Williams v. State, 90-DP-00266-SCT

Citation684 So.2d 1179
Decision Date09 May 1996
Docket NumberNo. 90-DP-00266-SCT,90-DP-00266-SCT
PartiesJessie Derrell WILLIAMS v. STATE of Mississippi.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi

Thomas M. Fortner, Jackson, Ross Parker Simons, Pascagoula, for Appellant.

Michael C. Moore, Attorney General, Marvin L. White, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, Charlene R. Pierce, Sp. Asst. Attorney General, Jackson, for Appellee.

En Banc.

SMITH, Justice, for the Court:

Jessie Derrell Williams' first trial in April of 1983, resulted from an indictment by the Jackson County grand jury for the crime of capital murder of Karen Ann Pierce, committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of the crime of kidnaping. Venue was transferred to Lauderdale County for trial purposes in December 1983.

The identity of Williams as Pierce's killer rests, at least in part, upon the testimony of Thomas Terrell Evans, a co-indictee. Evans stated that after having several consensual sexual acts, Pierce protested Williams' last attempt of sexual intercourse with her. Evans observed Williams tackle Pierce when she attempted to run away. Shortly thereafter, Evans saw Williams standing over Pierce's bloody body with a knife in his bloodstained hand and his foot resting upon Pierce's shoulder. Evans stated that Williams admitted stabbing Pierce in the heart and cutting her throat and Williams related that he was not going to leave the area until he was sure Pierce was dead. Karen Ann Pierce's body was discovered approximately ten days later by a hunter, Ronnie Russell. Pierce's throat had been slashed, she had been strangled and stabbed in the heart. Her vagina and anus had been excised with a small, sharp knife. Williams was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced by the jury to death.

On direct appeal, this Court affirmed the guilt-finding phase of Williams' bifurcated trial but, on petition for rehearing, reversed the sentence-determining phase and remanded the cause for a new sentencing hearing. See Williams v. State, 544 So.2d 782 (Miss.1987). The basis for reversal was the district attorney's closing argument concerning parole and appellate review of capital sentences. These flaws are not present in the appeal now at bar.

Williams now brings this direct appeal from the Circuit Court of George County where he was sentenced to death a second time by a jury following the new sentence-determination hearing ordered by this Court.

Aggrieved, Williams assails his second death sentence on nine individual grounds, several of which have multiple prongs. Williams argues the following issues:

I. WHETHER OR NOT TWO OF THE AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES WERE IMPROPERLY SUBMITTED TO THE JURY.

II. WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING SOME DETAILS OF WILLIAMS' PRIOR CONVICTION, THEREBY VIOLATING HIS RIGHTS UNDER THE FIFTH AND EIGHTH AMENDMENTS OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION.

III. WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ALLOWING INTO EVIDENCE GRUESOME PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE VICTIM'S BODY, THEREBY AROUSING THE PASSION AND PREJUDICE OF THE JURY.

IV. WHETHER OR NOT DR. MCGARRY'S EXPERT TESTIMONY CONCERNING THE KNIFE THAT "WOULD BE CAPABLE OF PRODUCING" THE WOUNDS ON KAREN'S BODY WAS PROPERLY ADMITTED.

V. WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING INSTRUCTION S-2 WHICH WILLIAMS CLAIMS VIOLATED HIS RIGHTS UNDER MISS.CODE ANN. §§ 99-19-101, 103 & 105, THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, AND THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION.

VI. WHETHER OR NOT THE ALLEGED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT VIOLATED WILLIAMS' RIGHTS UNDER THE SIXTH, EIGHTH, AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS.

VII. WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING INTO EVIDENCE THE PREVIOUS TRIAL TESTIMONY OF TWO STATE WITNESSES WITHOUT ADEQUATE PROOF OF THE WITNESSES' UNAVAILABILITY, WHICH VIOLATED WILLIAMS' RIGHTS TO CONFRONTATION AND DUE PROCESS.

VIII. WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY ALLOWING THE STATE TO INTRODUCE INTO EVIDENCE AN INDICTMENT AND COMMITMENT ORDER WHICH INCLUDED A REFERENCE TO A KNIFE.

IX. WHETHER OR NOT THE JURY'S VERDICT FAILED TO COMPORT WITH MISS.CODE ANN. § 99-19-101 AND § 99-19-103.

Several of Williams' claims are procedurally barred. A state court is allowed to impose a procedural bar and alternatively address the merits of claim without jeopardizing the procedural bar. Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 264 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 1044, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 (1989). This Court addressed this issue in Foster v. State 639 So.2d 1263 (Miss.1994), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 1365, 131 L.Ed.2d 221 (1995). Quoting Sawyers v. Collins, 986 F.2d 1493, 1499 (5th Cir.1993), Foster stated:

Furthermore, where a state court finds that a federal claim is procedurally barred, but goes on to reach the merits of that claim in the alternative, the state court's reliance on the procedural default still constitutes an independent and adequate state ground which bars federal habeas review.

