Simpson v. State

Citation993 So.2d 400
Decision Date27 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 2006-KA-01366-COA.,2006-KA-01366-COA.
PartiesPatricia SIMPSON a/k/a Patricia L. Simpson, Appellant, v. STATE of Mississippi, Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Mississippi

Glenn S. Swartzfager, Leslie S. Lee, Jackson, attorneys for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General, by John R. Henry, attorney for appellee.

Before LEE, P.J., CHANDLER and BARNES, JJ.

BARNES, J., for the court.

¶ 1. Patricia Simpson appeals her conviction and sentence ordered by the George County Circuit Court, after a bench trial. The trial judge, sitting as the fact-finder, found her guilty of the crime of manslaughter of her husband, Don Simpson, and sentenced her to twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with the last five years of the sentence served under post-release supervision. Patricia raises three issues: (1) whether the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict; (2) whether due process will allow the conviction of manslaughter to stand; and (3) whether the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Finding no error, we affirm her conviction and sentence.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. On December 22, 2003, emergency personnel, responding to a 911 dispatch call, arrived at the Simpsons' home near Lucedale, Mississippi at approximately 8:20 p.m. The paramedics were aware that Patricia had called 911 at approximately 8:00 p.m. to report that her husband "was cleaning a gun," and it accidentally discharged. Patricia, who had spent the day doing last minute Christmas shopping, answered the door and led the paramedics to the kitchen, where they found Don lying face down on the floor with a .22 revolver near his knee. The paramedics were unable to find a pulse on Don's body. It was determined that Don had sustained a single gunshot wound to the middle of his chest. Patricia then picked up the gun and put her finger on the trigger, allegedly to show the paramedics the weapon. Alarmed, the paramedics instructed her three times to drop the gun before she complied. Patricia did not offer any explanation as to what happened. Nobody else appeared to be present in the house. Don was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital in Mobile.

¶ 3. Law enforcement officers arrived on the scene after the paramedics and interviewed Patricia. She explained that Don had been wanting to clean the old pistol but did not know how. Patricia was upstairs when she heard the gun fire. She came downstairs and found Don lying face down in the kitchen. She did not offer anything further as to what occurred. Officers found Patricia's demeanor to be quiet, withdrawn, and upset. Upon a cursory inspection of the house, the officers found no gun cleaning kit and asked Patricia about this fact. She told the officers that Don did not have any gun cleaning materials and that she did not know to whom the gun belonged. Officers noticed the phone in the kitchen was covered with a large amount of blood.

¶4. Mr. and Mrs. Thrower and Faye Holifield, church friends of the Simpsons, arrived at the scene as Don's body was being put into the ambulance. Holifield, who lives close to the Simpsons, testified that the kitchen appeared immaculate, except for the blood on the phone and a few drops of blood on the kitchen floor. Holifield testified that Patricia's demeanor appeared calm as she prepared to be taken to the hospital by Mr. Thrower. Again, Patricia did not offer any explanation to her friends as to what occurred. Mrs. Thrower testified that Patricia specifically told her not to call any family members about Don's death. With permission from law enforcement, Holifield and Mrs. Thrower stayed at the Simpsons' home and cleaned up. They found no gun cleaning materials. While en route to the hospital in Mobile, Patricia called her home and asked Mrs. Thrower and Holifield to retrieve from her coffee table and put away workbooks from a recent marriage enrichment weekend in Fairhope, Alabama. Mrs. Thrower took the workbooks upstairs. After Patricia returned from the hospital, Holifield stayed with her the rest of the night. Holifield testified that there was little conversation between them, and Patricia's demeanor was calm and quiet. Patricia stayed up the entire night cleaning the house and doing laundry. Holifield also remembered that, a few weeks prior to the shooting, Patricia had asked her several times where she could get a gun cleaned because Don did not know anything about guns, and she had to get one cleaned.

¶ 5. Patricia did not immediately contact Don's family members about his death. Don's daughter, by a previous marriage, initially heard from her brother in California on December 23 that her father had died in an automobile accident. Upon calling the George County Sheriff's Office, she discovered that he had died in a shooting. After visiting five funeral homes, she found her father's remains, only to discover he had already been cremated. Several months after the shooting, Patricia told Don's daughter the shooting had been a "horrible accident." Patricia also later told her sister the shooting was an accident.

