Stevens v. State, No. 2000-DP-00507-SCT.

Citation806 So.2d 1031
Decision Date13 September 2001
Docket NumberNo. 2000-DP-00507-SCT.
PartiesBenny Joe STEVENS v. STATE of Mississippi.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi

Morris Sweatt, Sr., Columbia, J.C. Ainsworth, Jr., Monticello, Attorneys for Appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Judy T. Martin, Jackson, Attorneys for Appellee.

EN BANC.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

EASLEY, J., for the Court:

¶ 1. On January 12, 1999, Benny Joe Stevens ("Stevens") was indicted in Marion County on four counts of capital murder and one count of aggravated assault. The indictment charged that on October 18, 1998, Stevens murdered the four people while in the course of a burglary and felonious child abuse: Count I, Wesley Reed a/k/a Wesley Reid ("Wesley"); Count II, Glenda Reed a/k/a Glynda Reid ("Glenda"); Count III, Heath Pounds ("Heath"), a child; and Count IV, Dylan Lee ("Dylan"), a child. The indictment also charged in Count V that Stevens committed aggravated assault of Erica Stevens a/k/a Ericka Stevens ("Erica").

¶ 2. On March 31, 1999, the trial court granted Stevens's motion for a change of venue from Marion County filed on February 9, 1999. The trial was moved from Marion County to Madison County. The jury selection began on November 29, 1999.

¶ 3. On December 3, 1999, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all five counts: four counts of capital murder under Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-19(2) and one count of aggravated assault under Miss.Code Ann. § 97-3-7(2).

¶ 4. The jury sentenced Stevens on December 4, 1999, and imposed the death penalty on counts I-IV, relating to Wesley, Glenda, Heath and Dylan. The trial court further sentenced Stevens to twenty years in prison on the aggravated assault conviction, relating to Erica.

¶ 5. Stevens filed a Motion for a New Trial or in the Alternative J.N.O.V. on December 14, 1999, which was denied on January 4, 2000.

¶ 6. Stevens filed a notice of appeal to this Court on January 14, 2000.

FACTS

¶ 7. Four brutal murders of Wesley, Glenda, Heath and Dylan and one aggravated assault of Erica, took place on Sunday, October 18, 1998, in Marion County.

¶ 8. Erica is the daughter of Stevens. At the time of trial, Erica was only seventeen years old and had been living with her aunt, Gaye Chambliss. Erica has a sister named Angela Dawn Stevens, ("Angel"), who was nineteen years old at the time of trial. Erica and Angel were both the daughters of Stevens and Glenda.

¶ 9. On October 18, 1998, Erica lived with her mother, Glenda, with her stepfather, Wesley, and her brother, Dylan, in a single-wide trailer home in Marion County located on Shiloh Firetower Road in Foxworth, Mississippi. There were bad feelings between Stevens and Glenda. Glenda and Stevens divorced when Erica was approximately three years old. Stevens came back into Erica's life when she was around twelve years old.

¶ 10. Lauren Stevens ("Lauren"), present wife of Stevens, testified that she and Stevens had married in 1993. Stevens received custody of his daughters, Erica and Angela, in September of 1996. However, in August of 1998, Glenda regained custody of Erica. Erica had wanted the custody arrangement changed, and Erica signed the paperwork to change custody to her mother, Glenda. Stevens and Glenda had disputes over child support. The last time Stevens and Glenda had been in the same room was at court for the child support. Lauren testified that Glenda and Stevens were having domestic problems. Lauren testified on sentencing that a set of papers regarding child support had been delivered to Stevens about a month before the murders on October 18, 1998. Stevens was expecting a settlement from a back injury. Lauren testified that Stevens expected that he would have to pay a large sum of money to Glenda for past due child support from the settlement check.

¶ 11. At the time of the murders, Stevens was unemployed and had a worker's compensation claim due to an alleged back injury. Stevens's wife, Lauren, was also unemployed. Lauren testified that Stevens' alleged injury occurred January of 1993, while working on a land ring. Since the accident, Stevens increased his drinking and was also taking medication: Lorcet 10's, Somas and Xanax. Stevens's drinking increased after his second back surgery in either 1995 or 1996.

¶ 12. On Sunday, October 18, 1998, Stevens and his brother, Ricky Stevens ("Ricky"), had gone in Stevens's beat up, white Ford pick-up truck to play pool. They left Stevens's home together around lunchtime. Lauren received a telephone call from Ricky on a cell phone around three o'clock in the afternoon. Stevens and Ricky had run into a ditch and wrecked the truck. Stevens appeared drunk to Lauren when she arrived to assist them. Stevens's truck was pulled out of the ditch, and Stevens went back home. Stevens fell asleep on the couch after returning home and awoke later hungry. After falling back to sleep, Stevens got up and ate. Ricky was passed out, and Stevens tried to wake him up to go lie down in the bedroom. Ricky moved onto the porch and ate. Stevens went to bed.

