Can a Murder be Considered HAC Even Though the Victim May Not Have Been Conscious at the Time of Death ?
In Lott v. State, 695 So. 2d 1239, 1244 (Fla. 1997), appellant argued that the murder was not HAC (Heinous, Atrocious, Cruel) because the victim might not have been conscious at the time the fatal slash was inflicted. This Court disagreed, observing that, although the victim "may not have been conscious at the time that Lott made the fatal slash which caused her death, the physical torture and emotional trauma she suffered during the time leading up to her death justify application of the HAC aggravator." 695 So. 2d at 1244. Accord Gore v. State, 706 So. 2d 1328, 1335 (Fla. 1997) (observing, in upholding HAC factor even though victim's "death by gunshot was most likely instantaneous," that "the fear and emotional strain of the victim from the events preceding the killing may contribute to its heinous nature"); James v. State, 695 So. 2d 1229, 1235 (Fla. 1997) (observing that, although "the HAC aggravator does not apply to most instantaneous deaths or to deaths that occur fairly quickly, fear, emotional strain, and terror of the victim during the events leading up to the murder may make an otherwise quick death especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel"). As stated in Swafford v. State, 533 So. 2d 270 (Fla. 1988), "the victim's mental state may be evaluated for purposes of such determination in accordance with a common-sense inference from the circumstances." 533 So. 2d at 277 (citing Preston v. State, 444 So. 2d 939, 946 (Fla. 1984) (observing that the "victim must have felt terror and fear as these events unfolded")).