Capital Sentencing Guide

SENSELESS/HELPLESS

SENSELESS/HELPLESS FINDING UPHELD 


State v. Ricky Tison (Ricky Tison I)
, 129 Ariz. 526, 633 P.2d 335 (1981)
PRE-GRETZLER CASE
The Court found these murders to be heinous and depraved because of the senselessness of the murders, the inability of the victims to stop the escape in such an isolated area, and the fact that a young child who posed no threat to the captors was shot in the arms of his mother. There were less violent alternatives available to prevent the captors' detection by the authorities than to slaughter this entire family. The compels the conclusion that the slayers had a shockingly evil state of mind.

State v. Raymond Tison (Raymond Tison I), 129 Ariz. 546, 633 P.2d 355 (1981)
PRE-GRETZLER CASE
The Court pointed out that one of the victims was a twenty-two-month-old child held in the arms of his mother in upholding the crime as heinous and depraved.

State v. Woratzeck, 134 Ariz. 452, 657 P.2d 22 (1983)
PRE-GRETZLER CASE
The Court found this murder to be heinous or depraved in part because the victim was physically helpless. The victim had Huntington's disease, lacked coordination, and had the mental capacity of a fifteen-year-old. The Court found that during the attack she would have most likely not understood the attack and been physically helpless.

State v. Zaragoza, 135 Ariz. 63, 659 P.2d 22 (1983)
Senselessness: Killing unnecessary to accomplish criminal goals; sexual assault. Helplessness: Seventy-eight-year-old victim had limited mental capabilities making her easily manipulated; easy prey.

State v. Harding (Wise, Concannon murders), 137 Ariz. 278, 670 P.2d 383 (1983)
Helplessness: Court characterizes victim as helpless, but does not apply facts to analysis.

State v. Summerlin, 138 Ariz. 426, 675 P.2d 686 (1983)
Victim received several blows to head; her battered condition rendered her incapable of defending herself; Court finds both senselessness and helplessness without further elaboration.

State v. McCall (McCall I), 139 Ariz. 147, 677 P.2d 920 (1983)
Senselessness: One of victims was houseguest with no possible interest in business affairs of intended victims; her murder in no way furthered plan of killers.

State v. James, 141 Ariz. 141, 685 P.2d 1293 (1984)
Senselessness: Court found that only motive for killing was greed and prejudice against one different from oneself.

State v. Fisher (Fisher I), 141 Ariz. 227, 686 P.2d 750 (1984)
Senselessness: Victim had shown generosity and concern for defendant and his wife; Court did not specifically use the word "senseless."

State v. Chaney, 141 Ariz. 295, 686 P.2d 1265 (1984)
Senselessness: Victim, a sheriff's deputy, was down; defendant could have taken victim's guns and disabled two-way radio, as he did with other deputy. Helplessness: Defendant saw victim was helpless before firing final shot; still, defendant shot victim from rear at close range.

State v. Villafuerte, 142 Ariz. 323, 690 P.2d 42 (1984)
Senselessness: Defendant's stated purpose was to prevent victim from calling police immediately after he departed scene; not necessary to have bound and gagged victim in extreme manner as to assure her death by suffocation. Helplessness: Victim left alive, but defendant waited until twenty-four hours after he had been apprehended (forty-eight hours after victim had been left bound and gagged) to tell police about victim.

State v. Gillies (Gillies II), 142 Ariz. 564, 691 P.2d 655 (1984)
Senselessness: Court found murder to be senseless without elaboration.

State v. Carriger (Carriger III), 143 Ariz. 142, 692 P.2d 991 (1984)
Senselessness: Victim unable to stop defendant from getting away. Helplessness: victim bound and blows came from behind victim.

State v. Roscoe (Roscoe I), 145 Ariz. 212, 700 P.2d 1312 (1984)
Senselessness: Abduction, violent sexual penetration and strangulation of seven-year-old child was senseless. Helplessness: Victim was seven years old.

