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Towles v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

April 27, 2018

Kevin Andre Towles
State of Alabama

          Appeal from Etowah Circuit Court (CC-07-480.80)

          WINDOM, Presiding Judge.

         Kevin Andre Towles appeals his capital-murder conviction and sentence of death. Towles was convicted of murder made capital for the intentional killing of Geontae Glass, who was under the age of 14. See § 13A-5-40(a)(15), Ala Code 1975. The jury unanimously recommended that the circuit court sentence Towles to death. The circuit court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Towles to death.

         Towles was involved in a romantic relationship with Shalinda Glass. Shalinda had two children, Geontae Glass and Shaliyah Glass. The children considered Towles their father. Shalinda and her children sometimes spent the night at her apartment. They, however, often spent their nights with Towles at one of his two houses -- one located on Broad Street in Albertville and the other located on Shady Grove Road in Boaz.

         In December 2006, Geontae was a five-year-old boy in kindergarten at John S. Jones Elementary School in Etowah County. Kelly Page, Geontae's teacher, used a system to grade her students' conduct each day. Under her system, students who had behaved well received a smiling face, students who had received a warning or two for their behavior received a straight face, and students who had not behaved received a frowning face. On Friday, December 1, 2006, Page gave Geontae a straight face. Upon receiving the straight face, Geontae became upset, cried, and said that his "daddy [was] going to spank [him] when [he got] home." (R. 1898.)

         On the Saturday after Geontae had brought home the straight face on his conduct report, the family went to a barbeque restaurant that Towles owned and operated. While at the restaurant, Towles and/or Shalinda punished Geontae by making him stand in the corner all day. That night, Towles, Shalinda, and the children left the restaurant and went to spend the night at Towles's Shady Grove residence.

         The following morning, Shaliyah woke up and watched television in the den. While she was watching television, Shaliyah saw Towles lead Geontae through the den and outside of the house. Shaliyah heard Towles say that Geontae "had to pay." (R. 2216.) Later, Shaliyah saw Towles carry Geontae into the house, through the den, and toward some rooms on the other side of the house. Shaliyah never saw Geontae alive again.

         After Towles left Geontae in one of the rooms on the other side of the house, he joined Shaliyah in the den. Shaliyah saw that Towles was crying. Shaliyah watched television for a while, and then asked Towles to let her ride a four-wheeler type, all-terrain vehicle. Towles agreed, and the two of them rode four-wheelers for the rest of the day. Both Towles and Shaliyah testified that Towles took Geontae food Sunday evening. At some point, Geontae died from injuries he had received by being struck on the buttocks with a board.

         After Geontae died, Towles and Shalinda devised a plan in which they would put Geontae's body in Shalinda's car, drive to a gasoline station, and stage a car theft/kidnapping. Thereafter, between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. on Monday, Towles called Bobby Spidell, an individual he had known most of his life, and asked Spidell to come pick him up. Spidell drove his blue pickup truck to Towles's Broad Street residence, where he met Towles and Shalinda between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m., and they talked in the driveway for a while. Thereafter, Towles got into Spidell's truck and told Spidell to drive him to a Conoco brand gasoline station on Baltimore Avenue in Albertville.

         That morning Shaliyah got ready for school. When Shaliyah got in the car to go to school, Geontae's body was already in the backseat. Shalinda told Shaliyah that Geontae was asleep and to leave him alone. They then drove to the Conoco gasoline station on Baltimore Avenue. When they arrived at the gas station, Shalinda and Shaliyah left Geontae in the car and went inside the store. Once inside the store, Shaliyah tried to use the restroom, but it was out of order. She then went with her mother to the store clerk to purchase drinks and snacks.

         While Shalinda and Shaliyah were in the store, Spidell's truck pulled into the parking lot of the gas station. A person matching Towles's description got out of the truck, got into Shalinda's car, and sped away, followed by the truck. Meanwhile, Shalinda paid for Shaliyah's snacks, and they went outside where they saw that the car was missing. Shalinda then went to a pay telephone and telephoned Towles. When Towles did not answer his telephone, Shalinda telephoned 911 emergency and reported her car stolen and Geontae missing.

