Hunt v. State

Decision Date08 August 1996
Docket NumberNo. 92-KA-00475-SCT,92-KA-00475-SCT
Citation687 So.2d 1154
PartiesTina Marie HUNT v. STATE of Mississippi.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Phil R. Hinton, Wilson & Hinton, Corinth, for Appellant.

Michael C. Moore, Attorney General, DeWitt T. Allred, III, Sp. Asst. Attorney General, Jackson, for Appellee.

En Banc.

PRATHER, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Tina Marie Hunt was convicted for the murder of her husband, Thomas A. Hunt, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Her motion for a new trial was denied. She appeals, in forma pauperis, and raises the following issues:

A) WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING INTO EVIDENCE A STATEMENT TAKEN IN VIOLATION OF TINA HUNT'S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS?

B) WHETHER TINA HUNT WAS DENIED A FAIR TRIAL BECAUSE THE STATE INTERFERED WITH DEFENSE COUNSEL'S FREE ACCESS TO WITNESSES?

C) WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION WHEN IT DENIED TINA HUNT FUNDS TO EMPLOY AN INVESTIGATOR, DENYING HUNT HER CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS?

D) WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY REFUSING TO INSTRUCT THE JURY AS TO THE PROPER BURDEN OF PROOF BORNE BY THE STATE, SINCE THE PROOF AGAINST TINA HUNT WAS CIRCUMSTANTIAL?

E) WHETHER THE COURT ERRED BY ADMITTING INTO EVIDENCE A COPY OF A DOCUMENT, UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES UNFAIR TO TINA HUNT AND WHERE ALTERATION WAS SUSPECTED?

F) WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ALLOWED INTO EVIDENCE PROOF OF OTHER CRIMES OR OTHER WRONGS WHICH WERE IRRELEVANT OR, IF RELEVANT, SUBSTANTIALLY

OUTWEIGHING THE PROBATIVE VALUE OF THE EVIDENCE?

G) WHETHER THE COURT ERRED BY DENYING TINA DISCOVERY, DUE UNDER RULE 4.06 OF THE UNIFORM CRIMINAL RULES OF CIRCUIT COURT PRACTICE, AND BY DENYING A DELAY IN THE TRIAL SETTING?

H) WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY APPOINTING TINA'S ATTORNEY TO REPRESENT HER ON APPEAL WITHOUT COMPENSATION, IN VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF BOTH TINA HUNT AND HER APPOINTED ATTORNEY?

II. STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

Thomas Hunt (Thomas) married Tina Marie Hunt (Tina) in February 1989. On the evening of December 15, 1990, Thomas, age twenty-two, Tina, age twenty, and their 15-month-old son rode in Thomas' blue Mustang to Ashland, Mississippi. In Ashland, Thomas and Tina met two friends from junior college, Scott Hindman (Hindman) and Russ Brown (Brown). Hindman and Tina were allegedly lovers.

Those five then traveled to Holly Springs in Brown's Chevrolet. Hindman was driving; he pulled the car onto a dirt road, and the three men got out of the car. Tina, who remained in the car with her baby, heard "several licks" coming from behind the car. Later, Brown told Tina that they had beaten Thomas with an axe handle. Hindman, Brown, and Tina left Thomas on the roadside, where he subsequently died of asphyxiation.

Hindman, Brown, and Tina returned to Ashland with the baby and picked up Thomas' blue Mustang. Officer R.D. Marlar of the Mississippi Highway Patrol was working a roadblock on Highway 4, east of Ripley that night. At 11:10 p.m., Officer Marlar saw Thomas' car; Hindman was driving, and he had a woman and a baby as passengers. Brown followed closely behind in the Chevrolet.

Brown had no driver's license, he smelled of alcohol, and there were beer cans in his car. Patrolman Marlar asked Brown to perform a field sobriety test, which was under the statutory limit. During the stop Officer Marlar saw an axe handle in the Chevrolet and noticed red stains on Brown's pants. Brown explained that the red stains were ketchup. Because there were spilled french fries in the Chevrolet, Officer Marlar accepted this explanation and allowed both cars to pass.

Later, Brown drove Thomas' Mustang to a field and took Thomas' wallet from the vehicle. According to Tina, Brown said he was going to make the murder look as if someone had robbed Thomas and stolen his car.

At dawn, on December 16, 1990, a passerby discovered Thomas' body near a field road about ten miles outside Holly Springs, Mississippi. Mr. Reece went to a nearby store and notified the Marshall County Sheriff's Office. Because there were indications that the deceased might be from Benton County, the Benton County Sheriff, Arnie McMullen, was called to identify the body. Sheriff McMullen, however, could not identify Thomas.

