Edmonds v. State, No. 2004-CT-02081-SCT (Miss. 1/4/2007), No. 2004-CT-02081-SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtWaller
PartiesTYLER EDMONDS v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI.
Decision Date04 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. 2004-CT-02081-SCT.

Page 1

TYLER EDMONDS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI.
No. 2004-CT-02081-SCT.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
January 4, 2007.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: OKTIBBEHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JAMES T. KITCHENS, JR., DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/24/2004

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JIM WAIDE

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: W. GLENN WATTS

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: FORREST ALLGOOD

EN BANC.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

WALLER, PRESIDING JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:


¶1. Tyler Edmonds was convicted of the capital murder of Joey Fulgham and sentenced to a term of life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Tyler appealed his conviction and sentence, and this Court assigned the appeal to the Court of Appeals. See M.R.A.P. 16(b). A divided Court of Appeals affirmed Tyler's conviction and sentence. Edmonds v. State, 2006 Miss. Ct. App. LEXIS 311 (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). We granted Tyler's petition for writ of certiorari and now we find that Tyler was denied a constitutionally fair trial, reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeals and of the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County and remand this case to the circuit court for a new trial in accordance with this opinion.

FACTS1

¶2. On Friday, May 9, 2003, Kristi Fulgham, who was married to the victim Joey Fulgham, picked up her thirteen-year-old half-brother, Tyler Edmonds, to take him to the Fulgham home in the Longview community as she did every other weekend. She and Tyler have the same father, Danny Edmonds. Tyler's videotaped confession relates the following series of events: After arriving at Kristi and Joey's home, Tyler and Kristi went out for Subway sandwiches for dinner. After dinner, Joey went to bed, while Kristi stayed up and used the computer. Tyler fell asleep on the floor next to Kristi, and during the night, she woke him up and put him in the bed of one of her children. Between three-thirty and four o'clock the alarm clock went off, waking Tyler. He then went into the bedroom where Joey slept and, with Kristi's help, shot Joey in the back of the head with a .22 caliber rifle that Tyler had brought with him at Kristi's request. Kristi and Tyler then loaded her three children into the car and took the computer and her jewelry, which, according to Tyler, was to make it look as if there had been a robbery. Tyler said he also thought Kristi took Joey's wallet. They then traveled to Jackson. The gun was never found. The group went to Jackson to pick up Kristi's boyfriend, Kyle Harvey, and then went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They stayed at the Beau Rivage and played on the beach. On Sunday, Tyler called his mother and wished her a happy Mother's Day. On their way back to Jackson, Kristi received several cell phone calls telling her that Joey had been murdered.

¶3. Both Tyler and Kristi voluntarily appeared at the sheriff's department for questioning in Joey's murder. Kristi placed total blame on Tyler, and Tyler eventually confessed to participating in Kristi's plan. Tyler was indicted for capital murder and tried as an adult in circuit court. The jury returned a guilty verdict and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. After his notice of appeal was filed, we assigned the case to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the judgment and sentence. We granted Tyler's petition for writ of certiorari.

DISCUSSION

I. DAUBERT HEARING.

¶4. Rule 702 of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence is the standard for the admission of expert testimony in Mississippi. When determining admissibility of expert testimony, courts must consider whether the expert opinion is based on scientific knowledge (reliability) and whether the expert opinion will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue (relevance). Miss. Transp. Comm'n v. McLemore, 863 So. 2d 31, 38 (Miss. 2003). We also consider factors mentioned in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 587, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993): (1) whether the theory can be, and has been, tested; (2) whether the theory has been published or subjected to peer review; (3) any known rate of error; and (4) the general acceptance that the theory has garnered in the relevant expert community. Id., at 593-94.

¶5. We find that the circuit court did not err in excluding the testimony of Allison D. Redlich, Ph.D., concerning involuntariness of confessions because, during the extensive Daubert hearing held by the circuit court, Dr. Redlich herself admitted that her theories could not be empirically tested.

II. SPECULATIVE TESTIMONY BY EXPERT WITNESS.

¶6. Stephen Hayne, M. D., conducted the autopsy on Joey's body and testified at trial as to the cause of death. During his testimony, Dr. Hayne espoused a two-shooter theory almost to the exclusion of a single shooter theory:

Q: Dr. Hayne, you testified earlier that the defendant's statement that you saw was consistent with how the gunshot wound occurred?

