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Sheffield v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

March 17, 2017

Larry Sheffield
v.
State of Alabama

         Appeal from Baldwin Circuit Court (CC-15-1577)

          JOINER, Judge.

         Larry Sheffield was convicted of murder, see § 13A-6-2, Ala. Code 1975, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Baldwin Circuit Court ordered Sheffield to pay a $1, 000 fine, a $1, 603 crime-victims-compensation assessment, and court costs.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The State's evidence at trial tended to show that Sheffield shot and killed Jeffrey McMillian. On July 19, 2014, Kimberly Paige and Latitia Lamley were bartending and Cathy McCary and Alfred Bean of the musical duo "Al and Cathy" were performing at Trader's Bar in Baldwin County. Paige, Lamley, McCary, and Bean testified that McMillian, Sheffield, and Sheffield's wife, Sheila, were at Trader's that evening. Bean testified that, during a break in his performance, he sat down at the bar to speak with a friend. Bean saw Sheila sitting at the bar, and McMillian was standing next to her. Bean testified:

"I heard a--I would say a shouting. And I turned and it was--Mr. Sheffield was coming out of the bathroom and he--shouting. And I think--and what I say was he hit Mrs. Sheffield in the back of the head with a slap.
"....
"When I heard him shout, I turned. And he came over behind her and hit her in the back of the head (indicating) with his palm. And at that point, Mr. McMillian pushed him and said, 'What's your problem?' And Mr. Sheffield punched him back."

(R. 187.) Bean heard Sheffield tell Sheila "that she could get a ride home with him, meaning Mr. McMillian."

         Hank Wilson, who went to Trader's on July 19, 2014, to see Al and Cathy perform, spoke with McMillian several times throughout the evening. At one point, he and McMillian went to the area of the bar where Sheila was sitting between two open spots. Wilson stood to Sheila's left, and McMillian stood to Sheila's right and began talking to her. Wilson then witnessed Sheffield--whom he identified in court--approach Sheila, slap her head, and pull her hair. Wilson heard Sheffield say to Sheila, "[Y]ou can fuckin' go home with him." Wilson saw Sheffield turn toward McMillian, say something that Wilson did not hear, and gesture toward McMillian with his finger before leaving Trader's.

         Lamley saw Sheffield shove Sheila and say that he was ready to leave. Lamley testified:

"Jeff [McMillian] kind of sat there and talked to me for a little bit. I had just given him another beer, so he sat there and talked to me. And he couldn't believe that Mr. Sheffield punched him in the face.
"....
"He kind of just kept over-thinking the situation, and then he asked me to watch his beer, he was going to go downstairs. I said, 'Well, they have already left, just let it go.' I tried to get him to stay in the bar but he just was upset with the whole situation and felt like he needed to go talk to Mr. Sheffield."

(R. 153-54.)

         Gwen Falkenberry, V.J. Autrey, Mike Smith, and Terri Smith were talking in the Trader's parking lot on July 19, 2014, when they each heard a "pop" that they assumed was a firecracker. Falkenberry "didn't think anything about it at the time" but when she turned to walk to her car, she saw McMillian lying on the ground and realized that the sound she heard was actually a gunshot. Falkenberry testified: "When I saw [McMillian] laying there, I ran--I ran over and I remember yelling and saying, 'What just happened? What did you just do?' And [Sheffield] said that he shot him and not to touch him. And then I turned around and screamed at my friends." Falkenberry testified that Mike Smith then ran over and "went off on Mr. Sheffield." Falkenberry testified:

"[Mike Smith] was yelling at [Sheffield], 'What did you just do? Why did you do this?' And then [Mike Smith] was--um, he was--he was hitting on [Sheffield]. He was--
"And then, um, he, Mr. Sheffield, said, 'I just used this once'--and had the gun right there. Said, 'I just used it once, I'll use it again."

(R. 343.) Falkenberry, Autrey, Mike Smith, and Terri Smith testified that they did not hear an altercation before hearing the gunshot and that the conditions in the parking lot were such that they would have heard an altercation had one occurred. Falkenberry identified Sheffield in court as the person who admitted to shooting McMillian.

