FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY The Honorable Thomas
Wood appeals a judgment finding him guilty of one count of
first-degree murder, § 565.020, RSMo 2000, and
sentencing him to death. This Court has exclusive appellate
jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 3. The judgment is
and Procedural Background
afternoon of February 18, 2014, Carlos and Michelle Edwards
saw 10-year-old Hailey Owens walking down the sidewalk near
their home in Springfield. A tan Ford Ranger truck drove past
Hailey, turned around, and pulled alongside her. The driver,
later identified as Wood, asked Hailey for directions. As
Hailey began to walk away, Wood opened the door and told her
to come back. Hailey turned and stepped toward the truck.
Wood lunged at Hailey, and pulled her into the truck. Mr.
Edwards ran toward the truck, yelling at Wood to stop. Wood
sped away. Mrs. Edwards called 9-1-1 to report the incident
and the truck's license plate number. The truck was
registered to Wood's parents, but Wood was the primary
police officers surveilled Wood's home. They observed a
tan Ford Ranger truck pull into the driveway. The truck's
license plate number matched the number Mrs. Edwards
reported. As an officer approached, Wood exited the truck and
tossed a roll of duct tape into the truck bed. Wood, nervous
and smelling of bleach, acknowledged he knew why the officers
voluntarily accompanied officers to police headquarters. Wood
admitted the Ford Ranger was his, but declined to answer any
questions regarding Hailey's location. Officers observed
an abrasion and dried blood on Wood's lower lip, dried
blood on one of his fingers, and red vertical marks on his
neck and near his groin. His hat appeared to have bleach
stains. Wood told officers he made two trips to Walmart
earlier in the day to purchase bleach and drain cleaner. Wood
also said he went to a laundromat, and his laundry was still
went to Wood's house to look for Hailey. They entered
through an unlocked back door. A strong odor of bleach
emanated from the basement. The basement steps and floor were
wet. A fan was running, and a scrap of duct tape was on the
floor. There were empty bleach bottles and several plastic
storage tubs. The officers secured the house and left.
obtaining a search warrant, the officers returned and fully
searched Wood's home. Wood's bed was stripped of
sheets and blankets. On the bedroom dresser, police found a
folder containing two handwritten stories detailing fantasies
of sexual encounters between an adult male and 13-year-old
girls. The folder also contained photographs of girls who
were students at the middle school where Wood worked as an
aide and football coach.
basement, the officers found Hailey's nude body wrapped
in black plastic bags, stuffed into a 35-gallon plastic tub.
Hailey's body, stiffened from rigor mortis, was wet and
smelled of bleach. Her lips, cheek, and ear were bruised.
Ligature marks indicated Wood tied Hailey by the wrists, and
she struggled to free herself. A .22-caliber shell casing lay
on the basement floor. The shell casing was fired from a
.22-caliber rifle locked inside a gun safe in a storage room.
autopsy showed Hailey died from a gunshot to the back of her
neck, killed by a .22-caliber bullet that passed through the
base of her brain. Wood fired the fatal shot from point blank
range, placing the barrel of the gun on the back of
Hailey's neck before pulling the trigger. Hailey's
vagina and anus were lacerated and bruised in a manner
consistent with sexual assault.
Wood had locked the murder weapon away in a safe, officers
found several guns larger than .22-caliber and several
shotguns left in open view throughout Wood's home. In the
bedroom, officers found a shotgun leaning against the wall
and a larger caliber handgun on the nightstand next to the
bed. An FBI agent testified the .22-caliber rifle would make
less noise and less mess than other weapons found in the
discovered Hailey's clothing in a dumpster behind a strip
mall near Wood's home. Surveillance video showed Wood
placing Hailey's clothes in the dumpster. A receipt in
Wood's truck showed he purchased a laundry bag and duct
tape from Walmart on the evening of Hailey's murder.
Police also obtained video footage from Walmart showing Wood
purchased bleach and drain cleaner approximately an hour
after abducting Hailey.
did not testify or present evidence during the guilt phase.
