FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Pinellas County,
Philip J. Federico, Judge - Case No. 522010CF003759XXXXNO
L. "Rex" Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Julius J.
Ausilio, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit,
Bartow, Florida; and Craig Alan Wall, Sr., Pro Se, Raiford,
Florida, for Appellant
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, Marilyn M.
Beccue and C. Suzanne Bechard, Assistant Attorneys General,
Tampa, Florida, for Appellee
case is before the Court on appeal from convictions of
first-degree murder and sentences of death. We have
jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla.
Const. Based on the following, we affirm the convictions and
sentences of death.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Wall, Sr., Appellant, was charged by indictment with two
counts of first-degree murder for killing his fiancée,
Laura Taft, on February 17, 2010, and their five-week old
son, Craig Wall, Jr. (C.J.), on or between February 5 and 6,
2010. During six years of various court proceedings, Wall
switched between pro se and attorney representation.
Eventually, on February 13, 2015, Wall pleaded guilty to
Count One-the murder of Taft-and no contest to Count Two-the
murder of C.J.
plea agreement, Wall agreed with the State that the death
penalty was the appropriate sentence. Thereafter, Wall waived
a penalty phase jury and proceeded pro se during the penalty
phase, offering little mitigation. The trial court appointed
independent special counsel for the purpose of presenting
additional mitigation that may exist. On June 3, 2016, Wall
was sentenced to death on both counts of first-degree murder.
gave birth to C.J. on December 30, 2009. Wall, Taft, and C.J.
all lived together, along with Taft's six-year-old son
from a prior relationship, Connor, who lived with them part
time. At around 7:30 a.m. on February 5, 2010, Taft left for
work. About three hours later, Wall called 911 and reported
that C.J. was not breathing. Paramedics arrived at around
10:45 a.m., and found that C.J. was not breathing, he was
unresponsive, and cyanotic. C.J. was taken to the hospital,
where doctors found bleeding in his eyes and brain, and also
rib fractures. Doctors suspected that the injuries were
caused by child abuse, so they reported the case to law
enforcement who interviewed Wall. Detectives with the
Clearwater Police Department questioned Wall about the events
preceding C.J.'s death.
indicated that Taft left their home around 7:30 a.m., and he
was alone with C.J. between her departure and the
paramedics' arrival. Wall claimed that when he awoke at
about 10 a.m., C.J. was propped up on a pillow beside him in
bed. He said that C.J. was wet and making noise like he was
hungry. Then, Wall contended that he gave C.J. a bottle and
left him on the couch in the living room, while he made
himself breakfast. At that point, C.J. did not appear to be
told investigators that he heard C.J. cough and went back
into the living room to find C.J. limp with his eyes
"slitted like he was sleeping, but he wasn't."
Wall started to change C.J.'s diaper and took him to the
bathtub. According to Wall, C.J. was limp that entire time.
Then, Wall ran cold water over C.J. to get him to respond. At
one point, Wall blew into C.J.'s mouth and mucus came out
of his nose. When Wall removed C.J. from the bathtub, he
could hear his heart beating, but he did not detect
breathing. Wall then placed C.J. on a bed and dried him off
with a towel and a hair dryer set to low. Next, Wall brought
C.J. back into the living room and attempted to squeeze his
ribs because he did not know how to do CPR. Eventually, Wall
placed C.J. on the floor and called 911.
the interview, Wall was confronted with the fact that C.J.
suffered a brain injury. Upon further questioning, Wall
brought up the term "shaken baby syndrome." At
various points, Wall vacillated between accepting blame for
C.J.'s injuries and claiming not to know how they
occurred. In fact, Wall stated, "I fu---- killed my
son." Wall repeatedly stated that Taft was a
good mother who had not harmed C.J.
being confronted with C.J.'s brain injury, Wall discussed
a near car accident. On February 3, 2010, two days before
C.J. became unresponsive, Taft was nearly involved in a car
accident with C.J. in the backseat, but she was able to stop
her vehicle in time. Following that incident, Taft stopped
the vehicle and checked on C.J., who appeared fine.
