SAMUEL DAVID CROWE
Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker offers the following information in the case against Samuel David Crowe, who is currently scheduled to be executed on May 22, 2008 at 7:00 pm at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia.
On May 8, 2008, the
The murder victim, Joseph V. Pala, was employed as the retail manager at Wickes Lumber Company. (T. 825-826). Ben Covington, a salesman at Wickes, worked with Crowe’s wife, Wanda Crowe, as she was the contractor coordinator. (T. 824-825). Crowe had been a manager-trainee at the same lumber company for approximately seven or eight months in 1985 or 1986.
Approximately one week before Mr. Covington arrived at work on March 2, 1988, and found the victim’s body lying in the front area of the retail store, Crowe had twice called Mr. Covington and asked for a loan of $1500. (T. 827-828, 831-833, 838, 843). Mr. Covington initially agreed to loan Crowe money, wrote out a check for the amount which he left with Huey Moss for Crowe to pick up, but then changed his mind, retrieved the check and tore it up. (T. 827-828).
Approximately fifteen minutes after he arrived at work on the morning of March 2, 1988, Mr. Covington found the victim’s body lying between some gondolas in the front area of the store. (T. 831-832). The victim’s arms were above his head as if he had been dragged; there was blood "everywhere" and the victim had been "beat around the head." (T. 832). The victim’s face was "gruesome and hard to look at," it had paint on it as if the paint had been "beaten in" and the face was "mutilated."
Huey Moss was operations manager and managed the "back area" of the Wickes Lumber Company while the victim managed the front area. Mr. Moss’s duties included doing the close outs, checking out cash-backs and keeping the books. (T. 846-847, 908).
The victim, Joseph Pala, did the close out for the evening of March 2, 1988, because Mr. Moss had been absent that day due to illness. (T. 852-853). On the morning of March 3, 1988, Mr. Moss arrived at work shortly before 7 a.m., and Crowe’s wife arrived at approximately the same time. (T. 852-853). Mrs. Crowe used her own key to let herself in the front door of the store and opened the back door for Mr. Moss to enter. (T. 852-853). Mr. Moss made coffee and spoke to Mrs. Crowe a few minutes. (T. 854). Mr. Moss had noticed the victim’s car was parked outside the gate where it was usually parked and later thought it strange when a driver asked Mr. Moss if the driver should roll up the victim’s car windows because of rain. (T. 854). Mr. Moss began to wonder if something had happened to the victim because Mr. Moss had also received a call the preceding evening at about 10:00 p.m. from the burglar alarm company; he had been told that the burglar alarm was never set for the store but the company had been experiencing computer problems, and this could explain why it appeared the alarm had not been set. (T. 855). This prompted Mr. Moss to look for the victim, and he first went to the office where they kept small change and cash and found the cabinet unlocked. (T. 854-855). The cash drawer was unlocked which was unusual. (T. 854-855). With the cash drawer in his hand, he and Mrs. Crowe walked toward the front of the store, and Mr. Moss saw that the safe drawer was open. (T. 856). He then saw that the front door to the store was unlocked. (T. 856). To his right Mr. Moss saw some broken glass and blood; he screamed at Mrs. Crowe and she stopped; Mr. Moss followed the blood to the victim’s body. T. 856). He yelled for Mrs. Crowe to get back because the victim had been murdered and he subsequently instructed everyone to stay away from the area until the police arrived. (T. 858-859).
Mr. Moss explained in detailed how the closing procedure worked in which the employee assigned the task would close out the cash registers, make up the deposit for the bank and place approximately $500 in cash in the safe for the next day's business. (T. 847-851). Mr. Moss had trained the victim on closing procedures; Mr. Moss himself had been trained by Crowe before Crowe left employment at the lumber company. (T. 852, 908). Crowe also knew the combination to the safe and the combination had not been changed when Crowe left. (T. 908).
According to the carbon copy of the bank deposit slip for March 2, 1988, $500 in cash had been left for the next day’s business while $630.60 had been prepared to be deposited at the bank for a total of $1130.60. (T. 863-864). This was approximately $400 or $500 shy of their daily average.