¶ 6. Stan Keebler, whom Don supervised at work, testified that on the morning of December 24, Patricia had called the office to ask someone to deposit Don's payroll check. She asked to speak to Keebler about being an honorary pallbearer at Don's funeral. He testified she was not upset. Keebler asked her what had happened, and she maintained that Don was cleaning a very old gun when it accidentally discharged. Patricia also wanted to go into her husband's office to retrieve a photograph for the funeral. When she was told that the office was locked out of respect for Don, she informed them that she had her husband's keys. Later, it was discovered that Patricia had come to the office late at night; however, the picture she had wanted was not used in the funeral.

¶ 7. Evidence presented at trial reflected that while Don had been "pretty comfortable" financially before his marriage to Patricia in 1998, he was in "financial crisis" at the time of his death. Don had worked as a salesman for a labor support company since 1990. In 2002, Don was making approximately $123,000 per year, purely on commission.1 Because of a slump in the labor market, Don only made approximately $43,000 in 2003. Because of the drop in his income, the business's owner, Wayne Cook, Jr. (Cook, Jr.), advanced Don $1,000 a week against future commissions he might earn, in order to pay his monthly bills. This arrangement continued until Don's death. Don, who had gone to high school with and was good friends with Cook, Jr.'s father, Wayne Cook, Sr. (Cook, Sr.), confided to Cook, Sr. about his "financial crisis." Around 2001 to 2002, Don had purchased his current home in Lucedale and had made extensive renovations to it. Cook, Jr. also testified that "everything changed" once Don married Patricia. Don did not live a flashy lifestyle; yet, after his marriage to Patricia, Don went from driving a truck to a Mercedes-Benz.

¶ 8. Shortly after Don's death, Patricia's son by a previous marriage, Michael Tompkins, requested a meeting with Don's employers.2 Present at the meeting were Cook, Sr.; Cook, Jr.; Tompkins; and Patricia. Cook, Jr. asked Patricia directly what happened to Don, but Tompkins responded for her, stating his mother was too upset to speak for herself. Tompkins stated that Don was cleaning an old rusty revolver that Patricia's father had given her when it went off. Specifically, Tompkins said Don was extracting an old bullet from the firearm's cylinder with a screwdriver. Cook, Sr. testified that he did not remember Don ever owning a gun, and he was surprised by this statement. Also, it was Cook, Sr.'s opinion that Don would know better than to clean a rusty gun with a screwdriver since Don had been in the Navy four years. At the meeting, Tompkins stated that Patricia wanted to know if she could continue to collect Don's salary even after his death and stay on the company's health insurance. Cook, Jr. responded, "absolutely not."

¶ 9. During the investigation of Don's death, records showed that Patricia herself had actually bought and registered the firearm at issue in 1976. Law enforcement also discovered Patricia had another firearm, which she had failed to mention earlier, a derringer that she kept in her car. Additionally, in January 2002, the Simpsons had bought a term life insurance policy on Don's life in the amount of $175,000. The policy indicated that Patricia was the primary beneficiary and her son, Michael Tompkins, was the secondary beneficiary. Then, in April 2003, the Simpsons bought another term life insurance policy for $200,000, with the same beneficiaries designated. At the insurance agent's office, the Simpsons explained that they were going to refinance their home and needed additional coverage on Don. On December 29, 2003, an insurance agent stated that a claim was made on those insurance policies.3

¶ 10. On April 1, 2004, Patricia was indicted for the murder of her husband. She pleaded not guilty and waived her right to a jury trial. On July 18, 2006, a four-day bench trial commenced in the George County Circuit Court. The evidence presented in the case was entirely circumstantial.

¶ 11. Numerous witnesses testified for the State and the defense. Patricia's 911 telephone call was played in court and entered into evidence. In it, Patricia explains "there's been a gunshot" and that her husband was cleaning a gun when it accidentally discharged. Initially, she stated Don was still breathing. She frantically asked the 911 operator if there was anything she could do and stated she was trying to blow in Don's mouth. Then, the 911 operator gave Patricia specific instructions on how to perform CPR until the ambulance arrived; the first step being to lay Don flat on his back and then remove his dentures. On the 911 tape,...

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