Minnick v. State

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation551 So.2d 77
Docket NumberNo. DP-79,DP-79
PartiesRobert S. MINNICK v. STATE of Mississippi.
Decision Date14 December 1988

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551 So.2d 77
STATE of Mississippi.
No. DP-79.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
Dec. 14, 1988.
Rehearing Denied Oct. 25, 1989.

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Leslie C. Gates, Meridian, for appellant.

Mike Moore, Atty. Gen. by Marvin L. White, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., and Donald G. Barlow, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson,

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Charles W. Wright, Dist. Atty., Meridian, for appellee.

En Banc.

DAN M. LEE, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

On September 9, 1986, Robert S. Minnick was indicted by the Grand Jury of Clarke County, Mississippi, for two counts of capital murder, one for the murder of Lamar Lafferty while engaged in the crime of robbery, and the other for the murder of Donald Ellis Thomas while engaged in the crime of robbery. Minnick was also indicted as an habitual offender on both counts. Motion for change of venue was granted, and a bifurcated jury trial was held in Lowndes County on April 6, 7, 8 and 9, 1987. The jury returned a verdict of guilty as charged on both counts; after a sentencing hearing, the jury imposed the death sentence. Minnick appeals his conviction and sentence, assigning numerous errors. We affirm.


On April 26, 1986, around 3:30 p.m., Deputy Sheriff Johnny Hopson, Clarke County, arrived at the mobile home of Donald Ellis Thomas (Ellis) in response to a call from the Jasper County Sheriff's office. He observed a puddle of blood, a hat and some mail strewn across the yard. He also observed two young girls in the presence of a Jasper County Sheriff's deputy, Marty Thomas and Desiree (B.B.) Beech. He noticed drag marks starting at the east end of the mobile home that led across the back yard of the mobile home, which he followed to the edge of a gully running behind the mobile home. In the gully he found two bodies. At this point, he secured the premises and called Chief Investigator of the Clarke County Sheriff's Department, J.C. Denham.

Upon being called to investigate, Denham proceeded to interview Marty Thomas, Ellis Thomas' younger sister, and B.B. Beach. Marty and B.B. drove over to Ellis' mobile home between 2:00 and 2:30 on April 26, to play in the gully. Marty drove her older sister's red car. As they drove up the driveway, a white man met them. Marty described him as short, skinny, with a shaved head, blue shirt, tennis shoes, two rotten front teeth, and carrying a pistol. The man told her to hand him the keys, get out of the car, and do as he said if they wanted to live. He marched them both to the back of the trailer, where they saw Ellis' truck, a big black man, and a body lying on the ground. Marty recognized the body as Lamar Lafferty. The black man carried a rifle or a shotgun. The white man took them inside the trailer through the back door, where they saw Brandon Lafferty, Lamar's two-year-old son, sitting on the couch. The white man made them lie on the floor in the den, on their stomachs, as he tied their hands and feet behind their backs with haystring. The black man came inside and began carrying guns out of the bedroom. The white man told them four or five times to tell the police that it was two black men or he'd come back and kill them. The white man then got a pitcher of tea from the refrigerator, while the black man continued to carry out guns. Then they left. Marty and B.B. cut through the haystring around their feet with their fingernails and found a knife from the kitchen to cut their hands loose. Looking out the window, they saw no one there, and saw that Ellis' truck was gone. They took Brandon, got in their car, and went to a friend's house, where Marty called the police. The Jasper County Sheriff's Office responded first; Marty told them that two black guys had tied them up. The Jasper County deputy sheriff determined that the incident occurred in Clarke County and called the Clarke County Sheriff's Department. He then took the girls with him to the mobile home and were met by Deputy Hopson. Marty again told Hopson that two black guys had tied them up. The girls were taken to their Uncle Marlin's house where Deputy Denham came to talk to them. When Marty found out that Ellis and Lamar were dead, she told Deputy Denham the truth--that a white man and a black man had tied them up. Upon taking Marty's and B.B.'s statements, Denham realized that the description of the two

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men fit the description of two escapees from Clarke County Jail, Robert Minnick and James "Monkey" Dyess, who escaped from the jail the evening before.

