Moffett v. State

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation156 So.3d 835
Decision Date24 April 2014
Docket NumberNo. 2011–DR–00028–SCT.,2011–DR–00028–SCT.
PartiesEric MOFFETT v. STATE of Mississippi.

156 So.3d 835

STATE of Mississippi.

No. 2011–DR–00028–SCT.

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

April 24, 2014.
Rehearing Denied July 31, 2014.

156 So.3d 841

Office of Capital Post–Conviction Relief by Louwlynn Williams, Glenn S. Swartzfager1 , Teresa L. Norris, attorneys for petitioner.

Office of the Attorney General by Jason L. Davis, Marvin L. White, Jr., attorneys for respondents.



156 So.3d 842

RANDOLPH, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. Eric Moffett was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by a jury. The jury determined that the murder of a five-year-old child was: (1) committed while Moffett was engaged in felonious abuse and/or battery of a child; and (2) especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.

¶ 2. Moffett's conviction and sentence were affirmed by this Court on direct appeal, and his motion for rehearing was subsequently denied. Moffett v. State, 49 So.3d 1073 (Miss.2010). Moffett sought relief in the United States Supreme Court by way of a petition for writ of certiorari, which was denied on October 3, 2011. Moffett v. Mississippi, ––– U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 127, 181 L.Ed.2d 49 (2011). Moffett has presented a motion, an amended motion, and a supplemental motion seeking post-conviction relief.

¶ 3. Moffett was convicted of a savage sexual assault on a five-year-old girl, culminating in her death. Compelling evidence supported his conviction, including conclusive DNA evidence, eyewitness testimony, and a confession, inter alia. Moffett primarily is focused on ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, which we categorize into three parts: (1) ineffective assistance of Andre' de Gruy and Dan W. Duggan, Jr., trial counsel, (2) ineffective assistance of de Gruy and Allison R. Steiner, appellate counsel, and (3) cumulative error. Finding no merit in any of Moffett's claims, we deny relief.


¶ 4. The following factual and procedural background is gleaned from this Court's opinion on direct appeal.

