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State v. Martin

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

December 15, 2017

State of Alabama
v.
George Martin

         Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court (CC-99-2696.80)

          JOINER, Judge.

         The State of Alabama appeals the circuit court's dismissal with prejudice of the capital-murder indictment returned against George Martin by a Mobile County grand jury.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In June 1999, Martin was indicted for one count of murder made capital pursuant to §§ 13A-6-2 and 13A-5-40(a)(7) (defining as capital "[m]urder done for a pecuniary or other valuable consideration"). The State's evidence at trial tended to show the following: At approximately 11:30 p.m. on October 8, 1995, police and firefighters responded to the area of Willis Road and Highway 90 in Mobile County to find a burning 1991 Ford Escort automobile that had collided with a tree. Inside the vehicle were what appeared to be charred human remains; the victim was determined to be Hammoleketh Martin, Martin's wife. Hammoleketh was alive when the fire started and died as a result of smoke inhalation and body burns. Martin, who was an Alabama State Trooper at the time of Hammoleketh's death, was ultimately arrested and charged with capital murder. While incarcerated, Martin allegedly told Clifford Davis, a fellow inmate, that he had killed Hammoleketh.

         A brief summary of the circumstantial evidence the State presented at Martin's trial is as follows:

"'The investigations revealed that the fire was intentionally set. According to the evidence, the fire started in the right rear passenger compartment and spread forward. The minimal damage to the front of the vehicle precluded any conclusion that the impact of the car with a tree in the area could have started the fire; rather, the evidence was uncontroverted that the scene was consistent with a staged wreck.
"'A traffic homicide investigator from the Alabama Department of Public Safety testified that he examined the vehicle and the scene in question. He conducted speed calculations of a vehicle and analyzed the kind of force that would have been necessary to cause such a fire. He concluded that the fire was not an accident and the collision of the vehicle with a tree did not produce sufficient force to start the fire.
"'[Martin], when initially notified by officers of the Mobile Police Department that his car had been found with a body in it, stated that he had last seen his wife at approximately 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. that evening. He stated she left the house without telling him where she was going and that he fell asleep watching a football game on television. He initially stated that he had awakened at approximately 1:00 or 1:30 in the morning and, after noticing that his wife was not home, decided to go look for her.
"'[The State] introduced evidence of several inconsistencies in [Martin's] various statements. Among the inconsistencies were the time that he awoke to discover his wife missing, that the victim carried a gasoline can in her automobile with her because the gas gauge did not work, and that a BIC lighter found at the scene was used by his wife, the victim, as a flashlight because the dome light in her car did not work. The evidence also established that the defendant was less than honest when questioned about the existence of life insurance policies insuring the life of his wife, Hammoleketh Martin. Though [Martin] acknowledged the existence of a policy insuring his wife's life for $200, 000, he lied when he stated there were no other policies. In particular, another policy insuring the life of Hammoleketh Martin for $150, 000 was introduced into evidence and, according to the State's evidence, this amount was collectible only if Hammoleketh Martin died in a passenger vehicle.
"'The State also introduced evidence of a Traffic Accident Investigation Report prepared by [Martin] approximately one year prior to the death of his wife. The report involved a traffic accident in which an automobile left the road, hit a tree, and burst into flames. The State contended that the report of [t]his incident, which was [Martin's] version of what occurred, was strikingly similar to the occurrences of one year prior.
"'The State linked the evidence of the insurance proceeds with the purported financial difficulties of the defendant. According to the prosecution's testimony, [Martin's] financial condition had deteriorated to the point where he was approaching bankruptcy.'"

Martin v. State, 931 So.2d 736, 740-41 (Ala.Crim.App.2003), rev'd in part, 931 So.2d 759 (Ala. 2004)(footnote omitted).

