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Lewis v. State

December 17, 1998

JOHN WESLEY LEWIS, III
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Prather, Chief Justice

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/21/95

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. L. BRELAND HILBURN, JR.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED - 12/17/1998

I. INTRODUCTION

¶1. This case arises from the October 14, 1993, double murder and robbery of Gertrude and Willie Woods (the elderly great aunt and uncle of the appellant). The appellant, John Wesley, Lewis, III, was indicted on two counts of capital murder April 12, 1994. In July, 1995, Lewis was tried and convicted on both counts in the First Judicial District of the Hinds County Circuit Court. The jury was unable to unanimously agree on sentencing, and the trial Judge sentenced Lewis to two, consecutive terms of life imprisonment.

¶2. On July 31, 1995, Lewis moved for a new trial. The motion was denied September 30, 1996. Lewis appeals, in forma pauperis, and raises the following issues for consideration by this Court:

A. Whether the trial Judge committed reversible error in denying appellant's motion to suppress certain evidence, or to continue the trial, because of the State's failure to comply with discovery on certain evidence and certain witnesses less than one month before trial?

B. Whether the trial Judge committed reversible error in denying the appellant the right to make a demonstration before the jury by trying on a pair of shoes which were admitted into evidence, without the appellant being required to take the stand as a witness?

C. Whether the conduct of certain jurors in failing to disclose information requested on voir dire deprived the appellant of a fair trial?

¶3. The issues raised by the appellant are without merit. However, this case presents a question of first impression regarding a criminal defendant's ability to present material, demonstrative evidence. This Court holds that, if the State could require the demonstration without violating the Fifth Amendment, then the defendant may make the demonstration without waiving his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Because the demonstrative evidence sought to be introduced by the appellant in this case was immaterial, the demonstration was properly excluded. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

II. STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶4. Willie Woods (age79) and Gertrude Woods (age 75) had been married for over sixty years. Shortly before 8:00 p.m. on October, 14, 1993, they were brutally attacked in their home.

¶5. The assailant chased Gertrude Woods outside. According to witnesses, Mrs. Woods fought her attacker, and he threw her to the ground and kicked her in the head. She was stabbed many times, and two of the wounds were fatal. She did not die immediately, but lay on the ground with a cut throat and a pierced chest wall. The medical evidence indicated that she would have felt a drowning or smothering sensation for minutes. Ultimately, Mrs. Woods died in her own driveway.

¶6. The police found Willie Woods in the bedroom. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck and face. In addition, the medical evidence indicated that Mr. Woods had been strangled with enough force to break the hyoid bone in his neck. Mr. Woods was taken to the hospital, but his injuries caused swelling in the brain and multiple organ failure; this was complicated by the development of bilateral bronchial pneumonia. The doctors drilled a hole in Mr. Woods' skull to ease the swelling, but he died October 26, 1993. According to the doctor who performed the autopsy, Willie "died inch by inch, day by day, and he went through hell until he died."

¶7. The attacker fled the scene with one or more of Mrs. Woods' purses. Based on physique and voice, one neighbor positively identified Lewis as the assailant. The neighbor also identified Lewis' car as the getaway car. The police seized clothing from Lewis' house, which was similar to that worn by the assailant. In addition, an expert testified that a bloody shoe print from the scene of the crime matched one of Lewis' shoes to the exclusion of any other shoe in the world.

¶8. The police narrowed the time of the attack to 7:30-8:00 that evening. There was evidence that Lewis had worked at his mother's record shop until 7:30. Shortly before 8:00, he called his mother and asked if he could go to the home of Bridget Johnson and Angela Gates. There is conflicting testimony as to what time he arrived. Lewis' friend, Johnson, said that he arrived a little before 8:00. Her roommate, Gates, said he arrived a little before 8:30.

¶9. The Woods lived one mile from Lewis. Sentencing phase testimony indicated that, in the weeks prior to the murders, Lewis had been released twice on bond by the Ridgeland Municipal Court Judge: on August 25, 1993, for attempted armed robbery, and, on September 9, 1993, for strong armed robbery.

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Whether the trial Judge committed reversible error in denying appellant's motion to suppress certain evidence, or to continue the trial, because of the State's failure to comply with discovery on certain evidence and certain witnesses less than one month before trial?

¶10. Lewis first contends that the trial Judge erred by admitting the testimony of Joe Andrews, an employee of the Mississippi Crime Laboratory. Andrews compared the bloody footprints found at the scene of the crime with Lewis' shoes. He concluded that one of the bloody prints was made by Lewis' shoe, to the exclusion of every other shoe in the world.

¶11. The record reflects that Lewis filed his discovery request May 16, 1994. Assistant District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter sent the shoe to the Mississippi Crime Laboratory for analysis May 25, 1995. Upon issuance of Andrews' report, DeLaughter promptly forwarded it to defense counsel, who received the report June 16, 1995.

¶12. A suppression hearing was held July 5, 1995. Lewis alleged that the State had withheld the footprint evidence for two years, and that the evidence should be suppressed at the trial, which was scheduled for July 10, 1995. In the alternative, Lewis argued for a three or four week continuance, so that he could obtain a footprint expert to rebut the State's evidence. However, Lewis did not assert that he had attempted to obtain a footprint expert from the time the evidence was received (June 16, 1995) until the date of the suppression hearing (July 5, 1995). The trial Judge denied Lewis' motion to suppress Andrews' report, or in the alternative, to continue the trial.

¶13. On appeal, Lewis contends that the trial Judge should have suppressed the evidence, or, alternatively, allowed a continuance.

In Stewart v. State, [512 So. 2d 889, 892 (Miss. 1987)], we reversed a conviction because the State withheld discovery until the day before trial and we stated, "Discovery, to be sufficient, must be made at a time far enough in advance of trial to give the defense a 'meaningful opportunity' to make use of it." Stewart, at 892. See also, Turner v. State, 501 So.2d 350 (Miss.1987); Gray v. State, 487 So.2d 1304 (Miss.1986); Henry v. State, 484 So.2d 1012 (Miss.1986); McKinney v. State, 482 So.2d 1129 (Miss.1986). . . .

We have addressed the issue of belated discovery in Foster v. State, 484 So.2d 1009 (Miss.1986), and held:

Where the state is tardy in furnishing discovery which it was obligated to disclose, the defendant is entitled upon request to a continuance postponement of the proceedings reasonable under the circumstances. Henry v. State, 484 So.2d 1012, 1014 (Miss.1986); McKinney v. State, 482 So.2d 1129, 1131 (Miss.1986); Cabello v. State, 471 So.2d 332, 343 (Miss.1985); Box v. State, 437 So.2d 19, 26 (Miss.1983) (Robertson, J. Concurring). By no means does this mean invariably that the defendant will be entitled to a continuance until the next term of court. There will no doubt be cases where postponement of a day ...


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