Hutto v. State, NO. 2014-DP-00177-SCT.

CourtMississippi Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT
Citation227 So.3d 963
Parties James Cobb HUTTO, III a/k/a James C. Hutto, III a/k/a James Cobb Hutto a/k/a James C. Hutto a/k/a James Hutto, III a/k/a James Hutto a/k/a Jamie Hutto a/k/a The Hitman v. STATE of Mississippi
Decision Date11 May 2017
Docket NumberNO. 2014-DP-00177-SCT.

227 So.3d 963

James Cobb HUTTO, III a/k/a James C. Hutto, III a/k/a James Cobb Hutto a/k/a James C. Hutto a/k/a James Hutto, III a/k/a James Hutto a/k/a Jamie Hutto a/k/a The Hitman
v.
STATE of Mississippi

NO. 2014-DP-00177-SCT.

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

May 11, 2017
Rehearing Denied August 10, 2017


ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER, BY: ANDRE DeGRUY, JOHN HELMERT

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: LADONNA C. HOLLAND, JASON L. DAVIS

EN BANC.

CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

¶ 1. A jury convicted James Cobb Hutto III of capital murder for the death of Ethel W. Simpson. The jury also found Hutto should suffer death. Hutto raises fourteen assignments of error on appeal. Finding no reversible error, we affirm Hutto's conviction and sentence.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURE

¶ 2. This case concerns the killing of eighty-one-year-old Ethel W. Simpson. The following facts were established at trial.

¶ 3. On September 8, 2010, James Cobb Hutto III, a Jasper, Alabama, resident, contacted his ex-girlfriend, Sherri Lawson. Hutto told Lawson he wanted to see her and, on Friday, September 10, he purchased a used Camaro and drove to Clinton, Mississippi. Hutto and Lawson stayed together that weekend at the Comfort Inn in Clinton. At some point that weekend, Hutto's Camaro broke down and was towed to a local repair shop.

¶ 4. On Monday, September 13, Hutto and Lawson parted ways after spending the weekend together. According to Lawson, Hutto indicated that he was trying to get back to Alabama. He also gave Lawson the paperwork to repair the broken Camaro in case she wanted to keep the car for herself. Later that afternoon, Hutto went to the Baptist Healthplex on the Mississippi College Campus in Clinton, located approximately half a mile away from the Comfort Inn. Several employees and patrons of the Healthplex encountered Hutto that day, including Ethel W. Simpson.

¶ 5. While at the Healthplex, Hutto befriended Simpson. Simpson drove Hutto back to the Comfort Inn and then drove home. And later that night, she went back to the hotel and picked up Hutto to socialize. The two took Simpson's silver Mercedes to the Riverwalk casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, arriving at 8:45 p.m. Hutto and Simpson spent a few hours gambling, and Simpson bought dinner for the two at a restaurant inside the casino. Hutto and Simpson left the casino together at 11:24 p.m.

¶ 6. About an hour after leaving the casino, Hutto arrived back at the Comfort Inn alone with Simpson's Mercedes. He went to his room, emerged wearing different clothes, and left the Comfort Inn at approximately 12:51 a.m., seven minutes after arriving back at the hotel. Hutto then drove Simpson's Mercedes back to Vicksburg, where he gambled at the Ameristar casino. At 2:11 a.m., he left the casino, and, according to witness testimony, a tag-reading camera on Interstate 20 in Rankin County captured an image of Simpson's car traveling east toward Alabama just after 3:00 a.m.

227 So.3d 971

¶ 7. On the morning of September 14, 2010, Thomas Winstead, Simpson's brother and roommate, alerted Simpson's son that Simpson had not returned home the night before. Ken Simpson attempted to inquire into his mother's whereabouts, and when she could not be found, he contacted the Clinton Police Department. During the investigation into Simpson's whereabouts, law-enforcement officials determined that Hutto was the last person seen with Simpson. On September 17, 2010, a member of the Auburn (Alabama) Police Department spotted Hutto driving Simpson's silver Mercedes. Law-enforcement officials stopped Hutto and took him into custody in Lee County, Alabama.