State v. Martinez-Villareal, 145 Ariz. 441, 702 P.2d 670 (1985)
Senselessness/Helplessness: Victims unarmed, and offered no apparent resistance to burglary.

State v. Bracy, 145 Ariz. 520, 751 P.2d 464 (1985)
Senselessness/Helplessness: Killing of one victim was senseless; she was elderly houseguest of other victims "with no possible interest in their business affairs"; her murder did not further plan of killing one of victims. See "Note" in full Case Summary.

State v. Hooper, 145 Ariz. 538, 751 P.2d 482 (1985)
See State v. Bracy.

State v. Rossi (Rossi I), 146 Ariz. 359, 706 P.2d 371 (1985)
Senselessness: Murder was not necessary to accomplish goal of robbery and escape. Helplessness: Victim was sixty-six years old and in failing health, having been shot in chest, he was in no position to prevent robbery; defendant could have easily escaped.

State v. Johnson, 147 Ariz. 395, 710 P.2d 1050 (1985)
Senselessness: Killing was without purpose or motive; defendant was either inebriated or to some extent mentally deranged; however, case is not outside the "norm" of first degree murders and therefore heinous or depraved finding not supported.

State v. Correll, 148 Ariz. 468, 715 P.2d 721 (1986)
Senselessness: Murders were senseless because unnecessary to accomplish robbery. Helplessness: Victims were bound and gagged.

State v. Wallace (Wallace I), 151 Ariz. 362, 728 P.2d 232 (1986)
Senselessness: Defendant murdered a mother and her two children; he had no quarrel with two children; defendant lived with family for more than two years.

State v. Walter LaGrand, 153 Ariz. 21, 734 P.2d 563 (1987)
Helplessness: Victim was bound and gagged.

State v. Beaty, 158 Ariz. 232, 762 P.2d 519 (1988)
Senselessness/Helplessness: Female victim was thirteen and helpless against assailant.

State v. Mauro (Mauro II), 159 Ariz. 186, 766 P.2d 59 (1988)
Senselessness: Victim was defendant's son. Helplessness: Victim was seven years old, confined and malnourished.

State v. Vickers (Vickers II)(Holsinger murder)), 159 Ariz. 532, 768 P.2d 1177 (1989)
Senselessness: Defendant not harmed by victim. Helplessness: Victim was physically handicapped man locked in his cell; no means of escape and no defense.

State v. McCall (McCall II), 160 Ariz. 119, 770 P.2d 1165 (1989)
Senselessness: Found as to one victim: elderly houseguest of other victims; her murder did not further plan to kill one of victims. See "Note" in full Case Summary.

State v. Fulminante (Fulminante I), 161 Ariz. 237, 778 P.2d 602 (1988)
Senselessness: Defendant could have accomplished his intended criminal act without killing victim. Helplessness: Victim was stepdaughter of defendant; weighed only ninety pounds, was easily manipulated by defendant; defendant isolated her in desert where she could not escape or be heard; victim posed no threat at any time.

State v. Robinson and Washington, 165 Ariz. 51, 796 P.2d 853 (1990)
Senselessness: Victims were elderly, tied up, forced to lie face down on floor, and murdered in course of armed robbery.

State v. Comer, 165 Ariz. 413, 799 P.2d 333 (1990)
Senselessness: Not necessary to kill victim in order to rob him. Helplessness: Victim suffered from physical disability that made it difficult for him to walk or stand.

State v. Hinchey (Hinchey I), 165 Ariz. 432, 799 P.2d 352 (1990)
Helplessness: Seventeen-year-old victim was asleep when defendant first entered her room.

State v. Jiménez, 165 Ariz. 444, 799 P.2d 785 (1990)
Senselessness: Defendant, with no apparent reason, murdered a helpless child who trusted him. Helplessness: Five-year-old victim trusted killer.