         State's witness James Taylor also testified that he saw an African-American male driving a state-trooper car in the vicinity of the crime scene on the night of the murder. Moreover, during closing statements, the State argued: (1) that Martin, who is African-American, fled the crime scene on a bicycle he had planted there earlier; (2) that, other than Martin's relatives, no one had ever seen a gasoline can in Hammoleketh's vehicle; and (3) that the jury could infer from Taylor's testimony that Martin was the state trooper Taylor had seen.

         Martin's defense theory was that he did not kill Hammoleketh and that he did not know who, if anyone, did. Martin speculated during opening arguments that Hammoleketh's death could have been the result of an accident, that an unknown person carjacked and killed Hammoleketh, or that Hammoleketh committed suicide.

         Martin was convicted, and the jury recommended by a vote of 8-4 that he be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Martin to death. After his conviction and sentence were ultimately affirmed on direct appeal, Martin filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition for postconviction relief alleging that the State had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to him, thus violating Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). After an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court granted Martin's Rule 32 petition and held that he was entitled to a new trial.

"The circuit court held, among other things, that the prosecution had suppressed several pieces of material evidence that were favorable to the defense. Specifically, the circuit court held that the State improperly suppressed: (1) certain statements made by witness James Taylor during his discussions with police officers on April 22, 1997, and May 8, 1997, (2) an identification made by Taylor from a photographic lineup on May 8, 1997, (3) statements made by the victim's sister[, Terri Jean Jackson, ] concerning the presence of a gas can in the victim's vehicle, (4) statements made to police officers by witness Norma Broach, and (5) evidence concerning two anonymous telephone calls received by law enforcement officers."

State v. Martin (No. CR-12-2099, December 12, 2014), 195 So.3d 1077 (Ala.Crim.App.2014)(table).[1]

         Specifically, Taylor had made a statement to the case agent, Major Thomas Calhoun, describing the person he saw in the state-trooper car as "a big man who filled up the car"; Martin, however, was not a large man. Taylor had also identified Trooper Grayling Williams from a photographic lineup of African-American male troopers as being the size of the man he saw in the trooper car; Martin's photograph was included in the lineup, and Taylor did not identify Martin in any way. Hammoleketh's sister, Jackson, had also stated to Major Calhoun that she had seen a gas can in Hammoleketh's car approximately one month before the murder, which was contrary to the State's argument at Martin's trial that only Martin's relatives had seen a gas can in Hammoleketh's vehicle. Norma Broach, who was at a Texaco gasoline station located near the crime scene on the night of the murder, made statements to police that pointed to a different possible suspect; Broach had seen a white male fill up two large gas cans at the Texaco and watched him move a heavy object from a small black car into the passenger seat of the cab of a camper truck. Finally, the State suppressed evidence of anonymous telephone calls to police indicating that Trooper Williams was involved in Hammoleketh's murder.

         On appeal from that ruling, this Court, in an unpublished memorandum, held that the "circuit court's finding that the State violated Brady through its suppression of Taylor's photographic identification and his comments from his May 8, 1997, police interview is sufficient to support the trial court's holding that Martin is entitled to a new trial." State v. Martin (No. CR-12-2099, December 12, 2014), 195 So.3d 1077 (Ala.Crim.App.2014)(table).[2]

         While preparing for a new trial, Martin moved the circuit court, pursuant to Rule 16.5, Ala. R. Crim. P., to dismiss the capital-murder indictment with prejudice both as a sanction for misconduct by the State and because the resulting prejudice precluded Martin from receiving a fair retrial. In response, the State argued that its misconduct was not willful and that a new trial would cure any prejudice that had resulted from the discovery violations. The State, citing State v. Moore, 969 So.2d 169 (Ala.Crim.App.2006), and State v. Hall, 991 So.2d 775 (Ala.Crim.App.2007), asserted that this Court, when given the opportunity, has never affirmed a circuit court's dismissal of an indictment as a sanction for a discovery violation. Martin argued in response that Moore and Hall are factually distinguishable from his case.

