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Sparre v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

December 19, 2019

DAVID KELSEY SPARRE, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee. DAVID KELSEY SPARRE, Petitioner,
v.
MARK S. INCH, etc., Respondent.

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

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Duval County, Elizabeth Anne Senterfitt, Judge - Case No. 162010CF008424AXXXMA And an Original Proceeding - Habeas Corpus

          Robert S. Friedman, Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Stacy R. Biggart, Assistant Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Northern Region, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellant

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Janine D. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellee

          PER CURIAM.

         David Kelsey Sparre appeals the denial of his motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death filed under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851 and petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), (9), Fla. Const. For the reasons below, we affirm the denial of Sparre's postconviction motion and deny his habeas petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of Sparre's case were fully set out in this Court's decision on direct appeal. See Sparre v. State, 164 So.3d 1183, 1186-88 (Fla. 2015). In summary, after meeting Tiara Pool on Craigslist, Sparre stabbed her to death in her Jacksonville apartment and stole several items of her property, including her car. Id. at 1186-87. At trial, the State argued that Sparre committed first-degree murder under both premeditated and felony murder theories, with burglary as the underlying felony. Sparre conceded that he killed the victim but argued that he had "no prior plan to murder" her and thus had not committed premeditated murder, id. at 1189, and he further argued that he had not committed the underlying burglary.

         In addition to Sparre's concession to killing the victim, both through his trial counsel and through the admission of Sparre's video-recorded interview with law enforcement during which Sparre admitted to killing the victim with her kitchen knife, id. at 1188, the evidence presented to Sparre's guilt-phase jury included testimony from Sparre's former girlfriend that "prior to his arrest Sparre had confessed to her that he had killed a black woman in the victim's Jacksonville apartment," id. at 1189; testimony from the medical examiner that the victim "was alive and conscious through at least 88 sharp-force injuries, which included thirty- nine defensive wounds," id. at 1187; testimony from law enforcement "that the crime scene was 'cleaned' to such an extent that virtually no evidence of [the victim's] assailant was recoverable," id.; testimony from a DNA expert that although "he was able to rule out ninety-nine percent of the world's population . . . Sparre and [the victim] were possible contributors to the mixture of DNA material found on the murder weapon," id.; and testimony that several items of the victim's property were missing, id. After hearing the evidence presented at trial, Sparre's jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, finding both that the killing was premeditated and that it was done during the commission of a felony, namely burglary. Id. at 1189.[1]

         During the penalty phase, Sparre waived the presentation of substantial mitigation evidence proffered by his defense counsel, and Sparre's jury unanimously recommended a death sentence. Id. at 1189-91. After holding a Spencer v. State, 615 So.2d 688 (Fla. 1993), hearing, at which Sparre again waived the presentation of substantial mitigation proffered by defense counsel, the trial court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Sparre to death. 164 So.3d at 1191-93.[2] We affirmed Sparre's conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Id. at 1202.[3]

         Thereafter, Sparre filed the motion for postconviction relief at issue in this appeal. Following an evidentiary hearing on some of the claims, the circuit court entered an order denying relief as to all claims. Sparre appeals the circuit court's denial of his postconviction motion and also petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus.

         II. POSTCONVICTION APPEAL

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel

         Sparre first argues that trial counsel was ineffective (1) for failing to request a continuance to investigate Sparre's competency to waive the presentation of mitigation to his penalty-phase jury; (2) for failing to file the defense sentencing memorandum with the clerk of court; (3) for failing to impeach the trial testimony of the medical examiner with his deposition testimony; (4) for failing to consult with and retain a forensic pathologist; (5) for extensively attacking the victim during closing argument and for failing to explain how the evidence supported Sparre's defense that he "snapped" and committed the killing in a frenzy, rather than with premeditation; and (6) for failing to object to improper statements by the prosecutor during the guilt- and penalty-phase closing arguments. Sparre further argues that the cumulative effect of trial counsel's errors entitles him to relief.

         To prove a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must establish two prongs, deficient performance and prejudice, both of which are mixed questions of law and fact:

First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984); see also Bolin v. State, 41 So.3d 151, 155 (Fla. 2010).