During guilt phase opening statements, Wood's counsel
argued Wood did not deliberate before killing Hailey. The
state's closing argument emphasized the evidence showing
Wood purposely and deliberately killed Hailey. The state
argued, "I submit to you that when you place the muzzle,
the end of the barrel of a gun, against the back of the base
of the skull and you pull the trigger, there's only one
purpose you can have, and that's to kill someone. Your
common sense tells you that." The state argued Wood
deliberately killed Hailey because he chose "the
smallest caliber weapon he has, that will make the least mess
and the least noise," and then locked the murder weapon
away in a gun safe. The state concluded that considering this
evidence in conjunction with evidence Wood attempted to
conceal his crime by stripping the sheets from his bed,
bleaching and hiding Hailey's body, and disposing of her
clothes in a dumpster behind a strip mall proved beyond a
reasonable doubt Wood deliberately killed Hailey. The jury
found Wood guilty of murder in the first
the penalty phase, the state presented a detective's
testimony that he found no connection between Wood and Hailey
or her family. A computer forensic examiner testified that
after an Amber alert was issued for Wood's truck, a
friend sent a text message to Wood asking "You
haven't been hunting, have you." Another friend
texted, "Oh, great, I just got an Amber Alert about a
gold Ford Ranger. What have you and bear done???"
Wood's dog was named Bear.
state presented victim impact testimony from the mother of
one of Hailey's friends, Hailey's teacher, her
great-grandmother, two aunts, and a pastor. The witnesses
testified Hailey was a happy and loving child. Hailey's
death left an "unfillable void" in her family and
traumatized her brother. Hailey's teacher testified that,
after Hailey's murder, her classmates' behavior
changed and they struggled to cope with Hailey's death.
Hailey's aunt testified more than 10, 000 people attended
a vigil for Hailey. The pastor testified "countless
parents" told him they no longer allowed their children
to play unsupervised in their front yards or walk to a
presented testimony from his parents, three friends, a
priest, and two guards from the Greene County jail.
Wood's parents testified regarding Wood's problems
with depression and substance abuse, but noted he was
employed consistently and had no significant criminal
history. Wood's friends testified they were shocked when
he was arrested because such a crime was out of character.
One friend noted Wood once saved a man from an apartment
fire. None of Wood's friends were aware he had sexual
fantasies about young teenage girls. The priest testified
that, since his arrest, Wood renewed his faith, studied the
Bible, and regularly met to discuss what he had done. The
jail guards testified that, aside from hoarding pills for an
apparent suicide attempt, Wood caused no problems.
jury found the following statutory aggravating circumstances
beyond a reasonable doubt:
The murder of Hailey involved torture and depravity; that the
defendant killed Hailey after she was bound or otherwise
rendered helpless by the defendant, and the defendant thereby
exhibited a callous disregard for the sanctity of all human
The defendant's selection of the person he killed was
random and without regard to the victim's identity and
that defendant's killing of Hailey thereby exhibited a
callous disregard for the sanctity of human life;
The murder of Hailey was committed for the purpose of
The murder of Hailey was committed while the defendant was
engaged in rape;
The murder of Hailey was committed while the defendant was
engaged in sodomy;
The murder of Hailey was committed while the defendant was
engaged in kidnapping;
Hailey was a witness or potential witness of a pending
investigation of the kidnapping of Hailey.
jury unanimously found the foregoing aggravating
circumstances but deadlocked on punishment. The jury did not
unanimously determine the mitigating circumstances outweighed
the aggravating circumstances.
the jury deadlocked on punishment, the circuit court
determined the appropriate sentence as required by §
565.030.4. The circuit court specifically referenced the six
aggravating circumstances found unanimously by the jury and
stated it "does accept and agrees with the factual
findings of the jury as set forth in its verdict as to
punishment." The circuit court then determined "the
facts and circumstances in mitigation of punishment were not
sufficient to outweigh facts and circumstances in aggravation
of punishment." Finally, "based upon factual
findings of the jury," the court determined death was
the appropriate sentence.
presents nine points on appeal challenging the circuit
court's evidentiary rulings, the state's closing
argument, the decision to strike a juror for cause, and the
constitutional validity of § 565.030 and § 565.032
governing Missouri's death penalty
raises four points asserting the circuit court erred by
overruling his objections to the admission of evidence.
"A trial court has broad discretion to admit or exclude
evidence during a criminal trial, and error occurs only when
there is a clear abuse of this discretion." State v.
Hartman, 488 S.W.3d 53, 57 (Mo. banc 2016) (internal
quotation omitted). "A trial court abuses its discretion
only if its decision to admit or exclude evidence is clearly
against the logic of the circumstances then before the court
and is so unreasonable and arbitrary that it shocks the sense
of justice and indicates a lack of careful, deliberate
consideration." State v. Blurton, 484 S.W.3d
758, 769 (Mo. banc 2016) (internal quotation omitted).
"This Court will reverse the trial court's decision
only if there is a reasonable probability that the error
affected the outcome of the trial or deprived the defendant
of a fair trial." Id.
