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JAMES R. STRINGER v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

JULY 11, 1984

JAMES R. STRINGER
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC

BOWLING, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

Appellant, James R. Stringer, was indicted, tried and convicted in the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County of the crime of capital murder. The bifurcated trial resulted in a jury verdict of guilty of the crime charged. The second phase of the trial resulted in a jury verdict sentencing appellant to suffer death according to the statutes provided therefor. The normal course of appeal brings the case here for full review according to statutory mandates.

Appellant, through his appeal attorney *fn1 propounds assignments of errors as follows:

 ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. I

 The Court erred in allowing the

 District Attorney to cross examine the appellant about his unwillingness to submit to a lie detector test, over the objection of counsel and in admitting into evidence an agreement between the district attorney's office and the witnesses, Brock and Meddars to have their version of the events corroborated by a lie detector test, this admission into evidence although not objected to at the time is plain error under the rules of this Court.

 ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. II

 It was highly improper and prejudicial for the Trial Court to permit the state to question the defense witness, Tammy Williams, and the defendant, James Stringer, about what drugs they had used or were using and to allow into evidence against the defendant a weapon concealed in his boot at the time of his arrest which bore no relation to the crime.

 ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. III.

 Appellant was deprived of effective assistance of counsel.

 ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. IV.

 The Court erred in allowing the District Attorney to ask and elicit an answer from the defense witness, Tammy Williams, that she had been" charged "with conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact.

 ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. V.

 The appellant respectfully submits that this case should be reversed if for no other reason that that on the basis of the entire record, taking all errors and prejudicial matter into consideration, the defendant was deprived of a fair trial.

 Prior to the appeal being perfected in the trial court, appellant, through his appeal attorney, filed a

 Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis. An evidentiary hearing was had thereon by the trial judge. The petition was denied and an appeal therefrom is included in the record now before us. We first shall consider the merits of the conviction and sentencing case and thereafter shall discuss the appeal from the order denying coram nobis.

 A careful study of the lengthy record in this cause shows acts of violence hard to be imagined by the average citizen. Mr. and Mrs. Ray McWilliams, residents of Jackson, Mississippi, were viciously and cold-bloodedly murdered in their home on the evening of June 21, 1982. The scene of the killings depicted actions of persons with no conscience toward their fellow man and absolutely no regard of human life. After being exposed to the events shown in the record in this cause, the writer of this opinion, having been exposed to knowledge of many acts of violence, readily understands why a majority of the United States Supreme Court has held and still holds that the death penalty with certain guidelines is constitutional. The case presented by the prosecution mainly relies on the evidence of two of the five persons who participated in the killing of Nell McWilliams, during the course of an attempted armed robbery of her husband, Ray McWilliams, who was also killed at the same time. These persons were Mike Meddars and Rhonda Brock. In addition to the testimony of the two accomplices there was certain corroborating evidence as shall hereinafter be discussed.

 Meddars and Brock were dope-consuming and admittedly very unsavory people. They were acquainted with appellant and with one John Mack Parker. According to Meddars and Brock during the day of June 21, they met at the apartment of one Tammy Williams, appellant's girlfriend, with whom he lived in an apartment complex in Jackson. The robbery and murder were planned during the course of the day. Appellant was in the business of buying and selling gold, silver and jewels. He owned a place of business in Jackson, which primarily was run by his son James.

 Ray McWilliams was also in the business of buying and selling jewelry as an individual and operated from his home. Testimony in the record reveals that in connection with his business he kept considerable sums of money in a safe in his home. Appellant and Ray McWilliams had done business together in the past.

 After riding around and closely inspecting the McWilliams' home, appellant and his cohorts, according to Meddars and Brock, again met in the Williams' apartment

 during the early part of the evening. That meeting was attended by appellant's twenty-year-old son James, who at his father's request, brought extra bullets and what is called a" riot "gun, which is a shotgun with a shortened barrel and handle.

