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04/11/88 State of Louisiana v. Winthrop Earl Eaton

April 11, 1988






EATON , 87-KA-1199 (LA. 4/11/88); 524 SO. 2D 1194 REHEARING FILED APRIL 29, 1988. REHEARING DENIED MAY 12, 1988.



Cole, Justice.


The grand jury of Ouachita Parish returned a true bill indicting defendant Winthrop Earl Eaton for first degree murder, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30. The district attorney and the defense attorney stipulated that, in the interest of justice, the court should grant a change of venue and trial took place in Rapides Parish. Following the guilt phase of the bifurcated trial, the jury unanimously found defendant guilty as charged. Trial continued, pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 905.1, et seq., and the jury unanimously recommended imposition of the death penalty. The jury based its recommendation upon the finding of the following aggravating circumstances: "the offender was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape; The offender was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of armed robbery or simple robbery; The offense was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner." Thereafter, in conformity with the jury recommendation, the judge sentenced defendant to death. On appeal to this Court defendant presents thirteen assignments of error for the reversal of his conviction and sentence. *fn1 Because we find no reversible errors were committed either in the guilt or penalty determinations, we affirm the conviction and sentence of death.


Almost immediately after his arrest defendant admitted killing Reverend Lea Joyner in order to steal her car for a trip to Florida. He never thereafter denied his commission of the crime, but defended against the charge on the basis of a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

The murder occurred around midnight on March 11, 1985, in the parking lot of the Southside United Methodist Church of Monroe, Louisiana, where Rev. Joyner had been the minister for over twenty years. After killing Rev. Joyner and taking her car, defendant disposed of her body in a cotton field. He then went to Arkansas where he stayed with relatives. These relatives informed defendant's parents of his presence and the fact that he had arrived in a small, new, white car. The parents were aware of Rev. Joyner's disappearance and that the police were looking for her 1985 white Honda automobile. Consequently, they were suspicious of their son's involvement in the situation and notified the Monroe police he was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Communication with the Little Rock police confirmed the white car had a temporary Louisiana license. The license number was checked and it was ascertained to be the same as that on the car belonging to Rev. Joyner. Monroe police obtained a warrant for defendant's arrest and teletyped it to Little Rock where police effected the arrest. The Little Rock police advised defendant of his Miranda rights at the time of his arrest and again at the station before he gave a statement in which he admitted killing Rev. Joyner. He also drew a map indicating where he had left her body. A few hours later, police from Monroe arrived in Little Rock and interviewed defendant. After again receiving and waiving his Miranda rights, defendant gave another confession.

The following account of the crime comes from defendant's confessions. On several occasions when defendant passed the Southside United Methodist Church at the corner of Temple and South Fourth Streets in Monroe, Louisiana, he observed a small white car in the parking lot. He knew that a white woman who was usually at the church drove the car, but did not know her name or that she was the minister of the church. Defendant and a man named Isaac had discussed going to Florida and defendant planned to kill the woman and steal her car for the trip. On the night of March 11, 1985, defendant arrived at the church around 10:15 p.m. and hid behind a bush which was beside the church and waited for the woman to leave the church and come to her car in the parking lot. He had a heavy pipe, a knife, a blanket and some line from a weed-eater with him. He had been waiting for a short time when a woman, not Rev. Joyner, left the church. He remained behind the bush for another hour or so before Rev. Joyner came out and walked to her car, the small white one defendant wanted to steal. He hit her twice on the back of the head with the pipe as she was standing by the car ready to open the door. When he put her on the blanket he had spread nearby, he could see that she was not dead so he stabbed her three or four times. He tied the blanket with the weed-eater cord and put the body in the back seat of the car. He drove away slowly so that he would not attract attention because he knew the police would have stopped him if he had been driving too fast. He drove around the area until he found Isaac, who climbed into the car and informed defendant he would would not make the trip to Florida with him. At some point Isaac noticed the body in the back seat and became very nervous. Isaac had defendant park on the side of a store and left the car. Defendant got out of the car and talked with Isaac briefly before driving away and leaving his companion behind. Outside of town, defendant turned into a cotton field and drove to the back where he stopped to think for a few minutes. After concluding it was not the time for farming, he decided to dump the body there. He also threw the victim's belongings in the field. Before he left, he tried to get his hand prints off everything, using the gloves he was wearing to wipe things. After leaving the field, he drove to Arkansas and spent the night at his grandmother's house in barren. In the morning he went to his aunt's house in Little Rock where he was arrested.