A: It would be consistent with the physical findings that I observed and the information provided to me by opposite side counsel.

Q. And do you understand that the evidence is that two people fired that shot?

A: That was essentially the summary of the information given to me and seen on the video.

Q: And let's suppose if one person had fired that shot, would your opinion be the same?

A: I could not exclude that; however, I would favor that a second party be involved in that positioning of the weapon . . . it would be consistent with two people involved. I can't exclude one, but I think that would be less likely. . . .

Q: Are the injuries Mr. Fulgham sustained consistent within a reasonable degree of medical certainty with the defendant's version of how he was shot?

A: They are consistent within reasonable medical certainty.

Tyler' attorney objected to the testimony and requested a Daubert hearing, arguing that such testimony was beyond Dr. Hayne's area of expertise. The circuit court denied the request, but the Court of Appeals recognized that such testimony was scientifically unfounded: "you cannot look at a bullet wound and tell whether it was made by a bullet fired by one person pulling the trigger or by two persons pulling the trigger simultaneously." Edmonds at 51. We agree.

¶7. While Dr. Hayne is qualified to proffer expert opinions in forensic pathology, a court should not give such an expert carte blanche to proffer any opinion he chooses. There was no showing that Dr. Hayne's testimony was based, not on opinions or speculation, but rather on scientific methods and procedures. See, e.g., Moss v. Batesville Casket Co., 935 So. 2d 393, 404 (Miss. 2006). The State made no proffer of any scientific testing performed to support Dr. Hayne's two-shooter theory. Therefore, the testimony pertaining to the two-shooter theory should not have been admitted under our standards.

¶8. A ruling on evidence is not error unless a substantial right of the party is affected. Green v. State, 614 So. 2d 926, 935 (Miss. 1992). We have no alternative but to find that Tyler's substantial rights were affected by Dr. Hayne's conclusory and improper testimony. Juries are often in awe of expert witnesses because, when the expert witness is qualified by the court, they hear impressive lists of honors, education and experience. An expert witness has more experience and knowledge in a certain area than the average person. See M.R.E. 702. Therefore, juries usually place greater weight on the testimony of an expert witness than that of a lay witness. See generally Simmons v. State, 722 So. 2d 666, 673 (Miss. 1998); see also United States v. Benson, 941 F.2d 598, 604 (7th Cir. 1999) (an expert's "stamp of approval" on a particular witness' testimony [or theory of the case] may unduly influence the jury). Here, Dr. Hayne's two-shooter testimony impermissibly (because it was not empirically proven) bolstered the State's theory of the case that Kristi helped Tyler to fire the gun. The error was magnified when Dr. Hayne's testimony was the only evidence — other than Tyler's contested confession — to support the State's theory of the case.

¶9. However, we find that a full-scale Daubert hearing is not required when an expert witness proffers an "off-the-cuff" opinion like Dr. Hayne did. See, e.g., Miller v. Baker Implement Co., 439 F.3d 407, 412 (8th Cir. 2006) ("While Daubert hearings may be necessary in some cases, the basic requirement under the law is that the parties have an `opportunity to be heard before the district court makes its decision.'") (quoting Group Health Plan, Inc. v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 344 F.3d 753, 761 n.3 (8th Cir. 2003)); Nelson v. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co., 243 F.3d 244, 249 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Greenwell v. Boatwright, 184 F.3d 492, 498 (6th Cir. 1999) (a "court is not required to hold an actual hearing to comply with Daubert"))). As the United States Supreme Court has stated, "The trial court must have the same kind of latitude in deciding how to test an expert's reliability, and to decide whether or when special briefing or other proceedings are needed to investigate reliability, as it enjoys when it decides whether or not that expert's relevant testimony is reliable." Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152, 119 S. Ct. 1167, 143 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1999) (emphasis in original).

¶10. Here, after the defense requested a Daubert hearing, both counsel approached the bench and gave a brief argument. Therefore, the defense had an opportunity to be heard, but the circuit court erroneously allowed the testimony.

III. KRISTI FULGHAM'S BLANKET INVOCATION OF THE FIFTH AMENDMENT PRIVILEGE AGAINST SELF-INCRIMINATION.

¶11. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution declares in part that "No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination may be invoked where a witness has "reasonable cause to apprehend danger from a direct...

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