         Investigator Richard Chenoweth with the Spanish Fort Police Department responded to the shooting. A .40 caliber Glock brand semiautomatic pistol was recovered from Sheffield; no other weapon was recovered from the scene, and McMillian appeared to have been unarmed. Investigator Chenoweth transported Sheffield to the police station and informed him of his Miranda[1] rights. Sheffield gave an audio-recorded statement, and the State played the recording for the jury. Briefly summarized, Sheffield's account of the incident went as follows:

Sheffield and Sheila arrived at Trader's between 9:30 and 10 pm on July 19, 2014. Throughout the evening, Sheffield observed McMillian speaking to several groups of people. Sheffield stated McMillian was "hitting on" and dancing with various women, and he believed McMillian was intoxicated. At one point, Sheffield stepped outside; when he returned, he saw McMillian "over there on top of" Sheila and assumed McMillian was drunkenly bothering her. Sheffield told McMillian to get away from his wife and said to Sheila, "Let's go, let's get out of here."
Sheffield left Trader's and was pulling his truck up to the entrance when McMillian came outside. Sheffield could not remember whether Sheila had made it to the truck, was walking down the entrance-way stairs, or had gone back inside Trader's at that time. Sheffield was outside the truck so he could help Sheila get into the truck when he realized McMillian was "hollering" that he was going to "beat my ass, " but at that moment, Sheffield did not know to whom McMillian was referring. McMillian then descended the stairs, jumped on Sheffield, threw him against the truck, and started beating the top of his head. McMillian knocked Sheffield's glasses off and his dentures out of his mouth, breaking them. Sheffield could not get McMillian off him, so Sheffield pulled his .40-caliber Glock from his right side and attempted to "pistol whip" McMillian. Sheffield had his finger on the trigger while he struggled to unholster the gun, and he feared McMillian might try to wrestle the gun away from him. Sheffield had his hand on the handle while he swung the gun down in an attempt to get McMillian off him. During the altercation, the gun went off, even though Sheffield had not intended to shoot McMillian. Sheffield initially thought he had not shot McMillian or that perhaps he had shot McMillian in the arm because McMillian "went away from" Sheffield, causing Sheffield to think McMillian had run away. McMillian twisted around and fell; McMillian did not move, and Sheffield saw blood and "couldn't believe it." Sheffield told Sheila and others to call emergency 911. A woman and a man approached, and the man pinned Sheffield to his truck and began hitting him until police arrived. Sheffield, who claimed he was in fear for his life, stated, "I thought I was acting in self-defense, ... the guy was beating the hell out of me. I'm an old man, I can't get out there and fist fight .... I didn't have no intention of shooting nobody." (State's Exhibit 84.)

         Dr. Stacy Turner, a medical examiner with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, testified as an expert in the field of forensic pathology. Dr. Turner, who performed McMillian's autopsy on July 21, 2014, testified that McMillian died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head and that "the gun was pressed up against the skin at the time it was fired." Dr. Turner recovered a bullet fragment from McMillian during the autopsy.

         In a hearing held outside the presence of the jury, the trial court considered the State's motion to introduce into evidence recorded telephone conversations between Sheffield and Sheila under Rule 804(b)(3), Ala. R. Evid.--the statement-against-interest exception to the rule against hearsay. The State argued that because Sheila had invoked her spousal privilege, she was an unavailable witness, and, as Sheffield's wife, Sheila's statements against Sheffield's penal interest were therefore also contrary to Sheila's pecuniary and proprietary interest. In response, Sheffield argued, among other things:

"We don't see how the statement that he murdered somebody is against her pecuniary or proprietary interest. I mean, he doesn't have a job. If anything, him going off to prison could be within her pecuniary and proprietary best interest. She makes statements on there about wanting to divorce him and leave him. Those would be along the lines of wanting to get rid of somebody. They're certainly not against her interest to courier in her opinion."

(R. 623-24.)

         The trial court allowed the State to admit the recordings under Rule 804(b)(3), Ala. R. Evid., because, the court stated, Sheila was an unavailable witness, and a reasonable person would not want her spouse to be sentenced to prison. The court offered to issue an instruction with respect to Sheila's unavailability as a witness and Sheffield's lack of opportunity to cross-examine her, but Sheffield declined such an instruction. The State played the recordings for the jury:

"SHEILA: Well, what caused the incident (unintelligible) then?
"SHEFFIELD: Say what?
"SHEILA: Huh? Alcohol? No. No. Not me. You were smoking a joint outside, and you, you turned your jealousy on some innocent soul, took his life, and now you're worried about your son? Okay.
"SHEFFIELD: Is he my son?
"SHEILA: Yes, he is.
"SHEFFIELD: Then what are you doing this to me for, then?
"SHEILA: I'm not going through this hell anymore, Larry. I am not going through it.
"SHEFFIELD: Ain't nobody done it to you, Sheila. All I done is ask you what's going on and you talking (unintelligible).
"SHEILA: What have you done? What have you done? You have hurt me. You have broken bones. You have killed innocent people. You have accused me of shit that I have not--
"SHEFFIELD: Sheila, the guy come down there. He come down there and jumped on me, Sheila. I was gone. I was through. I was through with him. You told me he went by me, I quit and left. That's--
"SHEILA: Larry, I know what happened. I know, I relive it every night ...

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