BEFORE WALKER, P.J., HAWKINS AND ROBERTSON, JJ.
ROBERTSON, JUSTICE FOR THE COURT
Ernest Bullock, Eugene Bullock, and Rayvon Holloway have been jointly tried and convicted of cattle theft in the Circuit Court of Lincoln County, Mississippi. Each Defendant has received a three year sentence with two years suspended and five years probation. The case presents the question whether confessions made by each defendant plus one beef ham observed in their possession are sufficient to sustain the convictions.
Defendants are charged with the larceny of a cow allegedly belonging to C.C. Clark of Lincoln County. They were seen with a home butchered beef ham weighing approximately 65 pounds. Independant of the confessions, no evidence established that the hindquarter of beef came from a cow owned by Clark. More important, no evidence
established that Clark or anyone else was missing a cow, much less that one had been stolen. The State has failed, without any doubt, to establish the corpus delicti. The convictions must be reversed.
The facts in this case are simple, though unique. In September of 1982, the three defendants, Ernest and Eugene Bullock and Rayvon Holloway, accompanied by two others, appeared at a store owned by C.C. Clark with a hindquarter of beef wrapped in a garbage bag or a sheet. The cut differed from those prepared by a professional meat packer; it bore no inspection stamp, it was not properly packaged, and had been stripped clean of the layer of fat that normally is left on a cut of meat to preserve it. The meat was not especially clean as it was covered with black hairs and grass. The boys asked to have the meat sliced, which was done, and it was never seen again. The butcher asked where they had gotten the meat, and one of the defendants allegedly replied that the had gotten it from Jones Meat Market. This was repudiated at trial by both the State and one of the Defendants.
Shortly thereafter, in the course of investigating a missing calf owned by one Mr. Jolly, Constable George Earls of Enterprise Mississippi contacted Rayvon, having learned of his recent possession of the home butchered beef ham. According to Earls, Rayvon confessed that he had acquired the cut of beef by killing and butchering one of C.C. Clark's cows. Rayvon vehemently denies this confession. Meanwhile, Mr. Jolly discovered the remains of his calf which apparently had died of natural causes. However, in due course, the three defendants were arrested for cattle rustling and each confessed to this crime.
The three boys were tried in the Circuit Court of Lincoln County, Judge Joe Pigott presiding. They were each charged with the theft of a cow from the herd of C.C. Clark, pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. 97-17-53 (1972). Apart from the confessions, the state offered no evidence that a cow was missing from the herd of C.C. Clark, much less, that one had been stolen. C.C. Clark was unavailable for the trial. His brother, F.V. Clark testified that his brother did own some cattle located in the pasture from which the cow confessedly was taken. However, Rayvon testified that the only reason the boys had agreed to confess as they did was because they had been told that they would not get out of jail until they did so. On appeal, the three defendants maintain that the state utterly failed to meet its burden of
proving the elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.
Every first year law student knows that in a criminal prosecution, the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the offense charged. The elements of the offense charged here are set out by Miss. Code Ann. 97-17-53 (1972), which provides inter alia:
If any person shall feloniously take, steal, and carry away any neat or horned cattle, or knowingly buy, trade, or accept such stolen livestock, he shall be guilty of larceny, regardless of the value of the cattle, . . .
In meeting this burden, the State must prove the corpus delicti or body of the crime by showing that the crime charged did in fact occur. While many aspects of our criminal justice system may be baffling to the layman, one that is not is surely the burden of proving the corpus delicti. From our first encounter with the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew and later with Mickey Spillane, we have known that the state must prove that a crime has occurred, though we learned this in the context of corpseless murder mysteries. The ...