Initially, Wall acknowledged that he did not think that the
near accident could have caused C.J.'s injuries, but
later in the interview he began suggesting that such event
was the cause. The same day as the near accident, C.J. was
circumcised. Doctors told Wall not to feed C.J. for fifteen
minutes after the procedure, but Wall fed him a bottle in his
truck anyway. Following that, C.J. "threw up
massively" in the truck. The next day, February 4-one
day prior to C.J. becoming unresponsive-Wall noted that C.J.
had a temperature of ninety-three degrees and that he
regurgitated in his bouncy chair.
February 5, after C.J. was taken to the hospital, Dr. Sally
Smith examined him. C.J. had a hemorrhage on his brain, his
pupils were dilated and unreactive, and he had retinal
hemorrhages. This combination of injuries led Dr. Smith to
suspect that someone physically abused C.J. Specifically, the
injuries suggested "abusive head trauma, " which is
the result of "high-force acceleration/deceleration
rotational trauma to the brain, often . . . by violent
shaking, but [it] can be also caused in the course of the
child being swung around." C.J.'s brain was so
swollen that it protruded through an opening in the dura
matter, which is a thick membrane covering the surface of the
brain. An autopsy later determined that the cause of death
was blunt-force trauma.
to Dr. Smith, this type of brain injury would not be caused
by a vehicle stopping when it never impacted another object.
She continued, "Even with an impact, extensive bilateral
retinal hemorrhages are exceedingly rare in any kind of car
crash, let alone one that doesn't involve an
impact." Dr. Smith concluded that an infant with
C.J.'s injuries would not have been able to survive for
twenty-four hours without medical attention if those injuries
were caused by a car accident. In fact, Dr. Smith testified
to a time frame for these injuries:
In cases like this where the baby died of these injuries, the
progression to that sort of critically ill condition and
impending death would occur probably within minutes of the
original trauma. It might be an hour or two, but it would be
quickly following injury to the brain.
infant with C.J.'s injuries would not have been able to
drink a bottle, and would only be able to make certain noises
such as grunting or gasping for air. Thus Dr. Smith testified
that it would be "highly unlikely" for a child to
still be alive at 10:45 a.m. having received C.J.'s
injuries prior to 7:30 a.m.
Thogmartin, Wall's witness, opined that any brain injury
from the birthing process could be completely ruled out as
the cause of death. Further, Dr. Thogmartin testified that
while rebleeding may occur in old brain injuries, an injury
would not rebleed to the extent of a chronic subdural
hematoma. In Dr. Thogmartin's opinion, C.J. suffered a
brain injury about one week prior to his death, but was
reinjured "right around the time of death." Also,
Dr. Smith noted C.J.'s rib fractures. These fractures
were posterior fractures, adjacent to the spinal column,
which "are highly specific for child abuse as the
cause." Because infant ribs are somewhat flexible,
posterior rib fractures are not caused by CPR. Instead,
posterior rib fractures in infants are caused by "high
force compression or distortion-type forces applied to the
ribs where they end up breaking across the adjacent
spinal." Dr. Thogmartin testified that these fractures
were not from CPR; rather, this was a "squeeze the life
out of the rabbit squeeze" most likely from an
"extreme inflicted injury."
February 6, 2010, C.J. died.
Time Between C.J.'s and Taft's Deaths
in the day on February 6, Wall ingested sleeping pills to
attempt suicide. He made an emotional suicide video where he
denied harming C.J. Taft called law enforcement, after which
Wall was involuntarily committed to state custody on mental
health grounds and taken to Morton Plant Hospital.