         The circuit court held a hearing on Martin's motion, and Martin and the State offered evidence and arguments. The circuit court ultimately dismissed the indictment on the grounds that the State's misconduct was willful and that the resulting prejudice to Martin could not be corrected by a new trial. In its order dismissing the indictment, the circuit court incorporated by reference certain findings it had made in its order granting Martin's Rule 32 petition. The circuit court also incorporated by reference, and adopted as its findings, certain statements of fact in various filings by Martin. For clarity's sake, before recounting the evidence introduced at the hearing on Martin's motion to dismiss, we set out the various findings the circuit court made by incorporation from other filings.

         With respect to Norma Broach, the circuit court found:[3]

"On the night of October 8, 1995, Broach and her husband stopped to get gas at the Texaco station at the corner of Willis Road and Highway 90. As their van approached the service station, with her husband driving, Broach saw a small black car and a white camper truck parked alongside Highway 90 pointing South. As previously noted, Hammoleketh Martin drove, and her body was found in, a black 1991 Ford Escort hatchback--a small black car.
"Broach testified at the Rule 32 evidentiary hearing that she saw a man exit the camper truck and lean his upper body into the black car. She then witnessed him return to the camper truck, retrieve a large gas can, and drive the camper truck into the Texaco station. Broach testified that the man parked the camper truck reasonably close to the location of the Broaches' van and then retrieved a second gas can from the camper truck. Broach described the gas cans as maybe two feet long and perhaps one foot wide and said they were similar to what you might see attached to a military jeep.
"Broach testified that her van and the camper truck were parked in the service station such that she had to turn to see the camper truck and observe what the man was doing. Broach testified that she witnessed the man walk into the Texaco's mini-mart and walk out. She testified that the man she saw was white.
"Broach testified that, after exiting the Texaco's mini-mart, the man opened the back door of the camper, which swung wide, allowing her to see the interior. She testified that she saw a mattress, a bag of clothes, and a bag of groceries, and witnessed the man straighten some sheets in the back of the camper. Broach testified that the man then moved the camper truck close to the pumps and filled both of the gas cans he had taken out of the camper, from one of the pumps, while looking at her.
"Broach testified that the man walked around the Broaches' van looking in all of the windows and at the van's tags, then put the filled gas cans in the camper, and drove back to the black car on Highway 90. Broach testified that she saw the man park the camper truck beside the black car so that the black car continued to be facing South while the camper truck was facing North. Broach testified that the back of the camper truck was close to the front of the black car, and that the camper truck was parked in such a way that she could look through the window of the camper's truck cab and see a portion of the black car.
"Broach testified that she was watching the man continuously. She saw him get out of the cab, open the back of the camper truck, open the passenger door of the cab, look over his shoulder, and go between two vehicles. At no time did he put gas from either of the two cans into the gas tanks of either the camper truck or the black car. Broach testified that she next saw him, between the two vehicles, backing up and dragging a heavy object, stooped over, with arms extended. She then watched him push the heavy object into the passenger side of the cab of the camper truck. Broach testified that she then witnessed the man get into the driver's side of the camper truck, make a U-turn, and speed down Willis Road."

(Record in CR-12-2099, C. 2052-54; internal citations omitted.)

         Regarding the gas can Hammoleketh's sister Jackson told Major Calhoun she had seen in Hammoleketh's car, the circuit court stated:[4]