Mr. Moss also identified various photographs from the store which showed the location and state of the victim’s body when Mr. Moss found him. (T. 893-897). He also identified other photographs depicting store aisles; the key making machine which appeared to have been damaged; the hole over one door frame; paint and scattered light bulbs in the aisles; a bullet hole in a metal tray which contained paint rollers; and footprints and paint on the floor and in the credit manager’s office. (T. 873-892, 898-904).
Approximately two weeks before the murder, Crowe had also discussed his finances with Mr. Moss and had asked to borrow $1500 because Crowe said he was behind in paying bills. (T. 906-907). Mr. Moss tried to persuade Crowe to discuss these problems with Mrs. Crowe but Crowe refused.
Given the torn paper on the computer on the bank deposit worksheet, Mr. Moss thought that the victim was killed after he had closed the safe, had the bank bag ready and was about to walk out the door. (T. 910). The victim would regularly put the bank bag behind his back and stuffed into his pants so that it was not readily visible. (T. 910-911). Crowe did not have any permission to take any money from the lumber company on March 2nd nor was anyone authorized to give Crowe money.
Firearms examiner/crime scene investigator Kelly Fite of the State Crime Lab arrived at Wickes Lumber Company at approximately 9:50 a.m. on March 3, 1988, at the request of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. (T. 953-956). The victim’s body was still present, and Mr. Fite photographed the crime scene. (T. 957). State’s Exhibit Nos. 3, 13 and 14 showed a gunshot hole in an aluminum frame around a door or window from which Mr. Fite recovered a .44 caliber lead bullet. (T. 959-960). State’s Exhibit No. 4 was taken from the exit door looking back toward the check-out counter and showing what one would see if looking in that direction, while Exhibit Nos. 5 and 6 showed the check-out counter and empty cash drawer and inside the check-out counter. (T. 961). The key rack at the front desk was to the right of the check-out counter, and on the back of the key making machine was the point of impact of a bullet. (T. 961-962). The bullet bounced off the key machine and was found in the feather duster right across the check-out counter on the floor. (T. 962-963). The .44 special lead bullet which Mr. Fite recovered had a flat side, indicating that it hit something before it reached the key making machine, bounced off that machine and came to rest in the feather duster. (T. 965).
The victim was shot in the back. (T. 966). Had the victim been standing in the check-out area when he was shot and had he been shot in the back, the bullet could have passed through his back, glanced off the key machine and come to rest in the feather duster. (T. 966). The victim had sustained only one gunshot wound and no bullet was recovered from his body. (T. 967). From this the firearms examiner opined that the victim was standing in the u-shaped check-out counter and his back was to his assailant when he was shot. (T. 967). Based upon the victim’s shirt, the gunshot hole and the one particle of gunpowder, Mr. Fite opined that the gun was at least three feet away when fired at the victim. (T. 968).
State’s Exhibit Nos. 19 and 20 were photographs of an area of disarray in aisle number two where two boxes of light bulbs had fallen over; a bullet had gone through one cardboard box. (T. 970-971). A third bullet became apparent from looking down aisle number two to a metal cabinet which had a bullet hole, and the bullet was found in a paint roller. (T. 971).
Based upon the condition of the second bullet, Mr. Fite opined that the bullet missed the victim before entering the metal doorframe. From the projectile of this bullet, Mr. Fite opined that the assailant was aiming at the victim’s head. (T. 974). The third bullet could have also easily been fired by the assailant from his same position while the victim was fleeing the check-out counter area. (T. 975-976). State’s Exhibits Nos. 25 and 26 were photographs depicting one aisle where the boxes of light bulbs were on one side; footprints outlined in the blood and in the paint were down the aisle to the end; the bloody footprints lasted only to the third aisle, but the paint footprints went to the back of the store. (T. 977-78). From the two or three areas of fine blood splatters coming from the check-out counter, Mr. Fite opined that someone was walking slowly with blood dripping straight down and the person stepping in his own blood. (T. 979).
