Goff v. State, No. 2006-DP-00815-SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtPierce, Justice
Citation14 So.3d 625
Decision Date28 May 2009
Docket NumberNo. 2006-DP-00815-SCT.
PartiesJoseph Bishop GOFF v. STATE of Mississippi.
14 So.3d 625
Joseph Bishop GOFF
v.
STATE of Mississippi.
No. 2006-DP-00815-SCT.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
May 28, 2009.
Rehearing Denied August 27, 2009.

[14 So.3d 632]

Office of Capital Defense Counsel by Andre De Gruy, attorneys for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Patrick Joseph McNamara, Marvin L. White, attorneys for appellee.

EN BANC.

PIERCE, Justice, for the Court.


¶ 1. Joseph Bishop Goff was convicted by the George County Circuit Court in the capital murder of Brandy Stewart Yates during the commission of a robbery and was sentenced to death by lethal injection.1

¶ 2. Goff raises twelve issues on appeal:

I. The trial court erred in failing to suppress evidence which resulted from the unreasonable seizure that violated Goff's rights pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United

14 So.3d 633

States and Section 23 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.

II. The trial court erred in permitting Goff to act as his own attorney at trial.

III. The evidence in this case is insufficient to prove that Goff is guilty of capital murder.

IV. The prosecutor committed misconduct in improper questioning on voir dire, improper opening statement on victim character, improper closing argument on juror "promise," and argument outside the record.

V. Goff received ineffective assistance of counsel.2

VI. The trial court erred by refusing to grant a properly submitted circumstantial-evidence (two-theory) instruction.

VII. The refusal of the trial court to grant an instruction embodying the theory of defense constitutes reversible error.

VIII. The death sentence in this case must be vacated because the indictment failed to charge a death-penalty-eligible offense.

IX. Goff's execution by lethal injection, under the current Mississippi protocol, would violate the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution, corresponding provisions of the Mississippi Constitution, and state law.

X. Error was committed when certain aggravating factors were submitted to the jury.

XI. The sentence of death is disproportionate when compared with other cases in which the death penalty has been imposed in Mississippi, taking into consideration the unique characteristics of Joseph Goff.

XII. Cumulative error requires reversal of the conviction and sentence in this matter.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 3. On August 1, 2004, Brandy Stewart Yates left her husband of eight years, James Yates, Jr., and their two young children to travel with defendant Joseph Goff. Brandy had become acquainted with Goff while working as a waitress at the Bama Barn, a bar in Theodore, Alabama.3

¶ 4. On August 26, 2004, at 3:53 p.m., Brandy checked into room 121 at Rocky Creek Inn in Lucedale, Mississippi, accompanied by Goff.4 Sometime later in the day, after the two had an altercation, Goff left the motel and traveled to Mobile, Alabama, where he met an acquaintance, a woman by the name of Melissa.5

14 So.3d 634

¶ 5. Throughout the evening of the twenty-sixth, Brandy spoke by telephone with her husband James numerous times. According to James, Brandy first called him collect between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. During this first conversation, which lasted about an hour, Brandy told James that Goff had slapped her earlier in the day, that he had dropped her off at the motel and left, and that she was afraid he was going to hurt her. The second call, which occurred approximately an hour after the first, ended abruptly, due to a knock on Brandy's door.6 The third call, which lasted about one hour, took place shortly after the second call. During this third call, James and Brandy made plans for him to pick her up early the following morning, August 27, 2004.

¶ 6. Around 11:30 p.m. on August 26, Goff7 approached the motel's front desk and stated that he and his girlfriend were locked out of room 121. Margaret Clark, a desk clerk, made Goff a key. About three minutes later, Goff returned, stating that he was still unable to get into the room. Clark made a second key. When Goff returned for the third time, Clark inquired as to whether anyone else was in the room. Goff answered positively, and she informed him that the reason he was unable to get into the room was that the door was locked from the inside. Clark never saw Goff again.

¶ 7. According to James, later in the evening on the twenty-sixth and in the early morning hours of August 27, he tried to call Brandy three additional times, but never reached her. When James tried to call around midnight, a male answered the phone. Because he did not want to cause trouble, James hung up. James tried twice more to reach Brandy around 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. on the twenty-seventh. When he was unable to reach Brandy, James called the front desk for assistance. The clerk informed him that the telephone in the room was off the hook.

