Stokes v. State, 58428

Decision Date19 July 1989
Docket NumberNo. 58428,58428
Citation548 So.2d 118
CourtMississippi Supreme Court
PartiesPhillip STOKES v. STATE of Mississippi.

George M. Ward, Natchez, for appellant.

Mike Moore, Atty. Gen. by Leyser Q. Morris, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.



ROBERTSON, Justice, for the Court:

Today's appellant has been convicted of a brutal robbery/murder for which he has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Issues tendered include admissibility of an inculpatory statement, fruits of a search, and a plethora of evidentiary points. We have examined the record with care and can but conclude that no error of consequence appears. We affirm.


Picnicking on the Natchez Trace Mother's Day, 1986, a Louisiana family found the nude, bound body of an elderly male lying in the now grassy roadway of the old Trace. The police responded to the family's call, came to and secured the scene. The body, not identified but covered with flies and some debris, was bound at the wrists with a plastic covered cable, a white extension cord, and some black and white tape. Brought to the morgue, the body was still not identified throughout the afternoon, until about 9:00 p.m., when the police received notice that a Mrs. William Jackson had reported her husband missing.

That same Sunday Eddie Jackson, the victim's son, aware that his father was missing, spotted his father's car riding down Pine Street in Natchez. The driver parked at the Zipy's Store, which he then entered. Eddie Jackson followed the man inside Zipy's and asked where he got the car, to which the man replied "it's mine, I bought it." Jackson trailed the car for awhile, but eventually lost it.

With an APB out on the car, police quickly found it parked on the corner of Pine and St. Catherine Streets in Natchez. Linda Pendleton, an employee of the Zipy's store who had witnessed the conversation with Eddie Jackson, and Officer Edward Easton of the Natchez Police went undercover into several clubs in the area. In the Pine Street Fish Market Pendleton spotted the suspect shooting stick. Officer Easton followed the suspect outside of the club, where waiting officers stopped him. The suspect had keys sticking out of the waistband of his shorts, and Officer Charles Gibson asked him if he knew anything about the nearby parked car. He pleaded ignorance. Officer Gibson put the suspect's keys into the car's lock, which fit.

Brought down to the stationhouse and charged with murder, Phillip Stokes was searched and then the car. Inside the car was found a .32 caliber revolver, registered to William Jackson, with three live rounds remaining, and a wallet from the front seat's floorboard. Inside the wallet were credit cards bearing the name William Jackson, Jackson's driver's license, pictures of Jackson's family members, an American Legion card, but no money. An officer removed from Stokes' arm a Caravelle wristwatch, later identified by Mrs. Jackson as her husband's. Also removed from inside the car was a blood-stained leather purse. A number of blood-stained items were found in the trunk: a paper file folder, a small ice chest, a bag of screws, the bottom of a cardboard box, and a Church's Fried Chicken bag, among other items. Last, the FBI was able to match a number of fingerprints taken from the car with those of Phillip Stokes.

During the night Stokes gave a statement of his involvement in the crime, the disputed circumstances of which will be discussed below. Meanwhile, the police, at 1:15 am, were sent to the home he shared with his mother, Mrs. Catherine Stokes, on Texas Street in Natchez. Mrs. Stokes signed a consent to search form and the officers searched Phillip's bedroom. There they found a paper bag containing a blue knit shirt, a pair of eyeglasses, a telephone card with William Jackson's name and years of service on it, and several receipts bearing Jackson's name.

On the previous Saturday, Howard and Michael Sherman, Stokes' brother and nephew respectively, both of whom lived near Stokes, entered the Stokes home and observed the nude body of a man lying on the bedroom floor. Michael entered first, then called his father to come see the body. His father testified he saw the nude, bound at the feet, body in Stokes' bedroom. As Howard Sherman was leaving the house Stokes drove up in a car Sherman did not recognize. Sherman asked Stokes about the body, and Stokes replied the man was on drugs. Sherman then heard Stokes say, from his bedroom, "Get up man, get up."

On the afternoon of the 12th, when Officer Lee Ford was dropping Howard and Michael Sherman off at their home, Mrs. Catherine Stokes approached Ford and told him there were items in her house that did not belong to her son, Phillip. Ford said Mrs. Stokes invited him in and showed him things now placed in front of Phillip's bed. The items were an undershirt, undershorts and shoes, all later identified by Mrs. Jackson as her husband's.

