ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
For far too many years the people of this state have paid dearly for their racial prejudices, animosities, hatreds. A not insignificant part of that price was exacted on the evening of April 26, 1983, in Biloxi, Mississippi, when the white and black occupants of two moving vehicles, apparently not knowing and having never before seen one another began hurling and returning racial epithets at each other. In the end one was engulfed in flames and died an agonizing lingering death while the other has been convicted of manslaughter.
This appeal from the second trial on a murder indictment
- the first having resulted in a hung jury - questions whether the trial court may have deviated from the directives of the United States Supreme Court in Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 935 S. Ct. 1038, 35 L.Ed.2d 297 (1973). Because the trial judge refused to allow the Defendant to present testimony that another had confessed, even bragged about, throwing the fatal match - and thus to impeach the other's subsequent recantation, Chambers mandates reversal.
In the middle of evening rush hour traffic on April 26, 1983, two automobiles were traveling in a easterly direction on Division Street in Biloxi, Mississippi. A red Subaru was driven by Karl Thompson and occupied by Mark Anthony Parker and T. C. Carter, all black persons. Parker was the Defendant below and is the Appellant here. The driver and sole occupant of a blue Toyota was Darrell Jay Jones, who was white.
The occupants of the two vehicles engaged in a fatal altercation at the corner of Caillavet Street and Division Street in Biloxi, Mississippi. In the end the driver of the blue Toyota, Darrell Jay Jones, was engulfed in flames and jumped from his car, a living torch, and proceeded to burn until witnesses rolled him in a blanket and subdued the fire with a fire extinguisher. Jones died sixteen days later and Mark Anthony Parker, one of the occupants of the other car, was charged with murder.
There were numerous eyewitnesses to various portions of the ultimately fatal altercation. Billy Ray Ainsworth, an air conditioning and refrigeration van on his way home from work, stopped at Cheaper's Chicken *fn1 at the corner of Caillavet and Division Streets and was the second car in line at the drive-in window when he heard an argument and directed his attention to two cars in front of him at the traffic light.
He heard "fussing or complaining, yelling and screaming" and saw some object being thrown between the two cars. He saw the occupant of the blue car (Jones) get out of his car and walk over to the car with the three occupants and begin swinging through the window on the passenger side of the car. According to Ainsworth, the one in the back seat (Mark Parker) was the first one out of that car. Parker and Jones were swinging at each other and shouting racial slurs and then they locked up and started wrestling on the ground. At this point, according to Ainsworth, the red car, with only the driver in it, pulled onto Caillavet Street and parked. After the driver
parked the car he got out and just stayed by the car.
At this point Jones, whom Ainsworth claims "looked like he started the fight" , got up from the wrestling and headed back to his car. One of the black men [Parker] began banging on the passenger side of the blue car and reaching through the window at Jones. The man could not reach Jones from the passenger side and he started around the car to get to him at the driver's side. On his way around the car he tripped on an object which Ainsworth identified as the one they had been throwing at each other in the very beginning, a plastic jug of gasoline. When he came back to the passenger side, he slung it in the car.
Ainsworth saw the man [Parker] bend down, make an arching motion between his legs, then rise up and throw a lighted book of matches into the window of the blue Toyota, Jones' car. The car ignited immediately and blew the man back away from it.
Joycelyn Marie Hebert and Cheryl Nehlig were the occupants of the car in front of Ainsworth at the drive-in window. Cheryl had put her coke on the dashboard and when the car pulled out from the drive-up window, the coke had spilled. While cleaning up the spilled drink, a "bunch of hollering" drew her attention. Jocelyn saw a black [Parker] and a white [Jones] throwing punches at each other. Another boy started throwing gas out of a plastic bottle on the white boy.
According to Jocelyn the white boy went back to his car and hollered that he had had enough and got into the car and closed the door. One of the black boys came around to the passenger side and was standing by the window of the blue car, "It looked like he was throwing gas in the car" , the white boy was throwing his arm out at the black boy. As the car and the boy in it caught on fire, the black fellow hollered "Burn, mother fucker, burn" .
