Williams v. State

Decision Date26 February 1992
Docket NumberNo. 89-KA-0139,89-KA-0139
Citation595 So.2d 1299
PartiesTommy WILLIAMS v. STATE of Mississippi.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Jackson M. Brown, Paula E. Drungole, Starkville, for appellant.

Mike C. Moore, Atty. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.

Before ROY NOBLE LEE, C.J., and ROBERTSON and McRAE, JJ.

ROBERTSON, Justice, for the court:

I.

This prosecution for the felonious receipt of a stolen log skidder rests upon substantial and convincing circumstantial evidence. The receiver tried to hide his involvement but found this as hard as hiding the log skidder had been, and the jury found him guilty. Notwithstanding, the receiver appeals and presents a variety of procedural and evidentiary questions. We have considered all of these with care and affirm.

II.

In 1987, James W. Sessums Timber Company, Inc., was engaged in a logging operation in Madison County, near the Leake County line, and employed two pieces of heavy equipment known as skidders which were used to drag logs out of the woods. The first--the one we are principally concerned with--was a D-4H custom skidder operated on quad tracks. Sessums had purchased it for $111,000.00. The second was a rubber tired skidder, a 518. Together, these two pieces of machinery were worth close to a quarter of a million dollars. It seems Sessums' crew left the two skidders at the wooded job site on Thursday night, June 4, 1987. On Friday it rained, and the crew did not work. When they returned to work on the following Monday morning, the skidders were nowhere to be found. Sessums next saw the skidders in the custody of the Sheriff of Oktibbeha County and reclaimed possession on June 22, 1987.

Kenneth Leach lives in Carthage, Mississippi, and earns his keep hauling logs. In the late Spring of 1987, David Breazeale, 1 a life-time acquaintance, approached Leach and asked his help in stealing some heavy equipment. Breazeale told Leach about the skidders, "and where they was at and pick them up and take them somewhere." Breazeale offered Leach $1,000.00 per piece of equipment for his pilferage services. Leach understood that he was to take the skidders up Highway 25 above Louisville, where someone would meet him.

Late on the designated Thursday evening, Leach and Breazeale met and fetched Breazeale's lowboy, on which they planned to move the skidders. They went to the job site in Madison County, loaded the skidders, and hit the highway heading northeast. A tire soon blew out and then a second tire burst not far from Louisville near where Highway 25 intersects with Highways 14 and 15. Apparently the weight of the skidders was more than the lowboy could handle. Leach was able to drag the disabled lowboy trailer carrying the skidders a while further but finally was forced off the road.

Soon thereafter, Defendant Tommy Williams arrived on the scene with Jerry Mann and Andy Hillhouse. Mann got into the truck with Leach, and they dragged the loaded lowboy one to two miles from the Sturgis Road to "where Highway 25 goes back in." They unloaded the 518, the rubber tired skidder, and Mann drove it away with Williams following in the car.

Meanwhile, Breazeale had gone for help, and sometime after 1:00 a.m., returned with Billy Coffee, who worked for Edwards Tire Service in Kosciusko. When Coffee and Breazeale arrived, Mann and Leach were there, along with two other men. Coffee soon saw that the lowboy could not be fixed on the spot because the axle had been damaged. An attempt was made to chain it to the frame, but, when the tracked skidder was reloaded, the chains broke. Breazeale drove the truck, "turned around and went back down to the Sturgis Road and went over into the woods three or four miles somewhere or another and unloaded it." Breazeale then instructed Leach to take the disabled lowboy in for repairs, and all left the premises.

The following Sunday, Leach returned with the repaired lowboy and, at about 12:30 or 1:00 a.m., he and Breazeale loaded the D-4H onto the lowboy. Leach, driving the truck, then followed Breazeale to a camp site in Oktibbeha County, which was owned by Williams' sister. When Leach arrived, Williams, Breazeale and Hillhouse were there. They unloaded the D-4H and drove it down past the camp house and concealed it in some nearby woods.

The most substantial evidence of Williams' guilt was supplied by Jerry Mann, who lives in Maben and drives skidders. Mann once worked for Breazeale. Around midnight on June 4, 1987, Williams and another contacted Mann and asked him to help unload a skidder. Williams had told Mann that he was expecting his son, Breazeale, to bring him some skidders that day. The three--Williams, Mann and Hillhouse--drove in the dead of night down to Louisville, where they found the lowboy broken down. Mann and David Dewberry ultimately bought the rubber tired skidder from Williams. Mann never acknowledged he knew the full extent of Williams' involvement, but admitted Williams had given him instructions after they arrived at the broken down truck loaded with the stolen skidders. Mann says Williams and another man had threatened to kill him if he talked.

