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MELVIN L. DUNN v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

JUNE 28, 1989

MELVIN L. DUNN
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



EN BANC.

HAWKINS, PRESIDING JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

Melvin L. Dunn appeals from his Union County circuit court conviction of arson of a dwelling. Because of the erroneous admission into evidence of his confession, given after promises and intimations of help from a law enforcement officer, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

 Dunn was employed as an emergency room technician at the Union County Hospital on February 3, 1986. He and his wife Molly were separated. The two owned a residence on 514 Madison Street in New Albany. Shortly before midnight that night their house was discovered afire. No one was at home at the time. Dunn was located at his parents' home in Yalobusha County and informed of the fire. He and his parents returned to New Albany. They went to the police station, and thence to the fire station and talked with fire chief Bill McGill, who detected the smell of gasoline on Dunn's shoes. While Dunn was at the fire station a second call came in that the house was again on fire.

 Dunn returned with his parents to Yalobusha County. McGill was suspicious of the fire being of incendiary origin, and notified Mike Ivy, a state fire marshal.

 Dunn and David Grisham, the chief of police of New Albany, were personally acquainted, having known one another for

 approximately five or six years. Mrs. Grisham also worked at the emergency "department," according to Dunn.

 On February 5, around noon, Grisham called Dunn (who had returned to work) to come to the New Albany police station for questioning. There he was given a form Miranda warning at 12:45 p.m., and questioned about the fire. He denied having set the fire.

 Dunn was then taken to Tupelo where he was given a polygraph examination at the Tupelo City Hall by Jerry Crocker, detective with the Tupelo police department. The test indicated Dunn was lying. He was informed that the test showed he was not telling the truth. Dunn admitted orally setting the house on fire, and was then taken to the Tupelo police department where he was again given the Miranda warning, and again gave a statement, reduced to writing, in which he admitted setting the house on fire. Ivy typed the written confession.

 Dunn was indicted by the Union County grand jury on February 20, 1986, for feloniously and maliciously setting fire to the house belonging to him and his wife, a crime under Miss. Code Ann. 97-17-1 (1972).

 At a hearing on the motion to suppress both the oral and written confession, it developed that Grisham had taken Dunn aside before they went to Tupelo and after he had taken the polygraph, and attempted to persuade him to tell the truth about the fire. Grisham testified as follows:

 Q. Now, Chief Grisham, just before you all left to go to Tupelo, you had an opportunity to speak to Melvin a few moments outside of the Deputy Fire Marshal's presence, did you not?

 A. That's correct.

 Q. And at that time, I believe you indicated that it would be to his best interest to tell him if he knew anything about the fire.

 A. That's correct.

 Q. And I believe you said that you would help him any way you could if he would tell all he knew about the fire.

 A. I told him he would be better off to tell the truth about the fire.

 * * * * *

 Q. Did he fail the lie detector?

 A. I was informed by Mr. Crocker that he failed the lie detector test.

 Q. All right, sir, and you told Melvin Dunn, one of you, I believe it was you, you told Melvin Dunn that he failed the lie detector tests; that it showed he did know something about the origin of the fire he was not telling and that, again, that it would be in his best interest if he would give a statement concerning exactly what happened concerning the fire.

 A. He was advised by me that he had failed the lie detector test. I informed Mr. Dunn that if he was lying about the situation that he was not telling the truth, and it would be better off if he would tell us the truth about what happened in regard to the fire. There was no promises made of anything to be done for Mr. Dunn if he would tell about the fire, only the pure fact if he would tell the truth he would be better off. I ...


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