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DELOIS KNIEP v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

JANUARY 06, 1988

DELOIS KNIEP
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., PRATHER AND SULLIVAN, JJ.

PRATHER, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

This appeal presents important questions concerning the new Mississippi Rules of Evidence adopted January 1, 1986. Of major significance to the reversal of the lower court's ruling is this Court's interpretation of Rule 106. This rule requires a party, introducing a statement, to introduce any other part of that statement which ought, with fairness, to be considered with it. Along with a review of this precedent, Rule 702, expert testimony, and Rule 704, the ultimate issue rule, receive analysis by this Court.

Delois Kniep, the appellant, was convicted of murder in the Circuit Court of Leake County and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mrs. Kniep appealed assigning as error the following:

 (1) The court erred in allowing the introduction of

 photographs of the decedent on the grounds that they were inflammatory and prejudicial against the accused.

 (2) The trial court erred in admitting appellant's oral and written statements for the reason that they were not freely and voluntarily given and not intelligently waived.

 (3) The court erred in admitting into evidence the physical items found at the scene of decedent's death.

 (4) The court erred in refusing to allow the introduction into evidence (A) the full autopsy report of Dr. Thomas Bennett and (B) his opinion that the death of the decedent, Richard Kniep, was due to accidental poisoning by the ingestion of isopropyl or rubbing alcohol.

 (5) The trial court erred by refusing to give appellant's circumstantial evidence instruction.

 I.

 Richard Kniep, the decedent, was taken to Thaggard Hospital in Leake County by his wife, Mrs. Delois Kniep, and a neighbor, on December 24, 1985. The attending physician, Dr. David Moody, pronounced that Richard Kniep was dead upon arrival. In Dr. Moody's opinion, the decedent had expired from loss of a substantial amount of blood.

 Thereafter, the sheriff of Leake County, Jimmy Callahan, was summoned to Thaggard Hospital. The sheriff, after advising the defendant of her constitutional rights and the securing of defendant's waiver, conducted an interrogation of Mrs. Delois Kniep. She responded by giving an oral statement that her husband's death was a suicide. Concluding this interview, Mrs. Kniep was taken to the Leake County Sheriff's office in Charthage, Mississippi. While detained at the sheriff's office on December 24, 1985, Delois Kniep gave a second similar oral statement. At this interview, the sheriff requested and secured of Mrs. Kniep permission to search her trailer. A third statement, reduced to writing, was taken from Mrs. Kniep on December 25, 1985, in the Leake County Jail at 12:10 p.m. This statement concerned the events prior to her husband's death on December 24, 1985. It contained admissions that her husband had drunk isopropyl or" rubbing "alcohol and had allegedly attacked her. She allegedly defended herself with a knife, cutting or stabbing her husband about the facial and pelvic areas, including his penis. An autopsy of the deceased was later performed by the state medical examiner. The day of the trial, January 21, 1986, the state introduced the testimony of Dr. David Moody that

 Kniep's death was due to loss of blood. In the defense to the crime of murder, Mrs. Kniep's counsel introduced the testimony of Dr. Thomas Bennett, State Medical Examiner of the State of Mississippi, that the cause of death was from the ingestion of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).

 II.

 DID THE COURT ERR IN ALLOWING THE INTRODUCTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE DECEDENT?

 Mrs. Kniep objects to the admission of the pictures of the victim's body taken at the hospital on the grounds that the pictures were highly inflammatory and severely prejudiced the jury against her.

 To defend this position, Mrs. Kniep cited Hancock v. State, 47 So. 2d 833 (Miss. 1950). This Court in Hancock found that the photographs must be" . . . pertinent, material and relevant as evidence. "Id. at 833. Applying the rationale of Hancock to the case at bar, Mrs. Kniep argued that the photographs of Richard Kniep's body at the hospital provide no probative value.

 Nonetheless, the defendant fails to appreciate the relevancy of these photographs in connection with the main issue in this case. The new Mississippi Rules of Evidence 401-403 provide the guidelines for determining admissibility of photographs, which rules state:

 Rule 401. DEFINITION OF" RELEVANT EVIDENCE "

 " Relevant Evidence "means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

 Rule 402. RELEVANT EVIDENCE GENERALLY ADMISSIBLE; IRRELEVANT EVIDENCE INADMISSIBLE

 All relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Mississippi, or by these rules. Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.

 Rule 403. EXCLUSION OF RELEVANT EVIDENCE ON GROUNDS OF PREJUDICE, CONFUSION, OR WASTE OF TIME

 Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

 Therefore, these rules direct that photographs are admissible when relevant; however," relevant evidence may be inadmissible when its probative value is outweighed by its tendency to mislead, to confuse, or to prejudice the jury. "Comm., Mississippi Rule of Evidence 403.

 This issue, whether decedent died from blood loss or alcohol consumption, is the common nucleus of the lower court's proceedings. Therein, these photographs are highly relevant in depicting the decedent's wounds and lacerations.

 Taking the prejudicial nature of these pictures into account, Kelly v. State, 463 So. 2d 1070 (Miss. 1985) states," This Court has repeatedly held that the fact that a photograph of the deceased in a homicide case might arouse the emotions of the jurors, does not of itself render it incompetent evidence as long as its introduction serves some useful evidentiary purpose. "Id. at 1074. Although a pre-rule case, this rationale is applicable here.

 Stevens v. State, 458 So. 2d 726 (Miss. 1984) reinforces this Court's view on photographs. Stevens, as well as the case sub judice, involves a very similar factual situation. In Stevens, this Court held:

 In the case sub judice, the trial court was of the opinion that photographs were probative on the issue of the manner of death. In addition, the photographs tended to corroborate the use of a firepoker as the murder weapon and established both the multiplicity of blows administered and the extent of force and violence used.

 458 So. 2d at 729. Along these lines, the photographs in the case at bar show the extent of the decedent's" surface "injuries. Therefore, they are essential to the main issue in the case; and this Court holds that the photo introduction serves a useful ...


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