¶ 8. On the same day as Hutto's arrest, Simpson's body was found on a hog farm in Edwards, Mississippi, just off Interstate 20. Edwards is located in Hinds County and is approximately halfway between Clinton and Vicksburg. An empty hog-feed container partially covered Simpson's body. Simpson died from severe injuries to her head and neck, and forensic testing later identified her blood on the Nike flip-flops that Hutto wore on the night of Simpson's disappearance.

¶ 9. After Hutto's arrest, law-enforcement officials from Alabama interviewed him on four separate occasions. All four of these interrogations occurred in Alabama. Hutto told law-enforcement officials that he and Simpson had gone to the casino on the night of September 13, but he claimed that a man named Mark Cox had killed Simpson. Law-enforcement officials later determined that Mark Cox, an Alabama resident, was in Alabama at the time of Simpson's disappearance.

Procedure

¶ 10. On March 1, 2011, a Hinds County grand jury indicted Hutto for capital murder while engaged in the commission of a robbery. Hutto was appointed counsel and, in May 2011, he entered a plea of "not guilty." The trial judge held numerous pretrial hearings, including a suppression hearing and a competency hearing. After the competency hearing, the trial judge determined Hutto to be competent to stand trial. Hutto also rejected a plea deal for life in prison without the possibility of parole, and the State sought the death penalty.

¶ 11. During the guilt phase of trial, the State called numerous witnesses, including Mark Cox. Cox testified that, prior to the trial, he had never been to Hinds County, Mississippi. Cox further testified that he met Hutto for the first time on the morning of September 17, 2010–the same day law-enforcement officials arrested Hutto–when the two discussed Cox selling Hutto some land. The State also introduced redacted portions of all four interrogations law-enforcement officials conducted with Hutto in Alabama.1 At the guilt phase, Hutto presented no defense and exhibited crude behavior in the courtroom. The jury convicted him of capital murder, with robbery of the Mercedes as the underlying crime.

¶ 12. At the penalty phase, the State submitted three aggravating circumstances to the jury: the "prior violent felony" aggravator, the "heinous, atrocious, or cruel" aggravator, and the "capital offense committed in the commission of a robbery" aggravator. In mitigation, the jury heard testimony from Hutto's ex-wife, mother, and two sons, as well as testimony from a social worker. The jury found Hutto

227 So.3d 972

should suffer death. Hutto appeals, raising fourteen assignments of error, which we have restated and re-ordered for clarity.

DISCUSSION

¶ 13. "This Court reviews an appeal from a capital-murder conviction and death sentence under heightened scrutiny." Ronk v. State, 172 So.3d 1112, 1125 (Miss. 2015).

Pretrial and Guilt Stage

I. Whether the trial court erred when it determined Hutto was competent to stand trial and whether the trial court erred in not ordering further mental evaluation mid-trial.

A. Pretrial Competency

¶ 14. After a competency hearing, the trial judge determined Hutto to be competent to stand trial. On appeal, Hutto argues: (1) that the trial judge erred when he placed the burden on him to prove his incompetence; (2) that the overwhelming weight of the evidence showed he was incompetent to stand trial; and (3) that the trial judge committed reversible error by failing to make specific findings of fact for each factor to determine a defendant's competence.

1. Whether the trial judge erred when he placed the burden on Hutto to prove he was incompetent to stand trial.

¶ 15. Hutto argues that this Court's decision in McGinnis v. State, 241 Miss. 883, 133 So.2d 399 (1961), required the prosecution to prove Hutto was competent to stand trial. He claims that McGinnis stands for the proposition that, once an order requiring a mental evaluation is entered, "the burden shifts to the State to prove that a defendant is competent." We disagree.

¶ 16. Simply put, our decision in McGinnis does not stand for the proposition that the prosecution bears the burden of proving a defendant's competence after an order requiring a mental examination is entered. To the contrary, we consistently have placed the burden on the defendant to show his incompetence. See, e.g., Ross v. State, 954 So.2d 968, 1007 (Miss. 2007) ("The defendant must show incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence."); Evans v. State, 725 So.2d 613, 660 (Miss. 1997) ("The trial judge committed no error in holding that the burden of proof was allocated to the defense. This issue is without merit."); Emanuel v. State, 412 So.2d 1187, 1188 (Miss. 1982) ("It naturally devolves upon the defendant to go forward with the evidence to show his probable incapacity to make a rational defense.").

