged in a verbal dispute. The dispute centered on money Heyne owed to Benjamin and took place in the master bedroom, a 12-by 13-foot room in which law enforcement later discovered drug paraphernalia and several pounds of marijuana. Heyne worked with Benjamin and was temporarily residing with Benjamin, Sarah, and Ivory in Titusville, Florida. Heyne was 24 years old. Benjamin and Sarah were 26 and 24, respectively.

As the argument escalated, Heyne began to feel disrespected. He started to walk away when he heard Benjamin cock a 9-mm gun. Heyne left, retrieved a .38 Special from his room, and then returned to the master bedroom to continue the argument with Benjamin. The two argued while holding their respective guns but did not point them at one another while arguing. Heyne pushed Benjamin onto the bed. At some point during the dispute, Ivory entered the room, prompting Benjamin to drop the 9-mm. Heyne picked up Benjamin's 9-mm. Benjamin told Ivory to leave the room, and she turned to walk out.

         In its sentencing order, the trial court detailed the shootings as follows:

Benjamin Hamilton was shot at a distance of no more than four or five feet. At that point, Sarah Buckoski dove to the floor on the far side of the bed near the wall and started screaming. The defendant shot her next. She was shot one time, but the bullet passed through her arm before it entered the center of the back of the head. At that point, Ivory began to pull on the defendant's shorts and the defendant shot her one time in the head at point blank range.
When law enforcement arrived on the scene, Benjamin was struggling for air on the bed, Sarah was on the floor next to the bed in a fetal position screaming, and Ivory was lying on the floor without a pulse. An autopsy revealed that just prior her death, Ivory was slapped in the face in a manner violent enough to cause a rupture of the blood vessel beneath the skin. A bullet fired from Heyne's .38 Special was found in her skull.
After the shooting, Heyne ran out of the back door with his gun in a pillowcase and with marijuana and cocaine he took from the master bedroom. Heyne called a friend, Roxanne Larabie, and asked her to pick him up. Larabie testified that Heyne admitted to shooting Benjamin and Sarah and that when she asked about Ivory, Heyne "just looked at me and said she was gone." Larabie helped Heyne obtain new clothes identical to the ones he was wearing. When they arrived at Larabie's house, Heyne washed the new clothes in an effort to make them appear worn. He removed his old shoes and clothes, wrapped up his gun in the pillowcase, and put all of the items in a box in Larabie's attic. Law enforcement retrieved the items and discovered bloodstains matching Benjamin's DNA profile on Heyne's pants and the pillowcase.
Heyne was apprehended and questioned regarding the murder, and a videotape of the interrogation was played for the jury at trial. Initially, Heyne denied that he was at the house at the time of the murder. But when an investigating officer interrupted the interrogation with news that Heyne's gun, bloodied clothing, and pillowcase were discovered in a box in Larabie's attic, Heyne confessed to shooting Benjamin and Sarah and acknowledged seeing Ivory "go down." At the time, Heyne could not remember shooting Ivory and repeatedly denied that he would have shot her on purpose. However, he acknowledged shooting both the 9-mm and the .38 Special and directed the interrogating officer as the officer drew a diagram of the room depicting the placement of Heyne and all three victims during the shootings. Heyne said that his argument with Benjamin began as a non-violent confrontation in which Benjamin never threatened him or pointed his gun in Heyne's direction.
At trial, Heyne advanced the theory that he shot Benjamin and Sarah in self-defense, specifically suggesting in closing arguments that Sarah may have been trying to access a shotgun under the bed. As for Ivory, Heyne argued that the evidence supported an accidental shooting. The prosecution attempted to foreclose the possibility of self-defense and accident, relying heavily on the diagram drawn during Heyne's interrogation to show that the relative positioning of Heyne and the victims precluded either scenario. Ultimately, the jury found Heyne guilty of first-degree premeditated murder of all three victims.
At the penalty phase, Heyne presented mitigation testimony from former educators, family members, and evaluating psychologists. His former educators attested to Heyne's status as a special education student, and his family members testified that he was a caring but difficult child. Dr. Joseph Wu testified that imaging from a PET scan showed damage to Heyne's temporal and parietal lobes, evidencing learning difficulties, causing problems regulating aggression and impulse, and making addiction to alcohol and drugs more likely. Dr. Wu also testified that imaging was consistent with a history of traumatic brain injuries and specifically noted two concussions Heyne suffered as a child, another head injury when Heyne was incarcerated in 2004, and a slow processing speed relative to his IQ score of 88. Dr. William Riebsame diagnosed Heyne with ADHD and possible bipolar disorder-one or both of which caused Heyne to have impulse control disorder-as well as cocaine and alcohol use and dependence at the time of the ...

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