Williams v. State

Decision Date19 November 2020
Docket NumberNO. 2019-KA-01476-SCT,2019-KA-01476-SCT
Citation305 So.3d 1122
Parties Timothy A. WILLIAMS a/k/a Timothy Allen Williams a/k/a Timothy Williams v. STATE of Mississippi
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: JUSTIN TAYLOR COOK, GEORGE T. HOLMES

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LAUREN GABRIELLE CANTRELL

BEFORE KING, P.J., MAXWELL AND GRIFFIS, JJ.

MAXWELL, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

¶1. Timothy Williams challenges the sufficiency and weight of the evidence supporting his felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm conviction. Though he argues his conviction should be reversed, Williams stipulated he is a felon and is prohibited from possessing firearms. And he admitted to a detective—in a recorded interview and then in a signed statement—that he purchased a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol "off the street." Williams also described how he loaned the pistol to a woman—a woman who later testified Williams indeed left a gun with her. Thus, the sufficiency and weight of the evidence support his conviction.

¶2. Williams also insists the State violated his constitutional and statutory speedy trial rights. And he likewise asks that his conviction be reversed on these grounds. But even if the eighteen-month delay between his arrest and trial was presumptively prejudicial, Williams failed to show any actual prejudice from the delay. So there is no constitutional or statutory speedy trial violation. We thus affirm Williams's conviction and his ten-year sentence as a habitual offender.

Background Facts and Procedural History

¶3. On February 4, 2018, two armed men scuffled with Kamal Ewing outside a Motel 6 on McCullough Boulevard in Tupelo, Mississippi. When Ewing fled, the men tried to force their way into the room of Ewing's girlfriend, Brandi Singleton. Seeing the armed men through a window, Singleton crawled across the motel floor to call 911. Tupelo Police Department patrol officers responded, but the two men had left. Singleton told the officers she recognized one of the men. She claimed that the man had raped her a week earlier. Singleton gave a brief written statement to officers describing the alleged rape and attempted motel-room entry.

¶4. Two weeks later, Detective Scott Floyd interviewed Singleton at Tupelo police headquarters. This time, she gave a longer and more detailed statement about the February 4, 2018 motel event and what had happened a week earlier. Singleton had since used Facebook to identify her attacker, "YB Williams," a/k/a Timothy Williams. Singleton reported that a week earlier, on January 26, 2018, Williams forced his way into her motel room, zip-tied her hands together, and raped her. Singleton remembered Williams had a black, semi-automatic pistol with a brown grip, possibly a .45 caliber. According to Singleton, after Williams raped her, he suggested she work as a prostitute for him. He offered her protection, claiming he had other girls and a house she could stay in. He then abruptly left the motel room, leaving behind his .45 caliber pistol. Singleton, who was still tied up, used a lighter to burn the zip-ties off. Once free, she called a friend to come get her.

¶5. Singleton claimed she did not initially report the rape because of her former gang affiliation and work as a prostitute. She believed Williams found her through an advertisement on an escort website called Backpage. The two continued to communicate after January 26. Singleton asked Williams for money and accused him of stealing from her. Williams kept urging Singleton to work for him and demanded she return his pistol. When Singleton resumed working as a prostitute around the motel on February 4, Williams and an accomplice showed up. They fought with her boyfriend, then tried to get inside her room. She had not told anyone she had returned to the motel, so Singleton feared Williams was stalking her.

¶6. Officers arrested Williams on February 27, 2018. After he signed a Miranda waiver,1 Detective Floyd conducted a video interview of Williams. During the interview, Williams gave a markedly different story than Singleton's. Williams claimed he first met Singleton as a customer at the motel where he worked. He denied ever having consensual or non-consensual sex with her. But he admitted smoking marijuana with her and loaning Singleton a Colt. 45 pistol he "bought off the street." During the interview, Williams also admitted the Colt .45 pistol was "his pistol." Williams asked Detective Floyd if he would "catch another charge" for the gun—in addition to the alleged kidnaping and rape. Detective Floyd explained it was possible, but at that moment the kidnaping and rape were his main concern. Detective Floyd reduced the interview details to a typed written statement. Williams read the statement and was given the opportunity to make corrections. Williams then signed it. Williams admitted in the written statement that he loaned his Colt. 45 pistol to Singleton for protection.