Cell phone photographs properly admitted
claims the circuit court abused its discretion during the
guilt phase by overruling his objection to the admission of
32 photographs from Hailey's cellphone. The circuit court
reviewed the photographs before overruling Wood's
objection and concluded they were relevant and admissible.
photographs were taken from 11:10 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., just
minutes before Wood abducted Hailey. The photographs depicted
Hailey, her dog, family, friends, stuffed animals, the
neighborhood where she was walking, and her friend's
handwritten lyrics to a popular song. Wood argues the
photographs were improper victim impact evidence during the
guilt phase because most of the photographs were cumulative
and had no logical or legal relevance to disputed facts
pertaining to the murder charge.
must be logically and legally relevant to be
admissible." State v. Prince, 534 S.W.3d 813,
817 (Mo. banc 2017). "Evidence is logically relevant if
it tends to make the existence of a material fact more or
less probable." Id. (internal quotation
omitted). "Evidence is legally relevant when the
probative value of the evidence outweighs unfair prejudice,
confusion of the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay,
waste of time, or cumulativeness." State v.
Taylor, 466 S.W.3d 521, 528 (Mo. banc 2015) (internal
quotation omitted). "Photographs are relevant if they
depict the crime scene, the victim's identity, the nature
and extent of the wounds, the cause of death, the condition
and location of the body, or otherwise constitute proof of an
element of the crime or assist the jury in understanding the
testimony." State v. Collings, 450 S.W.3d 741,
762 (Mo. banc 2014) (internal quotation omitted).
disputed element during the guilt phase was deliberation.
Section 565.002(3), RSMo 2000, defined deliberation as
"cool reflection for any length of time no matter how
brief." The element of deliberation may be proven
by the circumstances surrounding the crime.
Collings, 450 S.W.3d at 760. Although Wood admitted
he killed Hailey, "the state, having the burden of
proving defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,
should not be unduly limited in its quantum of proof."
State v. Griffin, 756 S.W.2d 475, 483 (Mo. banc
photographs of Hailey and the neighborhood where she was
walking were logically and legally relevant because they
assisted the jury with understanding the circumstances
surrounding the crime. The photographs confirmed the timeline
of events and showed Hailey was wearing the same clothing
Wood later discarded in the dumpster. Wood's attempt to
dispose of Hailey's clothing and conceal the crime
supports an inference of deliberation. See State v.
Tisius, 92 S.W.3d 751, 764 (Mo. banc 2002). Finally, the
photographs assisted the jury with understanding the nature
and extent of the injuries Wood inflicted on Hailey by
showing she lacked any significant injuries prior to the
abduction. The fact Hailey lacked injuries prior to the
abduction assisted the jury with understanding the multiple
injuries Wood inflicted, including ligature marks indicating
Hailey struggled to free herself. Evidence of multiple
injuries and prolonged struggle are relevant to the
state's burden of proving the disputed element of
deliberation beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. The
photographs were relevant and admissible.
extent the photographs of Hailey's stuffed animals, pets,
family, and song lyrics are less relevant, the issue is
whether the allegedly erroneous evidentiary ruling was so
prejudicial that there is a reasonable probability it
affected the outcome of the trial. Hartman, 488
S.W.3d at 57. The state briefly mentioned the photographs in
the guilt phase closing argument to establish the timeline of
events and the fact Hailey had no injuries before Wood
abducted her. The state's argument, therefore, was
limited to referencing the most relevant photographs. In any
event, the overwhelming weight of the evidence clearly
established deliberation, and negates any reasonable
probability the outcome would have been different even if the
circuit court had excluded some of the less logically
Gun evidence properly admitted
claims the circuit court abused its discretion by admitting
photographs and testimony regarding firearms, ammunition, and
related items found in his home. Wood argues the evidence was
logically irrelevant and prejudicial because the only
possible purpose was to show he was a "gun-crazed,
dangerous person with a propensity for violence."
of weapons not connected to the accused or the offense at
issue are generally inadmissible. State v. Hosier,
454 S.W.3d 883, 895 (Mo. banc 2015). Because Wood's sole
defense during the guilt phase was lack of deliberation, the
state's case hinged on showing deliberation. The evidence
of firearms of varying calibers and gauges found throughout
Wood's home shortly after he killed Hailey was logically
and legally relevant to show deliberation because it tended
to prove Wood deliberately chose the smallest weapon from his
collection to facilitate his efforts to cover up the murder.
In addition to Wood foregoing the multiple weapons stored
throughout the house, the evidence also showed that in the
bedroom where the evidence suggested Wood raped Hailey,
officers found a shotgun leaning against the wall and a
large-caliber handgun on the nightstand next to the bed. Wood
used neither one of those readily accessible weapons.