¶ 8. On the morning of August 27, Dee Dee Wall, owner of the Rocky Creek Inn, noticed what appeared to be fire damage in room 121. Wall used the housekeeping key to enter the motel room. Upon entering the room, Wall noticed that the room was burned and that there was a body lying on the floor between the two beds. Wall immediately returned to the motel lobby and called 911.

¶ 9. The 911 call was received at approximately 8:45 a.m. The call advised of a fire and a possible body in a room at the Rocky Creek Inn. Numerous officers responded, including George County Sheriff Gary Welford, who arrived at approximately 8:55 a.m.

¶ 10. Detective Ronnie Lambert, an investigator with the George County Sheriff's Department, also responded. When Detective Lambert arrived on the scene at approximately 9:10 a.m., Sheriff Welford and three other detectives were already there. The scene had not yet been secured, but a deputy was standing outside

14 So.3d 635

the motel room. Detective Lambert, the county coroner, and another detective entered the room, photographed the scene, secured the room with barrier tape, and instructed an officer to stay outside the room to prevent anyone else from entering.

¶ 11. The investigation continued throughout the day, and at approximately 3:45 p.m., Detective Lambert contacted the sheriff's department and had the dispatcher enter Goff and his vehicle into the system.8 Detective Lambert had identified the victim as Brandy Yates based on the registration materials from the motel — a copy of Brandy's license was photocopied on the reverse side of the registration card — and had learned from the motel clerk that Brandy had arrived at the motel in a white Ford Mustang.

¶ 12. Around 3:00 p.m. on August 27, and as the investigation continued in George County, Trooper Jason Ginn of the Mississippi Highway Patrol saw a white Ford Mustang traveling west on Interstate 20 near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Trooper Ginn noticed that the car had a temporary tag, which was defaced. Trooper Ginn, who was parked in the median, pulled into traffic and caught up with the Mustang. While he was unable to read the issuing state on the tag, Trooper Ginn could see that the expiration date was August 20, 2004. Because the current date was August 27, 2004, it was clear that the tag was, in fact, expired.

¶ 13. At this point, Trooper Ginn initiated a traffic stop. The driver let down the passenger-side window, and Trooper Ginn noticed the strong smell of cigarette smoke, red marks on the driver's neck, and that the vehicle was "trashed" on the inside. The driver stated to Trooper Ginn that he was on a "spiritual experience" and traveling to Texas.

¶ 14. Concerned by this strange response and his observations of the driver and the condition of the vehicle, Trooper Ginn asked for a driver's license, as well as registration for the vehicle, both of which were provided. Trooper Ginn returned to his vehicle with the license and paperwork, contacted the dispatcher in Jackson, and requested a check to see if the license was valid. Upon returning to his patrol car, Trooper Ginn noticed the odor of gasoline on the documents provided. Trooper Ginn again contacted the dispatcher, this time to inquire whether the driver, by this time identified as Joseph Goff, had a criminal record.

¶ 15. Trooper Ginn called for backup. While he was in his car waiting for the dispatcher to respond, Trooper Henley arrived. Trooper Ginn informed Trooper Henley of what he had observed, and suggested that Trooper Henley speak with Goff. Trooper Henley did so, and Trooper Henley relayed to Trooper Ginn that Goff had told him that he had approximately $3,000 in cash on him, that he was a convicted felon, and that he had just been released from prison for shooting someone.

¶ 16. After speaking with the dispatcher, and after being informed of the conversation between Trooper Henley and Goff, Trooper Ginn returned to Goff's vehicle and asked whether Goff had any stolen merchandise, weapons, or drugs in the vehicle. Goff responded that he did not.

14 So.3d 636

¶ 17. Trooper Ginn then requested and received permission to search Goff's vehicle. Shortly after the search began, and before the search was complete, Trooper Henley had to leave the scene to assist in another traffic stop. Because searches are not conducted when only one officer is on the scene, Trooper Ginn explained to Goff that the search would be delayed.