"Hammoleketh Martin drove a black 1991 Ford Escort hatchback. The State spent a significant amount of time during Martin's trial attempting to discredit Martin's statements to police, and his testimony to the effect that Mrs. Martin would carry a gas can in the backseat floorboard of her car because the gas gauge did not work. For example, in her closing argument, Assistant Attorney General Grant argued to the jury:
"'George [Martin] told the police, well, she had a problem with that gas gauge. She had to carry around a gas can. Oh, boy, we've heard about this mysterious gas can. There was no gas can in that car. There was no gas can. The arson investigators told you they couldn't find any remnants. There would have been remnants [sic] of a gas can in that car had it been there ... you would have had melted plastic that would have been recognizable as being from a red gas can .... Where was the gas--this mysterious gas can kept? ... The one place we know it wasn't was inside Hammoleketh Martin's car.'
"The prosecution also attempted to demonstrate that the witnesses who corroborated Martin's statements and testimony regarding the gas can were related to, and thus presumably biased in favor of, Martin. For example, in his rebuttal closing argument, Assistant Attorney General Valeska argued to the jury:
"'Why in the world do all of Defendant's relatives come in here and talk about a gas can when none of her friends saw it?'
"It is apparent to this court that the State's Attorneys had not seen petitioner's Exhibit 51[5] at the trial. If they had, it would be hard to square their closing arguments with their obligations as attorneys as set out above. Indeed, if the State's Attorneys had this document in their possession when making their closing ... argument, and that was shown by a preponderance of the evidence, the court would be in a position to find prosecutorial misconduct. However, no such evidence was shown to the court.
"Evidence that Mrs. Martin did, in fact, have a gas can with her in her car would have supported the defense's theory that the fire was the result of an accident. The record reflects a belief on the part of the State that convincing the jury that there was no gas can in Mrs. Martin's car at the time it caught fire was an important element of their case against Martin.
"Martin pled in his third amended petition that the State violated the constitutional mandate announced in Brady and its progeny by failing to produce evidence in its possession that ... Mrs. Martin's own sister could have corroborated trial testimony that Mrs. Martin carried a gas can in her car. ...
"On May 10, 1997, Major Calhoun interviewed Terri Jean Jackson, Hammoleketh Martin's sister. Major Calhoun took handwritten notes of that interview, which were admitted at the Rule 32 evidentiary hearing as petitioner's Exhibit 51. Major Calhoun's notes reflect that, in her statements to the [Mobile Police Department], Terri Jean Jackson stated that she had seen a small red plastic gas can in Hammoleketh Martin's car.
"Following the Alabama Supreme Court's March 11, 2011, order requiring the State to produce the contents of its investigation file relating to Hammoleketh Martin's death to Martin's Rule 32 counsel, the State claimed work-product privilege as to a number of documents contained in that file, including petitioner's Exhibit 51. After conducting an in camera review of those documents that the State asserted were protected by the work-product privilege, this court ordered the State to produce certain of these documents, including petitioner's Exhibit 51, to Mr. Martin's Rule 32 counsel.
"The State does not dispute, and the court finds, that the State withheld petitioner's Exhibit 51, Major Calhoun's handwritten notes from the State's May 10, 1997, interview with Terri Jean Jackson, from Martin's trial counsel.
"The State asserts that a type-written version of petitioner's Exhibit 51, introduced at the Rule 32 evidentiary hearing as State's Exhibit 7, was provided to Martin's trial counsel. The sole evidence submitted by the State in support of that contention was the testimony of Major Calhoun.
"For the reasons previously discussed, including the inconsistent and unreliable testimony offered by Major Calhoun at the Rule 32 evidentiary hearing, the court does not find Major Calhoun's testimony to be reliable or credible evidence showing that State's Exhibit 7 was produced to Martin's trial counsel.
"Martin's trial counsel, [Dennis] Knizley, testified at the Rule 32 evidentiary hearing that he did not recall ever seeing State's Exhibit 7. He testified that Terri Jean Jackson's statement would have been 'memorable, ' stating, '[i]t's a pretty biting piece right there.' Knizley testified that the statement would have been an important piece of evidence to Martin's defense because it rebutted the State's argument that only relatives of Martin claimed to have seen the gas can. Knizley's co-counsel, [Kenneth] Nixon, likewise testified that he did not recall ever seeing State's Exhibit 7 and believes it would have been important. The court finds this testimony of Martin's trial counsel credible.
"The court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the State withheld State's Exhibit 7 from Martin's trial counsel. The court further finds that both petitioner's Exhibit 51 and State's Exhibit 7 were favorable to the defense. Terri Jean Jackson was Hammoleketh Martin's sister. Her statement to [Mobile Police Department] that she saw a red gas can in Mrs. Martin's car would have corroborated Martin's testimony and his prior statements to police and would have precluded the State from arguing to the jury that only Martin and relatives of Martin had claimed to see a gas can in Hammoleketh Martin's car. ..."