The white boy got out of the car and rolled on the ground and then ran up to Jocelyn, "All I could see was that boy burning right in front of me and he was crying and he was screaming for help - he was hollering to help him and I couldn't do anything. I didn't have anything to help him."
At this point someone threw a blanket over him and someone else came with a fire extinguisher and put him out. Jocelyn's friend, Cheryl Ann Nehlig, was driving the car when the two stopped at Cheaper's. She was standing outside the car attempting to clean up the spilled coke when she heard the two cars pass her and could hear the arguing among the
individuals in the cars. She saw the white male (Jones) get out of his car and walk over to the passenger side of the front seat of the red car and put his hands on the window and stoop down and say something to the man in the car and then turn around and go back to his own car. The black male (Parker) that was sitting in the back seat on the passenger side followed him back over to his car and started fighting.
The two began arguing and fighting and Parker took Jones and threw him across the front of the car. Jones got up and threw a karate kick at Parker and the two went down on the ground and began fighting on the ground. Parker was beating Jones' head on the ground and the smaller black guy went over to the two with a plastic bottle of gas and began pouring it on the length of Jones' while Parker held him down. When they got up, Jones said, "I've had enough, I'm leaving," and got in his car and shut the door.
Parker approached the passenger side of Jones' car with a jug of gas and gas throwing what was left of the gas into the car and Jones was making gestures with his hands trying to stop him from pouring the gas. "The next thing I saw was the Defendant looked like he had a match in his hand and as to strike and just before he struck he said, `Burn, you mother fucker, burn.' And, the next thing the car just burst into flames."
Nehlig said that Parker was kneeling down a bit and used his right arm for throwing the match in after he struck it. At this point Jones got out of the car:
he started running toward my friend and I and he started hollering, `Help me, help me,' and he rolled on the ground and got back up and just kept coming toward us and he was so close that you could reach out and touch him. . . His whole body was on fire. The flames shot up. He looked three times taller than he was and his whole face - just like his bones - flames in his face, you couldn't see anything else. All between his legs and his whole body.
Brent Hunter was working at the Cheaper's/Popeye's on the day of the incident. He knew Parker, Thompson and Carter and watched the fight from the window of the fast food restaurant. He saw Carter and Thompson jump into the fight and then after Parker began seriously fighting, the other two just stood around and watched. When Jones got back into his car, Hunter
saw him throw the gas container out the window of the car and saw Parker throw it back in. The two were tussling over it when the car burst into flames. At this point Thompson and Carter were not standing by the vehicle but were further back closer to the restaurant. Hunter testified that he did not see a flame or anything else in Parker's hand and that when the fire first started, Parker jumped back away from the car and, "at first he went around to help the guy and then he ran" . Carter also ran and Thompson got in the car and left. Hunter got the fire extinguisher out of the store and helped put out the fire.
Four other persons - Jerald Woelk, Charlotte Peterman, and her mother, Della Sinquefield, and Daniel Hokamp - witnessed the incident and in rough measure gave testimony corroborating that of the witnesses described above.
Procedurally, this criminal prosecution had its genesis on May 27, 1983, when the Grand Jury of Harrison County, Mississippi, returned an indictment charging Mark Anthony Parker with the murder of Darrell Jay Jones. Some four months later the matter was called for trial at the conclusion of which the jury announced that it could not agree upon a verdict. On September 30, 1983, the trial judge declared a mistrial.
The matter was called for trial a second time and on May 25, 1984, the Circuit Court jury found Parker guilty of the lesser-included offense of manslaughter. Thereafter the Circuit Court sentenced Parker to the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections for a term of twenty (20) years. Miss. Code Ann. 97-3-25 (1972). Following the usual post-trial motions, Parker has perfected his appeal.
Parker argues first that the State failed to establish the origin of the fire that killed Darrell Jay Jones and that, therefore, he is ...