In both statements defendant gave he denied raping the victim. He did admit taking a gun she was holding in her hand and also removing a ring she was wearing.

Jo Rugg testified she was a friend and parishioner of Rev. Joyner and had been with her until about 10:45 p.m. on March 11, 1985. The two had been in Rev. Joyner's office and Rev. Joyner had walked to the outside door with her and watched her get into her car. As she drove away from the parking lot, Ms. Rugg checked to see that Rev. Joyner had gone back into the church office building.

Mattie Crow, another good friend and parishioner, phoned Rev. Joyner each morning to awaken her. When Ms. Crow phoned on March 12, 1985, at 4:45 a.m., she received no answer. She called again, but there still was no response. She then phoned a church member and learned that Rev. Joyner's car was not parked at the church. At trial, she identified the gun found in the glove compartment of the victim's car, which had been seized in Little Rock at the time of defendant's arrest, as the gun she had purchased and given to the victim.

Bennie Fuller, the secretary-bookkeeper of the church arrived there a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. on March 12, 1985. A workman asked her to come to the side of the building where some construction was underway to see a spot he had discovered which looked like blood. She phoned Mattie Crow who came to the church. The women notified the police.

In the course of their investigation, the police removed a section of carpet from a walkway between two parts of the church complex which contained a spot thought to be blood. They also collected samples from other spots which appeared to be blood. They found a pair of glasses broken into two pieces which belonged to Rev. Joyner.

Shortly before midnight on March 12, 1985, defendant's parents talked with the police and communicated their suspicions of their son's involvement in the disappearance of Rev. Joyner. As previously set forth, this conversation ultimately led to defendant's arrest in Little Rock and the giving of the statements in which he confessed to killing the victim, but denied raping her.

In his testimony, Dr. George McCormick, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on the victim, detailed the extent of the injuries she received. He said she had traumatic injuries in three general areas: the neck, the chest and the head. She had three stab wounds in her neck; two of them had gone all the way through and one was superficial. The thirteen stab wounds in the chest had cut both lungs, the heart, and the aorta. Eight of the wounds went all the way through the chest and came out the back. There was extensive hemorrhage in the chest; the sternum (breastbone) had been cut into two pieces; there were multiple broken ribs on both sides from the force of the stabbing. The victim had multiple injuries on her head and neck. There was extensive bruising around the left eye which went across the bridge of the nose and to the corner of the right eye. The bone forming the eyesockets was fractured on both sides. There was a large laceration on the left side of her forehead which ran from the left eyebrow to the hairline and was so deep that the skull showed. There was a large laceration above the top of the right ear and a similar one on the left side of the head above and behind the left ear. A large hemorrhage beneath the entire scalp extended front the eyebrows to the back of the head. The victim had a large skull fracture which started at the top of the head, ran to the right and then continued across the floor of the skull to the left ear. The fracture almost completely separated the front of the skull from the back. There was bruising over the entire brain. The victim's pubic bone had been fractured and separated down the mid-line. There was an area of congestion in the vagina which suggested a traumatic injury. There were smudges on both her knees which appeared to be fingerprints.

The large number of sperm in the vagina indicated there had been recent intercourse. *fn2 The congestion in the vagina was consistent with an object, such as an erect penis, having been forcefully placed in the vagina. Dr. McCormick stated this had occurred before death because the "reaction of the blood increasing the circulation to the area that's traumatized would not happen after she was dead . . . whatever made that discoloration was made before she died."

On cross-examination, Dr. McCormick said the blows to the head probably rendered the victim unconscious. However, on redirect by the prosecutor, he said the victim had lived at least fifteen to thirty minutes after the largest chest stab wound had been inflicted. He explained there were white cells in the area of the cut and this would not take place until that period of time had elapsed. He said it was possible the victim could have lived one to two hours after receiving her injuries.

