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ELISABETH V. WATSON v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

JANUARY 29, 1986

ELISABETH
V.
WATSON v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, HAWKINS AND ANDERSON

ANDERSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

The facts of this case are unusual and very disturbing. On May 1, 1983, Hattiesburg Police officers were seeking one Chris Gnadt, a reported hit-and-run driver. During their investigation, the police inquired at the home of Gnadt's sister Elisabeth (Mrs. Wesley Watson). The Watsons said that they knew nothing about the affair or Gnadt's whereabouts. The next day, however, a Petal police officer told his Hattiesburg counterparts that the Watsons had spirited Gnadt to New Orleans after the officer left their house. A magistrate issued a warrant for the Watsons' apprehension for obstructing an arrest. Several officers set out for the Watson house to execute the warrant. When they confronted the family, a heated altercation ensued. The officers attempted to handcuff Wesley Watson, who refused to submit peacefully. While Watson was struggling with the police, Elisabeth Watson approached, holding the couple's two-week-old child, Christopher Bryan Watson. What happened next is in dispute. The officers testified that Elisabeth Watson sought to distract the officers by throwing the child onto the hood of the police car. He struck the hood, bounced off, struck the bumper and fell to the ground. She then retrieved the child, went over to an adjacent sidewalk,

and threw him down on his head. After this, the police would not allow her to pick up the child again.

 Elisabeth Watson, on the other hand, insists that the baby was not thrown, but accidentally dropped.

 In any case, the baby was taken to Forrest General Hospital, where Dr. Ronald S. Kent treated him for head injuries. Fortunately, the child was not injured as severely as he might have been, and has since recovered.

 Because of this incident, Elisabeth Watson was indicted for attempted child abuse. (Forrest County authorities appear to have believed that our statute requires that such a child must have a broken bone before prosecution for the completed offense is possible; young Christopher's bones were still soft, and thus were not broken. Trial was held in the Circuit Court of Forrest County, after which she was convicted and sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment.

 An adjudication hearing was held in the Youth Court division of the County Court of Forrest County with reference to Christopher Bryan Watson. The purpose and outcome of this hearing do not appear in the record before us, but apparently the hearing pertained to the custody of the child. At trial, counsel for Mrs. Watson sought to impeach one of the arresting officers with his testimony at this hearing, which conflicted with that he gave at trial. However, since she had failed to obtain the transcript of the proceedings from the Youth Court, this testimony was properly excluded by the trial judge.

 On appeal, Elisabeth Watson submits four assignments of error:

 I. DID THE TRIAL COURT ERR BY ADMITTING PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE CHILD'S INJURIES INTO EVIDENCE?

 Over defense objections, two photographs of Christopher's injuries taken at the hospital were introduced as evidence. Appellant argues that since it was never disputed that the baby fell, the pictures had no probative value, and their introduction could have had no purpose other than to inflame the jury.

 The admission of photographs into evidence is a matter for the discretion of the trial judge. Hogan v. State, 366 So. 2d 1089, 1091 (Miss. 1978). The mere fact that photographs are unpleasant or gruesome is no bar to their admission, if

 they are relevant. Dase v. State, 356 So. 2d 1179, 1181 (Miss. 1978). While it is not disputed that in the present case the baby fell, the most critical issue in the whole case was whether the fall was accidental or the result of Elisabeth's deliberate act. In fact, defense counsel herself argued at trial that the injuries sustained by the baby were not consistent with his having been deliberately thrown. Pictures of the injuries were obviously relevant to such considerations, and we hold that their admission was perfectly proper.

 II. DID THE TRIAL COURT ERR BY ALLOWING THE STATE TO AMEND THE INDICTMENT TO SPECIFY THE CODE SECTION UNDER WHICH THE ACCUSED WAS INDICTED AND BY DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE INDICTMENT FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CRIME AT COMMON OR STATUTORY LAW?

 Appellant contends that the trial court had not authority to amend or allow the amendment of the indictment to reflect the code section. That is simply not the law. Such amendments are permissible. Bell v. State, 353 So. 2d 1141, 1142 (Miss. 1978). In Mississippi it is not necessary that an indictment charging a statutory offense use the precise words of the statute; their equivalent may be used. Ferguson v. State, 198 Miss. 825, 828, 23 So. 2d 687, 688 (Miss. 1945). The decisive consideration is whether or not the court can see on what statute the charge is based. State v. Needham, 182 Miss. 663, 666, 180 So. 786, 787 (Miss. 1938). The appellant correctly points out that words specifically describing the overt acts are mandatory in any indictment for attempt. Maxie v. State, 330 So. 2d 277, 278 (Miss. 1976). The state's argument that this description is ...


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