State’s Exhibit Nos. 32 and 33 were photographs of the victim’s body as it was found in aisle three. (T. 981). It was possible that the victim had been pulled by his legs out of the paint and moved two or three feet because of the drag marks in the paint. (T. 981-982). Paint almost completely covered the victim’s face while there was only "some" paint on his shirt but a large amount of paint on the floor. (T. 982-983). An empty paint can was recovered from Crowe’s Pontiac Fiero at his residence by Mr. Fite on March 3rd. (T. 983-984). Because of the label on the paint can and the display of paint in the aisle where the victim’s body was found, it was possible that the recovered Dutch Boy paint can came from this display. (T. 985). The handle from the paint can was missing, and one small piece of metal was found next to the victim’s left foot while a similar piece of metal, possibly from the other side of the paint can, was found in the Crowe’s car. (T. 985-986). The can was bent and damaged in places, including the bottom, from which Mr. Fite opined that the can was involved in the altercation on this aisle. (T. 987). The evidence was consistent with the paint having been poured on the victim’s face because the paint ran down his ears, indicating that he was in a prone position, and because of the small amount found on his shirt. (T. 988-989). The victim’s eyes were open, his eyeballs were covered in paint, there was paint on his lips and his mouth was open. (T. 990). From these facts, Mr. Fite opined that the victim was either dead or near death when the paint was poured on him.
There was a large injury to the victim’s forehead which was reddish-pink and did not have any paint in the gap in the skull. (T. 991). A crowbar seized from Crowe’s car trunk could have caused the injury to the skull. (T.991-993). Because no paint was in the skull indentation, Mr. Fite opined that the victim first had paint poured over him and then was struck in his skull with a crowbar. (T. 994).
Tennis shoes recovered from Crowe’s car trunk had treads similar to the tread found in the footprints at the. scene. (T. 994-996). Further, white paint appeared to be on the bottom of one of Crowe’s shoes. (T. 997). There was no paint on the bottom of the victim’s shoes, indicating that he did not walk around after the paint was poured. (T. 999).
After viewing a portion of Crowe’s third statement which was the video taped statement, Mr. Fite opined that the evidence did not support Crowe’s assertions in this statement of how the killing occurred. (T. 1053-1060). The bullets would have had to travel at reverse angles and one even do a "u-turn" for events to have happened as Crowe contended.
Mr. Fite also compared the three bullets recovered at the crime scene to the Charter Arms special revolver which was obtained from Crowe’s residence. He concluded that the bullet recovered from the feather duster at the store was positively fired from the gun, that a second bullet was probably fired from the gun but it had been mutilated which prevented his being positive, and that the bullet found in the paint rollers was fired from the gun. (T. 1074-1079).
Dr. Byron Dawson of the State Crime Lab conducted the autopsy on the victim. (T. 1103-1108). One gunshot to the victim’s body entered his back 15 1/2" below the top of his head and 1" to the midline of his back and exited the victim’s front 14 1/2" below the top of his head. (T. 1112). This gunshot wound was the cause of death as it entered the victim’s right lung and the pulmonary artery section, the plural cavity filled with blood, and the victim essentially bled to death internally. (T. 1121). It did not appear that the wound would have been immediately disabling but, depending on the rate of bleeding, the victim could have survived from two to fifteen minutes. (T. 1121-1124).
The victim also exhibited bruising on the right side of the neck and over the top of his right shoulder which was probably caused by an object. (T. 1125-1128). Sufficient force was used in inflicting these injuries to damage the muscle and underlying fatty layer which hemorrhaged; based upon the bruising, Dr. Dawson opined the victim was alive when they were caused. (T. 1129-1130). These injuries could have been made by a crowbar, and multiple blows were definitely involved. (T. 1131-1134). A paint can could have possibly caused some of the injuries as well. (T. 1134-1135).
The victim also had bruises and lacerations on his face. (T. 1138-1140). There were also two bruises to the left side of the victim’s head. (T. 1144). There was also a deep laceration approximately one inch in length on the left side of his head. (T. 1144-1145). Dr. Dawson opined that this injury was caused by a hard object rather than a fist. (T. 1145-1146). There was also a 3" to 3 1/2" laceration on the top of the victim’s head which was very likely caused by an object, and this blow fractured the victim’s skull. (T. 1146-48). There was another laceration approximately 2" in length which also fractured the skull. (T. 1148). These two lacerations were inflicted either after or near death. (T. 1156-1160). There were also scattered minor abrasions on the victim’s left wrist and lower arm which were very likely defensive wounds. (T. 1160-1163). There were approximately six abrasions to the victim’s right forearm. (T. 1164-1167).