State v. Amaya-Ruiz, 166 Ariz. 152, 800 P.2d 1260 (1990)
Senselessness: Victim and husband befriended defendant and provided him with food, shelter and clothing.

State v. Stanley, 167 Ariz. 519, 809 P.2d 944 (1991)
Senselessness: Defendant's murder of his own five-year-old daughter was senseless. Helplessness: Victim was only five, alone with her parents and brother, and her mother had been shot.

State v. Cook, 170 Ariz. 40, 821 P.2d 731 (1991)
Helplessness: Each victim was alone against two attackers. Senselessness: Murder was not necessary to accomplish sexual assault of victims.

State v. Greenway, 170 Ariz. 155, 823 P.2d 22 (1992)
Helplessness: Two female victims were defenseless against two armed assailants; shooting mother in leg made it impossible to stop crime.

State v. Brewer, 170 Ariz. 486, 826 P.2d 783 (1992)
Senselessness: Victim was defendant's girlfriend and expectant mother of defendant's child; defendant's motive for murder was her threat to leave him. Helplessness: Victim was able to fight at first, but grew increasingly weak and was unconscious at the end of attack.

State v. Rossi (Rossi II), 171 Ariz. 276, 830 P.2d 797 (1992)
Senselessness: Killing was unnecessary to complete burglary and escape. Helplessness: Sixty-six-year-old victim in poor health was unable to prevent burglary.

State v. Medrano (Medrano I), 173 Ariz. 393, 844 P.2d 560 (1992)
Helplessness: Victim helpless against attack.

State v. Salazar, 173 Ariz. 399, 844 P.2d 566 (1992)
Helplessness: Eighty-three-year-old, partially blind victim weighed less than ninety pounds; she was brutally beaten and strangled.

State v. George Lopez, 174 Ariz. 131, 847 P.2d 1078 (1992)
Senselessness: Killing was response to infant-victim's having urinated as defendant was putting lotion on him after bath; defendant hit child and continued beating infant until he was dead. "While such reaction might be excused as a momentary flash of anger, the extent of the victim's injuries bespeaks a shockingly evil mind . . . we can conceive of no act more senseless than beating a one-year-old child to death." Helplessness: Infant was unable to defend against attack or to seek aid for injuries.

State v. Kiles, 175 Ariz. 358, 857 P.2d 1212 (1993)
Senselessness: Killing young children is senseless and reveals a total disregard for human life. Helplessness: Five-year-old child and nine-month-old baby were too young to defend themselves against defendant's attacks.

State v. Samuel Lopez (Samuel Lopez II), 175 Ariz. 407, 857 P.2d 1261 (1993)
Senselessness: Killing unnecessary to accomplish sexual assault. Helplessness: Fifty-nine-year-old victim weighed 124 pounds and had been blindfolded and gagged so could not call for help; although she struggled, after first serious wounds, there was no match.

State v. Spencer, 176 Ariz. 36, 859 P.2d 146 (1993)
Senselessness: Killing was unnecessary to accomplish theft of car and money.

State v. Runningeagle, 176 Ariz. 59, 859 P.2d 169 (1993)
Senselessness/Helplessness: Factors found without elaboration.

State v. West, 176 Ariz. 432, 862 P.2d 192 (1993)
Senselessness: Killing unnecessary to complete underlying crime; defendant did nothing to render assistance when asked, even after he was urged to help. Helplessness: Victim was of advanced age and severely beaten, demonstrating an inability to ward off attack.

State v. Styers, 177 Ariz. 104, 865 P.2d 765 (1993)
Senselessness: Killing of child is senseless. Helplessness: Four-year-old victim knew and trusted defendant; defendant used victim's love of Santa Claus and hunting snakes to lure him to his death; defendant was victim's daytime caretaker; special relationship between defendant and child victim.

