682 So.2d 340 (Miss. 1996), 94-DP-00248, Brown v. State

Docket Nº:94-DP-00248-SCT.
Citation:682 So.2d 340
Party Name:Joseph Patrick BROWN a/k/a
Case Date:August 15, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Mississippi
 
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682 So.2d 340 (Miss. 1996)

Joseph Patrick BROWN a/k/a "Peanut"

v.

STATE of Mississippi.

No. 94-DP-00248-SCT.

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

August 15, 1996

Rehearing Denied Oct. 17, 1996.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Pamela A. Ferrington, Donald G. Ogden, Natchez, for appellant.

Michael C. Moore, Attorney General, Marvin L. White, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, Leslie S. Lee, Special Assistant Attorney General, Jackson, for appellee.

En Banc.

DAN LEE, Chief Justice, for the Court:

Appellant, Joseph Patrick Brown ("Brown"), was indicted by an Adams County Grand Jury on June 21, 1993, on a charge of capital murder. The trial court's order granting Brown's motion for a change of venue, transferring the trial to Amite County, Mississippi, was later amended, limiting the transfer of venue to the "limited purpose only of empaneling and selecting a jury." Trial commenced on March 8, 1994, in the Circuit Court of Adams County, Mississippi before the Honorable Richard T. Watson, Circuit Judge. The jury, duly impaneled from the citizens of Amite County, Mississippi, found Brown guilty as charged. At the close of the sentencing phase, the jury returned a verdict that Brown suffer death. On March 12, 1994, Judge Watson sentenced Brown to death by lethal injection.

A Motion for New Trial was timely filed by Brown but was denied by the lower court. From the Order denying his Motion for a New Trial, Brown perfected this appeal, raising the following assignments of error:

I. THE COURT BELOW ERRED IN DENYING APPELLANT'S MOTION FOR DIRECTED VERDICT BECAUSE THE TESTIMONY OF AN ACCOMPLICE OR CO-CONSPIRATOR IS INSUFFICIENT TO SUSTAIN A CONVICTION WHEN THAT TESTIMONY IS SUBSTANTIALLY IMPEACHED, UNREASONABLE, OR SELF-CONTRADICTORY,

II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ALLOWING THE TESTIMONY OF A "JAIL HOUSE SNITCH" TO CORROBORATE THE TESTIMONY OF A CO-CONSPIRATOR AND ACCOMPLICE,

III. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ALLOWING THE TESTIMONY OF A WITNESS WHO HAD BEEN PRESENT IN THE COURTROOM AFTER THE SEQUESTRATION RULE HAD BEEN INVOKED,

IV. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING A .22 HANDGUN AND TESTIMONY RELATIVE TO THE WEAPON INTO EVIDENCE WHEN THE CHAIN OF CUSTODY HAD BEEN BROKEN AND ITS PROBATIVE VALUE WAS SUBSTANTIALLY OUTWEIGHED BY THE POTENTIAL FOR PREJUDICE AND FOR MISLEADING THE JURY,

V. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING CERTAIN LETTERS INTO EVIDENCE THAT WERE WRITTEN BY APPELLANT TO RACHEL WALKER AFTER HE HAD ASSERTED HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO SILENCE AND TO COUNSEL,

VI. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING UNNECESSARY AND GRUESOME AUTOPSY PHOTOGRAPHS INTO EVIDENCE,

VII. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN INSTRUCTING THE JURY TO CONSIDER THE ROBBERY AS AN AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCE IN VIOLATION OF STATE LAW AND CONTRARY TO CONSTITUTIONAL PROHIBITIONS

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AGAINST CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT,

VIII. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN INSTRUCTING THE JURY THAT THEY COULD CONSIDER AS AN AGGRAVATING FACTOR THAT THE MURDER WAS COMMITTED FOR THE PURPOSE OF AVOIDING ARREST, AND

IX. THE AGGREGATE ERROR IN THE COURT BELOW SERVED TO DENY APPELLANT HIS RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL AND REQUIRES REVERSAL OF BROWN'S CONVICTION AND SENTENCE.

It is the opinion of this Court that none of Brown's assignments of error have merit; therefore, both his conviction and sentence are affirmed.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

The record reveals that during the late evening hours of Friday, August 7, 1992 and the early morning hours of Saturday, August 8, 1992, Brown and his girl-friend at the time, Rachel Walker ("Walker"), were cruising the area of Natchez, Mississippi, looking for drugs. Brown and Walker bought and smoked crack cocaine at several locations during that time period.

In the early hours of August 8, Brown turned the vehicle he was driving into the lot of the Charter Food Store located on Highway 61 South in Natchez, Mississippi, and stopped the vehicle next to the gas pumps. Walker, remaining in the vehicle, observed Brown pump gas into the vehicle and then walk into the store. While Brown was inside the store, Walker observed him walk around briefly and then approach the counter where the cash register and clerk were located. While Brown was at the counter, Walker observed the clerk, Martha Day ("Day"), grab her chest, turn and fall to the floor. Walker didn't see Day again. It was later to be discovered that Day was killed during an apparent robbery at approximately 2:45 a.m. Day was shot four times--once in the head, once through the heart, and twice in the back.

