ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
If the desire to kill and the opportunity to kill came always together, who would escape hanging?
Mark Twain, Following the Equator.
Today's appeal presents the plea of a disabled Vietnam veteran who has been found guilty of shooting two unarmed men with whom he had feuded following a chase of several miles. Defendant does not deny loading and firing his gun, claiming only that he acted to defend himself from his victim's attempt to run him down with a truck. A jury in a changed venue heard it all and returned guilty verdicts of murder and aggravated assault. We affirm.
Boots C. (Buddy) Blanks, 58 years old, has lived in Monticello, Mississippi, for eight years. He is married to the former Helen Dickey and has two sons, Robert, age 18, and Howard, age 16. Blanks is retired from the Army, having spent ten years on active duty and sixteen years in the Reserves. When he retired he had ascended to the rank of Major. While Blanks was on active duty, he served in combat in Korea and in Vietnam, where he served as a combat company commander with the Army Special Forces. During his last tour of duty he was severely wounded, necessitating the amputation of his right arm above the elbow. Altogether, Blanks had an exemplary military career and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge (twice), and, of course, the Purple Heart. He has in recent years been employed as a public relations consultant by a company which manufactures artificial limbs.
Blank's wife Helen had inherited from her father a great deal of property located in Lawrence County, most of it within the Monticello city limits. The land is mainly cropland which the Blankses have leased to local farmers. There are also two houses on the land, located approximately 300 feet apart and connected by a circular driveway. In the summer of 1986 Buddy Blanks was separated from his wife, living with his son Robert at the smaller guest house. His wife and younger son were living in the main house.
Jimmy Selman, a farmer, thirty-eight years old, is a life-long resident of Monticello. Selman and his brother, through their agricultural partnership, had leased the Blankses' arable land for three years, ending after the 1985 harvest. Although Selman's lease was actually with Helen Blanks, who held title to the land, her husband had much to say regarding Selman's management of the cropland. Buddy Blanks often criticized Selman's farming methods; berated Selman's drivers for speeding on his property; and expressed disappointment at his family's share of the gross. The friction in the relationship resulted in a complete failure to agree on a rental contract for the 1986 season.
In the spring of 1986 Buddy Blanks had telephoned Selman a number of times, demanding that Selman return certain keys given to Selman to allow him access to the fields. Selman returned all of the copies of the keys that he could find to Helen Blanks, but he could not account for all of them. The tensions and ammosities between Buddy Blanks and Jimmy Selman simmered in the sun as the summer of 1986 approached.
Saturday, June 14, 1986, began as a day of pastoral pursuits in Monticello. Buddy and Helen Blanks attended a
Little League baseball game in which their son Howard was playing. Jimmy Selman worked in his fields harvesting wheat until mid-afternoon. He then went to a friend's house on the Pearl River where a fish-fry was being held. At the fish-fry Selman met his best friend, Danny Ford Ready, who he had known all of his life. Ready occasionally helped Selman in his farming operations on his days off from a local paper company. Selman and Ready left the fish-fry in Selman's one-ton flatbed Ford truck, taking a cooler of beer with them. They first went to a baseball game, staying only fifteen or twenty minutes.
After leaving the baseball game and while on their way to another friend's house, Ready and Selman decided to pay a visit to Buddy Blanks, though it was late at night. Apparently, Blanks had been criticizing the quality of Selman's farming operation rather publicly, and this had come to Selman's attention. Selman's purpose in going to Blanks' house was to "tell him if he had anything else to say about this bad deal he got, to tell me to my face and not be out here in public talking about it or whatever."
Selman knew that Blanks was separated from his wife and was staying at the guest house on the Blanks property. The two men arrived at approximately 10:30 p.m. Although Blanks' car was not in the driveway, Selman stopped because he thought he saw a light in the house. In fact, Blanks was at his wife's house in the backyard "cooking out" .
As Selman backed his truck into the driveway, one corner of the flatbed struck and became entangled in a fence post. Selman tried to drive forward, but the wheels of the truck spun in the gravel driveway. He then caused the truck to lurch backwards and forwards a number of times in an effort to disengage the post from the rear of the truck. During this procedure, the bed of the truck struck a post supporting the porch of the house, knocking the post down. Unknown to Selman or Ready, Buddy Blanks, having been alerted to their presence by the sound of spinning tires in the gravel driveway, watched from the porch of his wife's house. After freeing the truck, and having seen no one, Selman assumed that Blanks was not home, so he and Ready drove off.
Selman and Ready proceeded west on Bogue Chitto Avenue, a two-lane road, away from town. Blanks immediately gave chase in his new Chevrolet Caprice. He soon caught up with the slower-moving truck.
Selman and Ready were unaware of Blanks' pursuit until they saw Blanks' car pass the truck as it was traveling west
on Bogue Chitto Avenue. They had only traveled a short distance and were still within the Monticello city limits. Selman immediately recognized the car as belonging to Blanks and, knowing that Blanks would be angry, had no desire to stop and talk with him. After the Caprice had passed the truck, it swerved in front of the truck and slowed, its brake lights flashing. Selman was unable to stop the large vehicle and it struck the rear bumper of the Caprice, damaging its right rear quarter-panel. The truck then edged into the left-hand lane and attempted to pass the Caprice, momentarily inching ahead of it. The Caprice, however, accelerated and the two vehicles proceeded west, side by side, on Bogue Chitto Avenue. Selman estimated their speed at forty to forty-five miles per hour.
The Caprice began to overtake the truck. Finally, the pursuing car outside his window. Ready shouted "there he is!" When Selman turned to respond to Ready, he heard gunfire and saw a number of muzzle flashes through the passenger window of the truck cab. Selman ducked and immediately applied the brakes, stopping the truck in the middle of the road. He looked up and observed Buddy Blanks' Caprice sideways across the road, blocking both traffic lanes. When he saw the door of the Caprice begin to open, Selman at once placed the truck in ...