Error of the Trial Court In Submitting Armed Robbery Charge to the Jury When the Motive for Murder Was Not Robbery
In Mahn v. State, 714 So. 2d 391, 397 (Fla. 1998) the court determined that the trial court erred in failing to grant the defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal as to the robbery count.
There, the defendant, who for many years had been estranged from his father, killed the father's live-in girlfriend and her son when efforts to reconcile with his father proved unsuccessful.
Although Mahn took the girlfriend's car and $ 400 as he fled from the scene, it appeared from the record that a different motive had prompted Mahn to commit the murders:
[W]e conclude here that the homicides did not occur because Mahn wanted to take $ 400 and a car. Mahn did not know the money was in the house; instead he found it while trying to find a key to a car. He wanted the car to flee the scene of the murders.
Additionally, if taking a car had been his original motive, he could easily have accomplished this at almost any time since he lived in the same household.
Instead, the homicides appear to have been the product of Mahn's mental and emotional disturbance and prompted by jealousy for his father's attention.
He took the money and car after the violence to effect his escape from the scene.
We find that a robbery was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Law, 559 So. 2d 187, 188 (Fla. 1989) ("A motion for judgment of acquittal should be granted in a circumstantial evidence case if the state fails to present evidence from which the jury can exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt.") 714 So. 2d at 397.
In determining that the trial court erred in submitting the armed robbery charge to the jury, this Court found that there was a reasonable hypothesis that Mahn did not intend to steal the girlfriend's money prior to the murders:
Thus, the State argues that the robbery and murders were part of a preconceived design or plan.
To that end, the State directs us to Mahn's second videotaped interview with the Oklahoma police.
In the interview, Mahn stated that [immediately in the aftermath of the murders] "I tried to take my dad's Corvette first, but I couldn't find the keys.
Debbie just said take my car and get out of here."
We are unconvinced by the State's argument.
The context of the above passage was Mahn's actions after the murders.
Mahn never indicated that he made this determination before the murders as part and parcel of an overall design.
Similarly, when questioned by the State during the penalty phase, Mahn stated that he did want to take his father's Corvette after the murders, but clearly stated that was not one of the reasons the murders occurred.
Thus, there is no proof that Mahn intended to steal either his father's car or Debra's car prior to the murders.
Likewise, we find that a reasonable hypothesis exists that Mahn did not intend to steal Debra's money prior to the murders.
The State relies on Michael Mahn's testimony that Debra "always carried her money in a bag and that it was on the dresser in plain view."
However, that fact does not establish that Mahn either knew the moneybag was in his father's bedroom that night or that he intended to steal it.
Furthermore, since Mahn testified that he tried to take his father's keys first, and then presumably flee, he would have no reason to take Debra's car keys and the moneybag if he already had his father's keys.
That reasonably leads to the conclusion that Mahn took the moneybag as an afterthought in conjunction with his taking of Debra's keys, as he indicated in his statements to the police.
Accordingly, we find that the trial court erred in submitting the armed robbery charge to the jury.
Therefore, we reverse Mahn's conviction on this count and remand with directions that this conviction be reduced to grand theft. 714 So. 2d at 397.
In Mahn, as here, although we noted that there was no proof that the defendant had prior knowledge that the victim had the money which was taken, that factor was not dispositive.
Rather, the conclusion that the murders were not motivated by a desire to obtain the money and the car was compelled by additional evidence which was inconsistent with the State's theory.
First, there was unrefuted evidence of a contrary motive: that the son was jealous for his father's attention.
Second, the defendant expressly testified both that his intention was to take his father's car (not the girlfriend's car), and that he did not commit the murders to steal his father's car.
Consistent with this testimony, the record reflected that it was only after the defendant failed to obtain the keys to his father's car that he sought out the keys to the girlfriend's car, and took her money.
This compelled the conclusion that, had Mahn been successful in effecting his original intent to steal his father's car, the girlfriend's car (and the money found with her keys) would never have been taken.
Similarly, in Knowles (where this Court rejected the "during the course of a robbery" aggravator), there was additional evidence which was inconsistent with the State's theory that the defendant murdered his father to obtain the father's truck.
There, on the day of the murders, the defendant had been drinking beer and inhaling toluene, and, just before the homicides, was observed by a neighbor to be "the worst [she] had ever seen him," and acting "like he was completely gone."
Right before killing his father, Knowles entered a trailer next door to his father's trailer and shot and killed a ten-year-old girl whom he had never met, for no apparent reason.
He then shot his father (who was outside in the father's truck), pulled his father from the truck and threw him to the ground, and left the scene in the truck.
This Court, in analyzing the penalty phase of Knowles' trial, determined that the "during the course of a robbery" aggravator was improperly found in connection with the murder of Knowles' father:
The fact that Knowles took his father's truck after shooting Carrie Woods does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Knowles killed his father in order to avoid arrest.
There is no other evidence that Knowles' dominant motive for killing his father was to avoid arrest. Correll v. State, 523 So. 2d 562 (Fla.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 871, 109 S. Ct. 183, 102 L. Ed. 2d 152 (1988); Menendez v. State, 368 So. 2d 1278 (Fla. 1979).
Knowles could have shot his father for the same unexplained reason that he shot Carrie Woods, or for some other undisclosed reason, and then decided to leave in the truck which according to testimony he often drove.
Moreover, because Knowles had free access to his father's truck prior to the shooting, and there is no evidence that Knowles intended to take the truck from his father prior to the shooting, or that he shot his father in order to take the truck, the aggravating factor of committed during the course of a robbery likewise cannot stand. 632 So. 2d at 66.