February 8, 2010, Taft filed a petition for temporary
injunction against Wall, citing domestic violence as the
basis for the injunction. The injunction was granted, and it
was served on Wall on February 9, 2010, while he was still in
the hospital. The next day, Wall was released. He sought
emergency hearings on the injunction to allow him to attend
C.J.'s funeral; however, the court was unable to schedule
a hearing on such short notice. So, on February 14, 2010,
Wall violated the injunction and attended C.J.'s funeral,
where he was arrested for the violation.
being transported to jail, Wall spoke with a fellow arrestee,
Danny Welker. According to Welker, Wall told him that Taft
"was lying, lying about him and that he was going to
choke the life out of her when he got out of jail." When
Welker suggested that Wall was exaggerating, Wall informed
him that he was not. Wall was released from custody on
February 15, 2010. By then, Taft had already moved out of
their shared apartment to a different residence.
about 3 a.m. on February 17, 2010, Taft's upstairs
neighbor, Christopher Thompson, returned home from working
the late shift. Thompson noticed a person sitting in a red
vehicle. That person, a male, exited his vehicle, walked
away, and then returned. Thompson continued into his
apartment, and, upon lying down for bed, he heard glass
shatter directly below his residence. "Within less than
10 or 15 seconds" of the glass breaking, Thompson heard
the "fearful" and "distressed yelling" of
a female. According to Thompson, the yelling continued for
thirty to forty-five seconds. Thompson attempted to call 911
and knocked on his roommates' door to wake them up. Then
he exited his front door and saw the same male he had seen
earlier walking toward the same red vehicle from the
apartment below. The man looked back over his shoulder and
Thompson saw him face-to-face. However, the man did not stop;
instead, he got into his vehicle and drove off.
Thompson found Taft in a seated position leaning against a
wall beside the doorway. Thompson tried to speak to Taft, but
he could only hear "gurgling noises from her
throat." Despite his efforts, Thompson could not tell if
Taft had a pulse. By that point, Thompson's roommate was
already on the phone with 911. The police arrived and took
Thompson to the police station to identify the man that he
saw leaving the scene. There Thompson identified Wall.
trial court found that Wall, armed with an "assault
style" knife, broke Taft's rear sliding glass door.
Then, Wall confronted Taft, and he violently attacked her.
The final blow, which was delivered to her left shoulder, was
delivered with enough force that the knife blade separated
from the handle and remained lodged inside her. The fatal
wound was a stab to her torso that entered her heart.
Moreover, Taft evidenced multiple defensive wounds.
case has a long, convoluted procedural history, most of which
is irrelevant to our decision today. Thus we only include the
portions relevant for these proceedings.
initially sought hybrid representation, with trial counsel
representing him as to C.J.'s death and Wall representing
himself as to Taft's death. At a hearing on February 27,
2013, the trial court denied Wall's request for
defense motion on April 12, 2013, to have Wall transported
for a psychological examination was denied. Wall took
exception to the State's comment that he might attempt to
escape during transport. In response, Wall said, "You
people are really idiots." The trial court warned Wall
about his behavior and, after a back-and-forth exchange, Wall
asked the trial court, "Are you done?" The trial
court again warned Wall that he would be removed from the
courtroom if he disregarded the rules. The hearing continued
and Wall later said, "[Y]our Honor was being, for lack
of a more legal term, a dick." As the hearing was
ending, the trial court thanked Wall, to which Wall
responded, "I tried to spare you." At that point,
the trial court stated:
Hopefully, the Supreme Court appreciates the patience
that I'm attempting to show in this situation
because that's what I'm trying to do every time
we're on the record as far as that's concerned. All
right. You guys have a good weekend.
1, 2013, Wall again moved for a
Faretta hearing due to a disagreement with
counsel, which the trial court refused to hear. The trial
court then removed Wall from the courtroom due to his
behavior. Trial counsel noted that the defense had not
requested the appointment of a psychologist because Wall had
refused to participate. The trial court stated that Wall
should be evaluated, or at least an attempt should be made at
an evaluation. Thus the trial court appointed Dr. Poorman,
the jail psychologist, to evaluate Wall to determine if he
was competent for self-representation. On May 29, 2013, Dr.
