Law School Case Brief
Gilson v. State - 2000 OK CR 14, 8 P.3d 883
The language of the statute, setting forth alternative means of committing the crime of child abuse murder, makes it analogous to the crime of felony murder. Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 701.7(B) (West 1991). A person commits felony murder when a death results from a defendant's commission of any of several specifically listed underlying felonies. In a felony murder prosecution, proof of the underlying felony is needed to prove the intent necessary for a felony murder conviction. Further, when a crime is charged in the alternative, with more than one felony charged as the underlying felony, a constitutionally unanimous verdict is required only with respect to the ultimate issue of a defendant's guilt or innocence of the crime charged, and not with respect to alternative means by which the crime is committed.
Skeletal remains of 8-year-old S.C. were found in an abandoned freezer located next to a mobile home formerly rented by Bertha Jean Coffman, S.C.'s mother. A subsequent search of the mobile home revealed a photograph of defendant, Donald Lee Gilson, who was Coffman's then-boyfriend. Gilson was later convicted in Oklahoma state court of first-degree murder, conspiracy to unlawfully remove a dead body, and unlawful removal of a dead body, as charged by the State. During the second trial stage, the jury found the existence of two aggravating circumstances, and recommended the death penalty. The trial court sentenced accordingly. On appeal, defendant raised 14 errors, including: unanimous verdict right violation, improper joinder of child abuse and murder counts, denial of fair trial by suggestive child witness interviews, improper defense witness exclusion based on attorney-client privilege waiver, evidence insufficiency for murder and child abuse, vagueness of first-degree murder by child abuse and child abuse statutes, the jury instruction violated ex post facto laws, appellee's statutory definition lowered the proof burden, failure to instruct on lesser included offenses, defective jury instructions based on failure to explain appellee's proof burden, the sentence violated federal and state constitutions, improper court analysis for a death sentence, which was disproportionate, evidence insufficiency and unconstitutionality of the two aggravating factors, ineffective counsel assistance, and error accumulation.
Were Gilson's convictions proper?
The court of criminal appeals found no error existed after reviewing each of Gilson's 14 assignments of error. The court affirmed the convictions and sentence of death.
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