Felicia Griffin was sexually abused,1battered,2 and murdered during the early morning hours of December 31, 1994. Felicia lived in Jackson with her two sisters; mother, Pennie Griffin; and, Pennie's boyfriend, Moffett. On December 30, 1994, Moffett, Pennie, and the three girls were at home. Moffett left the house at approximately 9:45 p.m. while Pennie was preparing to go to work. Pennie expected Moffett's mother, Florence Moffett Powell, to arrive soon to take her to work. When Powell did not timely arrive, Pennie went to a nearby gas station to phone her employer and Powell. Pennie checked on the children before leaving, and locked the door and burglar bars as she departed. After going by Pennie's home, Powell picked up Pennie at the gas station and proceeded to take Pennie to work. It was disputed at trial whether Powell was alone when she arrived at the gas station, or whether she was accompanied by her daughter, Sheritha Moffett. Sheritha testified that she had accompanied Powell and had observed Powell enter the house looking for Pennie. Powell did not testify, as she died before trial. The jury heard evidence that Moffett returned to the house a few hours later, took Felicia into the bedroom he shared with Felicia's mother, abused Felicia, and savagely raped her with his fingers and fist.
FN1. The perineum had been savagely ripped or torn, resulting in open communication of the excretory opening of the alimentary canal with her genital orifice.
FN2. She had bruises on her neck, face, and left leg; and petechial hemorrhages on her face.
Moffett reported Felicia's death via a 911 call and awaited the arrival of officers from the Jackson Police Department (JPD). After the police officers arrived, Moffett exhibited anger and began to behave strangely. His behavior escalated to the point that he was “out
156 So.3d 843
of control” and “throwing furniture,” according to the testimony of police officers. Four officers subdued Moffett. He was handcuffed and arrested. From his arrest on December 31, 1994, Moffett remained incarcerated until September 7, 1995, when a grand jury returned no true bill. Moffett was released the same day. He had been in custody 250 days.
Years later, a JPD cold-case unit reviewed the file and submitted its findings to the district attorney. Moffett was indicted in April 2002. Moffett was tried, convicted, and received a death sentence in February 2006. Substantial evidence was presented at trial, including the live testimony of numerous witnesses. Witnesses included, but were not limited to, Pennie Griffin; LaQuandia Griffin, the victim's sister; Donald Davis, a prison inmate; Mary Esther Pearson, a nurse practitioner; Huma Nasir, a forensic DNA analyst for a private DNA laboratory; and Detective Rod Eriksen, a JPD officer.
LaQuandia testified that she was seven years old at the time of the murder. The night of the crime, Pennie helped her and her sisters, Jessica and Felicia, get ready for bed and checked on them before she left for work. The three girls were sleeping on a pallet in a room across the hall from the bedroom shared by Pennie and Moffett. Lights were on in the girls' bedroom, the hallway, and bathroom. LaQuandia woke up and saw Moffett standing in the doorway of the girls' bedroom. She saw Moffett pick up Felicia, who was sleeping closest to the door. He took Felicia to his bedroom. He did not close the doors all the way, so she could see him. He placed Felicia down on the bed and started touching and rubbing on her chest and stomach areas. She heard Felicia making “all kind of painful cries.” She then dozed off, only to be awoken later. She saw someone3 in the hallway going into Pennie's bedroom. She remembered looking into the bedroom and seeing Felicia “laying in the bed and the covers were real bloody.” After the police arrived, Moffett approached her, hugging and attempting to reassure her. She recalled seeing Moffett “throw a fit, ... he was ... yelling and screaming, ... picking up chairs and ... throwing things as if he cared.” She saw the paramedics take Felicia away on a stretcher. She was not sure what she told the policeman who questioned her about the murder, but she did recall being afraid to tell him about Moffett, as he was still in the house at the time.
FN3. This person was later determined to have been a paramedic.
Donald Davis, an inmate with Moffett during the 1994–95 confinement, testified. During his testimony, he read a statement he had written on September 15, 1995,4 when he was interviewed by a JPD officer at the Hinds County Detention Center. Moffett had confessed the crime to Donald Davis at a Bible study on September 3, 1995. The confession had included graphic details of the crime and Moffett's attempt to seek forgiveness by inflicting injury upon himself (smashing his hand in a steel door at the detention center).
FN4. This was after the no-bill report of the September 1995 grand jury.
Mary Esther Pearson testified that she was a nurse practitioner who provided medical services to inmates at the detention center where Moffett was incarcerated. She testified that she treated Moffett in March 1995 for an injury to the middle and [fourth] fingers of his right hand. Moffett told her he had “mashed [his fingers] in a door.”
156 So.3d 844
Huma Nasir testified about DNA tests performed on laboratory samples taken at the emergency room, at autopsy, and at the murder scene, as well as known samples drawn from Moffett. She stated that the vaginal swab, vaginal wash, and anal swab were all positive for semen on the presumptive test, but were negative for sperm cells on the confirmatory test, indicating that there were no “physical sperm cells” remaining in the semen samples. She testified at length about DNA tests done on cuttings from the bath towel found in the bed where Felicia had been found by paramedics. The towel was positive for semen and epithelial cells, but was negative for blood. There were two stains on the towel. The first was a semen stain and the other was a mixed stain, including semen and epithelial cells.5 The semen stain was found to match Moffett's DNA on all fifteen markers. Nasir testified that there was less than one chance in five trillion, nine hundred billion (5,900,000,000,000)6 that the semen had come from anyone other than Moffett. As for the mixed stain, neither Moffett nor Felicia could be excluded as the source of the two sets of DNA found there. There were matches on four foci and six alleles, which Nasir described as “weak” alleles. She stated that, from this evidence, more than 99.9% of the population could be excluded as possible donors of the two components, thus, there was less than one chance in a thousand that anyone else contributed to the mixed stain.
FN5. Epithelial cells include mucous, saliva, vaginal secretions, and skin, but

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