Tolbert v. State, No. 56850

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtROBERTSON; WALKER
Citation511 So.2d 1368
PartiesJames Lee TOLBERT v. STATE of Mississippi.
Docket NumberNo. 56850
Decision Date12 August 1987

Page 1368

511 So.2d 1368
James Lee TOLBERT
v.
STATE of Mississippi.
No. 56850.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
Aug. 12, 1987.
Rehearing Denied Sept. 16, 1987.

Page 1369

Orma R. Smith, Jr., Smith, Ross & Trapp, Corinth, for appellant.

Edwin Lloyd Pittman, Atty. Gen. by DeWitt Allred, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.

Before HAWKINS, P.J., and ROBERTSON and ANDERSON, JJ.

ROBERTSON, Justice, for the Court:

I.

Today's is a case of murder. The appeal does not claim innocence but denial of a fair trial. If perfection be the standard, the charge must prevail, for several things happened below that could and perhaps should have been avoided. All in all, the Defendant received a fair trial, albeit not one perfect. In the end, Defendant has presented nothing that undermines our confidence in the integrity of the jury's verdict.

We affirm.

II.

Love's recurring triangle, the source of such emotions and passions through the centuries, never claims but one victim. Annie Katherine Boyd Cox (Kat) is dead. James Lee Tolbert has been convicted of murder. Others have been scarred.

The contours of today's triangle were the source of great controversy at not one but

Page 1370

two trials. 1 Was it Tolbert's jealousy of his fiancee's rekindling her romance with her former husband, Ernest Cox (Cox); or was it the unnatural desires for Kat arising out of a lesbian relationship with Annie Dilworth which caused the gun to fire the one single bullet which took the life of Kat, an attractive thirty-two-year-old female?

Some parts of the story are clear. In 1978, Kat and Cox were divorced. Subsequently, Kat met Tolbert, and they began dating. Their relationship progressed and they became engaged to be married. By this time, Kat and Tolbert were living together in Tolbert's apartment in Tupelo and Kat's home in Corinth. Apparently, however, Kat maintained contact with Cox while dating Tolbert.

For Kat, Sunday, March 22, 1981, began in deception and ended in death. She spent the day and the better part of the evening with her former husband, Cox. Knowing Tolbert would be suspicious, Kat and Annie Dilworth and Carolyn Pollard Brand fabricated a story that they had been playing cards in Jackson, Tennessee, all day. That evening, when she arrived at her home, Kat was shot and killed. Eyewitnesses claimed that Tolbert had a gun, started beating Kat and eventually shot her after she arrived at her home. Tolbert claims that the shooting was an accident, resulting from a scuffle that ensued with Kat and her girlfriends.

Witnesses for the prosecution indicated that Tolbert was the aggressor and that he alone shot Kat. Ernest Cox, Kat's former husband, testified that he and Kat spent most of that particular Sunday together, with Kat leaving his home later that evening between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. Kat left Cox's home with her friend, Annie Dilworth (hereafter "Dilworth"), and Dilworth's friend, Carolyn Brand (hereafter "Brand"). Kat persuaded Dilworth and Brand to fabricate the story about playing cards in Jackson, Tennessee, so that if they encountered Tolbert, Kat would have a legitimate excuse for being away from home the entire day.

After changing clothes at a friend's home, Kat, Dilworth and Brand drove to Kat's home. Upon their arrival, Tolbert came out of Kat's home, and according to Dilworth and Brand, he had a gun in his hand. Dilworth and Brand testified that Tolbert started beating Kat, and kept clicking the gun at her. Dilworth and Brand both testified that Tolbert then shot Kat.

The prosecution called other eyewitnesses to corroborate Dilworth and Brand's story. Charles R. Barnett, Jr. a/k/a "Junebug", Kat's nephew, testified that on the night of March 22, 1981, his sister, Bernita Barnett, woke him to watch the commotion in Kat's driveway. Junebug testified that he saw Tolbert and Kat fighting, with Kat trying to defend herself. He testified that Tolbert was hitting Kat, and had a gun in his hand. Junebug then saw Tolbert shoot Kat.

