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Snelgrove v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

May 11, 2017

JULIE L. JONES, etc., Respondent.


         An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Flagler County, Joseph David Walsh, Judge - Case No. 182000CF000323XXXXXX And an Original Proceeding - Habeas Corpus

          James Vincent Viggiano, Jr., Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, and Richard E. Kiley and Ali Andrew Shakoor, Assistant Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Middle Region, Temple Terrace, Florida, for Appellant/Petitioner.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida; and Scott A. Browne, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, Florida, for Appellee/Respondent.

          PER CURIAM.

         David Beasher Snelgrove appeals an order of the circuit court denying his postconviction motion filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851 and simultaneously petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus.[1] For the reasons that follow, we affirm the denial of the postconviction motion and deny the petition for writ of habeas corpus, but vacate the two death sentences and order that Snelgrove receive a new penalty phase proceeding based on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. 616 (2016), and this Court's decision in Hurst v. State, 202 So.3d 40 (Fla. 2016), petition for cert. filed, No. 16-998 (U.S. Feb. 13, 2017).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Following a jury trial in May 2002, Snelgrove was convicted and sentenced to death for the June 2000 murders of Glyn and Vivian Fowler. In Snelgrove's initial direct appeal, this Court described the case as follows:

On Sunday, June 25, 2000, Glyn and Vivian Fowler were found dead in their home. The elderly couple had been brutally beaten and stabbed to death, as evidenced by multiple fractures and stab wounds spread throughout their bodies. Ultimately, Vivian died from a stab wound to the heart, and Glyn died of a brain injury caused by blunt force trauma to the head.
Evidence at the crime scene and in the surrounding area linked David Snelgrove, the twenty-seven-year-old nephew of one of the Fowlers' neighbors, to the murder. Snelgrove had recently moved in with his aunt and his cousin, Jeff McCrae, after being expelled from a drug rehabilitation program. Blood droplets matching Snelgrove's DNA were found throughout the house, as were bloody fingerprints and footprints matching Snelgrove's. A trained bloodhound followed a scent from the blood on the Fowlers' broken window to Snelgrove, and the police recovered a knife in the woods next to the Snelgrove home with blood matching Snelgrove's DNA. . . . .
Defense counsel . . . offered a defense to the State's case. It admitted to the burglary, but denied the murders. Specifically, the defense claimed that Snelgrove did, indeed, enter the Fowlers' home through the broken window, but only after the Fowlers had been killed by someone else. In the process of coming through the window, Snelgrove cut his hand. . . .
The jury . . . found Snelgrove guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of robbery with a deadly weapon, and one count of burglary of a dwelling with battery. On the two counts of first-degree murder, the jury found Snelgrove guilty of both premeditated and felony murder. In the penalty phase, the jury recommended the sentence of death by a vote of seven to five. However, this recommendation did not individually address the two capital murder convictions for which Snelgrove was to be sentenced. . . .
The circuit court sentenced Snelgrove to death on both capital murder convictions . . . .

Snelgrove v. State, 921 So.2d 560, 562-65 (Fla. 2005) (footnote omitted).

         On appeal, this Court affirmed Snelgrove's convictions but reversed his death sentences, holding that they were invalid because "the jury returned only a single, undifferentiated advisory sentence." Id. at 566. Accordingly, the case was remanded for a new penalty phase. Id.

         The second penalty phase began in January 2008. On the first day of jury selection, Snelgrove moved for a continuance for additional time to "test for mental retardation."[2] Snelgrove v. State, 107 So.3d 242, 247 (Fla. 2012). This Court explained the circumstances as follows:

According to defense counsel, on the night before jury selection, Dr. Robert M. Berland, a forensic psychologist who examined Snelgrove and testified at the first penalty phase, notified defense counsel of his recommendation to again test Snelgrove to determine whether Snelgrove was mentally retarded.[FN2] As Dr. Berland later explained, his recommendation was based on his understanding of the "Flynn Effect, " which describes the tendency of revisions to the Weshler [sic] Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) test to produce lower scores for the same person than previous versions. Dr. Berland testified that, because Snelgrove's previous score on the WAIS-R test was "borderline, " the WAIS-III test might produce a score in the retarded range. The trial court denied the motion to continue but allowed Snelgrove to proceed with the desired testing.
[FN2] In preparation for his first trial, Snelgrove completed the revised Weshler [sic] Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-R) test and scored a 78, within the "borderline range of intellectual functioning" and above the retarded range.
Following the second day of jury selection, Dr. Stephen Bloomfield, another forensic psychologist, conducted the requested WAIS-III test. Snelgrove indicated that his IQ score on the WAIS-III test was 70, a score consistent with "mild mental retardation." Therefore, on the third day of jury selection, defense counsel renewed the motion for continuance, arguing that the WAIS-III results merited additional testing and that the trial court should conduct a hearing to determine mental retardation pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.203. The trial court denied the renewed motion after noting its belief that a delay was unnecessary because a determination on retardation could be made any time prior to sentencing.

Id. at 247-48.

         After Snelgrove's IQ was retested by Dr. Bloomfield, the parties presented the following evidence to the penalty phase jury:

[T]he prosecution presented extensive evidence detailing the scene of the crime, injuries to the victims, and incriminating injuries to Snelgrove. The prosecution's evidence included expert testimony from forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Beaver, who testified that both victims bore defensive wounds and had been severely beaten, strangled, and stabbed in the context of a prolonged struggle involving significant pain and suffering. Dr. Beaver further testified that, unlike Mrs. Fowler, who lived through all inflicted injuries, Mr. Fowler was alive only through the beating and strangling and died just prior to the stabbings. There was no sign of sexual assault.
Snelgrove presented testimony from corrections officers, family members, and experts. Dr. Drew Edwards, an expert in cocaine addiction, testified that cocaine impairs one's judgment, decision-making, and behavioral control. Dr. Edwards also provided his opinion that Snelgrove was addicted to cocaine at the time of the murders, and he further expressed his opinion on cross-examination that Snelgrove would not have committed the crime if he was not intoxicated. Dr. Joseph Wu, an expert in PET scanning, testified that Snelgrove's temporal lobe and subcortical areas were asymmetrical, abnormalities "consistent with a history of possible trauma" and producing a "disproportionate response to an insult or provocation or threat." Dr. Wu also testified that cocaine can exacerbate abnormal functioning of the brain. Dr. Berland testified that Snelgrove exhibited signs of psychotic disturbance, specifically, depression and delusional paranoid thinking. Based on that result, Dr. Berland testified that Snelgrove was acting under an extreme mental or emotional disturbance and was substantially impaired in his capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law (but not in his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct).[FN3] Snelgrove presented his educational records to Dr. Berland, who was questioned regarding Snelgrove's placement in special education classes (ESE) as a child. And Dr. Bloomfield testified that he administered the WAIS-III test and that Snelgrove scored a 70, suggestive of mild mental retardation. However, Dr. Bloomfield testified that further testing was necessary for a diagnosis of retardation.
[FN3] On cross-examination, Dr. Berland clarified that he did not seek any information from Snelgrove or law enforcement regarding the crime and did not have the information necessary to form a causal link between Snelgrove's psychosis and the crime.
In rebuttal, the prosecution presented testimony from Dr. Lawrence Holder, a radiologist and nuclear medicine physician, who reviewed PET scan video and images prepared and analyzed by Dr. Wu. Dr. Holder testified that he observed no abnormality in the PET scan and instead found that Snelgrove's brain operated normally. The prosecution also played video of Snelgrove's statement to law enforcement and presented testimony from the officer who interrogated Snelgrove. The interrogating officer testified that Snelgrove appeared sober and aware throughout their contact.

Id. at 248. Based on this evidence, "[t]he jury recommended, by separate votes of 8-4 and 8-4, death sentences for each ...

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