Based upon the pattern of the paint on and around the victim’s body, Dr. Dawson opined that the paint had probably been poured on the body as it lay face up. (T. 1172). While Dr. Dawson found no paint in the victim’s lung, airways or throat, the thick coating of paint on both eyeballs lead him to conclude that the victim was either dead or severely unconscious at the time. (T. 1173). He also opined that the two lacerations to the victim’s forehead occurred after the paint had been poured on the victim. (T. 1174-1175).
Based upon the little bleeding around the skull lacerations, Dr. Dawson did not think it possible that the victim had been on one knee when he was covered with paint and struck with a crowbar (as Crowe had claimed) as the lack of blood pressure indicated by the small amount of bleeding indicated in turn that the victim was probably not capable of standing or kneeling. (T. 1175-1176). Further, the lacerations to the skull were more horizontal than vertical and were inconsistent in a crowbar being used in a face-to-face confrontation to strike the victim on the head.
Warren Tillman of the State Crime Lab compared paint specimens from the victim’s body, the crime scene, and items taken from Crowe’s car including a bath towel, an empty paint can, a break pedal cover, a blue shirt and a tube of caulk. (T. 1207-1210). He concluded that they had a common origin. (T. 1211). Mr. Tillman also compared paint scrapings from the victim’s skull with paint from a crowbar and concluded that they had a common origin. (T. 1211).
Major Phil Miller of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department participated in the investigation. (T. 926-928). At approximately 3:00 p.m. on the day the victim’s body was found, he went to the home of Captain Eddie Price who lived across the street from Crowe; when Crowe arrived home at approximately 3:30, Major Miller and a second officer went to Crowe’s home and Crowe agreed to let police search his residence and agreed to talk to police. (T. 927-934). Sheriff Earl Lee arrived approximately twenty to thirty minutes later. (T. 935). At the time Crowe consented to a search of his residence, Crowe’s wife had also signed a written waiver form allowing police to search their residence and car. (T. 1231-1232).
In Crowe’s bedroom Sheriff Lee found State’s Exhibit No. 55, a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver. (T. 1235-1236). What appeared to be paint scrapings were visible both inside and outside Mrs. Crowe’s car as well as on the brake and accelerator. (T. 1232-1233). From the Pontiac Fiero police seized gloves, tennis shoes, a crowbar, paint, paint cans, cement, caulking compound from the trunk. (T. 1238). A bank bag was found inside the car, and it had been cut open. (T. 1239-1240). The bank bag had no cash in it but only checks and deposits slips. (T. 1240). The victim’s key ring was also found in the Fiero. (T. 1242-1243).
Crowe did not have any visible abrasions or marks on his face or knuckles. There was only a small scratch or tear on his right hand palm which had bled but which did not appear to need stitches. (T. 1244-1245). Crowe never complained of having injuries which needed medical attention. (T. 1245-1246).
After Crowe was told he was under arrest and given Miranda warnings, Crowe agreed to give a taped statement while they were in his kitchen. (T. 1246-1248). In this statement, (T. 1253-84), Crowe said he stopped by Wickes Lumber Company at approximately 6:30 p.m. and talked to the victim for approximately ten minutes, left at approximately 6:50 p.m. and came directly home. (T. 1257). Crowe admitted that he shot the victim three times with a pistol and hit the victim in the head with a can of paint. (T. 1258-1259). The security alarm apparently had not been turned on. (T. 1259). Crowe took the cash bag and the victim’s keys. (T. 1259-1260). Crowe admitted that he had shot the victim once when the victim walked toward the paint aisle and the victim "never went down" until he backed down the paint aisle and fell. (T. 1260-1261). Crowe stated that he hit the victim only once in the head with the crowbar while the victim was lying down. (T. 1261). Crowe stated that as the victim fell, the victim grabbed the lid of a paint can and two or three cans fell in the floor, one by the victim; the victim allegedly then had Crowe by his arm, Crowe hit the victim with a paint can, the lid came off and "paint went everywhere." (T. 1262).