Junebug's sister, Bernita, who was Kat's niece, testified that around 10:15 that evening, Tolbert came to their home and asked Bernita where Kat was. Bernita believed that Tolbert had been drinking. She testified that Tolbert seemed very upset because Kat was not at home and that he was going to wait on her and beat her when she came home. Bernita then saw Kat drive up with Dilworth and Brand, and Tolbert ran out the door asking Kat where she had been. She testified that Tolbert immediately began hitting Kat, and that Kat was trying to defend herself. Bernita testified that they kept fighting, and that as they moved around to the driver's side of the car in which Kat drove up, a gun went off and Kat fell to the ground. Bernita saw a gun in Tolbert's hand.

Roger Voyles, who at the time of this trial was a deputy sheriff in Alcorn County, lived with his grandmother next door to Kat. Voyles testified that, on the night of March 22, 1981, he heard a car drive up at Kat's, and a woman scream. Voyles then

Page 1371

walked onto his front porch, and he saw Tolbert hitting and cussing Kat. Voyles then saw Tolbert reach into his coat, take out a pistol and start to hit Kat. Voyles testified that Tolbert then shot Kat.

Delois Boyd Pratt, Kat's sister, testified that Tolbert called and visited her the night of March 22, 1981, mad and cussing and asking about Kat. Raynelle Barnett, Kat's sister and Junebug and Bernita's mother, testified that Tolbert called her that night, looking for Kat and sounding upset. Also, Raynelle testified that Tolbert came up to her fence late that night and told her that he had shot Kat.

The prosecution also called law enforcement officials that were involved with the incident that evening. Officers Whitehead and Brinkley, with the Corinth Police Department, testified that, when they arrived on the scene, they were asking people what happened, and someone shouted "He did it". Brinkley turned to Tolbert and asked Tolbert if he knew anything about what happened, and Tolbert said "I shot her." Officer Brinkley then placed Tolbert under arrest.

Tolbert called no eyewitnesses but testified on his own behalf. Somewhere between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m. on March 22, 1981, Tolbert went to Kat's home. He stayed in Kat's home for awhile, then he went to Kat's father's home looking for her. Afterwards, he talked with Kat's brother and they went looking for her. During their search, they stopped at Sonny Barnett's home across the street.

After searching to no avail, Tolbert returned to Kat's home where he was going to leave money that she had requested and pick up a pistol that he had left there. Tolbert placed the money Kat had requested on the kitchen counter and got his pistol out of a bedroom drawer. He started out of the house to tell Sonny Barnett that he was going to leave and go back to Tupelo. As he came out of the house, he placed the gun on top of an old car parked outside. When Tolbert went over to the Barnett home, Bernita answered the door. Tolbert testified that he simply told Bernita that he had left Kat's money, and he was about to go back to Tupelo.

Tolbert testified, contrary to Bernita's testimony, that he never went into the house to talk with her, and that he had not been drinking. Tolbert then testified that he went back to Kat's home, and ran into the home to answer the ringing telephone. Tolbert then called Ernest Cox, and asked about Kat. As he was talking to Cox, a car drove up into the driveway. Kat, Dilworth and Brand were in the car.

Tolbert testified that he came out of the front door and called for Kat, but no one answered. Instead, Dilworth shouted, telling him that they were going to teach him to stay away from Kat. Tolbert said the women started advancing toward him. Tolbert tried to get the pistol that he had placed on the car. He grabbed the gun, and the other three women started struggling with him over the gun. During the scuffle, the gun went off. Immediately after the gun went off, Dilworth left the scene. However, she came back later and he unlocked the kitchen door for her.

Tolbert testified that he took the pistol off the ground and took it into the bedroom and opened the chamber, shaking the bullets out of it. He then grabbed some towels and went outside, giving them to Brand. He then tried to call an ambulance, but could not get a dial tone on the phone that he had been using. Subsequently the police arrived and arrested Tolbert.

Tolbert also called John Kilty, who was a special agent with the FBI. Under Kilty's direction and supervision, neutron activation analyses were conducted on materials obtained from the hands of Kat and Tolbert. Based on these analyses, Kilty was unable to determine whether Kat or Tolbert fired the gun.

