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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Steven Michael Woods was charged with the murders of Ronald Whitehead and Bethena Brosz, two people Woods was acquainted with through a Dallas coffee shop called Insomnia. During voir dire, Woods tried to ask a prospective juror whether, even if she found Woods guilty, she could give him life without parole upon the finding of even one mitigating circumstance. On the grounds of “contracting,” the state objected to Woods’ variation of the same question. The trial court sustained the objection. The state raised the same objection when Woods tried to ask a juror whether he could forego giving the death penalty even though the victims were young (under 25 years old). Among the witnesses called by the state was Brian Young, who was in prison for aggravated assault. The trial court granted the state’s motion in limine to bar Woods from asking Young about his conviction. When asked by Woods if his testimony would result in some sort of benefit in terms of the length or conditions of his incarceration, Young said he did not think he was eligible. The trial court sustained the state’s objection on the grounds that there was no agreement to grant Young a benefit. Woods objected to the testimony of his co-defendant, Marcus Rhodes. Rhodes indicated that the killings were Woods’ idea and Rhodes’ involvement was wholly voluntary. The trial court offered a Geesa [v. State, 820 S.W.2d 154 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991)] instruction during the guilt phase of the trial. The jury found Woods guilty. During the punishment phase, Woods objected to the admission of the audio-taped statement Woods gave to a California detective regarding Woods’ involvement in an uncharged offense: the killing of Insomnia’s manager, Beau Sanders. The state offered the evidence as proof of Woods’ future dangerousness. The California detective questioned Woods when he was in custody in Denton County. Woods said he knew that two other people were planning to kill Sanders and that he later learned the pair had shot Sanders and left him in the Nevada desert. Woods claimed that the California detective did not tell him that he had the right to terminate the interview at any time. The jury assessed the death penalty. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court finds the trial court erred in sustaining the state’s objections to Woods’ questions on voir dire that asserted the questions constituted contracting. The court notes that a “no” answer to many of Woods’ questions would have made the juror subject to challenged for cause. Nonetheless, the court finds the error did not have a substantial or injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict, because in some cases Woods was able to elicit basically the same information with slightly different questions. The court finds the trial court did not err, however, in sustaining the state’s objection on the question regarding the victims’ ages. These kinds of questions are “global fishing expeditions” that judges in other cases have struck down. The court finds that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in limiting Woods’ cross-examination of Young, as there was no indication that Young had the expectation that he would be rewarded for giving testimony favorable to the state. The court rules that Rhodes’ statements were properly entered under Texas Rule of Evidence 803(24), despite Woods’ contention that the statements were not properly corroborated. The court notes that Rhodes’ comments were reliable, because they were spontaneously made to two other people who knew all of the parties but were not involved in the murders. They were “street corner” statements that Rhodes made to his friends without the motive to shift blame or minimize his own involvement in the murders. The two other people independently corroborated many of the facts offered by Rhodes, and the physical evidence also corroborated his statements. The court does not find fault with the trial court’s Geesa instruction. The court acknowledges that part of the definition of “reasonable doubt” has been ruled inappropriate by subsequent case law, but the court points out that the instruction in this case did not include the offending paragraphs. The remaining portions of the Geesa instruction are still viable. The court agrees with Woods that his interview with the California detective was not taken in compliance with Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 38.22, 3(c). The court rejects the state’s argument that the statement was taken within an exemption to Art. 38.22, because it sought information that was essential to their investigation of Sanders’ disappearance, namely the location of the body. Contrary to the state’s argument, the police did not need Woods’ testimony to know where to start looking for Sanders’ body. They already knew of some evidence of the body’s location. Nonetheless, the court finds the error did not likely yield an improper jury verdict, as there was plenty of evidence of Woods’ future dangerousness, from his past run-ins with the law to independent statements of various witnesses and Woods’ continued attempts at manipulating people and the system while in jail awaiting trial. The court rejects Woods’ argument that Blakely v. Washington, 124 S.Ct. 2531 (2004), has made the Texas death penalty statute unconstitutional. Woods argues that, under Blakely, the state must prove a negative answer to the mitigation special issue beyond a reasonable doubt before a trial court can impose a death sentence. The court finds that prior rulings rejected the general notions that the state had the burden to prove no mitigating factors existed, and Blakely does not change that. The court notes that the mitigation special issue has the potential to reduce Woods’ sentence, not increase it, which was the specific problem addressed in Blakely. The court also turns back Woods’ argument that the mitigation instruction sends “mixed signals” to the jury for allegedly being unclear as to the burden of proof. OPINION:Price, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Keller, P.J., Meyers, Johnson, Keasler, Hervey, Holcomb, and Cochran, JJ., joined. Womack, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

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