Instead, Wood used the small, .22-caliber rifle officers
found locked in a gun safe in the basement. The state made
precisely this point during closing argument:
He deliberately unloads and hides the rifle. Do you remember
all those guns he had around of a higher caliber? In fact,
when he's raping her in the bedroom, he's got a
handgun right there he could have used. Does he use that? No,
he doesn't. He chooses the smallest caliber weapon he
has, that will make the least mess and the least noise, and
then he hides it in the gun safe, doesn't leave it out
like the other guns, and he unloads that magazine.
state's closing argument emphasized and was consistent
with the fact the gun evidence was both logically and legally
relevant to refute Wood's argument he did not
deliberately kill Hailey. The dissenting opinion, by relying
on fundamentally distinguishable cases, overlooks the fact
the logical and legal relevance was amplified by the number
of weapons precisely because it showed Wood deliberately
chose the .22-caliber rifle even though multiple other
weapons were more readily accessible.Further, unlike the cases
cited by the dissenting opinion, any alleged prejudicial
effect of the gun evidence "was minimized by admitting
only photographs of the evidence, not the guns and ammunition
themselves." Id. at 896. The circuit court did
not abuse its discretion by overruling Wood's objection
to evidence of the firearms, ammunition, and related items
found throughout his home.
Contents of folder properly admitted
claims the circuit court abused its discretion by overruling
his objection to evidence of the contents of the folder
containing photos of four of Wood's female, middle school
students and handwritten accounts of fictional sexual
encounters with 13-year-old girls. Wood argues the photos and
stories were inadmissible evidence of uncharged crimes
relevant only for the impermissible purpose of showing his
propensity to commit the offense.
unnecessary to address the merits of Wood's argument
because a party can open the door to the admission of
evidence "with a theory presented in an opening
statement, or through cross-examination." State v.
Shockley, 410 S.W.3d 179, 194 (Mo. banc 2013) (internal
quotation and citation omitted). During opening statements,
defense counsel argued the contents of the folder showed Wood
acted out of compulsion, not deliberation, because his drug
use unleashed suppressed sexual desire for young teenage
girls. Wood argues defense counsel strategically chose to
discuss the folder because the circuit court overruled his
motion in limine to exclude the contents of the folder from
evidence. But Wood's counsel recognizes a ruling on a
motion in limine is interlocutory and subject to change
during trial. See Hancock v. Shook, 100 S.W.3d 786,
802 (Mo. banc 2003). Despite the interlocutory nature of the
ruling, counsel chose to address the folder in opening
statements, and one consequence of that strategic decision
was to open the door to the admission of the evidence at
trial. State v. Mickle, 164 S.W.3d 33, 57 (Mo. App.
2005); see also Bucklew v. State, 38 S.W.3d 395, 401
(Mo. banc 2001) (concluding defense counsel opened the door
to the admission of evidence the defendant previously
committed an assault by mentioning background facts of the
assault during opening statements).
Victim impact evidence properly admitted
claims the circuit court abused its discretion by overruling
his objection to the state's penalty phase evidence
regarding the effect of Hailey's murder on the
Springfield community and allowing the state to question
witnesses in a manner intended to elicit emotional responses.
Specifically, Wood challenges testimony that more than 10,
000 people attended a vigil for Hailey, Hailey's murder
changed Springfield from a town to a city, and
"countless parents" indicated they feared for their
impact evidence is admissible under the United States and
Missouri Constitutions." State v. Driskill, 459
S.W.3d 412, 431 (Mo. banc 2015). "The state is permitted
to show the victims are individuals whose deaths represent a
unique loss to society and to their family and that the
victims are not simply faceless strangers." Id.
Further, § 565.030.4 provides penalty phase
"evidence may include, within the discretion of the
court, evidence concerning the murder victim and the impact
of the offense upon the family of the victim and
others." "Victim impact evidence violates the
constitution if it is so unduly prejudicial that it renders
the trial fundamentally unfair." Driskill, 459
S.W.3d at 431. (internal quotation omitted).
testimony regarding the vigil was relevant to show
Hailey's murder resulted in a "unique loss to
society" and she was "not simply a faceless
stranger[.]" Id. Similarly, the testimony that
Hailey's murder changed Springfield from a town to a city
and parents now feared for the children's safety was
relevant to the impact of the offense on "the family of
the victim and others." Section 565.030.4
(emphasis added). There is no specific constitutional
limitation on the consideration of community impact, and
§ 565.030.4 broadly and expressly authorizes evidence of
the impact on "others."
Wood's argument that the state's questioning was
aimed solely at eliciting emotional responses fails because a
defendant is not necessarily prejudiced by the fact some
jurors or audience members in a murder trial exhibited
emotional responses to admissible evidence. The circuit court
considered the fact some jurors and an audience member wept,
but concluded it was simply an "emotional response to
the testimony which again I would put in the category of
being natural. Nothing disruptive about it to anyone."