         After Shalinda reported Geontae missing, an AMBER Alert was issued for him, and City, County, and Federal law-enforcement officers became involved in investigating his whereabouts.[1] Shalinda, Shaliyah, and Towles were all interviewed by law-enforcement officers. During her interview, Shaliyah described the residence where she had been the preceding Sunday -- the Shady Grove residence. In his interview, Towles omitted any information about the Shady Grove residence but gave law-enforcement officers permission to search his Broad Street residence. While searching the Broad Street residence, officers noticed that the residence did not match the description given to them by Shaliyah. The officers also found a power bill for the Shady Grove residence in the name of Towles's wife, Vicky Towles.

         Thereafter, officers searched the Shady Grove residence and found Shalinda's car with Geontae's body in the trunk. They also found, among other things, illegal drugs, an assault rifle, a pistol, a bulletproof vest, and $33, 382. After officers located Geontae's body, Investigator Mike Jones of the Etowah County Sheriff's Office and Agent Brenn Tallent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Towles again. During the interview, Towles stated that he was responsible for what had happened to Geontae and that he did not want Shalinda charged in Geontae's death. Towles then told the officers that two or three masked men came to his Shady Grove residence to rob him and, during the robbery, caused Geontae's death.[2] Specifically, Towles told the officers that he was outside his Shady Grove residence on Sunday when masked men approached him and demanded that he bring Geontae to them. Towles complied with the masked men's demand. Once the men had Geontae, they demanded money. Towles said he gave the men approximately $15, 000. Before the men left, one of them took Geontae behind the house and beat him while another masked man held Towles at gunpoint. After the beating, Towles took Geontae inside the residence. Towles said that he knew Geontae was injured and planned to take Geontae to the doctor the next morning. Geontae, however, died from his injuries.

         Dr. Emily Ward, a state medical examiner, performed the autopsy on Geontae. Dr. Ward noted injuries all over Geontae's body that she considered to be nonlethal. Geontae had new injuries and old injuries that had begun to heal. Dr. Ward testified that Geontae's body had incisions to the right buttock and thigh and that there was a large accumulation of blood in the muscles in that area. Dr. Ward explained that the accumulation of blood was significant because it indicated that the injury was extremely forceful. Further, the muscular damage sustained by Geontae caused an increase in his bloodstream of myoglobin, which Dr. Ward classified as a highly toxic substance capable of causing kidney failure. Geontae's lower back did not appear to have injuries to the skin, indicating that Geontae did not receive a direct blow to that area. However, the force applied to the buttocks was significant enough to cause hemorrhaging that reached Geontae's spinal cord. Based on the level of hemorrhaging in the nerve fibers of the lower portion of the spinal cord, Dr. Ward surmised that Geontae's injuries resulted in paralyzation. Dr. Ward testified that in her opinion Geontae died of complications from blunt-force injuries but that he could have survived had he received medical attention. Dr. Ward further testified that a portion of the skin on Geontae's buttocks was denuded. Dr. Ward testified that the denuded-skin injury was consistent with having been struck with a piece of wood.

         After the autopsy, officers went back to the Shady Grove residence to search for any items that could have caused the injuries that led to Geontae's death. In the backyard officers found a four-foot long, two-inch by four-inch piece of lumber with red/brown stains. The stains tested positive for blood. Subsequent testing established that the stains contained Geontae's DNA.

         Standard of Review

         Because Towles has been sentenced to death, this Court must search the record for "plain error." Rule 45A, Ala. R. App. P., states:

"In all cases in which the death penalty has been imposed, the Court of Criminal Appeals shall notice any plain error or defect in the proceedings under review, whether or not brought to the attention of the trial court, and take appropriate appellate action by reason thereof, whenever such error has or probably has adversely affected the substantial right of the appellant."

(Emphasis added.)

         In Ex parte Brown, 11 So.3d 933 (Ala. 2008), the Alabama Supreme Court explained:

"'"To rise to the level of plain error, the claimed error must not only seriously affect a defendant's 'substantial rights, ' but it must also have an unfair prejudicial impact on the jury's deliberations."' Ex parte Bryant, 951 So.2d 724, 727 (Ala. 2002) (quoting Hyde v. State, 778 So.2d 199, 209 (Ala.Crim.App.1998)). In United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 15 (1985), the United States Supreme Court, construing the federal plain-error rule, stated:
"'The Rule authorizes the Courts of Appeals to correct only "particularly egregious errors, " United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 163 (1982), those errors that "seriously affect the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings, " United States v. Atkinson, 297 U.S. [157], at 160 [(1936)]. In other words, the plain-error exception to the contemporaneous-objection rule is to be "used sparingly, solely in those circumstances in which a miscarriage ...

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