The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday reversed Thomas Crowe’s capital murder conviction and death sentence, ordering a new trial because the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury on the issue of intent.
Thomas Crowe and Toni Collins were charged with capital murder during the course of a robbery, burglary, and arson in the November 2009 death of Marvin Dailey. Mr. Dailey, whose home had been burned down, had died from a combination of injuries to the head and smoke inhalation. Before Mr. Crowe’s trial, Toni Collins pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of life with the possibility of parole.
At Mr. Crowe’s trial, the state presented no physical evidence that Mr. Crowe was the one who struck the victim with a weapon, set a fire at his house, or stole anything. Instead, the state relied almost exclusively on the testimony of Ms. Collins, who had already accepted a favorable plea deal. The defense argued that Ms. Collins fatally struck the victim and that the victim was killed when Mr. Crowe was not even present.
Alabama law requires that the state prove that the accused specifically intended to kill the victim in order to convict of capital murder. However, when instructing the jury on the issue of intent, the judge repeatedly stated that it could find Mr. Crowe guilty of capital murder if it found that another participant intended to kill the victim, rather than telling the jury that it could only find Mr. Crowe guilty if it found that he himself had intended to kill.
On appeal, EJI argued that the trial court’s instruction was illegal and undermined the defense’s argument that Mr. Crowe did not strike the victim or set fire to his home.
The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed: “Even if the jury concluded that Crowe did not have the specific intent to kill Dailey, the circuit court’s instructions permitted the jury to convict Crowe of capital murder.” The Court thus reversed Mr. Crowe’s conviction and death sentence and sent the case back for a new trial.