Crowe admitted that he walked 20 to 25 feet to get a crowbar from a floor display. (T. 1262-64). Crowe admitted that the safe was already open because the victim had not yet closed it, the deposit bag was in the computer room and the cash drawer was "where it always was." (T. 1264). Crowe admitted that before he shot the victim, Crowe had demanded money from him; the victim turned around and was writing or doing something with paperwork; Crowe pulled the gun from the waist of his pants underneath his jacket and shot the victim in the head. (T. 1266-1267). The victim turned around and called Crowe’s name; Crowe said he was sorry and fired two more shots. (T. 1267). The victim began walking backwards, grabbed Crowe by the arm and Crowe fired again. (T. 1267-1268). According to Crowe, the victim had backed into the end counter and was still talking and calling Crowe’s name; Crowe was telling the victim that he was sorry, picked up a paint can and hit the victim in the forehead. (T. 1268). Crowe claimed that the top of the paint can came off and the paint went everywhere. (T. 1269). Crowe then tried to wash off some paint in the bathroom, checked on the victim again and saw that he was moving or moaning, and because Crowe had no more ammunition, got the crowbar and hit the victim "once." (T. 1269-1273). Crowe then left.
Crowe claimed that he only wanted to get money and did not want to lose his house and what he had. (T. 1272). Crowe returned home, took off his clothing downstairs, hid his clothes in a garbage bag and then placed them in the Fiero. (T. 1275-1277). Crowe stated that the cash found on his person by police was from cashing his own personal check that day and that the cash bag was still in the car. (T. 1279). Crowe said he had no idea how he had injured his hand. (T. 1281). Crowe stated he wore gloves the entire time. (T. 1282).
Sheriff Lee identified the pants and shirt recovered from the Crowe’s home after Crowe had given the statement. (T. 1286-1287). Crowe was then transported to the jail. (T. 1288). Crowe had approximately $600 or $700 in cash on his person. (T. 1289-1290).
Approximately two or three hours later, Crowe gave a second statement with the sheriff using a better quality tape recorder and to cover a few things not covered in the first statement. (T. 1292-1293). In the second statement, (T. 1295-1350), Crowe claimed that the victim let him in and was in the process of closing up for the day. (T. 1299). In this statement Crowe said that he used the bathroom, and upon his return, took the pistol out from underneath his jacket, pointed it at the victim and fired. (T. 1301). The victim turned around, called out Crowe’s name, and Crowe pulled the trigger again but Crowe did not know if he hit the victim that time. (T. 1302). Crowe remembered firing three shots. When Crowe fired the third shot, it seemed to him that the victim was at the end of the aisle with the paint, the victim reached out and grabbed Crowe’s left arm as the victim fell back, the victim fell against the display, two or three cans of paint fell on the floor, and Crowe picked up a paint can and hit the victim once in the head, causing the lid to come off and paint to spill everywhere. (T. 1303). Crowe washed the paint out of his hair in the bathroom, returned and talked to the victim for five or six minutes, and because Crowe had no more ammunition and the victim was suffering, got the crow bar and hit the victim once. (T. 1305-1307). Crowe then got two cash bags, one containing the bank deposit and the other containing the cash the store kept for business. (T. 1307-1309). Crowe left, taking the paint can and crowbar. (T. 1311). He did not lock the door nor set the alarm.
On March 25, 1989, Crowe gave a third statement which was video taped. (T. 1353-1401). Crowe had written a letter to the sheriff asking to talk with him at the sheriff’s earliest convenience. (T. 1353-1355; 1988). Crowe stated he had a drug problem which began in January or February 1988, which caused financial problems. (T. 1359-1360). Crowe tried to borrow money from several former co-workers at Wickes Lumber Company, including Huey Moss, Ben Covington and the victim. (T. 1361-1364). Crowe claimed the victim agreed to loan him $1500 but suggested that Crowe talk with Wanda Crowe and let her know what was going on. (T. 1364). Crowe claimed that he wound up borrowing money from his mother at this point.
