COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: COVINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
Before Sullivan, P.j., McRAE And Smith, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McRAE, Justice, For The Court:
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/08/96
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT G. EVANS
NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
¶1. Sam Booker was indicted as an habitual offender by a jury of the Covington County Circuit Court on July 12, 1995, for the burglary of an apartment occupied by his estranged girlfriend, Linda Easterling, pursuant to former Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-21. Following a jury trial in January, 1996, where he was found guilty as charged, Booker was sentenced by the circuit court as an habitual offender to a term of ten years in the custody of the MDOC. His motion for a Judgment of Acquittal Notwithstanding the Verdict, or in the Alternative, a New Trial, was denied by the circuit court on April 3, 1996.
¶2. Aggrieved by the circuit court's decision, Booker now appeals to this Court. We find no merit to his assertions that the circuit court erred in not granting his motion to quash the indictment and in failing to sustain his motion for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case in chief; that the State used challenges for cause and its peremptory challenges to purposely and systematically exclude blacks from the jury; that the District Attorney made improper comments on cross-examination and in his closing arguments; that the venire was tainted and prejudiced against the defendant; and that evidence of the defendant's prior criminal record was more prejudicial than probative. We therefore affirm Booker's sentence and conviction.
¶3. Susan Easterling lived at the Hillsdale Apartments in Collins, Mississippi. She started seeing Sam Booker in July, 1994. Despite the apartment's policy against live-in boyfriends, Booker stayed with Easterling from time to time. There was conflicting testimony, however, as to the extent to which Booker was still "staying with" Easterling in January, 1995. Witnesses for the prosecution testified that Booker did not live there; witnesses for the defense say that he was.
¶4. Theirs was not the happiest of relationships, with Easterling indicating that she had stopped seeing Booker because he was "beating on me." Booker complained about her drinking and staying out late despite the fact that three of her four young children lived with her. He had moved in with another woman. Police, however, confirmed that Easterling had filed several complaints against Booker when he had come back to her apartment.
¶5. On January 23, 1995, Easterling and her sister, Angela Burkhalter, returned from Hattiesburg in the early morning hours to find Booker sitting in Easterling's apartment. Easterling ran from the building back to the street, where a friend took her to the Police Department. Officer Greg Davis checked out the apartment, determined that Booker had left, and because Easterling had no phone with which to call the police, told her to turn off the light in the "first bedroom" if Booker came back; Davis would observe the apartment.
¶6. After the police left, Booker came back, knocking and banging on the front door, despite Easterling's insistence that he leave. He tried unsuccessfully to pick the front door lock. Apparently undaunted, Booker admittedly removed part of a pane of glass from an already cracked window in the kitchen, unlatched it and climbed in the apartment. Once in the apartment, Booker took Easterling by the neck and walked her down the hall. Easterling testified that he "snatched me by my neck" and "threw me in the front room." Burkhalter stated that Booker took her sister, "grabbed her by the neck and walked her down the hall." Booker testified that he didn't lay a hand on her. Both women testified that they were frightened and crying.
¶7. Officer Davis first went to Easterling's apartment at approximately 12:40 a.m. He testified that she was frightened and crying. After searching the premises, he parked on Highway 84, where he could observe the apartment. He received a call from Officer Bart Graves that the light was off in the Easterling apartment; Graves went to the back of the building and Davis went to the front door, testifying that after he knocked several times, Easterling "rushed and opened the door and pushed me out of the way and came out crying saying, 'He's in there. He's in there.'" Officer Graves testified that Easterling emerged from the ...