(Record on postconviction appeal, C. 2039-42; internal citations omitted.)

         With respect to the gas can allegedly kept in Hammoleketh's car, the circuit court found:[6]

"The State [suppressed] the interview report of Terri Jean Jackson, Mrs. Martin's sister, and then used the fact of suppression to buttress its false argument to the jury. Ms. Jackson reported seeing a gas can in Mrs. Martin's car less than a month before her death. The prosecutor necessarily knew this and had to prepare the very argument offered to the jury without rebuttal--that the only witnesses who claimed to see a gas can in Mrs. Martin's car were 'only Martin and relatives of Martin.' The prosecutors knew this was not true, but they knew the defense could not prove it. The prosecution knew that the presence of a gas can in the burned out car would strongly support a theory that the fire was accidentally caused. For this reason, ... the State withheld the statement of Ms. Jackson."

(C. 642-43; internal citations omitted.)

         Regarding the anonymous telephone calls, the circuit court found:[7]

"The State treated the exculpatory anonymous calls that it received in precisely the same way that it treated Mrs. Broach's observations--as obstacles to its prosecution of Mr. Martin. Law enforcement made no effort to track down the caller or callers, and minimal effort was made following up with the potential suspects. Investigators superficially asked Trooper Grayling Williams about the anonymous call and his whereabouts on the night of October 8, 1995, without any meaningful investigation. Trooper Williams endured none of the repeated interrogations and extensive investigation to which Mr. Martin was subjected.
"Incredibly, more evidence pointed to Trooper Williams as a suspect than to anyone else. The State knew, as this Court and the defense now know as well, that Williams was on duty in the area the night Mrs. Martin died, that he purported to clock out early from his shift, that he was implicated by an anonymous witness and that he was in all likelihood the trooper seen on Larue Steiner Road by James Taylor at a time long after he purportedly clocked out from his shift. Moreover, Williams's own conduct indicated culpability. Williams changed his story three separate times, and falsely denied knowing, and ever being in, the area. Mr. Martin's original trial counsel was adamant that, if he personally had the anonymous call information, he would have tracked the caller by checking phone logs for the number and checking cameras downtown to the extent it was from a public phone. This method of simple follow-up investigation was ignored by the State. The only possible explanation for the State ignoring such a significant lead is that the State already was fixed on their previously selected 'defendant'--Mr. Martin. It is now far too late for all of those important efforts in an investigation to be attempted."

(C. 637-38; internal citations omitted.)

         With respect to the bicycle tracks, the circuit court found:[8]

"[T]he State argued to the jury that Mr. Martin must have used a bike to travel from the scene of the car fire to his home. The State acknowledges, and the evidence demonstrates, that officers investigated the scene of the fire days later to search for, among other things, bike tracks. No bike tracks were discovered. The State relied on the unsupported contention that Mr. Martin allegedly rode a bike home from the scene of the fire but withheld evidence that would establish that no bike was ridden from the scene. ...
"But the investigator's effort to locate bike tracks and its unsuccessful results were not disclosed to the defense. The State did not create any reports or memoranda. Instead, as investigators did with all other facts inconsistent with their theory of the case against Mr. Martin, the investigators ignored and buried this information."

(C. 638; internal citations omitted.)

