FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF
Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Walton County,
Kelvin Clyde Wells, Judge - Case No. 662013CF000124CFAXMX
Thomas, Public Defender, and Richard M. Bracey, III,
Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit,
Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellant
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Jennifer L. Keegan, Assistant
Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellee
Trynell Davis, Jr., appeals his convictions and sentences of
death for the murders of John Gregory Hughes and Heidi Ann
Rhodes. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, §
3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we affirm
Davis's convictions but vacate the sentences of death and
remand for a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v.
State (Hurst), 202 So.3d 40 (Fla. 2016),
petition for cert. filed, No.16-998 (U.S. Feb. 13,
2017), due to the jury's nonunanimous recommendations of
death for both victims, which are not harmless beyond a
murders occurred on May 7, 2012. At the time of the murders,
Davis was twenty-six years old and had one child, Andreian
("Drey"), with Tiffani Steward, his on-and-off
girlfriend of several years.
victims, John Gregory Hughes and Heidi Ann Rhodes, were last
seen on May 7, 2012. Hughes was forty-nine years old. Rhodes
was almost forty-one years old. Rhodes' dog, Molly, who
went almost everywhere with Rhodes, was also missing. At the
time of their disappearance, Hughes and Rhodes had been
dating for approximately one year. The victims lived together
in Hughes' house in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, although
Rhodes also rented another property.
and Hughes knew each other from previously being incarcerated
at the same time. According to witnesses, the two stayed in
contact after their independent releases. Davis sold drugs to
9, 2012, Rhodes' employer, Ray Webb, became concerned
about Rhodes' well-being after she did not show up for an
appointment. Webb drove to Hughes' house and Rhodes'
house and found no one at either place. There was no sign of
Molly at either house. Webb, however, noticed "a lot of
cleaning materials, buckets and mops and things sitting in
the edge of the driveway" of Hughes' house.
days later, Webb reported Rhodes missing. At Webb's
request, the Walton County Sheriff's Office (WCSO) went
to Hughes' house to conduct a welfare check on Rhodes.
WCSO found no persons or vehicles present, but nothing seemed
out of the ordinary.
then received a missing-persons report from Rhodes'
sister, Cecaire McPherson. Rhodes' family had become
worried when Rhodes did not contact her mother on
Mother's Day. WCSO conducted welfare checks on Rhodes at
both Rhodes' house, which appeared to be in a normal,
lived-in condition, and Hughes' house, which appeared to
be empty. When the welfare checks did not locate Hughes or
Rhodes, WCSO initiated missing-person investigations.
sisters also went to Rhodes' house and Hughes' house
looking for the victims. Both houses were vacant, and
Rhodes' mailbox was completely filled. When they looked
inside Hughes' house, they saw a commercial mop bucket in
the middle of the living room floor. The only furniture in
Hughes' house was a pool table, and it looked like the TV
had been pulled off the wall. Hughes' 2003 Cadillac
Escalade EXT was not visible on the property.
were led to Davis as a person of interest in Hughes' and
Rhodes' disappearance through a series of transactions on
Hughes' bank card and several checks written to the order
of Davis from Hughes' bank account. When asked about
Hughes' disappearance in a series of interviews, Davis
told officers that Hughes paid him to load Hughes'
furniture into a rental truck and to later clean and manage
Hughes' residential property. Davis stated that (1) he
last saw Hughes and Rhodes when they left Hughes' house
in the rental truck full of furniture, though he did not know
where Hughes moved or how to contact him; (2) he remembered
Hughes saying that he was moving to Barbados to hide from
people to whom he owed money for drugs; and (3) Molly no
longer belonged to Rhodes.
18, 2012, officers executed a search warrant on a storage
unit at Freeport Storage that Davis and Donna Gee,
Davis's friend, were renting. Inside the storage unit,
officers found four barstools that belonged to
Hughes. Also that day, investigators interviewed
Cecil Galloway, Davis's friend, who said he had helped
Davis move furniture out of a house in Santa Rosa Beach.
Galloway did not remember seeing a male owner or female at
the house but remembered that, when he arrived, "the
dressers [in the house] were already emptied, " although
"the house appeared to have everything in it."
According to Galloway, everything in the house was loaded
into a yellow Ryder pick-up truck in about three hours.