Walker observed Brown exit the store carrying a cash register among other items. Brown returned to the vehicle and placed the cash register and a handgun on the front seat. Upon entering the vehicle, Brown allegedly told Walker, "You better not move, and you better not say anything. If you love me you won't say anything." Brown started the vehicle and Brown and Walker headed into town.

Once in town, they proceeded to the 200 block of Martin Luther King Street, an area frequented by drug dealers and users. Once there, Brown removed the cash register from the passenger compartment and put it in the bed of the truck. Brown then allegedly gave Walker some of the money from the register, in coin and currency, and told her to "go and score some dope." Included in the currency Brown gave to Walker was a two-dollar bill. Walker then proceeded to buy some crack cocaine which she and Brown smoked.

Once this supply was depleted, Brown wanted more and told Walker that he wanted some more crack cocaine; "he had to have some more, and he didn't care what I [Walker] did or how I [Walker] got it, he wanted some more." Walker then went to Floyd Newman and pawned the .22 caliber handgun for $20. This was the same handgun that Brown had earlier placed on the front seat of the vehicle when leaving the Charter Food Store. Brown and Walker then purchased and smoked additional crack cocaine.

They finished the drugs early on the morning of August 8 and they then walked to the home of Walker's sister located on Bishop Street in Natchez, Mississippi. Upon arrival at her sister's home, Walker and Brown sat outside on the porch until the family began to stir and the sister came outside to get the morning paper. Once inside, they relaxed and watched television.

Throughout the morning of August 8 and continuing that day and the next, Walker, an eye-witness to the robbery, made several calls to the Natchez Police Department attempting to tell them about the incident at Charter Food Store. Within twenty-four hours of the robbery, the police received information that a .22 caliber handgun had

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been pawned by Walker; and approximately forty-eight hours after the robbery, the police recovered a two-dollar bill with a serial number matching that of the one kept in the cash register at the Charter Food Store. The serial number had been noted in an effort to aid police in their investigation in case of a robbery at the store. Walker proved to be the source of that two-dollar bill. With this information, the police began searching for Walker and Brown. On August 11, 1992, they were spotted; both Walker and Brown attempted to elude police by fleeing and hiding. When confronted by the police, Brown blurted out, "You got me for driving the car." Brown and Walker were arrested and charged with the murder of Day.

While in jail awaiting trial, Walker began receiving notes and letters from Brown. The notes and letters from Brown to Walker contain incriminating statements requesting her to keep quiet and not to turn State's evidence. Some examples include: "But we must be strong if we are going to beat this stuff ... just tell them that you don't know anything"; "[t]hey don't have anything on me unless you go against me.... They don't have anything at all, so they are going to try and scare you"; and, "Rachel, my lawyer told me that you are on tape and paper making a full confession of what happened. He said that the police had sent the pistol to a lab in Jackson to find out if the bullets matched the one that killed the woman. If bullets don't match, then they have no case. Flush after you read this."

While incarcerated in the Adams County Jail, Brown allegedly confided to a fellow inmate, Larry Bernard ("Bernard"), that he took the cash register from the Charter Food Store and that he shot Day three or four times. Bernard notified the Adams County Sheriff's Department of Brown's communication. Testimony revealed that Bernard received no favorable treatment or special consideration for his testimony at trial.

Walker, an ex-girlfriend, eye-witness and accessory after the fact, testified for the State. Through her testimony, the cash register, two-dollar bill and handgun were linked to Brown. Walker's testimony also placed Brown at the scene of the crime as the triggerman. Walker's testimony was corroborated by a fellow inmate of Brown and the State's ballistics expert, in addition to Brown's own incriminating statements made in writing to Walker while incarcerated.

A jury, duly impaneled from the citizens of Amite County, Mississippi, found Brown guilty as charged and returned a verdict that Brown suffer death. Judge Watson sentenced Brown to death by lethal injection. From an order denying his motion for a new trial, Brown perfected this appeal.

DISCUSSION OF THE LAW

I. THE COURT BELOW ERRED IN DENYING APPELLANT'S MOTION FOR DIRECTED VERDICT BECAUSE THE TESTIMONY OF AN ACCOMPLICE OR CO-CONSPIRATOR IS INSUFFICIENT TO SUSTAIN A CONVICTION WHEN THAT TESTIMONY IS SUBSTANTIALLY IMPEACHED, UNREASONABLE, OR SELF-CONTRADICTORY.

Brown's first assignment of error claims that the trial court erred in not granting his motion for a directed verdict. Brown argues that...

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