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WITNESS ELIMINATION

WITNESS ELIMINATION FINDING UPHELD 

State v. Gillies (Gillies II)
, 142 Ariz. 564, 691 P.2d 655 (1984)
Defendant told an acquaintance that he and accomplice killed victim so she could not testify against them for raping her.

State v. Correll, 148 Ariz. 468, 715 P.2d 721 (1986)
Court found that only ascertainable motive for murders was to eliminate any witnesses to robbery. Note: In State v. Barreras, the Court questioned the soundness of using the single aspect of not leaving a witness behind to support both findings of "senselessness" and "witness elimination."

State v. Marlow, 163 Ariz. 65, 786 P.2d 395 (1989)
Court held that motive for killing, to eliminate victim as a witness to robbery, supported a finding of "heinous or depraved" though, ultimately, sentence was reduced to life.

Note: This case held that a finding of "heinous or depraved" could be upheld without any other factor than witness elimination. This holding was heavily criticized in State v. King, which explained that absence of discussion about this factor contributed to the Court's reduction of the sentence. See full Case Summary, especially subsequent history section.

State v. Stanley, 167 Ariz. 519, 809 P.2d 944 (1991)
Testimony indicated that defendant shot his daughter because she had seen him shoot her mother; this was only motive for her killing.

State v. Greenway, 170 Ariz. 155, 823 P.2d 22 (1992)
Court upheld finding of witness elimination where defendant's coworker and cellmate both testified that defendant said he and his accomplice killed both victims so they wouldn't be eyewitnesses to robbery; Court found that committing murders to eliminate witnesses to robbery shows a "complete lack of understanding of the value of human life." (citing State v. Smith).

State v. King, 180 Ariz. 268, 883 P.2d 1024 (1994)
Court upheld finding of witness elimination, but held that it was not enough by itself to raise the murder "above the norm" and could not support a finding of heinousness or depravity.

State v. Stokley, 182 Ariz. 505, 898 P.2d 454 (1995)
Second Ross factor fulfilled when defendant tells detective motive for murders after sexual assault was that he was afraid they would tell. See State v. Ross (Ross is the watershed case for witness elimination factor, where Court develops a three-prong test).

State v. (Paul Bradley) Speer, 221 Ariz. 409, 212 P.3d 787 (2009)
(F)(6) heinous or depraved upheld. A murder committed for the purpose of witness elimination is especially heinous or depraved. The State proved that Speer had Womble kill the victim so that the victim would be unable to testify in Speer’s burglary trial.

WITNESS ELIMINATION FINDING REVERSED

State v. Ross, 180 Ariz. 598, 886 P.2d 1354 (1994)
Pursuant to previously existing case law, the Court articulates three categories of cases which will establish witness elimination as a motive for murder. First, "[w]here the murder victim is a witness to some other crime, and is killed to prevent that person from testifying about the other crime;" second, when "a statement by the defendant that witness elimination is a motive for the murder" is made; third, "where extraordinary circumstances of the crime show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that witness elimination is a motive." The third category will be satisfied by only the most extreme cases. None of these categories were satisfied in this case.

State v. Barreras, 181 Ariz. 516, 892 P.2d 852 (1995)
Record does not support a finding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that witness elimination was a motive for killing pursuant to Ross categories; victim had not witnessed any unrelated crime; defendant had not said anything to demonstrate that witness elimination was his motive; no extraordinary circumstances exist.

State v. Walden, 183 Ariz. 595, 905 P.2d 974 (1995)
Killing did not fit Ross categories: victim was not killed because she witnessed another crime; defendant made no statements linking this crime to witness elimination; no extraordinary circumstances exist.

State v. Danny Jones, 185 Ariz. 471, 917 P.2d 200 (1996)
No clear evidence of sequence of homicides, therefore, Court cannot determine conclusively whether Tisha Weaver directly witnessed attack on Ms. Gumina, therefore, first Ross category is not satisfied; no evidence to support second Ross category because defendant made no statements regarding Tisha's murder; no extreme circumstances exist, therefore, third Ross category is not satisfied.

State v. Miles, 186 Ariz. 10, 918 P.2d 1028 (1996)
No evidence to support a finding of witness elimination under Ross categories.

State v. Jackson, 186 Ariz. 20, 918 P.2d 1038 (1996)
No evidence to support a finding of witness elimination under Ross categories.

State v. Hyde, 186 Ariz. 252, 921 P.2d 655 (1996)
None of Ross categories were satisfied.

State v. Soto-Fong, 187 Ariz. 186, 928 P.2d 610 (1996)
First Ross category witness to another crime and second Ross category statement by the defendant were not present in this case. Third Ross category "extraordinary circumstances" requires a high level of proof found only in the most extreme cases. This case fit none of those categories.

State v. Schackart, 190 Ariz. 238, 947 P.2d 315 (1997)
No facts in this case fit any of the three Ross categories.

State v. Lehr, 201 Ariz. 509, 38 P.3d 1172 (2002)
Based on the testimony of victims who survived the defendant’s attacks, the trial court inferred the defendant killed the victim of the remaining murder to eliminate her as a witness to the accompanying sexual assault. The Supreme Court found that there was little known about the victim’s death and "it is simply too speculative to conclude that this homicide was committed in a cruel, heinous, or depraved manner."

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