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Guzman v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

February 22, 2018

JAMES GUZMAN, Appellant,


         An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Volusia County, Terence R. Perkins, Judge - Case No. 641991CF006795XXXAES

          Jeffrey D. Deen, Regional Counsel, Junior Barrett and Michael P. Reiter, Assistant Regional Counsel, Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Fifth District, Ocala, Florida, for Appellant

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, and Doris Meacham, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, Florida, for Appellee

          PER CURIAM.

         James Guzman appeals his convictions for armed robbery and first-degree murder and sentence of death.[1] For the following reasons, we affirm the convictions but vacate his death sentence and remand for a new penalty phase.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In September 1992, James Guzman was convicted for the August 10, 1991, armed robbery and first-degree murder of David Colvin and was subsequently sentenced to death for the murder conviction. On direct appeal, we reversed Guzman's convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that Guzman's right to conflict-free counsel was violated because his public defender had a conflict of interest. Guzman v. State, 644 So.2d 996, 999 (Fla. 1994).

         At retrial, Guzman was again found guilty of first-degree murder and armed robbery and sentenced to death. Guzman v. State, 721 So.2d 1155, 1156 (Fla. 1998). On direct appeal, we affirmed Guzman's convictions and death sentence. Id. at 1162. Post-conviction relief was denied, and we affirmed. Guzman v. State, 941 So.2d 1045, 1052 (Fla. 2006).

         Next, Guzman filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, and the court ruled in Guzman's favor based on a Giglio[2] and Brady[3] violation. Guzman v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corrs., 698 F.Supp.2d 1317, 1329-35 (M.D. Fla. 2010). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed and remanded Guzman's case for a new trial. Guzman v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corrs., 663 F.3d 1336, 1339 (11th Cir. 2011). Guzman now appeals his convictions and sentence of death following his third trial on these charges.

         The evidence at Guzman's third trial established that on August 12, 1991, police were dispatched to a motel after a motel employee discovered David Colvin's body lying face down on a bed in his motel room, covered in blood. There was blood spatter across the bed, pillows, and walls, and a fragment of Colvin's skull was located by the foot of the bed. The police also found a twisted and bent samurai sword in the room. However, there was no blood or fingerprints found on the sword. Colvin's blood alcohol level was .34 at the time of his death.

         The former testimony of Dr. Terrance Steiner, an interim medical examiner for Volusia County, was introduced into evidence because he was deceased at the time of the retrial. Dr. Steiner performed an autopsy, which revealed nineteen stab and incised wounds to Colvin's body. Colvin received eleven stab wounds to his face and scalp, four to his back, three to his chest, and one defensive wound to his left forefinger. One stab wound to Colvin's left chest was fatal because it cut his pulmonary artery and punctured his left lung, and Colvin would have lost consciousness anywhere from twenty seconds to two minutes after receiving this stab wound. The other stab wounds to his head also contributed to his death. Colvin's cause of death was blood loss and shock due to the multiple stab and incised wounds. Dr. Steiner determined that Colvin died on the evening of Saturday, August 10, 1991. Additionally, Dr. Steiner stated that the sword found at the scene was consistent with the wounds Colvin received.

         Allison Sylvester, the lead homicide detective on the case, testified that she responded to the crime scene on the morning of August 12, 1991. During the initial investigation, Detective Sylvester interviewed Martha Cronin and James Guzman, who lived together in a room at the motel. Guzman and Cronin denied knowing anything about Colvin's murder. However, Officer Robert Walker testified that several months later, in November 1991, when he arrested Cronin for violating her probation, Cronin became upset and said she had knowledge about a man who was killed in a motel room with a sword. Cronin also stated that she knew the location of a ring that had been stolen from the victim.

         At trial, Cronin testified that in August 1991 she met Guzman, and he moved into her motel room. They formed a business relationship where he protected her while she engaged in prostitution, and in return, Cronin paid for Guzman's room, food, and drugs. This eventually turned into a romantic relationship. At some point after Guzman moved in, Guzman, while fiddling with his survival knife, told her that it would be easy to rob Colvin because he was old, drunk, and known to carry money. At the same time, Guzman also said, "A dead witness can't talk."