Sheriff Lee had visited the crime scene and viewed the physical evidence. In his opinion, Crowe’s third version in the video tape was inconsistent with the physical evidence. (T. 1405).
In mitigation, Crowe presented sixteen witnesses including family members, friends, jail chaplains, former fellow church members/coworkers, and employers. (T. 1454; 1470; 1492; 1514; 1529; 1541; 1549; 1561; 1577; 1589; 1594; 1611; 1620; 1638; 1671; 1698). The jury found the existence of three statutory aggravating circumstances and recommended that a death sentence be imposed for murder. (R. 387; T. 1892-93).
Trial, Extraordinary Motion for New Trial and Consolidated Appeal Proceedings (1989-1996)
Crowe pled guilty in the Superior Court of Douglas County to the offense of murder and entered a guilty plea to the offense of armed robbery pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970). On May 5, 1989, the trial court accepted Crowe’s pleas of guilty to the murder and armed robbery charges, but Crowe’s sentencing trial was held before a jury. On November 20, 1989, Crowe received the death sentence for murder and a life sentence was imposed for the offense of armed robbery.
Crowe then filed a timely notice of appeal in the Georgia Supreme Court on December 8, 1989, and Crowe’s direct appeal from the imposition of his death sentence was docketed in the Georgia Supreme Court on March 9, 1990, as Case No. S90P0734. On April 17, 1990, Crowe filed an extraordinary motion for new trial, a motion for new trial and a motion to recuse the trial judge in the
Crowe’s appeal from the dismissal of his extraordinary motion for a new trial was docketed in the Georgia Supreme Court on June 1, 1990, as Case No. S90A1171. On July 5, 1990, the Georgia Supreme Court remanded the direct appeal case, No. S90P0734, to the trial court “to give Defendant the opportunity to litigate the issues he attempted to raise in his extraordinary motion for new trial.” The hearing on Crowe’s extraordinary motion for new trial was held on March 3, 1994. Following the submission of post-hearing briefs, the trial court denied the extraordinary motion for new trial on May 13, 1994.
Crowe then filed a consolidated appeal in the Georgia Supreme Court as to the entry of his pleas of guilty, the imposition of his sentences and the denial of his extraordinary motion for new trial. On June 26, 1995, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Crowe’s convictions and sentences, as well as affirming the denial of Crowe’s extraordinary motion for new trial in Crowe v. State, 265
Crowe, represented by Ann Fort and Palmer Singleton, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the
Crowe filed a notice of appeal from the denial of state habeas corpus relief on August 9, 2000. Crowe’s application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court on May 28, 2002. Crowe then filed a motion for reconsideration of denial of probable cause to appeal on June 7, 2002, which was denied on July 12, 2002. Crowe filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on October 9, 2002, which was denied on January 13, 2003.
Crowe filed a second petition for habeas corpus relief in the
Thereafter, Crowe filed his motion for reconsideration of the order dismissing the second petition in the
Crowe, represented by Ann Fort, Robert McGlasson and Palmer Singleton, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on August 15, 2002. Crowe filed an amended federal habeas corpus petition on May 9, 2003.
On September 30, 2005, the district court denied Crowe federal habeas corpus relief. Crowe filed a motion for new trial and/or to alter or amend judgment on October 17, 2005. On November 15, 2005, the district court granted in part and denied in part, Crowe’s motion for new trial and/or to alter or amend judgment. Crowe filed a notice of appeal on December 14, 2005. Crowe’s motion for a certificate of appealability was granted in part and denied in part by the district court on July 26, 2006.
11th Circuit Court of Appeals (2006-2007)
On September 1, 2006, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted an expansion of the certificate of appealability to include certain specific issues on appeal. The case was orally argued before the Eleventh Circuit on May 31, 2007. On June 27, 2007, the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion which denied relief. Crowe v. Hall, 490 F.3d 840 (11th Cir. 2007). Crowe filed a petition for panel rehearing, which was denied on August 28, 2007.
Crowe filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on January 25, 2008, which was denied April 21, 2008.
Crowe’s initial petition for state habeas corpus relief, Civil Action No. 95-V-655, was dismissed without prejudice as being premature on February 14, 1996.