In support of his insanity defense, defendant called Randall Grant, a clinical social worker at the Monroe Mental Health Clinic. Mr. Grant had interviewed defendant after his release from The Pines, an inpatient substance abuse facility. During this interview, on February 27, 1985, defendant indicated he smoked marijuana almost daily and had done so for the past five years. Defendant's discussion was rambling but could be focused with direct questioning. Defendant denied either auditory or visual hallucinations and also denied suicidal or homicidal ideation. Mr. Grant scheduled a psychiatric evaluation for March 6 and defendant was to return to see Grant on March 13.

John MacMahon was the psychiatrist who interviewed defendant on March 6, 1985. Dr. MacMahon was on the staff at Central Louisiana State Hospital. He conducted a thirty minute interview with defendant and saw no signs of major mental illness. He thought defendant's only problem was that he smoked a lot of marijuana. He talked with defendant's parents and told them that defendant would not stop smoking or become self-sufficient while they provided food and shelter for him. Thus, Dr. MacMahon suggested defendant's parents "kick him out." On cross-examination Dr. MacMahon said defendant's affect was appropriate and he showed no thought disorder. Reading between the lines of The Pines discharge paper, he believed defendant had been discharged because he was uncooperative and was breaking the rules. The prosecutor asked the doctor about specific aspects of the case as they might indicate defendant's ability to discern right from wrong. The doctor said planning was a sufficient factor in determining whether defendant knew right from wrong. He did not think that observing the speed limit was such a factor, but said wiping his fingerprints and fleeing the scene showed defendant realized he was in trouble. On redirect, defense counsel asked about the effect marijuana usage would have and the doctor said marijuana impairs judgment. However, in response to the prosecutor's question, Dr. MacMahon said it was his understanding marijuana did not affect the ability to know right from wrong.

Defendant's final witness was his father, Wade Eaton. Mr. Eaton said defendant had made fair grades in the early years, but his work became poorer until he finally was in special education classes. He said defendant's problems began in 1981. Defendant was 14 or 15 when he began experimenting with drugs, particularly marijuana. He referred to defendant's unusual behavior with animals. Defendant would at first treat the animal well, then kill it and sleep with the dead body. Defendant would become angry and would destroy things. Once he knocked out all the windows in the house. Defendant had several short term jobs but would have problems with supervision. The longest job defendant had lasted only five or six weeks. In 1984 he sought professional help for defendant who had become "mighty violent." Finally, on February 1, 1985, defendant was admitted to The Pines in Shreveport where he stayed one day short of three weeks. After talking to Dr. MacMahon, Mr. Eaton attempted to put defendant out of the house. Mr. Eaton said he gave defendant one week before he had to leave. He placed this talk on a Wednesday. He said he had another talk with defendant on Sunday, March 10, 1985, and then did not see him again. He added his wife saw defendant around 4 or 4:30 p.m. on Monday, which was the day of the crime. He said defendant had no realistic goals, explaining defendant talked of a musical career but had no musical talent. He added defendant carried a Bible with him and even had one inside his underwear. He said defendant grinned at everything and was the same in jail. According to Mr. Eaton, defendant "never has shown a moment worth of sorrow since it happened."

In rebuttal, the prosecutor called Dr. Norman L. Mauroner, a psychiatrist at the VA Hospital in Shreveport. He had examined defendant on June 4, 1985, and on June 19, 1985, and believed at the time of the crime defendant knew what he was doing. He found no overt mental illness. He believed defendant had a personality disorder which does not qualify as insanity. He stated the facts of the case indicated careful planning which in turn indicated defendant knew what he was doing. Unlike Dr. MacMahon, Dr. Mauroner did think driving within the speed limit showed defendant was covering his tracks. He added defendant's use of the gloves to wipe away his fingerprints reinforced his opinion and defendant's I.Q. of 70 or 71 placed him at the upper limit of mild mental retardation.