Foster, 639 So.2d at 1271. The Foster Court further quoted from Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 327, 105 S.Ct. 2633, 2637-38, 86 L.Ed.2d 231 (1985), stating:

The mere existence of a basis for a state procedural bar does not deprive this Court of jurisdiction; the state court must actually have relied on the procedural bar as an independent basis for its disposition of the case.... If the state court decision indicates clearly and expressly that it is alternatively based on bona fide separate, adequate, and independent grounds, we, of course, will not undertake to review the decision.... An examination of the decision below reveals that it contains no clear or express indication that "separate, adequate, and independent" state-law grounds were the basis for the court's judgment....

Foster, 639 So.2d at 1271 (quoting Caldwell, 472 U.S. at 327, 105 S.Ct. at 2638-39). See also, Chase v. State 645 So.2d 829 (Miss.1994)- The issues not properly raised or preserved in the record are procedurally barred. Notwithstanding the procedural bar, alternatively and independently this Court has considered and addressed these issues and found them to be without merit. A thorough examination of all other issues properly raised by Williams indicate there is no merit to his contentions. This Court affirms Williams' sentence of death.

, cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 2279, 132 L.Ed.2d 282 (1995).

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The State's case in chief commenced with the testimony of L.H. Fountain which focused upon the unavailability of witnesses Ronnie Russell and Gregory Lynn Fountain who had previously testified in Williams' original 1983 trial. Russell's and Fountain's prior testimony was read to the jury.

Ronnie Russell, twenty-seven years of age, testified, via his former testimony, that he found the body of Karen Pierce while he and his wife were hunting in a wooded area of Jackson County.

Gregory Lynn Fountain, twenty-three years of age, testified, via his former testimony, that he took Karen Pierce to dinner the night of January 11, 1983, and left her at the Scoreboard Lounge at approximately 11:00 or 11:30 p.m. after she declined to leave with him.

Don Stewart testified he was an investigator with the Jackson County Sheriff's Office and was responsible for evidence collection and photography. He also testified the Scoreboard Lounge was a bar for rowdy people and a "pretty rough" place noted for its "barroom brawls."

James Tyson, Jr., a Jackson County deputy sheriff, testified he recovered the victim's purse and tennis shoes from the Scoreboard Lounge.

Thomas Terrell Evans, a thirty-one year-old co-defendant who entered a plea of guilty to accessory-after-the-fact and received a sentence of five years, described again the events that took place at the Scoreboard Lounge. He also testified about subsequent events at the Old Plantation Home and later in the wooded area of Jackson County where the killing took place. Evans said that he and Pierce initially left the lounge together, with Evans making plans for Williams and Mike Norwood to meet them nearby at the Old Plantation Home. Evans said that they all intended to have sexual intercourse with Karen Pierce and that Norwood and Williams, in fact, did have sexual intercourse with Pierce. The group made several stops for beer and other activities before proceeding to the wooded area in Jackson County where Karen was murdered.

Evans testified that when they left the Old Plantation and traveled to the wooded area, the four of them continued drinking beer and "smoking dope" until daybreak. Norwood and Williams each had sexual intercourse twice with Karen Pierce. Evans' testimony is that he witnessed the debauchery throughout the entire night, and that around dawn, he observed that Williams grabbed Pierce around the waist and "tackled" her after she attempted to run away from the truck. Evans then watched Williams take Pierce into the burned out underbrush. It did not appear to Evans that Pierce was walking under her own power; rather, Williams had his arm around Pierce's waist while her arm was draped over his shoulders. Her bodily movement was inconsistent with the way people normally walk.

Evans later observed Williams standing "over the top of the girl with his foot on her back." According to Evans, Williams "switched hands with his knife and pulled her head up [by her hair] and I could see where, you know, she had a incision across her throat there." Williams was smiling at the time.

Williams told Evans that when he stabbed Pierce in the chest she "jumped straight up." Williams also told Evans "that he wasn't going to leave until he was sure that she was dead." After Williams was positive Karen was dead, Evans testified that the three of them went to eat breakfast and have coffee. Williams stated that he threw away his bloody shirt and other "junk that [he] thought belonged to Miss Pierce" in a dumpster.

Michael Norwood, an accessory-after-the-fact to the murder, testified that several days after the incident Williams told...

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