In other words, the argument was "emotionally
charged" because "the facts of this case are
inherently emotionally charged." State v.
McFadden, 391 S.W.3d 408, 425 (Mo. banc 2013). The
evidence reflected the brutal facts of the case, and jurors
and audience members cannot be expected to share Wood's
stoicism. The circuit court did not abuse its discretion by
overruling Wood's objection to the penalty phase victim
claims the circuit court plainly erred during the penalty
phase closing argument by permitting the state to argue the
jury could speak for Hailey and her family by sentencing Wood
to death. Wood timely objected, but did not raise the issue
in his motion for a new trial. "An issue is not
preserved for appellate review if the issue is not included
in the motion for a new trial." State v. Clay,
533 S.W.3d 710, 718 (Mo. banc 2017). This Court's
consideration of Wood's claim is discretionary and
limited to determining whether a plain error resulted in a
"manifest injustice or miscarriage of justice[.]"
threshold issue in plain error review is whether the circuit
court's error was facially "evident, obvious, and
clear." State v. Jones, 427 S.W.3d 191, 195
(Mo. banc 2014) (internal quotation omitted). If the
appellant establishes a facially "evident, obvious, and
clear" error, then this Court will consider whether the
error resulted in a manifest injustice or miscarriage of
justice. Id. To obtain a new trial on direct appeal
based on a claim of plain error, the appellant must show
"the error was outcome determinative." State v.
Baxter, 204 S.W.3d 650, 652 (Mo. banc 2006) (internal
quotation omitted). This Court rarely finds plain error in
closing argument, and reversal is warranted only if the
defendant shows the improper argument "had a decisive
effect on the jury's determination."
McFadden, 369 S.W.3d at 747 (internal quotation
omitted). "The entire record is considered when
interpreting a closing argument, not an isolated
segment." Id. (internal quotation omitted).
trial, Wood argued Hailey's mother should be allowed to
testify she wanted Wood sentenced to life without parole. The
state objected, arguing a family member's opinions
regarding sentencing are inadmissible. The circuit sustained
the state's objection, and none of Hailey's family
members testified regarding their sentencing preferences.
the penalty phase closing argument, the state recounted the
circumstances of Hailey's death and argued the evidence
warranted a death sentence. The state then asserted,
"With your verdict, sentencing [Wood] to the ultimate
punishment, you speak for Hailey. . . ." Wood objected.
The state continued, stating, "You speak for her family
. . . ." Wood once again objected. The circuit court
overruled Wood's objection. The state continued, arguing
Wood "not only brutalized Hailey, but he damaged her
family, her brother, her school, her entire community, and
changed our community, and your verdict will send a message
to this defendant." The state concluded, "For all
those harms, this is the case. This is the case that calls
for the ultimate punishment, and I ask you to sentence the
defendant to death."
relies on State v. Roberts, 838 S.W.2d 126 (Mo. App.
1992), and Bosse v. Oklahoma, 137 S.Ct. 1 (2016),
for the proposition the state's reference to Hailey and
her family in closing argument resulted in a manifest
injustice. Both cases are distinguishable.
Roberts, the state's argument that the jury
spoke for the victim's family was improper because there
was no evidence the victim had any family members. 838 S.W.2d
at 131. In this case, there was ample evidence of the
devastating impact Hailey's murder had on her family.
Bosse, the defendant objected to the state asking
three of the victim's family members to recommend a
sentence. 137 S.Ct. at 2. All three testified and recommended
death. Id. Under these circumstances, the United
States Supreme Court held admitting evidence of the
family's sentencing recommendations violated the Eighth
Amendment. Id. Bosse is distinguishable because none
of Hailey's family members testified regarding their
crux of the state's argument was the brutality of
Hailey's murder and its impact on her family and the
community required the jury to "send a message"
that such actions deserve a death sentence. "This Court
has held that 'send a message' statements are
permissible." McFadden, 391 S.W.3d at 425.
Further, the state did not explicitly argue any of
Hailey's family members wanted Wood to receive the death
penalty. The state's isolated reference to speaking for
Hailey and her family in the context of making a permissible
"send a message" argument by imposing a death
sentence did not change the outcome of this case. Wood has
not shown a manifest injustice justifying the rare step of
finding plain error based on statements made in closing
argument. State v. Anderson, 79 S.W.3d 420, 439 (Mo.
banc 2002) ("Statements made in closing argument will
only rarely amount to plain error.").
Juror Properly ...