         Regarding deficiency, there is a strong presumption that trial counsel's performance was not ineffective but rather was sound trial strategy, and the defendant bears the burden to overcome it. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690. A court must consider "whether counsel's assistance was reasonable considering all the circumstances." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. "[S]trategic decisions do not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel if alternative courses have been considered and rejected and counsel's decision was reasonable under the norms of professional conduct." Darling v. State, 966 So.2d 366, 382 (Fla. 2007) (quoting Howell v. State, 877 So.2d 697, 703 (Fla. 2004)).

         Regarding the prejudice prong, "[t]he defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different," where "[a] reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id.

         The postconviction court's factual findings are reviewed for competent, substantial evidence, while its legal conclusions are reviewed de novo. Bolin, 41 So.3d at 155. Further, "because the Strickland standard requires establishment of both prongs, when a defendant fails to make a showing as to one prong, it is not necessary to delve into whether he has made a showing as to the other prong." Waterhouse v. State, 792 So.2d 1176, 1182 (Fla. 2001). Where trial counsel is deficient in more than one area, however, we must "consider the impact of these errors cumulatively to determine whether [the defendant] has established prejudice." Parker v. State, 89 So.3d 844, 867 (Fla. 2011).

         (1) Continuance

         Sparre first argues that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a continuance to investigate Sparre's competency to waive the presentation of mitigation to his penalty-phase jury after Sparre disclosed that he had stopped taking his prescribed antipsychotic medication. We affirm the denial of this claim.

         Although due process requires that a criminal defendant be competent to proceed at every material stage of a criminal proceeding, see generally Caraballo v. State, 39 So.3d 1234, 1252 (Fla. 2010), "not every manifestation of mental illness demonstrates incompetence to stand trial; rather, the evidence must indicate a present inability to assist counsel or understand the charges," Card v. Singletary, 981 F.2d 481, 487 (11th Cir. 1992) (quoting United States ex rel. Foster v. De Robertis, 741 F.2d 1007, 1012 (7th Cir. 1984)). In Sparre's case, competent, substantial evidence supports the circuit court's finding that trial counsel was not deficient.

         This evidence includes the trial court's finding, during the penalty-phase waiver colloquy at which Sparre disclosed his medication stoppage, that Sparre was "lucid" and "answered appropriately" when questioned about his desire to waive mitigation. It also includes statements by trial counsel immediately prior to the colloquy that counsel had "no reason to believe that there's any incompetency issue" and that Sparre had "responded properly to questions" posed by his defense team and "articulated certain ideas for argument," but had elected to waive mitigation against the advice of counsel.[4]

         Trial counsel's testimony from the postconviction evidentiary hearing also supports the circuit court's finding that trial counsel was not deficient. This includes testimony that the defense team had no concerns about Sparre's competency or any questions as to whether Sparre was validly waiving the presentation of mitigation. To the contrary, trial counsel testified that Sparre "was adamant" about not wanting mitigation presented on his behalf from the early stages of the case, when he was taking his medication, meaning that Sparre's desire to waive "wasn't last-minute," and that "it seemed as if [Sparre] was making a conscious decision that he wanted . . . the jury recommendation to come back death."

         Moreover, the "doubts" as to Sparre's competency raised by Sparre's postconviction expert, Dr. Harry Krop, were based on Sparre's diagnosed psychosis and Sparre's self-reporting that he had stopped taking the medication prescribed to treat it. However, Dr. Krop acknowledged that, based on Sparre's jail records and spotty medication-compliance history, it would be difficult to state definitively whether Sparre was medicated on the day he waived mitigation. Dr. Krop also testified that he was concerned-based on Sparre's prior self-reporting of hearing the voice of someone named "Tommy"-by Sparre's statement during the waiver colloquy that Sparre had discussed the waiver with himself in addition to discussing it with his defense team. However, nothing in the record indicates that Sparre equates himself with "Tommy" (rather, Dr. Krop testified that Sparre refers to "Tommy" as his "friend"), that Sparre was hearing "Tommy's" voice at the time of his waiver, ...


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