Poorman's report indicated that Wall was not competent to
represent himself, and Wall requested to be transferred to
Florida State Hospital for treatment and potential
reevaluation. Wall filed a motion to remove counsel, and on
July 18, 2013, that motion was denied along with Wall's
request to proceed pro se. By a pretrial hearing on August
29, 2013, Wall's security status changed because he
threatened to kill his attorneys, so he remained cuffed and
shackled in court. Wall claimed it would be easier for him to
proceed pro se because counsel was not communicating with
him, but the motion was denied.
at a pretrial hearing to remove counsel on December 13, 2013,
Wall complained of a disagreement with trial counsel.
Specifically, Wall disagreed with counsel's desire to
pursue a psychiatric defense and would not cooperate with the
psychologist: "[F]irst of all, you know, supposedly
I'm this evil white supremacist.
ain't talking to no fu ----- Jew. So you stop sending
Eisenstein at me." The trial court explained to Wall
that his goal of receiving the death penalty was inconsistent
with trial counsel's responsibility to mount a defense
and the concept of pleading no contest to C.J.'s death
was discussed. Then Wall raised case law from Indiana where a
court had allowed a defendant to plead guilty in exchange for
the death penalty. That offer was presented by Wall to the
State but was rejected.
counsel explained that the psychologist's religion would
not make a difference as Wall was determined not to cooperate
or speak to any psychologist, which Wall confirmed. Wall then
suggested that Dr. Poorman evaluate him again, which he would
comply with as long as it was an evaluation before a
Faretta hearing. During the course of the hearing,
the trial court said to Wall, explaining a previous in camera
hearing: "You can second-guess me. The Supreme Court
will have every chance to second-guess me. I don't have
any issue with that."
following hearing, on December 20, 2013, Dr. Poorman
testified that Wall was competent to represent himself. Her
earlier determination in May 2013, that he was not competent
to self-represent, was based on his behavioral issues, hunger
strikes, and unwillingness to cooperate with the evaluation.
However, on December 20, 2013, Dr. Poorman testified that
Wall had the ability to represent himself with the caveat
that he would need to control his vulgar language. Wall
indicated that he wanted to dismiss counsel and get new
attorneys. When the trial court asked if he wanted a
Faretta hearing, he responded that he had no choice.
The trial court noted that there was no sufficient basis to
remove counsel, so Wall chose to proceed pro se. The trial
court then conducted a Faretta hearing. However,
Wall's attorneys were ordered to remain on the case as
standby counsel over Wall's objection. Wall saw no
difference in that structure, so he decided to keep
representation by counsel and did not proceed pro se.
Wall disagreed with the trial court appointing a mitigation
specialist, he became irate:
I can't verify that she'll live. Straight up. That
bitch is-no. I can't even verify that she'll breathe
another day, including [trial counsel]. Establish that. I
might as well just go ahead and go all in.
the trial court ordered Wall removed from the courtroom, Wall
screamed back into the courtroom. After that comment, the
trial court remarked that hopefully this Court will review
that outburst if the case came here. On February 7, 2014, at
a Faretta/Nelson hearing, Wall indicated his
displeasure with trial counsel and noted that he was in the
psychiatric unit under suicide watch. Later, Wall decided to
proceed pro se again.
March 6, 2014, the trial court reaffirmed that Wall wished to
proceed pro se. Then the trial court denied Wall's motion
for continuance. The trial court reminded Wall that he had
been warned a continuance would not be granted due to lack of
preparation. At that point, the trial was scheduled for about
one month later and the parties had been previously
discussing pro se representation for six to eight months. The
trial court explained that Wall repeatedly admitted to
murdering Taft and stated multiple times that he wanted to
receive the death penalty. Wall responded, "Let's
make a deal." To which the trial court responded:
No, your dispute has been with the death of the child and
whether you're legally responsible for that, and my
understanding is that all of those experts that have been
listed are going to be called. The State does not need to
take their depositions.
So your defense, as far as the death of the minor child, is
going to be based on the testimony ...