Hampton v. State, 012121 MSSC, 2019-KA-01304-SCT

Docket Nº2019-KA-01304-SCT
Opinion JudgeBEAM, JUSTICE
Party NameKADEDRIA HAMPTON v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
AttorneyTRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: RICHARD BROOKS LEWIS, JR. KIMBERLY DENICE McCRAY WILLIAM HARVEY GRESHAM, JR. ROSHARWIN LEMOYNE WILLIAMS STEPHANIE ALEXIS BROWN WALTER ERIC BLECK ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: W. DANIEL HINCHCLIFF GEORGE T. HOLMES RICHARD BROOKS LEWIS, JR. ATTO...
Judge PanelBEFORE KITCHENS, P.J., BEAM AND ISHEE, JJ. KITCHENS AND KING, P.J.J., COLEMAN, MAXWELL, CHAMBERLIN AND ISHEE, JJ., CONCUR RANDOLPH, C.J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY GRIFFIS, J. RANDOLPH, CHIEF JUSTICE, CONCURRING IN PART AND DISSENTING IN PART: GR...
Case DateJanuary 21, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Mississippi

KADEDRIA HAMPTON

v.

STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

No. 2019-KA-01304-SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi

January 21, 2021

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/14/2019

COAHOMA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. CHARLES E. WEBSTER

TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: RICHARD BROOKS LEWIS, JR. KIMBERLY DENICE McCRAY WILLIAM HARVEY GRESHAM, JR. ROSHARWIN LEMOYNE WILLIAMS STEPHANIE ALEXIS BROWN WALTER ERIC BLECK

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: W. DANIEL HINCHCLIFF GEORGE T. HOLMES RICHARD BROOKS LEWIS, JR.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LISA L. BLOUNT

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BRENDA FAY MITCHELL

BEFORE KITCHENS, P.J., BEAM AND ISHEE, JJ.

BEAM, JUSTICE

¶1. Kadedria Hampton appeals from her convictions in the Coahoma County Circuit Court on two counts of felony child abuse for burning and starving a minor child under Mississippi Code Sections 97-5-39(2)(a)(i) and -39(2)(a)(v) (Rev. 2014), respectively. Hampton claims that her constitutional right to be present at every stage of her jury trial was violated and that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient to support either of her convictions.

¶2. We find no merit to the claim that Hampton's constitutional right to be present at trial was violated. Nor do we find merit to the claim that the State presented insufficient evidence to support a conviction for felonious starvation of a minor child. We do find, however, that the State presented insufficient evidence to support Hampton's conviction of the felonious burning of a minor child. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse and render in part.

FACTS

¶3. In March 2015, Hampton moved in with her boyfriend, Rickey Taylor, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Taylor's three-year-old son, LRJ, 1 and Hampton's two sons lived with them.2On April 21, 2015, Hampton had Taylor's baby, who also lived with them.

¶4. On May 1, 2015, Hampton took LRJ to the emergency room for a head injury and two swollen eyes. Jasmine Nolan, the registered nurse who treated LRJ, testified that LRJ was very frail and appeared weak, thin, and frightened when he arrived at the emergency room. When Nolan gave LRJ a bottle of water and graham crackers, he acted very protective of the food once he got it in his hands. LRJ drank two more bottles of water and ate a hamburger and french fries while in the emergency room. Hampton had her newborn baby and her other two children with her at the emergency room. According to Nolan, Hampton's other children did not look frail, thirsty, or hungry.

¶5. Because of LRJ's frail appearance and suspicious injuries, law enforcement and Child Protection Services were contacted. Clarksdale Police Detective Nicholas Turner and Investigator Frederick Burton interviewed Hampton at the hospital regarding the contusions on LRJ's head and his swollen eyes. According to Turner and Burton, Hampton seemed agitated when they questioned her. Hampton said LRJ fell and hit his head trying to get his "sippy cup" off the top of a clothes hamper.

¶6. Stephanie Smith, a family-protection specialist with the Coahoma County Child Protection Services opened an investigation into the suspected abuse of LRJ. Smith testified that she made a number of visits to the home where LRJ lived with Hampton and Taylor. On the second visit, Smith knocked on the door and could hear a child crying inside, but no one would open the door. Smith called Taylor, who then contacted Hampton to open the door.

¶7. Smith made three visits to the home before having a family team meeting in June 2015 with Hampton and Taylor. Smith discussed with them her concerns based on her previous home visits. Smith let Hampton and Taylor know that Child Protection Services would be monitoring the family and helping them with any services they needed in order to correct the problems that she had observed.

¶8. According to Smith, during each visit she made to the home, Hampton's children would be playing while LRJ was asleep on the bed. Smith said that Taylor was not at home during her visits. Smith also testified that the home had a refrigerator that was kept locked with a chain that only Hampton and Taylor could unlock. She said Taylor told her that it was to keep the kids from going into the refrigerator.

