Darden v. Wainwright

477 U.S. 168 (1986)


A black adult male entered a store browsed and then returned just a few minutes later asking to see some stoves, and inquiring about the price. When Mrs. Turman turned toward the adding machine, he grabbed her and pressed a gun to her back, took her to the rear of the store and told her to open the cash register. He took the money, ordered her to the part of the store where some box springs and mattresses were stacked against the wall. Mr. Turman appeared at the back door. Mrs. Turman screamed while the man shot Mr. Turman between the eyes. The man tried to pull him into the building and close the door, but could not. Mrs. Turman was on the floor approximately five feet from where her husband lay dying. She begged to go to her husband. The perpetrator told her to remove her false teeth. He unzipped his pants, unbuckled his belt, and demanded oral sex. A neighbor family, the Arnolds, became aware that something had happened to Mr. Turman. The mother sent her 16-year-old son Phillip, a part-time employee at the furniture store, to help. When Phillip opened the door to take Turman's body inside, Mrs. Turman shouted: 'Phillip, no, go back.' Phillip asked the man to help get Turman inside. He replied, 'Sure, buddy, I will help you.' As Phillip looked up, the man was pointing a gun in his face. He pulled the trigger, and the gun misfired; he pulled the trigger again and shot Phillip in the mouth. Phillip started to run away and was shot in the neck. While he was still running, he was shot a third time in the side. Phillip managed to stumble to the home of a neighbor, Mrs. Edith Hill. While she was helping Phillip, she saw a late model green Chevrolet leave the store and head towards Tampa on State Highway 92. Phillip survived the incident; Mr. Turman died later that night. Darden (D) was driving towards Tampa on Highway 92, just a few miles away from the furniture store. D eventually crashed into a telephone pole. The driver of the oncoming car, John Stone, stopped his car and went to petitioner to see if he could help. Stone testified that, as he approached the car, petitioner was zipping up his pants and buckling his belt. Police at the crash site later identified petitioner's car as a 1969 Chevrolet Impala of greenish golden brown color. By the time the police arrived at the scene of the accident, D had left. An officer found a revolver about 40 feet from the crash site. Forensics determined that it was the likely candidate for the murder. D was arrested and identified by Mrs. Turman. Darden (D) was charged with murder. D was tried and found guilty of murder, robbery, and assault with intent to kill. At trial, the prosecution's counsel made improper remarks during his closing argument. These remarks were intended to appeal to the passion of the jury, not to the facts. D was convicted and sentenced to death. D appealed, claiming that the closing argument was improper and violated due process. D's conviction was affirmed, and the court of appeals denied habeas corpus. D appealed.

In the closing argument, some of the following comments were made: 

D was on weekend furlough from a prison sentence when the crime occurred. ['As far as I am concerned, there should be another Defendant in this courtroom, one more, and that is the division of corrections, the prisons. . . . Can we expect him to stay in a prison when they go there? Can't we expect them to stay locked up once they go there? Do we know that they're going to be out on the public with guns, drinking?' 'Yes, there is another Defendant, but I regret that I know of no charges to place upon him, except the public condemnation of them, condemn them.'] 

Some comments implied that the death penalty would be the only guarantee against a future similar act. ['I will ask you to advise the Court to give him death. That's the only way that I know that he is not going to get out on the public. It's the only way I know. It's the only way I can be sure of it. It's the only way that anybody can be sure of it now because the people that turned him loose -- .'] 

Others incorporated the defense's use of the word 'animal.' ['As far as I am concerned, and as Mr. Maloney said as he identified this man, this person as an animal, this animal was on the public for one reason.'] 

Prosecutor McDaniel made several offensive comments reflecting an emotional reaction to the case. ['He shouldn't be out of his cell unless he has a leash on him and a prison guard at the other end of that leash.' 'I wish [Mr. Turman] had had a shotgun in his hand when he walked in the back door and blown his [Darden's] face off. I wish that I could see him sitting here with no face, blown away by a shotgun.' 'I wish someone had walked in the back door and blown his head off at that point.' 'He fired in the boy's back, number five, saving one. Didn't get a chance to use it. I wish he had used it on himself.' 'I wish he had been killed in the accident, but he wasn't. Again, we are unlucky that time.' 'Don't forget what he has done according to those witnesses, to make every attempt to change his appearance from September the 8th, 1973. The hair, the goatee, even the mustache, and the weight. The only thing he hasn't done that I know of is cut his throat.”] 

After this, the last in a series of such comments, defense counsel objected for the first time.