Around noon on Sunday, the day after the murder, Tina Hunt and Scott Hindman went to Sheriff McMullen's office in Ashland to report Thomas as missing. Tina told the sheriff of the last occasion on which she had seen Thomas. The sheriff noted that her description of Thomas matched the description of the body that he had just attempted to identify in Marshall County. He asked Tina to go with him to identify Thomas' body, which she did. At 3:30 p.m., they returned to Ashland. Sheriff McMullen asked Tina to talk to Lieutenant Dickerson, a State Investigator. Lieutenant Dickerson noted a conflict between the statement Tina gave him and his understanding of what she had told the sheriff earlier. At some point, after 4:00 p.m. Tina telephoned her parents; they called Attorney Joey Langston of Booneville. 1 Lieutenant Dickerson advised Tina of her Miranda rights at 5:00 p.m. She signed a waiver of rights form at 5:10 p.m. Lieutenant Dickerson proceeded to question other witnesses but did not question Tina again until 6:40 p.m. Telephone records showed that Attorney Langston telephoned for Tina at 6:21 p.m. and again at 6:28 p.m., but was not allowed to speak to her. Lieutenant Dickerson interviewed Tina from 6:40 p.m. to 7:05 p.m.; during this interview, Tina made self-incriminating statements.

At trial witnesses testified that Tina did not like being married to Thomas and that she wanted Thomas to be killed because he would not give her a divorce. Hindman and Tina were allegedly lovers. Witness Matt Crocker testified that he had seen notes passed between Tina and Hindman, which discussed Thomas' death. In addition, Crocker had overheard Tina and Hindman discuss the purchase of a gun with which to kill Thomas, and he had seen Hindman with an axe handle the night before the murder was committed.

Tina, Brown, and Hindman were indicted on February 19, 1991, and charged with the capital murder of Thomas Hunt on or about December 15, 1990. Tina's co-defendants, Brown and Hindman, prior to trial entered pleas of guilty to the reduced charges of manslaughter, and the State moved to reduce Tina's charge to that of murder.

Tina's case was tried before a jury on December 2, 3, and 4, 1992. Following all the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of murder. Subsequently, the trial court entered a judgment sentencing Tina Marie Hunt to life in prison.

III. ANALYSIS

A) WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING INTO EVIDENCE A STATEMENT TAKEN IN VIOLATION OF TINA'S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS?

Tina voluntarily went to the sheriff to give a false "missing person" report on her husband. She gave details to Sheriff McMullen and agreed to go with him to identify a body. Sheriff McMullen then asked her to talk to Lieutenant Dickerson to give the statement of her "missing" husband for him to record. She was not the target of any investigation at this time, nor a suspect in Thomas' murder. When Lieutenant Dickerson noted a conflict between the statement Tina gave him and his understanding of what she had told the sheriff earlier, he advised Tina of her Miranda rights at 5:00 p.m. She signed a waiver of rights form at 5:10 p.m. During this interview, Tina made self-incriminating statements of the murder of her husband.

Tina contends that she made two requests for counsel. First, she asked if she needed an attorney before she made a statement. She did not request an attorney be appointed for her. Officer Dickerson told her "not yet," Tina also alleges that later, after she received her Miranda warnings, she asked for an attorney. She asserts that Dickerson then told her she could not have an attorney.

Tina contends that her Fifth Amendment right to counsel was violated in this case. The standard of reviewing the admission of a confession is well-settled. "Determining whether a confession is admissible is a finding of fact which is not disturbed unless the trial judge applied an incorrect legal standard, committed manifest error, or the decision was contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence." Lee v. State, 631 So.2d 824, 826 (Miss.1994) (quoting Balfour v. State, 598 So.2d 731, 742 (Miss.1992)); Ricks v. State, 611 So.2d 212, 214 (Miss.1992). The trial judge ruled that the statement was freely and voluntarily given after the Miranda rights had been administered.

Whether Tina's Fifth Amendment right to counsel was violated depends on whether she was (a) in custody and (b) being interrogated. A person's Fifth Amendment right to counsel is not triggered by general on-the-scene questioning and/or any voluntary statement. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 477-78, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1629-30, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966); Porter v. State, 616 So.2d 899, 907 (Miss.1993). Clearly, when a person who is in custody and is being interrogated requests an attorney, the police's questioning must cease until one is provided. Miranda, 384 U.S. at 445, 86 S.Ct. at 1612- 13; Minnick v. Mississippi, 498 U.S. 146, 147, 111 S.Ct. 486, 487-88, 112 L.Ed.2d 489 (1990); Mettetal v. State, 602 So.2d 864, 868 (Miss.1992). On the other hand, if Tina's first alleged request for an attorney took place in a non-custodial setting, her Fifth Amendment right to counsel was not implicated. McNeil v. Wisconsin, 501 U.S. 171, 177-78, 111 S.Ct. 2204, 2208-09, 115 L.Ed.2d 158 (1991); United States v. Harrell, 894 F.2d 120, 125 (5th Cir.1990).

Clearly, Tina had been asked to give a statement and she was being questioned; therefore, she was being interrogated. Thus, whether Tina was denied her Fifth Amendment right to counsel depends on whether she was "in custody." 2 The test for whether a person is in custody is whether a reasonable person would feel that she was in custody. That...

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