By these assignments of error, Eaton contends the introduction of photographs of the victim in both the guilt and penalty phases prejudiced him and constitutes reversible error. The state introduced two sets of photographs of the victim, which were objected to at trial by the defense as irrelevant, gruesome and prejudicial. Eaton argues the pictures were not offered to prove any material fact in issue and instead were introduced merely to inflame the jury against him. This is supported, he claims, by the fact the prosecutor saved the complained of photographs as the last exhibits to display to the jury, at the end of the guilt phase. Eaton also points to a newspaper article which reported two female jurors were wiping their eyes as if they were crying when some of the more "graphic" evidence was shown to them. Also, he complains that during rebuttal argument in the sentencing phase, the prosecutor waived one of the challenged photographs of the victim and stated, "You saw the victim. She's talking to you. Can't you hear her? Don't you hear her saying do justice today?"

This court has established a number of well settled guidelines regarding the introduction of photographs. The mere fact a photograph is gruesome does not in and of itself render a photograph inadmissible. The test of admissibility is whether the probative value outweighs any prejudicial effect which may result from the display to the jury. State v. Comeaux, 514 So.2d 84 (La. 1987); State v. Beach, 320 So.2d 142 (La. 1975); State v. Morris, 245 La. 175, 157 So.2d 728 (1963). Generally, photographs of a victim's body which depict the fatal wounds are relevant to prove the corpus delecti, to establish the identity of the victim, the location, severity and number of wounds, and to corroborate other evidence of the manner in which the death occurred. Comeaux, 514 So.2d at 96. The trial court's admission of an allegedly gruesome photograph will be overturned on appeal only if the prejudicial effect clearly outweighs the probative value. No error will be found unless the photographs are so gruesome so as to overwhelm the jurors' reason and lead them to convict the defendant without sufficient other evidence. State v. Perry, 502 So.2d 543 (La. 1986).

The first set of challenged photographs was taken when police discovered the victim's body in the cotton field, one day after the murder. Six photographs were objected to. Two show the entire body of the victim taken from different angles. Several of the photographs taken at close range, depict the victim's head, neck and upper body, including the chest area. One picture, taken after the body had been turned over, depicts a tear in the undergarment and wounds in the back. The trial judge ruled the photographs were admissible to show the scene of the crime, the wounds to the victim's face, mouth, torso and back, as well as the tearing of the undergarment.

The second set of photographs was taken at the coroner's office, after the body had been cleaned of blood and debris. Of the six challenged photographs, one shows a cut in the victim's undergarment. This cut was made across the pubic area and continued down the victim's left leg. The remainder of the photographs depict the wounds suffered by the victim. A ruler was used to demonstrate the length and width of the wounds to the forehead, the left and right side of the victim's head, her neck and chest. The state offered these photographs in conjunction with the testimony of Dr. McCormick, the coroner, as to the cause of death. Again, the trial judge ruled the photographs were admissible to show the extent of the wounds and the tear in the girdle. When the judge so ruled, Eaton moved to suppress in limine the first set of photographs on the basis the second set depicted the wounds better and exhibiting the first group would be merely cumulative. The trial judge denied the motion. He concluded that although some of the photographs were "gruesome" their probative value exceeded any prejudicial effect they may have on the jury.

These photographs are clearly not pleasant. However, in the guilt phase they were highly relevant to establish the nature and extent of the wounds and corroborate the testimony of Dr. McCormick as to the cause of death. The photographs depicting the tear in the victim's girdle were probative in proving a rape did occur, which was a much disputed issue at trial. Upon reviewing the photographs, we conclude the trial judge was correct in finding their probative value outweighed any possible prejudicial effect which may have resulted from their display to the jury. *fn3

In the sentencing phase, the state sought the death penalty on the basis the crime was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner. The challenged photographs show the nature and extent of the wounds inflicted on the victim by Eaton, and were extremely probative in proving this aggravating circumstance. No amount of testimony could depict the heinous nature of Eaton's crime as well as the photographs could, and the state acted properly in introducing them. We cannot conclude the photographs so inflamed the jury as to lead ...

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