On the 13th of March a search warrant was executed upon Mrs. Stokes, and six officers combed the house for evidence. Found were remnants of tape, which were later identified as matching the tape found on Jackson's body, a South Central Bell cap found wedged between the bed and a trunk in the bedroom, a pair of black shorts, later identified as Jackson's, and a piece of blood stained mattress. The officers also removed several pieces of blood stained plank from the rear porch of the Stokes' home. None of the items with blood, including the items found in the car truck, could be excluded as inconsistent with the blood of William Jackson.

An autopsy performed on Jackson revealed that he died from an acute pulmonary edema and cardiac tamponade, caused by pressure around the larynx. The doctor performing the autopsy determined that Jackson showed signs consistent with someone "choked or strangled from the ligature that was around his neck and came up behind each ear." No fragments of metal were found in the body, but a small puncture wound was found in Jackson's left chest. Not the cause of death, it was probably caused by a blunt type metallic instrument with enough force to penetrate the skin and break a rib. In addition Jackson's face showed contusions and minor lacerations, with a bloody discharge coming from both ears.

On July 15, 1986, the Grand Jury of Adams County formally charged Phillip Stokes with capital murder, that is, murder committed while engaged in the commission of a robbery. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 97-3-19(2)(e) (Supp.1989). The case was called for trial on July 17, 1986, and four days later Stokes was found guilty as charged. A separate sentencing hearing was held thereafter whereupon Stokes was sentenced to life imprisonment. From this conviction and sentence, Stokes prosecutes the present appeal.


Stokes first argues that the Circuit Court erred when it overruled his objections to the prosecution's presentation of his video-taped statement to the jury. The essence of Stokes' statement is that he agreed to go riding with Jackson that morning, but needed to go to Stokes' house to change his clothes. Once inside the house, he heard Jackson knock on the door, wanting to use the bathroom. Instead, while Stokes was pulling off his shirt, Jackson pulled a pistol on him and placed it to the back of his head, demanding that Stokes undress and lay down on the bed. As Jackson attempted to "force hisself in me" Stokes asked to use the bathroom, as a pretense. When he came out of the bathroom Stokes picked up a hallway telephone, but Jackson slammed it down and unplugged the cord. Back on the bed, Stokes turned around and grabbed him and the two struggled. Stokes got hold of the gun and began shooting. He hit Jackson in the front, but did not see any blood. Jackson continued to move, so Stokes tied him up with the tape. Stokes left the house with his wallet and keys to go call the police, but for some reason turned back, and saw his nephew leaving the house. Stokes told his nephew the man was drunk, then went in and dragged Jackson down the back steps of his house and into his car. All of Stokes' version happened sometime between noon and one o'clock on Saturday afternoon.

There is a sense in which the statement is not technically a confession. If it had been believed, the statement could have formed a predicate for the jury's exonerating Stokes. See Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 97-3-15(1)(e) or (f) (Supp.1989). On the other hand, the statement was highly incriminating in that it confirmed that Stokes was with Jackson and that Stokes killed Jackson. Moreover, by its departure from the physical evidence and that of the witnesses' in so many respects, the jury quite likely perceived it as a fabrication.

All agree that when Stokes was first brought to the stationhouse just before midnight on May 11, he stated that he did not wish to talk and refused to sign a waiver of his rights. Stokes says at this time he asked for an attorney, but the officers deny this. On the morning of May 12th, around 9:00 a.m., Stokes was brought down from his cell to be questioned by Officer Ferrell of the Adams County Sheriff's Office and Agent Cy Hoaglund of the FBI. This interrogation lasted only a few minutes with Stokes refusing to talk. Both officers testified at the suppression hearing that they did not recall whether Stokes requested an attorney at this point.

Officer John Manley testified at the suppression hearing. He said he participated in an interrogation of Stokes the evening of the 12th, and that Stokes read and signed a waiver form at 10:36 that evening. With Officer Eli Johnson in the room Stokes first gave a verbal statement, which was not recorded, then two video versions, before which he signed another waiver of rights form. This is consistent with Stokes' version. According to Manley the entire interrogation was about two and one half hours, but the parties stipulated later that the final videotaping did not end until...

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