 After completing their plans, appellant, his son, John Mack Parker, Brock and Meddars left the Williams' apartment in Meddars' car with Meddars driving. According to Meddars and Brock, the plan was to stop the car in front of the McWilliams' home. Meddars, Parker and James Stringer were to remain hidden in the car, while appellant and Rhonda Brock went to the den door of the McWilliams' home, which door opened onto the driveway. Appellant and Brock were to call McWilliams to the door and request that they be permitted to come in for Brock to attempt to sell certain jewelry she had, as she needed some money immediately.

 The plan worked until the entrance of the house by appellant and Brock. Appellant, according to Brock, immediately withdrew his .357 magnum revolver from its shoulder holster and ordered McWilliams to remain in the room. McWilliams was a large man. He started trying to take the pistol from appellant and soon after the ensuing scuffle started the pistol fired striking nothing but the wall. By that time, John Mack Parker had entered the premises followed by James Stringer and Meddars. According to Brock and Meddars, Parker placed his pistol to McWilliams head stating," You are a dead man. "Parker fired the gun and sure enough McWilliams became dead. According to Brock and Meddars Mrs. McWilliams was on the floor beginning to crawl, when James Stringer, Jr. placed the end of the riot gun to the back of her head and pulled the trigger. This resulted in her skull and brains being scattered over the floor.

 All five participants then left hurriedly. Parker was the driver of the car during the departure. Stringer was sitting on the passenger side of the front seat. The other three were in the backseat with Brock in the middle. These facts are emphasized along with other details primarily to show what the jury heard and what appears in the appellate record in the way of minute details of the entire incident as related by Meddars and Brock and corroborated in certain detailed instances. For instance, the first thing appellant said was in the form of a question as to whether or not Mr. and Mrs. McWilliams were killed. He received an affirmative answer from his son.

 We digress here to relate that next door to the McWilliams home and in close proximity to it was the residence of a couple with two foster children. The wife testified that she heard the shots shortly after hearing voices. She went to the window and looked out and saw a car pulling away at a rapid rate of speed from the front of the McWilliams' home. Her testimony described the car with the same description shown in a photograph made of Meddars' car. The vehicle had a dark colored body with a light colored top. The witness was reasonably sure that the photograph depicted the same car she saw.

 Resuming the testimony of the facts as related by Meddars and Brock, facts which this writer is afraid the ordinary layman cannot comprehend as happening, Meddars and Brock described in detail the plans set up and ordered by appellant to kill Mr. and Mrs. McWilliams as soon as they were under control. Simply stated, the intention was to cut their throats; this for two reasons - a Jackson city policeman lived immediately behind the McWilliams home and appellant was afraid that if shots were fired they would be heard by the policeman and appellant instructed the other participants that he was known by the McWilliamses and they had to be killed to prevent identification.

 As the planned robbery and murders had their timing upset by McWilliams attempting to defend himself, the city policeman did hear the shots and was the first person to the scene after the participants had left in Meddars' car. He found the hereinabove described grisly and horrible situation planned and caused by appellant, according to the two participants who testified for the state.

 According to Meddars and Brock, the five returned to the place of abode of appellant and his girlfriend, Tammy Williams. Appellant instructed Williams and Parker to take the guns, carried by each participant, and dispose of them. Appellant had made sure that each person was armed. As hereinbefore stated, appellant carried a .357 magnum pistol in a shoulder holster. Brock carried a .22 automatic pistol in her purse. Parker and Meddars each carried a .38 caliber pistol. The son James carried the riot gun. Parker disposed of the weapons, except for a .38 caliber pistol. Meddars testified that on the following day, June 22, he and Parker went to a lounge in Jackson, where he knew drugs were sold. The .38 caliber pistol was traded to the bar maid, who also testified, for five quaalude pills. Meddars understood that he was to come back later in the day and secure the pistol for money. Before he did so, the drug seller sold the pistol

 to an acquaintence for $60. After the events developed and publicity was released approximately two or three weeks later regarding the arrest of the participants in the killing, the person who had bought the pistol turned it into the police headquarters. The testimony was that any .38 caliber pistol that was fired in the McWilliams' home resulted in the bullet being so shattered that it could not ...


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