¶ 18. During this approximately fifteen-minute intermission (while another officer was en route to the scene), Trooper Ginn and Goff continued to converse. Trooper Ginn asked Goff why the paperwork smelled like gasoline, to which Goff responded that he kept a gas can in the back of the car in case he ran out of gas. During this response, Goff also mentioned his girlfriend, which prompted Trooper Ginn to ask "well, where's she at now?" At this point, Goff's entire demeanor changed — going from talkative to very quiet. Goff responded that he had "lost" her in Lucedale. Goff explained that the day before, he and his girlfriend had stopped in Lucedale and checked...

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173 practice notes
  • Flowers v. State, NO. 2010–DP–01348–SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 2, 2017
    ...factors might be used, and the mens rea standard that was required. Pitchford , 45 So.3d at 258 (¶ 184) (quoting Goff v. State , 14 So.3d 625, 665 (¶¶ 174–77) (Miss. 2009) (citations omitted)). Because Flowers's indictments provided him with "notice and a reasonable description of the charg......
  • Hutto v. State, NO. 2014-DP-00177-SCT.
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 11, 2017
    ...concerned the victim's character, we find these statements "set the stage for the presentation of relevant evidence." Goff v. State, 14 So.3d 625, 652 (Miss. 2009) ). In Goff, we reiterated that "the purpose of an opening statement is to inform the jury what a party to the litigation expect......
  • Commonwealth v. Perez, SJC–10208.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 23, 2011
    ...or absence of forensic or scientific evidence at trial. See Charles v. State, 414 Md. 726, 731–739, 997 A.2d 154 (2010); Goff v. State, 14 So.3d 625, 652–654 (Miss.2009), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 1513, 176 L.Ed.2d 122 (2010); State v. Taylor, 317 S.W.3d 89, 94–95 (Mo.Ct.App.20......
  • Dickerson v. State, NO. 2012-DP-01500-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 18, 2015
    ...v. State, 121 So. 3d 808, 871 (¶¶ 174-76) (Miss. 2013); Gillett v. State, 56 So. 3d 469, 510-11 (¶ 120) (Miss. 2010); Goff v. State, 14 So. 3d 625, 665 (¶¶ 173-75) (Miss. 2009); Ross v. State, 954 So. 2d 968, 1014 (¶ 106) (Miss. 2007); Bennett v. State, 933 So.Page 392d 930, 954 (¶ 83) (Mis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
173 cases
  • Flowers v. State, NO. 2010–DP–01348–SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 2, 2017
    ...factors might be used, and the mens rea standard that was required. Pitchford , 45 So.3d at 258 (¶ 184) (quoting Goff v. State , 14 So.3d 625, 665 (¶¶ 174–77) (Miss. 2009) (citations omitted)). Because Flowers's indictments provided him with "notice and a reasonable description of the charg......
  • Hutto v. State, NO. 2014-DP-00177-SCT.
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 11, 2017
    ...concerned the victim's character, we find these statements "set the stage for the presentation of relevant evidence." Goff v. State, 14 So.3d 625, 652 (Miss. 2009) ). In Goff, we reiterated that "the purpose of an opening statement is to inform the jury what a party to the litigation expect......
  • Commonwealth v. Perez, SJC–10208.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 23, 2011
    ...or absence of forensic or scientific evidence at trial. See Charles v. State, 414 Md. 726, 731–739, 997 A.2d 154 (2010); Goff v. State, 14 So.3d 625, 652–654 (Miss.2009), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 1513, 176 L.Ed.2d 122 (2010); State v. Taylor, 317 S.W.3d 89, 94–95 (Mo.Ct.App.20......
  • Dickerson v. State, NO. 2012-DP-01500-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 18, 2015
    ...v. State, 121 So. 3d 808, 871 (¶¶ 174-76) (Miss. 2013); Gillett v. State, 56 So. 3d 469, 510-11 (¶ 120) (Miss. 2010); Goff v. State, 14 So. 3d 625, 665 (¶¶ 173-75) (Miss. 2009); Ross v. State, 954 So. 2d 968, 1014 (¶ 106) (Miss. 2007); Bennett v. State, 933 So.Page 392d 930, 954 (¶ 83) (Mis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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