Denham was also able to interview Thaddis Pryor, who was turkey hunting on the morning of April 26 around the Beaver Dam community in Clarke County where his deer camp is located. On Sunday morning, April 27, having heard about the incident at the Thomas mobile home, Pryor contacted the Clarke County Sheriff's Department and related that he saw a white man and a black man on an oil lease road on foot. He approached the two men because he thought they were poachers on his camp property. He described the white man as short, skinny, pale, with a shaved head and two rotten front teeth. The black man was around six feet tall, 190 pounds, muscular build, with a short Afro. He talked to the two men for about ten minutes. Denham then met with Pryor who took him to the area where he had met Minnick and Dyess while turkey hunting. Denham was able to observe a boot print and a tennis shoe print in the area. Pryor's descriptions matched the ones given by the girls, as well as the descriptions of the two jail escapees.

The investigation pinpointed three shotguns, three rifles, a pistol, and ammunition that were taken from the trailer by Minnick and Dyess, as well as Thomas' silver Ford pickup truck. Several days after the incident, Lafferty's wallet and Thomas' checkbook were found lying along the road several miles from the Thomas trailer. Furthermore, time of the incident was established as occurring after 1:00 p.m. on April 26. Lamar Lafferty's father ate lunch with his son and then saw Lamar and Lamar's son, Brandon, leave with Ellis in Ellis' truck around 1:00 p.m. Also, Greg Thomas, Ellis' cousin and closest neighbor, heard gunshots coming from Ellis' mobile home about 2:30 p.m. Thirty seconds later he heard another sound like a muffled shot or dud firecracker, and five minutes after that he heard two more shots which sounded like they came from a small-calibre gun. Shortly thereafter, he saw Marty and B.B. drive by in a red car.

The Medical Examiner's report indicated that Thomas suffered a close contact gunshot wound to the middle of the forehead and a second wound on the right lower back from a distance of approximately 15 feet. Lafferty suffered two gunshot wounds to the head, both close contact wounds from a small-calibre gun. The Medical Examiner's opinion was that both men were alive when their wounds were inflicted and died within a few minutes.

Denham entered the information concerning the missing guns and missing silver Ford pickup truck into the computer on the NCIC network. The truck was recovered in Florida on May 6, 1986. Apparently, the truck had been stolen from New Orleans by Paul Stanley Ward because when the truck was recovered, they found parking tickets from New Orleans under the seat. (Ward was convicted in Clarke County for possession of a stolen truck.) Denham then requested assistance from the New Orleans Police Department; however, they were not able to locate Minnick or Dyess.

On August 22, 1986, Denham received information from the San Diego Police that they had arrested Minnick. Denham flew out, arriving late August 24. He interviewed Minnick on August 25. He first advised Minnick of his rights, but Minnick refused to sign a waiver of rights form. Minnick agreed to tell him about his and Dyess' escape from Clarke County jail, but Minnick then proceeded to tell him about events after the escape. According to Minnick as told to Deputy Denham, he and Dyess walked outside of Quitman south toward DeSoto in a wooded area. They came upon a turkey hunter and talked to him early the next morning, then continued on until they came to a clearing where the Thomas mobile home was located. They decided to go into the trailer to find guns. As they were collecting the guns, a vehicle drove up with two men and a small child in it. Dyess jumped out of the mobile home and shot one of the men in the back with a shotgun, and then shot him in the head with a pistol. Dyess handed Minnick the pistol and told him to shoot the other man.

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Dyess held a shotgun on Minnick until he did so. They then put the child on the sofa in the mobile home, after which the two girls drove up. They tied the girls up in the mobile home. Minnick stated that he talked Dyess out of raping or hurting the girls. Dyess dragged the bodies of the two men into the gully. They left with $121 in cash, the guns, and the silver pickup truck. They drove to New Orleans where they sold the weapons and threw the pistol in the trash. They left New Orleans on a bus to Brownsville, Texas, and then crossed the border into Mexico. Minnick and Dyess got into a fight--Dyess beat him and tried to kill him--so Minnick hitchhiked to California where he changed his name, procuring a birth certificate and a drivers license in the name of David Prokaska.

Minnick waived extradition and Denham brought him back to Mississippi to stand trial. Before trial commenced, the state was able to recover two of the guns stolen from the Thomas mobile home through the FBI in New Orleans.



A. Minnick's Alleged Statement to Denham Should Have Been Suppressed.

At pretrial hearing on motions, Minnick presented a written motion to suppress the statement allegedly given by him to Deputy Denham in San Diego, California, on August 25, 1986. That motion asserted that the statements were not voluntary and that Minnick made no knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to counsel, and that he had requested assistance of counsel.


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