10, 2012, officers executed a search warrant on Davis's
home in Argyle, Florida,  looking for Hughes' Regions Bank
debit card, which they did not find. Later that day, Davis
was arrested for grand theft of Hughes' vehicle and
credit card fraud related to use of Hughes' bank card.
Davis was in jail, law enforcement officers interviewed
Steward several times. However, she was not forthcoming with
information. On September 25, 2012, Davis was released from
jail. Following his release, Davis and Steward moved from
Argyle to Destin, Florida and rented for several months a
house referred to as "the Grand Key Loop house."
October 2012, WCSO found Hughes' Escalade, which had been
reported stolen, parked in the back of Kenneth Ingram's
property in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, covered by a tarp.
Ingram told officers that Davis had asked to park the
Escalade on his property. Upon searching the Escalade,
officers discovered that the back bench seat was missing, and
the back carpet had been roughly cut out. The carpet
remaining inside the Escalade had bleach stains, and the
interior was covered in mold. Cadaver dogs used in law
enforcement's investigation detected human remains inside
the Escalade. Galloway stated that he last saw the vehicle at
Davis's home in Argyle, where he helped Davis remove the
seat and carpet, which Galloway remembered being moist.
According to Galloway, when he asked Davis why they were
removing the seat and carpet from the Escalade, Davis said
that a body had been in the vehicle. Galloway also reported
seeing remnants of burnt carpet at Davis's home in
Argyle. Likewise, Steward recalled Davis burning the back
seat of the Escalade at his home in Argyle.
November 12, 2012, Steward met in secret with Investigator
Armstrong at her and Davis's previous home. Eventually,
the interview was relocated to the sheriff's office,
where Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Anchors and
Steward's attorney were also present. After the
interview, Armstrong arrested Steward under a warrant for
dealing in stolen property and took her to jail.
next day, Steward, with her attorney, met with the State
Attorney and recounted the entire story of what she witnessed
on May 7, 2012, and the weeks following. Steward was told she
would be given immunity for testifying against Davis. While
Steward had previously withheld information from law
enforcement as to the details of what happened that night,
she was the only witness, other than Davis, who could recount
at trial what happened at Hughes' house that night.
testified at trial that, on May 7, 2012, Davis was on his way
to Hughes' house when he stopped to see Steward. Because
she did not trust that Davis was loyal in their relationship,
Steward demanded that she go with him. On their way, Davis
told Steward that he knew Hughes was wealthy and intended to
kidnap Hughes and hold him for ransom. When they arrived at
Hughes' house, Steward observed that Hughes did not seem
to be expecting Davis. Nevertheless, Hughes invited Davis and
Steward to come inside and stay for dinner.
dinner, Steward drove Rhodes to Publix to purchase beverages.
Before they left the house, Hughes gave Rhodes his debit card
with the PIN to use for the purchase. At Publix, Steward
waited in the car while Rhodes went inside. While Steward
waited in the car for Rhodes, Davis called Steward's cell
phone several times, telling her to return to Hughes'
Steward and Rhodes returned to Hughes' house, Steward
entered through the front door ahead of Rhodes. According to
Steward, when Rhodes entered, Davis grabbed her, began
strangling and hitting her, and told Steward to lock the
door. Davis rendered Rhodes unconscious and then "drug
[Rhodes] into the bedroom" by her foot.
testified at trial that she saw Hughes' body lying
motionless on the floor in the master bedroom and heard
noises that sounded like snoring coming from Hughes.
According to Steward, "there was blood
everywhere"-around Hughes' head and on the floor,
wall, and nightstand in the master bedroom and on Davis's
clothing. In her statement to police that was read at trial,
Steward said Davis told her that while she and Rhodes were at
Publix, "he made Hughes open a safe and there was pills,
weed, and car title in the safe." Then, "[Davis]
said Hughes tried to run to his cell phone located on the
night stand." Steward told police that when she saw the
blood, Hughes was lying in front of the night stand.
both Hughes and Rhodes were unconscious and in the master
bedroom, Davis began filling the bathtub in the master
bathroom with water. While the bathtub was filling, Davis
asked Steward to get his backpack out of the car. Steward did
not know what was in the backpack.
testified that when she returned with the backpack, Davis
took duct tape out of the backpack and "wrapped it
around [Hughes' and Rhodes'] ankles." While
Davis wrapped their ankles with duct tape, the victims'
heads and shoulders were submerged in the bathtub. At this
point, Steward thought she heard a noise and told Davis that
the victims were still alive, to which Davis responded that
the noise was just gas leaving their bodies and that the
victims were dead.
the events that took place at Hughes' house on May 7,
2012, Steward begged Davis to let her leave and return home
to their son, Drey. Finally, after the victims were submerged
and bound in the bathtub, Davis let Steward leave Hughes'
house and indicated that he would be right behind her.