¶7. On June 27, 2018, a grand jury indicted Williams for possessing a firearm as a felon. Based on Williams's prior separate burglary convictions, the indictment included a habitual offender enhancement.2 Williams pled not guilty at his August 7, 2018 arraignment. He was held without bond. Nearly six months after his arrest, on August 13, 2018, Williams filed a pro se motion for a speedy trial. He filed his second pro se speedy trial motion on November 1, 2018. On February 14, 2019, Williams, through counsel, moved to suppress his written statement. Williams argued he signed the statement believing he and Detective Floyd had agreed that Williams would not be charged for possessing a firearm as a felon.

¶8. On May 1, 2019, Williams filed another pro se motion. This time he asked that the State's case be dismissed on speedy trial grounds. A week later, the trial court heard Williams's motion to suppress. Detective Floyd testified there were no promises or deals about the potential gun charge. He maintained he and Williams's entire discussion occurred during the video-recorded interview.

¶9. The judge took the suppression issue under advisement. Despite Williams being present and testifying at the suppression hearing, neither he nor his counsel brought up the pro se speedy trial motions or the motion to dismiss. After the suppression hearing, Williams wrote several letters asking the trial court to hear his motion to dismiss. But he never brought it for a hearing nor did the trial judge rule on it.

¶10. On June 6, 2019, the trial judge denied the motion to suppress. He found Williams's claim of a purported deal between him and Detective Floyd was not credible. Two days before trial, on August 27, 2019, Williams's counsel filed a motion for discovery.

¶11. Trial began on August 29, 2019. After a two-day trial, the jury found Williams guilty of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Because Williams had two prior felony convictions, the trial judge sentenced him as a habitual offender to ten years in prison to run consecutive to all other earlier sentences.3 Williams now appeals.

Discussion

¶12. Williams's appointed appellate counsel filed a brief, specifically arguing Williams's conviction should be reversed on constitutional and statutory speedy trial grounds. And Williams filed his own supplemental pro se brief.4 Between the two briefs, there are four claims: (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove possession, (2) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, (3) the State elicited overly prejudicial evidence and testimony, and (4) Williams's constitutional and statutory speedy trial rights were violated. We discuss Williams's pro se claims first.

I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

¶13. Williams first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his felon-in-possession conviction. He insists the State failed to prove he actually or constructively possessed a firearm. Williams also asserts that because police officers did not find the Colt .45 pistol, his conviction cannot be sustained.

¶14. From the outset, this Court notes the fact that the charged firearm was not recovered by police does not itself render the remaining evidence insufficient. As the Court of Appeals has recognized, "[w]itness testimony may be sufficient to convict a defendant of possession of a weapon by a felon. This is so even if no weapon is recovered." Williams v. State , 269 So. 3d 192, 196 (Miss. Ct. App. 2018) (quoting Edwards v. State , 966 So. 2d 837, 839 (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) ). We reject Williams's claim about the lack of a recovered weapon. We instead examine the sufficiency of the State's evidence supporting the firearm possession charge.

¶15. When testing the sufficiency of evidence, this Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the State. Martin v. State , 214 So. 3d 217, 222 (Miss. 2017). We determine if any rational juror could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. The State receives the benefit of all favorable inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence. Hughes v. State , 983 So. 2d 270, 276 (Miss. 2008).

¶16. The crime of felon in possession of a firearm contains two elements. Miss. Code Ann. § 97-37-5 (Rev. 2014). The State must prove: (1) the defendant possessed a firearm, and (2) the defendant had previously been convicted of a felony crime. Id . At trial, Williams stipulated he was a convicted felon. And on appeal, he only challenges the sufficiency of the State's proof that he possessed the firearm.

¶17. Evidence is either direct or circumstantial. And both types of evidence carry the same weight. Cardwell v. State , 461 So. 2d 754, 760 (Miss. 1984). In many cases, the proof does not fall neatly into one of these evidentiary categories. But here it did. Every bit of the State's evidence of Williams's firearm possession was direct evidence. "[E]xamples of direct evidence include an admission or confession by the defendant to ‘a significant element of the offense’ or...

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    ...is not always easy. "In many cases, the proof does not fall neatly into one of these evidentiary categories." Williams v. State , 305 So. 3d 1122, 1129 (Miss. 2020). "There are too many shades of gray." Keys v. State , 478 So. 2d 266, 268 (Miss. 1985). So, as in this case, trial judges have......
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