State v. Milke, 177 Ariz. 118, 865 P.2d 779 (1993)
Senselessness: Motive for killing own son was so he would not grow up to be like his father, and to free herself of parental burdens. Helplessness: Four-year-old victim was helpless because he was delivered into killers' hands by person he relied upon for protection and compassion his mother; defendant knew victim trusted codefendant Styers who was his daytime caretaker; special relationship between defendant and child victim.

State v. Scott, 177 Ariz. 131, 865 P.2d 792 (1993)
Senselessness and helplessness alone, without any other factors, is sufficient to establish heinousness or depravity when murder is above norm of first degree murders. See State v. Milke.

State v. Gallegos (Gallegos I), 178 Ariz. 1, 870 P.2d 1097 (1994)
Helplessness: Eight-year-old victim weighing fifty-seven pounds, stood four feet, five inches tall; eighteen-year-old defendant had trust relationship with victim; victim was asleep when suffocated.

State v. Ross, 180 Ariz. 598, 886 P.2d 1354 (1994)
Senselessness: After first shot, defendant had victim's wallet, no need to shoot again. Helplessness: Victim rendered helpless by first shot.

State v. Barreras, 181 Ariz. 515, 892 P.2d 852 (1995)
Senselessness: Killing unnecessary to complete sexual assault. Helplessness: Nineteen-year-old victim had diminished mental capacity, equivalent to three- to four-year-old child.

State v. Stokley, 182 Ariz. 505, 898 P.2d 454 (1995)
Senselessness: Killing of a helpless child is senseless. Helplessness: Victims, young girls, driven to remote rural area in middle of night, sexually assaulted, stabbed, stomped, stripped, strangled, and thrown down a mine shaft.

State v. Aryon Williams, 183 Ariz. 368, 904 P.2d 437 (1995)
Helplessness: Shot and beaten, victim unable to defend herself against further attack.

State v. Walden, 183 Ariz. 595, 905 P.2d 974 (1995)
Senselessness: Killing unnecessary to complete sexual assault. Helplessness: Victim beaten and repeatedly injured while trying to resist; victim five feet tall, weighing 100 pounds, whereas defendant was six feet two inches tall, weighing 195 pounds.

State v. Roger and Robert Murray, 184 Ariz. 9, 906 P.2d 542 (1995)
Senselessness: The killings were not necessary to complete the robberies. Helplessness: Victims were elderly and could not have summoned aid easily.

State v. Gulbrandson, 184 Ariz. 46, 906 P.2d 579 (1995)
Helplessness: Protracted struggle does not negate finding of helplessness; victim ultimately helpless when bound.

State v. Roscoe (Roscoe II), 184 Ariz. 484, 910 P.2d 635 (1996)
Court finds senselessness and helplessness without elaboration, except that finding is not sufficient to support finding of heinousness or depravity, after reversal of relishing finding.

State v. Danny Jones, 185 Ariz. 471, 917 P.2d 200 (1996)
Senselessness: Male victim: Initial blows knocked him unconscious, defendant could have taken guns without killing victim. Helplessness: After victim regained consciousness and attempted to flee, victim was physically unable to stop defendant. Senselessness /Helplessness: Female victim: Seven-year-old child posed no obstacle to defendant.

State v. Miles, 186 Ariz. 10, 918 P.2d 1028 (1996)
see State v. Jackson.

State v. Jackson, 186 Ariz. 20, 918 P.2d 1038 (1996)
Senselessness: Victim driven into desert, forced to remove shoes, jacket, and pants, so defendant could have taken car and escaped without detection without having killed. Helplessness: victim unarmed and outnumbered three to one.

State v. Hyde, 186 Ariz. 252, 921 P.2d 655 (1996)
Senselessness: Victims had been subdued prior to their murder so it was unnecessary to kill them to complete theft. Helplessness: Based on physical condition of victims: Male victim was seventy-two years old and physically small; female victim was fifty years old and also small.