         Regarding Martin's supposed confession to Clifford Davis while Martin was incarcerated, the circuit court found:[9]

"Mr. Martin offered his full cooperation and submitted himself to numerous lengthy interviews. Throughout it all Mr. Martin vigorously maintained his innocence. Having failed to secure a confession from him, however, the State had to create one, and it ultimately did so by planting a jailhouse snitch who incredulously obtained four purported confessions from inmates charged with serious crimes, including Mr. Martin.
"The State contends that in jail, guilty people have to talk about what they did. While common sense suggests otherwise, at least in Mr. Martin's case, this contention is disproved by the evidence. Mr. Martin had every phone call out of jail recorded, and no evidence has been presented that Mr. Martin ever suggested that he might have [had] anything to do with his wife's death in these recordings. If the State's contention was true (it is not), Mr. Martin would have confessed in these communications he engaged in with his family members and friends, but he never did. Mr. Martin was well-known for almost never talking to anyone, including his own family about anything, and particularly anything personal. It is inconceivable that he would divulge detailed personal information to a small time crook like Davis whom Mr. Martin never knew before Davis was planted in his wedge at the jail.
"Major Calhoun claimed he believed that Davis was credible because Davis knew so much information about Martin. Yet, while Major Calhoun claimed Davis learned this information from Mr. Martin, at least most if not all of this exact same information was in Mr. Martin's file and available to anyone who had access to that file, including Major Calhoun. There is a distinct pattern in this case of the State's witnesses relating things differently after meeting with Major Calhoun than how they knew things before.
"Moreover, the State's claim that Davis is credible is without basis. This is the same Davis who, contrary to the State's contention that Davis has no record, was arrested for second-degree burglary and first-degree robbery. More significantly, a mere month before the original trial, after they had responded to a call that Davis was harassing his wife, Davis told investigating officers that he would 'fix' them because he claimed he was close personal friends with the [Attorney General] and Major Calhoun. When confronted with Davis's prior conduct, even Major Calhoun admitted that Davis was the type of person to lie to 'influence' others.
"The State also contends that Clifford Davis was offered no favors. This dubious contention appears to be undermined by the fact that an alleged first-degree-robbery charge on Davis's record was dropped because of a purported 'misidentification.' Major Calhoun had no information about what transpired with the second-degree-burglary charge against Davis.
"Moreover, the unusual manner in which Davis came by his confessions--he was switched into the wedge housing inmates with serious crimes for his purported protection--makes no sense and is highly suspect. Moreover, as this court observed, that 'may well have been' the procedure, but 'what's unusual is that we come out with suddenly people confessing crimes to a public drunk [Davis] where they [Mr. Martin] don't much talk to anybody else. That's sort of unusual.' But for the State, it did not have to make sense, as a confession was what it needed, and it got a concocted one with Clifford Davis. Despite legitimate and unanswered concerns over, among numerous other issues, the manner in which Davis was placed in the wedge; purportedly obtained four confessions shortly thereafter; had an undocumented interview by Major Calhoun; participated in a videotaped interview by [Assistant Attorney General] Valeska that had multiple, unexplained stops; changed what the alleged chokehold looked like between the videotaped interview and the original trial; and changed his testimony that [the] alleged chokehold 'killed' Mrs. Martin to 'subdued' Mrs. Martin only after the medical examiner opined that Mrs. Martin was alive during the fire--now that Davis may be medically unavailable, the State wants to sneak the testimonial 'confession' past the jury as legitimate and credible."

(C. 638-40; internal citations omitted.)

         Finally, with respect to James Taylor, the circuit court found:[10]

"At trial, Taylor testified that, shortly after 9 p.m. on the night of the murder, as he was driving to his place of employment, he saw a black state trooper in an Alabama State Trooper's patrol car sitting at a stop sign near the area where the victim's body and vehicle were later found. The patrol car's headlights were off, but its right turn signal was on. After Taylor passed by the patrol car, it turned right. At trial, no evidence was presented concerning the size of the state trooper that Taylor saw near the scene of the crime, and Taylor was not asked to ...

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