Tolbert also called Karen Thorpe, the director of medical records at Magnolia Hospital, in order to introduce medical records indicating that Tolbert was upset when he visited the emergency room. Tolbert also called Laura Pritchett, an employee of Magnolia Hospital at the time of the incident, to describe his condition that night. Additionally, Tolbert called Dr.

Page 1372

Charles B. Ferguson, the doctor who treated him in the emergency room on the night of the incident.

The jury returned a verdict against Tolbert for murder. On December 1, 1984, the Circuit Court sentenced Tolbert to life imprisonment. He then filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied on May 9, 1985. Accordingly, Tolbert brings this appeal.

III.

Tolbert first argues that the prosecution intentionally destroyed a piece of exculpatory evidence and, as a consequence, that the charges against him should have been dismissed. Tolbert refers to a piece of skin, cut from his right forefinger shortly after the fatal shooting. This piece of skin, he argues, would, upon proper analysis, have proved that he could not have fired the fatal shot.

Following his arrest, Tolbert was taken to the emergency room of the Magnolia...

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88 practice notes
  • Saucier v. State, No. 07-KA-58705
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 25, 1990
    ...Livingston v. State, 519 So.2d 1218, 1220 (Miss.1988); Williamson v. State, 512 So.2d 868, 876 (Miss.1987); Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368, 1375 n. 5 (Miss.1987); Page v. State, 495 So.2d 436, 440 n. 5 Saucier's right to counsel and right to remain silent thus coalesced, 1 and the factual......
  • Taylor v. State, No. 90-DP-01346-SCT
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1996
    ...means. Id. at 489, 104 S.Ct. at 2534, 81 L.Ed.2d at 422. This Court adopted the Trombetta standard when it decided Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368 (Miss.1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1016, 108 S.Ct. 723, 98 L.Ed.2d 672 (1988). In Tolbert, the Court held that the State's failure to preserve......
  • Nicholson v. State, No. 57471
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • March 16, 1988
    ...State (Miss.No.DP-65, dec. November 25, 1987) (not yet reported); Williamson v. State, 512 So.2d 868, 876 (Miss.1987); Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368, 1375 n. 5 (Miss.1987); Page v. State, 495 So.2d 436, 440 (Miss.1986); and Cannaday v. State, 455 So.2d 713, 722 (Miss.1984); cf. Miss.Code......
  • Hansen v. State, No. 89-DP-0823
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • December 18, 1991
    ...such as this are committed to the sound discretion of the Circuit Court. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 13-5-91 (1972); cf. Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368, 1378 (Miss.1987). In cases where the defendant shows substantial need and where adequate security measures are available, the Circuit Court has ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
88 cases
  • Saucier v. State, No. 07-KA-58705
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • April 25, 1990
    ...Livingston v. State, 519 So.2d 1218, 1220 (Miss.1988); Williamson v. State, 512 So.2d 868, 876 (Miss.1987); Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368, 1375 n. 5 (Miss.1987); Page v. State, 495 So.2d 436, 440 n. 5 Saucier's right to counsel and right to remain silent thus coalesced, 1 and the factual......
  • Taylor v. State, No. 90-DP-01346-SCT
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1996
    ...means. Id. at 489, 104 S.Ct. at 2534, 81 L.Ed.2d at 422. This Court adopted the Trombetta standard when it decided Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368 (Miss.1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1016, 108 S.Ct. 723, 98 L.Ed.2d 672 (1988). In Tolbert, the Court held that the State's failure to preserve......
  • Nicholson v. State, No. 57471
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • March 16, 1988
    ...State (Miss.No.DP-65, dec. November 25, 1987) (not yet reported); Williamson v. State, 512 So.2d 868, 876 (Miss.1987); Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368, 1375 n. 5 (Miss.1987); Page v. State, 495 So.2d 436, 440 (Miss.1986); and Cannaday v. State, 455 So.2d 713, 722 (Miss.1984); cf. Miss.Code......
  • Hansen v. State, No. 89-DP-0823
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • December 18, 1991
    ...such as this are committed to the sound discretion of the Circuit Court. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 13-5-91 (1972); cf. Tolbert v. State, 511 So.2d 1368, 1378 (Miss.1987). In cases where the defendant shows substantial need and where adequate security measures are available, the Circuit Court has ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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