State v. Miller, 186 Ariz. 314, 921 P.2d 1151 (1996)
Trial court's finding that murder was senseless was not challenged on appeal; victim's earlier escape attempt was not inconsistent with its finding that victim was helpless; victim had been shot when defendant approached and killed her, so she was helpless at the time.

State v. Soto-Fong, 187 Ariz. 186, 928 P.2d 610 (1996)
Findings upheld but factor of heinous or depraved reversed; findings of senselessness and helplessness without more are usually insufficient, as in this case, to support a finding that murder was heinous or depraved.

State v. Lacy, 187 Ariz. 340, 929 P.2d 1288 (1996)
Because trial court's gratuitous violence finding, based on three gunshot wounds, was reversed, senselessness and helplessness findings, though upheld, were insufficient to uphold finding that murder was heinous or depraved.

State v. Detrich (Detrich II), 188 Ariz. 57, 932 P.2d 1328 (1997)
Senselessness: Found where defendant sought repayment for bad drugs, making murder of victim unnecessary and, in fact, counterproductive. Helplessness: Found where defendant held a knife to victim's throat, dragged her to a car with no means of escape, and while inside car, was on top of her abusing and stabbing her; she was unable to defend herself.

State v. Chad Lee (Reynolds, Lacey murders), 189 Ariz. 590, 944 P.2d 1204 (1997)
Senselessness: Insufficient without other circumstances to support finding of heinous and depraved where defendant fired nine shots but there was no proof as to time frame or sequence of four shots that struck victim; quick succession of gunshots does not present unique or limited circumstance in which senselessness and helplessness establish heinousness or depravity because it does not place murder above norm of first degree murders.

State v. Chad Lee (Drury murder), 189 Ariz. 608, 944 P.2d 1222 (1997)
Senselessness: Established when murder is unnecessary for defendant to complete his or her objective; victim unarmed; victim shot in shoulder and fell backward, which may have been disabling; defendant could have taken cash and fled without killing.

State v. Schackart, 190 Ariz. 238, 947 P.2d 315 (1997)
Senselessness: Found where, as here, killing was completely unnecessary; however, because other Gretzler factors found by trial court were reversed on appeal, Court notes that senselessness, alone, is not enough to support finding of heinousness or depravity.

State v. Trostle, 191 Ariz. 4, 951 P.2d 869 (1997)
Trial court found senselessness and helplessness alone; Arizona Supreme Court reiterated that these two Gretzler factors alone are usually insufficient to uphold finding that murder was heinous or depraved.

State v. Tankersley, 191 Ariz. 359, 956 P.2d 486 (1998)
Senselessness: Found without individual analysis. Helplessness: Defendant was healthy male in good physical condition while victim was ill, elderly woman connected to oxygen tubes, who posed no threat or harm to defendant and was wholly at his mercy.

State v. Medina, 193 Ariz. 504, 975 P.2d 94 (1999)
Senselessness: This murder served no rational purpose, was without an apparent motive, and the victim posed no threat to the defendant, so the Court agreed with the trial judge that this murder was senseless. Helplessness: The victim was intoxicated at the time of the killing. His attackers were much younger and stronger. The Court found helplessness because the victim could not realistically defend himself.

State v. Canez, 202 Ariz. 133, 42 P.3d 564 (2002)
Senselessness/Helplessness:  Canez bludgeoned to death a 77-year-old man when he opened the door to his home, then robbed the place.  Killing the victim was unnecessary to achieve Canez's purpose, since the man was rendered unable to resist after the first few blows.

State v. Carlson, 202 Ariz. 570, 48 P.3d 1180 (2002)
Helplessness: Carlson hired the killers to kill her bedridden and ill mother-in-law.  The killers repeatedly stabbed her as she tried to defend herself.  She lay in her room for 3 hours, unable to call for help.  She then lived for about 6 months before dying.  This, however, was the sole Gretzler/Ross factor upheld by the court, and it found that the relationship between a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law is not sufficient to justify finding heinous/depraved based solely upon helplessness (the other factors found by the trial court were reversed).

