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Wharton v. State

November 25, 1998

DARREN LEE WHARTON
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Justice

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/07/95

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JOHN H. WHITFIELD

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED - 11/25/98

MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:

MANDATE ISSUED:

EN BANC.

STATEMENT OF CASE AND FACTS

¶1. Danny McCugh, a 45 year old convenience store worker, was shot four times with a twenty-five caliber pistol on the morning of July 17, 1994 during a robbery at the Circle K convenience store in Biloxi, Mississippi. McCugh died at the hospital several hours later. After allegedly receiving a confession from his son, Richard Wharton, father *fn1 of Darren Wharton, drove to New Orleans with Investigator Billy Emile of the Ocean Springs Police Department in order to assist in his son's peaceful arrest. Darren Wharton was in fact arrested in New Orleans and charged with the capital murder of McCugh and with the underlying crime of robbery.

¶2. At trial, the State's case included three separate confessions made by Wharton shortly after the murder. First, Priscilla George, a friend of Wharton's, testified that she had been playing a drinking game with Wharton and some other friends at her sister's house on the night of the murder. She testified that Wharton left the house that night and came back in a highly emotional state. George testified that:

A: And I picked up this little blanket and there was money there and a Circle K bag.

Q: Okay.

A. And then that's when he said that - - that's when he said he robbed the store.

Q: That's when who said that they robbed the store ?

A: Darren Wharton.

...

Q: Okay. At any point at time did the defendant say anything about having shot the clerk ?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: What did he say ?

A: He said that he think(s) he killed a man.

George admitted under cross-examination that she had been drinking a great deal that night, but she asserted that she clearly remembered Wharton's statements.

¶3. The second confession was allegedly made by Wharton to Michael Green, who was originally a co-defendant with Wharton, but who testified pursuant to an agreement with the prosecution. Green testified for the State that Wharton had tried to buy a gun from him prior to the robbery. Green testified that Wharton stated that he needed the gun to rob the store, and that, following the robbery, Wharton testified that he had shot the cashier.

¶4. The third confession was made by Darren to his father, Richard Wharton, who gave a tape-recorded statement to police in which he detailed the confession allegedly made by his son on the day of the murder. At trial, Richard Wharton denied any recollection of having made the statements in question, but the trial Judge permitted the tape recorded statement to be played for the jury over the objection of the defense.

ΒΆ5. During the trial, the Judge permitted the jurors to submit written questions to several witnesses and allowed jurors to take notes over the objection of both the prosecution and defense. Wharton was convicted of capital murder by the jury and was sentenced to life imprisonment following a capital murder sentencing trial. Aggrieved, Wharton appeals to this Court claiming the trial Court erred in admitting the taped statement ...


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