¶9. On July 1, 2015, Smith made another home visit. Hampton was at home with LRJ, the baby, and her two children. Hampton's two children were playing, and LRJ was asleep in bed. Even though it was hot in the house, LRJ was wearing a long-sleeve thermal shirt, jeans, and long socks.

¶10. When Smith woke LRJ, he told her that his arms and legs hurt and that he was hungry. Smith said LRJ appeared more frail than on her previous visits. Smith lifted LRJ's pants legs and saw scabs on his legs. Smith told Hampton that she needed to feed LRJ; Hampton responded that she would fix him a pizza. Smith then told Hampton that she was going to the office for paperwork and that she would be back to take LRJ to the doctor.

¶11. Smith called Taylor to advise him that she was going to take LRJ to the doctor and offered him a ride there, but he declined. When Smith returned to the home, Taylor was there with LRJ and had been searching for LRJ's Medicaid card. Smith said LRJ was wearing different clothes but still had on long pants. On the way to the hospital, Smith stopped by Wendy's to get LRJ something to eat and drink. She said LRJ drank a 12 oz. cup of water in the car and was still thirsty afterwards.

¶12. LRJ was admitted to the local hospital, and he was transferred to LeBonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, the following day. Law enforcement was again contacted because of LRJ's injuries.

¶13. Detective Turner was notified on July 2, 2015, of the possible assault of LRJ. Upon arriving at the hospital, Turner talked to the social worker and took photographs of LRJ, which showed burns to LRJ's legs and hair loss from his head. Turner also noticed LRJ's small size for a boy his age.

¶14. Turner and Burton interviewed Hampton and Taylor separately at the police station. Both gave recorded statements. Afterwards, Turner charged both Hampton and Taylor with child abuse and neglect.

¶15. A Coahoma County grand jury indicted Hampton on two counts of felony child abuse. The case went to trial in 2016, ending in a mistrial.3 Hampton was retried in August 2019.

¶16. At Hampton's 2019 trial, Turner testified that when he observed Hampton's own children, they appeared to be healthy and of normal size without injuries. He said that when he interviewed Hampton, she admitted that it had been weeks since she had bathed LRJ and that she did not bathe the children every day because of her newborn baby. Hampton confirmed that she was the one responsible for feeding, bathing, and clothing the children, including LRJ. Hampton never admitted that she saw the burns on LRJ's legs.

¶17. Dr. Karen Lakin testified at Hampton's trial both as a fact witness and as an expert in general pediatrics and pediatric child abuse. Dr. Lakin first saw LRJ on July 3, 2015, when he was transferred to LeBonheur due to concern for burns and malnutrition. Dr. Lakin said that the burns on LRJ's legs were second-degree burns that had started healing and that they were more than a few days old. She said that after extensive testing, they determined that LRJ had suffered a compression fracture of the spine in the lumbar region. LRJ also suffered from osteopenia, which is something typically seen when a child is malnourished or suffering from malnutrition. Because of the bruising to LRJ's face and a history of head trauma, Dr. Lakin said they performed a CT scan of his head, which indicated that he had atrophy to the brain related to dehydration and malnourishment. Dr. Lakin said that LRJ appeared very thin and unhealthy looking and that he looked younger than his age.

¶18. Hampton testified in her own defense. She said that she and two of her children moved in with Taylor in March 2015 because she was having his baby. She said LRJ had moved in with him around that time, but she was not sure exactly when. Hampton testified that she was the one responsible for feeding, bathing, and clothing LRJ and her children before the baby was born. Hampton said that after delivering the baby, she was put on bed rest and could not do anything. She said that Taylor worked two part-time jobs and that there were days when he was home the entire day; on those days, Hampton said he would bathe LRJ and clothe LRJ. Hampton said there was plenty of food in the house because she was on "food stamps," and she did not do anything to starve LRJ. When asked by defense counsel if it was possible that Taylor could have injured LRJ, Hampton said that it was possible he could have but that she did not know.

¶19. The jury found Hampton guilty on both counts of felony child abuse. The trial court sentenced Hampton to twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections on each count to run concurrently, with five years suspended on each count.

DISCUSSION

I.

Whether the trial court violated Hampton's Sixth Amendment right to be present at every stage of her trial.

¶20. On the second day of Hampton's trial, Hampton was not present in the courtroom when her trial was scheduled to resume at 9:00 a.m. as instructed by the trial judge at the close of proceedings on the first day of trial. At 9:26 a.m., when proceedings were about to begin, the trial court inquired about Hampton's whereabouts outside the presence of the jury. Defense counsel said he did not know where Hampton was and that his secretary had spoken with Hampton's sister, who had gone to locate Hampton. Defense counsel said he did not have Hampton's phone number and that he had communicated with her in the past through...

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