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DON HENRY PACE v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

JULY 10, 1985

DON HENRY PACE
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



EN BANC.

PATTERSON, CHIEF JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT: PART I.

WALKER, PRESIDING JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT: PART II.

PART I.

 This is an appeal by Don Henry Pace from his conviction of arson by the Circuit Court of Lowndes County. He was sentenced to six (6) years confinement in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

 The Bottom Dollar Saloon burned on April 27, 1983. Pace, the appellant, was the owner of a competing saloon called" The Rig "located across the street from the newly opened and competing business establishment.

 Terry Rhudy was a witness for the state. He testified that Pace offered him $250.00 to burn the" Bottom Dollar. "The offer was accepted and Pace suggested that Rhudy climb onto the roof of the" Bottom Dollar "and pour gasoline down the center attic ventilator shaft. According to Rhudy, in the early morning hours of April 27, 1983, by chance, he met Pace at a Jr. Food Store in Vernon, Alabama. Pace suggested that it was a good night to burn the" Bottom Dollar "and the two left in Pace's car to obtain a container for the gasoline. After returning to the Jr. Food Store with a gallon jug, Pace bought the gasoline to fill it and left for his home.

 According to Rhudy he then took an automobile belonging to Becky Hester, the night clerk at the Jr. Food Store, without her permission; drove to" The Rig "and parked behind it. He then walked across the street to the rear of the" Bottom Dollar "and climbed upon the roof, poured the gasoline down the venilator shaft, and ignited it. Thereafter he fled the scene, returned the car, and went to his home in Vernon, Alabama. Thereafter Pace paid Rhudy $80.00 for the fire and deducted the remainder of the promised $250.00 from a bar bill that he owed Pace.

 This testimony was corroborated in part by Becky Hester, who testified that she saw Rhudy and Pace having a conversation in the Jr. Food Mart Store in the early morning hours of April 27, 1983. She also stated that she had left the keys in her car on that night.

 Rhudy's sister, Glenda Hood, testified that she saw Pace come to the house where she and her brother lived and give Terry some money. Maxie Ellis, a State Fire Marshal, testified that his investigation revealed the" Bottom Dollar "

 was not forcibly entered and in his opinion it burned from the roof toward the ground.

 Pace asserts the following as the basis for reversal.

 1. The jury's verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence;

 2. The prosecutorial misconduct in reintroduction of incompetent evidence was prejudicial as to deny Pace a fair trial;

 3. The trial court denied him the right to cross-examine a state's witness concerning possible bias, prejudice, or to make a proffer of this testimony; and

 4. The trial court's improper comments to the jury constituted reversible error.

 The first two assignments for reversal can be answered in brief. The evidence of the state amply supports Pace's conviction of arson. Rhudy's testimony is not unreasonable and it was believed by the jury. Moreover, it is consistent with the fire marshal's testimony concerning the manner in which the saloon was burned. It was also corroborated by the testimony of both Hester and Hood. We think no citation of authority is necessary to reannounce the age old principle that the jury is the trier of fact and if their verdict is supported by the evidence, we will not disturb it. So it is here. Additionally, after close examination of the record, we detect no prosecutorial misconduct which would require reversal.

 The next assignment of error concerns the scope of cross-examination permitted the defendant of Pam Franks, a state witness. On direct examination Ms. Franks testified that Pace told her that he had heard that she was the one who had reported him to the police. According to her, Pace then stated that he did not believe this was so because of what he knew about her past that could ruin her marriage. When asked by the prosecutor if she feared Pace she responded that she did not fear him physically but that she had concern for her marriage.

 On cross-examination defense counsel sought to elicit testimony about those things in her past known to Pace, that could ruin her marriage. On objection by the prosecutor to these questions, the trial court ruled that those events in her past were irrelevant and would not permit cross-examination on the subject.

 We think there can be little, if any, argument that a criminal defendant is entitled to full and adequate cross-examination of the witnesses against him. However, this general rule of law is subject to an exception when the testimony sought to be elicited concerns the credibility of a witness. In Tokman v. State, 435 So.2d 664, 668 (Miss. 1983), we stated:

 In Shanklin v. State, 290 So. 2d 625, 627 (Miss. 1974), we stated:" A defendant can, of course, question a witness to determine his credibility as a witness; but as to how far afield the testimony may be extended is largely within the sound discretion of the trial judge. ". . .

 It follows, we think, that witnesses are not to be subjected to undue embarrassment or harassment unless necessary to the trial, for to do so would likely cause members of the public to be hesitant to become witnesses. Gilmer v. State, 271 So. 2d 738 (Miss. 1973). Moreover, cross-examination on an irrelevant point is not permitted. See Blair v. State, 445 So. 2d 1373 (Miss. 1984). Presently the defendant contends that he ...


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