¶ 13. Lauren saw the light on in Stevens's bedroom under the door and heard movement in the room. When Lauren entered the bedroom, she saw Stevens with his gun belt laid out on the bed. Stevens was putting shotgun shells in the gun belt. Lauren remembered seeing his.357 handgun. Lauren tried to stop Stevens from leaving the house. During this time, Julie Hollinger ("Hollinger") had appeared on the porch and was standing at the door. Hollinger was an acquaintance of Lauren. Stevens went back into the bedroom. Stevens did not turn on the light. Ricky was still on the porch talking to Hollinger. Hollinger stayed on the porch with Ricky a few minutes. As soon as Hollinger left, Stevens ran out of the house and left in his beat up, white Ford truck. Stevens had taken his guns with him. Lauren stated to Ricky, "I think he's messing up. I think you need to stop him."

¶ 14. On Sunday, October 18, 1998, Erica had slept late and had gotten up between twelve and one o'clock that afternoon. Dylan's twelve-year-old friend, Heath, was visiting at the Reed home. Erica had joined Dylan and Heath playing Nintendo. Erica's sister, Angel, was at church with her boyfriend, Nathan Carney.

¶ 15. Erica, Heath, Wesley, Glenda and Dylan were all at the trailer and had finished eating supper. Heath was not spending the night. Heath was to be taken home after they had cleaned up. Erica was cleaning the supper dishes when she heard a motor she recognized. Erica was standing in the kitchen looking out the kitchen window above the sink. She saw Stevens park his truck beside Wesley's truck in the backyard, No one was with Stevens. Erica saw Stevens get out of his truck. The trailer had a sliding glass door on the back of the trailer with steps leading up to the entrance.

¶ 16. Wesley opened the sliding glass back door only wide enough to stick his head out the door. Wesley yelled out, "Benny Joe, Can I help you ?" Erica then heard a gunshot and Wesley scream, "[S]hit, he shot me." Erica saw Wesley had been shot in the arm and had fallen down to the floor.

¶ 17. Erica then ran to get Dylan and Heath up from playing Nintendo in the living room. She headed toward her mother's bedroom. Glenda was in her bedroom watching television. Glenda's bedroom and the living room were to the left of the back door. Erica could not get the door open to her mother's room. Erica was shot in the back and fell through the doorway into the bedroom. Heath and Dylan screamed when Erica was shot.

¶ 18. Glenda jumped up to inquire as to what was happening and told Erica to hide. Erica hid in the stand-up shower in that bedroom. The bedroom and bathroom were connected with no door between them.

¶ 19. Erica saw her mother grab her gun and hold it to her chest. Glenda was shaking and was standing in front of the chifforobe. Glenda screamed that "he [Stevens] couldn't have her babies." Erica heard another gunshot and saw her mother jerk from the shot. Erica could not hear Dylan or Heath anymore.

¶ 20. Erica heard Stevens say after shooting Glenda, "[B]itch, I told you that I'd kill you one of these days." Erica came out of the shower and saw Stevens going through the bedroom. Erica saw Stevens leave her mother's bedroom, but she did not see him enter the bedroom. Erica testified that Stevens was wearing his "John Wayne" belt.

¶ 21. Erica could hear Wesley yelling everybody's name asking somebody to call 911 and asking God to help him. Erica went through the small window in the bathroom where she had been hiding. Erica hid under the trailer directly under the window afraid to move from her location. She heard more gunshots in the trailer. She continued to hear shots while she was running away from the trailer. Erica went to a neighbor's house for help. The neighbor was Ora Mae Pittman. Erica beat on Ora Mae Pittman's door and collapsed at the door. Ms. Pittman had just gotten off work where she was employed at the Mississippi State Department of Youth Services in Columbia. Ms. Pittman's boyfriend, Larry Green, her nephew and her son were also home.

¶ 22. Ms. Pittman described that Erica appeared to have been shot in the back. Her white t-shirt had holes and spots of blood. Erica told them that her father had shot her mother, step-father, brother and friend. Ms. Pittman described that they were all afraid and Erica appeared to be scared. Erica was afraid that Stevens had followed her to Ms. Pittman's house. Ms. Pittman's boyfriend and son armed themselves and released the dogs. Erica used the telephone to call 911 and to warn Heath's mother and her sister's boyfriend's father. Erica wanted to prevent someone from going into the trailer with Stevens still there.

¶ 23. Erica was transported from Ms. Pittman's house to the hospital by ambulance. Photographs were taken of Erica's injuries. Pellets were imbedded in Erica's back. The gunshot wounds to Erica's back caused permanent...

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