         On the morning of Saturday, August 10, 1991, Guzman told Cronin that he was taking Colvin to run some errands. Upon return, Guzman showed her that he had Colvin's keys. Cronin then left the motel room to engage in prostitution. When she returned around 2:30 or 3 p.m., Guzman was not in the room. A short time later, Guzman returned to the room, carrying a garbage bag with rags or towels in it and went straight to the bathroom. Then, Guzman left the room with the bag and returned a minute later without it. Guzman sat down and told Cronin, "I did it." She asked him what he did, and he clarified, "I killed David." He said he stabbed Colvin with a samurai sword and showed Cronin a ring and money. Cronin examined the ring and saw that it appeared to have blood on it. She testified that it was the same ring that Colvin wore. Cronin told Guzman to get rid of the ring, and he left the room, taking the ring with him. Guzman returned later without the ring and said that he gave the ring to a drug dealer known as "Paco" in exchange for money and drugs.

         Officer Walker testified that he found "Paco, " whose real name is Leroy Gadson, Jr., and recovered the gold ring. At trial, Gadson testified that in 1991 he was a drug dealer and occasionally sold Guzman drugs. Moreover, in August 1991, Guzman went to him and asked to trade the gold ring for drugs.

         The former testimony of Paul Rodgers, Guzman's former cellmate, was presented because he was deceased at the time of the retrial. Rodgers testified that Guzman initially told him that he thought a man named Curtis Wallace killed Colvin. Then, Guzman changed his story and said that he killed Colvin. Guzman explained that he used Colvin's key to enter his motel room in order to rob him. At first, Colvin was asleep and Guzman rummaged through Colvin's drawers. But Colvin woke up, and Guzman used a samurai sword that was hanging on the wall to kill Colvin while Colvin was sitting on the bed. Guzman was unsure about the exact number of times he stabbed Colvin, but estimated that it was ten or eleven times. Afterwards, Guzman cleaned the room, took Colvin's ring and $600, and went back to his motel room. Later, Guzman traded the ring for drugs.

         Robert Harris, a gas station attendant, testified that on August 10, 1991, at about 10 a.m., Colvin came into the gas station with a man who was wearing a black vest and a black leather chauffeur's cap. Additionally, Margaret Post, a waitress, testified that on the morning of August 10, 1991, Colvin and Guzman came into the IHOP where she worked, and she waited on them. Guzman was wearing a black leather hat, black leather vest, and a pair of jeans. She noticed that Colvin was wearing his gold ring, and she described Colvin as very intoxicated.

         Leroy Parker, a crime-lab analyst, responded to the motel to perform bloodstain-pattern analysis. Parker testified that based on his observation and analysis, Colvin was on the bed at the time of his murder. Parker explained that the bloodstains high on the wall were created from a forceful impact with the victim. He determined that the sword found at the scene was consistent with the blood spatter evidence. Also, Kelly May, a senior crime-laboratory analyst, testified that Guzman's fingerprints were on Colvin's vehicle and the telephone inside Colvin's room.

         In Guzman's case-in-chief, he presented testimony from Carmelo Garcia, a former inmate who was incarcerated with Guzman. At some point during their incarceration, Garcia told Guzman that a prostitute confided in him that she lied to the police, which led to a man named "Chico, " Guzman's nickname, being falsely imprisoned. Later, Garcia found out that this prostitute was Martha Cronin.

         Guzman also testified in his own defense. He stated that on the morning of August 10, 1991, he drove Colvin around town, making stops at a gas station, a local bar, and an IHOP. While they were at IHOP, Curtis Wallace stopped by their table and asked Colvin about money Colvin owed him. Colvin stated he would pay Wallace after they got back to the motel. Colvin and Guzman returned to the motel sometime before noon, and they each went to their own room. Guzman claims that was the last time he saw Colvin.

         Next, Guzman went out with Cronin on the street, where she engaged in prostitution. Cronin gave Guzman a signal to wait on the street for her, but after she did not return within 20 to 30 minutes, he decided to go back to the motel room. Cronin returned to the motel room around 1 or 2 p.m. with Wallace. Cronin was wearing a ring that she got from Wallace, and she asked Guzman to take the ring to Gadson to sell it for drugs. Guzman ...

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