Steward testified that she last saw the victims submerged in
the bathtub in the master bathroom of Hughes' house.
Steward left Hughes' house in her Ford Edge that she and
Davis had driven to Hughes' house that night. Davis left
Hughes' house in Hughes' Escalade, following Steward.
Davis told Steward that he would return later to Hughes'
house to "clean up and get the bodies." Steward
testified that Davis threatened "that he would kill
[her] family . . . if [she] ever said anything [or]
admitt[ed] to being there with him" that night. Steward
testified that she believed these threats to be credible
because Davis had previously threatened her family's
days following the murders, Davis returned to Hughes'
house to clean, which included bleaching Hughes' entire
house and removing a portion of drywall that was covered in
blood. Davis told Steward that "he pulled the wall out
at the house, the wall that Mr. Hughes was laying on the
floor beside, because there was blood everywhere."
Investigator Sunday stated that "a large section of
drywall [in Hughes' house] . . . appeared to have been
cut away and did not appear to be anywhere on the
premises." Steward testified that Davis told her that
"he wrapped [the bodies] up and put them in the Escalade
for a couple of days."
next time Steward saw Davis-a day or two after the murders-he
was dragging a blue container from behind his house over to a
burn pit. Steward remembered that the "blue
container" "smelled really bad, and it looked like
it was really heavy." Steward assumed the victims'
bodies were inside the container. Davis later told Steward
that he had cut up the victims' bodies and burned them in
the burn pit. During her deposition, Steward remembered that
she heard Davis using a saw late one night. She said that she
believed Davis used a saw to cut up the victims' bodies
before burning them. Steward also remembered Davis
"bleaching the porch around the same area that [she]
heard the saw." Steward also saw a bench car seat in the
burn pit at Davis's house, which she knew was from
told Steward that he gave a bag of ashes to Galloway, who did
not know what the bag contained, and told him to dispose of
it. Steward also told law enforcement officers that she saw
Davis hand Galloway a trash bag. Galloway confirmed to law
enforcement that Davis gave him a trash bag of burned wood
and ashes in June 2012 and told him to get rid of it, which
he placed into the garbage can at the end of the driveway at
Davis's house in Argyle.
weeks following the murders, Davis rented a
U-Haul and moved Hughes' furniture and
personal belongings out of Hughes' house. Hughes'
family testified that several of these items had sentimental
value and had been passed down through Hughes' family.
Davis hired "laborers" to help him load Hughes'
furniture into the moving truck. Davis paid the laborers in
cash and gave them several of Hughes' items, including
scuba tanks, fishing rods and reels, and pool cues. Davis
instructed those close to him to lie consistent with his
story-for example, that the rental truck was a Ryder truck
rather than a U-Haul. Hughes' neighbors testified to
seeing a moving truck outside Hughes' house around this
time. Davis took some of Hughes' furniture to a storage
unit at Freeport Storage, which he and Gee rented. Other
furniture was taken to Davis's home. At Davis's
instruction, Steward sold some of Hughes' belongings to
pawn shops and on Craigslist.
weeks following, Davis forged three of Hughes' checks,
which he wrote out to himself. Davis also checked the
voicemail on Hughes' cell phone and used Hughes' cell
phone to call the 800 number on Hughes' bank cards to
check the account balances. In its sentencing order, the
trial court stated that Davis "looted John Gregory's
Hughes's bank accounts and stole nearly every piece of
property from his home."
Steward began cooperating with law enforcement, she gave
Investigator Armstrong permission to enter the Grand Key Loop
house. Steward then directed officers to some of Hughes'
clothes that were inside the house. Armstrong and Steward
then went to Hughes' house for Steward to show Armstrong
what happened on May 7, 2012. That same day, Davis was
arrested for a narcotics violation during a traffic stop due
to an outstanding arrest warrant from Okaloosa County,
Florida. During that stop, officers found a ...