State v. (Antoin) Jones, 205 Ariz. 445, 72 P.3d 1264 (July 7, 2003) (Ring)
Helplessness: The fact that 12-year-old victim was 91 pounds, 61 inches tall, and female, and was tied up, rendering her unable to escape or resist, evidenced beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was helpless.  Senselessness: Above, plus, the court repeated the Stanley principle that “the killing of a helpless child is inherently senseless and demonstrates a disregard for human life, satisfying two of the five Gretzler factors.”

State v. (Wayne) Prince, 206 Ariz. 24, 75 P.3d 114 (Aug. 30, 2003) (Ring)
Senselessness/Helplessness:  With the killing of a child, senselessness and helplessness were automatically present.  The court, however, further concluded that helplessness and senseless could not alone support the h/d factor in this case, since there was scant evidence in the record as to the nature of the one-year relationship between Prince and his wife’s daughter, which could or could not have been a parent-child-type-relationship. This created doubt as to whether any reasonable jury would have conclusively found a parent-child relationship.

State v. (John Edward) Sansing, 206 Ariz. 232, 77 P.3d 70 (Sept. 24, 2003) (Ring)
Helplessness:  Sansing admitted to grabbing the victim, kneeing her in the back, and binding her writs and ankles with electrical cords.  He then tied her writs and ankles together, before bashing her on the head, dragging her into the bedroom, raping and killing her.  No reasonable jury would have failed to find that the victim was helpless to defend herself.

State v. (Michael Joe) Murdaugh, 209 Ariz. 19, 97 P.3d 844 (2004) (Ring)
Senselessness: Murdaugh’s stated purpose at the outset of the crime was to break the victim’s jaw, and this could have been accomplished with one blow to the head.  The murder was not necessary to achieve Murdaugh’s stated goal of teaching the victim a “lesson.”  Helplessness:  When Murdaugh and his accomplice entered the house to find the victim, they were both armed. The victim was “unarmed and outnumbered.”  The victim made no attempt to resist, but sat on the couch as Murdaugh yelled at him and robbed him.  He was also helpless when he was escorted to the garage by the two armed men who “flanked” either side of him.

SENSELESS/HELPLESS FINDING REVERSED

State v. Lujan, 124 Ariz. 365, 604 P.2d 629 (1979)
PRE-GRETZLER CASE
To determine especially heinous or depraved, the Court looks to the killer's state of mind as evidenced by his actions at or near the time of the offense. The Court recognized the helplessness of the victim, the senselessness of the killing, and the magnitude of the wound indicating an intent to kill. The Court agreed that these factors existed, but did not indicate that the killing was accomplished in an especially heinous or depraved manner.

State v. Roger Smith (Roger Smith II), 141 Ariz. 510, 687 P.2d 1265 (1984)
Trial court characterized killing as senseless because defendant could have committed robbery and escaped without harming or killing victim; Arizona Supreme Court disagreed with trial court's analysis.

State v. Ring (I), 200 Ariz. 1139, 25 P.3d 717 (2001)
Though any murder is senseless in its brutality and finality, the evidence did not support the State’s argument that the defendant could have seized the armored van without killing the victim. The defendant and his accomplices may have believed, from the way the victim was sitting in the van, that they could not have gained access to it or subdued the victim without a "potentially protracted and boisterous struggle." But the Court noted "that the entire inquiry is pointless" because a finding of senselessness alone cannot support a heinous/depraved finding.

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 remaining murder was senseless and that the victim was helpless. 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."

State v. (Tracy Allen) Hampton, 213 Ariz. 167, 140 P.3d 950 (2006) Jury Trial/Indep. Review
Heinous/Depraved – Not considered by court due to faulty jury instructions - The court found that the instructions given to the jury did not appropriately define the facially vague terms “heinous” and “depraved” and therefore it would not consider this aggravator in its independent review of the death sentences.

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