Mann had talked anyway, and based on information he had supplied, Emmitt Boozer and Jimmy Edwards, both criminal investigation officers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, began surveillance operations of the camp house site on June 15, 1987. Mann had led the officers to the camp, and, from that point, they followed tracks made by the skidder when moved to its secluded resting place in a wooded area apparently owned by Weyerhauser Corporation. Surveilling officers watched the equipment for at least four days. Boozer and Edwards said the property was known in the area as Williams' camp site, a fact confirmed by Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan, although title was officially registered in the name of Williams' sister, Shirley Douglas. Only once during the four day surveillance did Boozer see Williams at the camp site.

On June 19, two individuals, Pat Lewis and Andy Hillhouse, approached the hidden D-4H skidder and tried to move it. The surveilling officers on duty saw this and placed the two under arrest. It developed they had arrived in a vehicle owned by Tommy Williams. This led to the arrest of others, including Williams.

On July 29, 1988, the grand jury of Oktibbeha County returned an indictment charging Williams with receiving stolen property, to-wit, the D-4H tracked skidder. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 97-17-69 (1972). The rubber tired skidder was not named in the indictment. In due course, the case was called for trial and on January 26, 1989, the jury found Williams guilty as charged. The Circuit Court sentenced Williams to serve five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and ordered that he pay a fine of $5,000.00.

Williams now appeals his conviction and sentence to this Court.

III.

A.

Williams argues that the Circuit Court erred when it denied his motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict. His substantive point, of course, is the familiar charge that the evidence was legally insufficient that the jury's verdict may stand. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 313-14, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2786, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, 569-70 (1979); White v. State, 532 So.2d 1207, 1219-20 (Miss.1988). When considering such a point on appeal, our scope of review is as limited as it is familiar. See, e.g., McFee v. State, 511 So.2d 130, 133-34 (Miss.1987), wherein we said:

We proceed by considering all of the evidence--not just that supporting the case for the prosecution--in the light most consistent with the verdict. We give prosecution the benefit of all favorable inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the evidence. If the facts and inferences so considered point in favor of the accused with sufficient force that reasonable men could not have found beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty, reversal and discharge are required. On the other hand, if there is in the record substantial evidence of such quality and weight that, having in mind the beyond a reasonable doubt burden of proof standard, reasonable and fair-minded jurors in the exercise of impartial judgment might have reached different conclusions, the verdict of guilty is thus placed beyond our authority to disturb. [citations omitted]

We have more recently pursued these views in Heidel v. State, 587 So.2d 835, 838-40 (Miss.1991); Roberts v. State, 582 So.2d 423, 424-25 (Miss.1991); McGee v. State, 569 So.2d 1191, 1193-94 (Miss.1990); and Benson v. State, 551 So.2d 188, 192-93 (Miss.1989), among others. See particularly, Davis v. State, 586 So.2d 817, 819 (Miss.1991); Lewis v. State, 573 So.2d 713, 714 (Miss.1990); Whatley v. State, 490 So.2d 1220, 1222-24 (Miss.1986); and Thompson v. State, 457 So.2d 953, 954-56 (Miss.1984), accepting these standards and applying them in the context of today's offense.

We measure the evidence under these standards in the light of court-approved definition of the offense. See Pennock v. State, 550 So.2d 410, 412 fn. 4 (Miss.1989); Fisher v. State, 481 So.2d 203, 212-13 (Miss.1985). Instruction S-2 2 reads ... [I]f you find ... that the defendant, Tommy Williams, did on or about June 7, 1987, unlawfully, wilfully, and feloniously receive a Caterpillar D4H custom skidder with quad track, having a total value in excess of $100.00, which was the property of James W. Sessums Timber Co., Inc., which had been feloniously taken away from the James Sessums Timber Co., Inc., and that Tommy Williams knew the same to have been so taken at the time he received it, then you shall find the defendant guilty as charged.

The law does not demand proof that the accused took the stolen property into his hands; indeed, it would be tough to take a D-4H skidder into one's hands. "Receive" within the statute contemplates that the accused has performed some act with respect to the property, that he has exercised dominion or control over it,...

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