¶ 17. Hutto also asserts that this Court has misinterpreted Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437, 112 S.Ct. 2572, 120 L.Ed.2d 353 (1992), because Mississippi does not have a statute allocating the burden of proving an individual's competence as California did in Medina. But, though Mississippi does not have such a statute, the U.S. Supreme Court has held:

Once a State provides a defendant access
...

To continue reading

Request your trial
25 practice notes
  • Flowers v. State, NO. 2010–DP–01348–SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 2, 2017
    ...DEATH CASES AFFIRMED BY THIS COURT Timothy Nelson Evans v. State , 226 So.3d 1 (Miss. 2017). James Cobb Hutto III v. State , 227 So.3d 963, 2014–DP–00177–SCT, 2017 WL 2001157 (Miss. May 11, 2017). David Cox v. State , 183 So.3d 36 (Miss. 2015). David Dickerson v. State , 175 So.3d 8 (Miss. ......
  • Clark v. State, NO. 2017-CT-00411-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 4, 2021
    ..."Defendants in criminal cases have a fundamental constitutional right to be confronted with the witnesses against them." Hutto v. State , 227 So. 3d 963, 983 (Miss. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Armstead v. State , 196 So. 3d 913, 917 (Miss. 2016) ). "And ‘[t]he right of......
  • Ambrose v. State, NO. 2015-DP-01159-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • August 2, 2018
    ...first alternate Juror Glen Turner. ¶ 112. The standard of review for the denial of a mistrial is abuse of discretion. Hutto v. State , 227 So.3d 963, 984 (¶ 66) (Miss. 2017). "A trial judge need declare a mistrial only when there is an error in the proceedings resulting in substantial and i......
  • Garcia v. State, NO. 2017-DP-00504-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • May 14, 2020
    ...139 S. Ct. 2228, 204 L. Ed. 2d 638 (2019). Timothy Nelson Evans v. State , 226 So. 3d 1 (Miss. 2017). James Cobb Hutto III v. State , 227 So. 3d 963 (Miss. 2017). David Cox v. State , 183 So. 3d 36 (Miss. 2015). David Dickerson v. State , 175 So. 3d 8 (Miss. 2015). Timothy Robert Ronk v. St......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Flowers v. State, NO. 2010–DP–01348–SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 2, 2017
    ...DEATH CASES AFFIRMED BY THIS COURT Timothy Nelson Evans v. State , 226 So.3d 1 (Miss. 2017). James Cobb Hutto III v. State , 227 So.3d 963, 2014–DP–00177–SCT, 2017 WL 2001157 (Miss. May 11, 2017). David Cox v. State , 183 So.3d 36 (Miss. 2015). David Dickerson v. State , 175 So.3d 8 (Miss. ......
  • Clark v. State, NO. 2017-CT-00411-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 4, 2021
    ..."Defendants in criminal cases have a fundamental constitutional right to be confronted with the witnesses against them." Hutto v. State , 227 So. 3d 963, 983 (Miss. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Armstead v. State , 196 So. 3d 913, 917 (Miss. 2016) ). "And ‘[t]he right of......
  • Ambrose v. State, NO. 2015-DP-01159-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • August 2, 2018
    ...first alternate Juror Glen Turner. ¶ 112. The standard of review for the denial of a mistrial is abuse of discretion. Hutto v. State , 227 So.3d 963, 984 (¶ 66) (Miss. 2017). "A trial judge need declare a mistrial only when there is an error in the proceedings resulting in substantial and i......
  • Garcia v. State, NO. 2017-DP-00504-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • May 14, 2020
    ...139 S. Ct. 2228, 204 L. Ed. 2d 638 (2019). Timothy Nelson Evans v. State , 226 So. 3d 1 (Miss. 2017). James Cobb Hutto III v. State , 227 So. 3d 963 (Miss. 2017). David Cox v. State , 183 So. 3d 36 (Miss. 2015). David Dickerson v. State , 175 So. 3d 8 (Miss. 2015). Timothy Robert Ronk v. St......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT