DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/13/95 TRIAL JUDGE: HON. WILLIAM F. COLEMAN COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
BY: DEIRDRE MCCRORY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: EDWARD J. PETERS NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: MURDER HABITUAL OFFENDER: SENTENCED TO SERVE A TERM OF LIFE IN THE CUSTODY OF THE MDOC; THIS CAUSE TO RUN CONSECUTIVELY TO F- 118 & D-469 DISPOSITION AFFIRMED - 1/27/98 MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED: CERTIORARI FILED: MANDATE ISSUED:
Before Thomas, P.j., Herring, And Hinkebein, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herring, J., For The Court:
Derrick Vincent was convicted of murder pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated § 97-3-19(1) (Rev. 1994), and sentenced as a habitual offender to life imprisonment, the sentence to run consecutively with sentences imposed upon Vincent in two previous armed robbery convictions. The Appellant contends that the trial court erred in (1) allowing the jury to hear evidence of actions of misconduct by Vincent other than the misconduct described in the indictment, and (2) in failing to grant a mistrial after improper remarks by the prosecutor during final argument. After a review of the evidence and argument of counsel, we find no reversible error and affirm.
On September 13, 1994, Donald Wash and his wife, Sharon Wash, were sitting on the patio of their home in Jackson, Mississippi, with a friend and co-worker, Clyde Adams. Mr. and Mrs. Wash, as well as Mr. Adams, had been engaged in yard work on that day and had temporarily stopped to drink glasses of tea. At approximately 6:30 P.M. on that evening, while they were sitting on the patio, an automobile stopped abruptly on the street in front of the Wash home. A loud noise was heard when the vehicle came to a halt, which apparently occurred when the driver slammed on the brakes of the vehicle. This loud noise also attracted the attention of a next-door neighbor, Sidney Stevenson, who came outside of his house to see what had happened.
The evidence established that two men were observed inside the vehicle after it came to a halt: Derry Lewis, the driver, and Derrick Vincent, the passenger. These two men, both of whom were unknown to the witnesses, were engaged in an argument and a struggle which later proved to be fatal to Lewis. Donald and Sharon Wash testified that Lewis appeared to be unarmed but that Derrick Vincent had a knife in his hand and stabbed Lewis in the neck. Lewis then rolled out of the vehicle and called for help, but Vincent followed and repeatedly stabbed Lewis while he was helpless on the ground. Donald Wash went inside his home, located his handgun and attempted to stop Vincent's assault on Lewis by firing two or three shots in the air. This effort failed. Vincent then charged at Donald Wash with his knife, at which time Wash shot Vincent in his leg. Vincent then began crawling back to the motor vehicle which had remained in gear, rolled down the street, and collided with a nearby telephone pole after Vincent and Lewis rolled out of the vehicle onto the ground.
After Wash shot Vincent in his leg, Vincent asked Wash to let him go and not to call the police. Instead, Donald Wash took the keys out of the ignition of the wrecked vehicle and held Vincent until law enforcement officers arrived on the scene. All eyewitnesses testified that Lewis was unarmed and begged Vincent for his life. Notwithstanding these pleas for mercy, Vincent continued to stab Lewis. According to Sidney Stevenson, the two men appeared to be arguing over money.
Lewis died of massive bleeding, and an autopsy revealed that he had twenty-four stab wounds, three of which could have been independently fatal. The victim was six feet tall and weighed 310 pounds. He tested positive for cocaine use. According to police officers, no drugs, weapons, or cash were found during the search of the vehicle driven by Derry Lewis. However, Vincent's knife was retrieved by the officers. According to Wash, Vincent attempted to hide the knife before the police arrived.
Vincent testified in his own defense. In his testimony, he denied attempting to attack Donald Wash with a knife and denied requesting Wash to let him go without calling the police. However, he admitted that he stabbed Lewis numerous times, which resulted in Lewis's death. Vincent contends that he did so in necessary self-defense. According to Vincent, Lewis was a drug dealer who supplied Vincent with crack cocaine. On the day in question, he owed Lewis the sum of $100 for a previous supply of crack, and Lewis contacted Vincent on that day for payment. Vincent entered Lewis's vehicle, and the two men drove off together. After Vincent told Lewis that he did not have any money for payment, Lewis pulled out a large knife from under the driver's seat, and according to Vincent, attacked him with it. Vincent testified that he blocked Lewis's attempts to stab him, although he sustained cuts on his hands which required stitches. At this point, he was able to take the knife from Lewis, and Lewis abruptly stopped the vehicle in front of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wash.
As stated, Vincent admitted that he stabbed Lewis many times and intended to kill Lewis because he was certain that Lewis would eventually kill him if he did not kill Lewis first. The jury was fully instructed on the law of self-defense, and Vincent does not contend that the jury was inadequately instructed in this regard. Nonetheless, the jury convicted Vincent of murder as charged in his indictment, thereby rejecting Vincent's claim that his actions against Lewis were taken only in necessary self-defense.
The following issues, taken verbatim from the Appellant's brief, are presented to the court by Vincent:
I. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED PLAIN ERROR BY ALLOWING THE INTRODUCTION OF EVIDENCE OF OTHER CRIMES OF VINCENT IN VIOLATION OF RULES 403 AND 404, M.R.E. WITHOUT FIRST CONDUCTING AN ON THE RECORD PROBATIVE VALUE VERSUS PREJUDICIAL EFFECT ANALYSIS AND WITHOUT ANY LIMITING/CAUTIONARY INSTRUCTION.
II. THE PROSECUTOR COMMITTED PLAIN REVERSIBLE ERROR DURING CLOSING ARGUMENT BY IMPROPERLY AND UNFAIRLY PREJUDICIAL COMMENTS AND AS A RESULT, VINCENT WAS DENIED A FUNDAMENTALLY FAIR TRIAL.
I. DID THE TRIAL COURT ERR IN ADMITTING EVIDENCE THAT VINCENT MAY HAVE COMMITTED OTHER CRIMES DURING HIS STRUGGLE WITH LEWIS?
During the course of the trial, Mr. and Mrs. Wash indicated that Vincent not only stabbed Lewis several times but also attempted to rob him. For example, in response to questions by the prosecutor, Donald Wash gave the following testimony:
Q. After you shot the defendant in the leg, what happened then, Mr. Wash?
A. Well, he still motioned toward me a little bit, and then his leg fell out from under him, and he fell on the ground. And he went back to the - - Mr. Lewis, and I don't know what he was doing with him at that time, but it looked like he was trying to get something out of his pocket.
Q. Was Mr. Lewis laying on the ground?
A. Yes. He was laying on the ...