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Bruce v. State

December 30, 1998

ERIC DANA BRUCE APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE



Before Thomas, P.j., Diaz, Herring, And King, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: King, J., For The Court:

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/15/96

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. BILLY JOE LANDRUM

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: JONES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JEANNENE T. PACIFIC

NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY

TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: MURDER: SENTENCED TO SERVE A TERM OF LIFE IMPRISONMENT IN THE CUSTODY OF THE MDOC;

¶1. Eric Dana Bruce was convicted of murder in the Jones County Circuit Court and sentenced to serve a term of life imprisonment in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Aggrieved by his conviction and sentence, Bruce has appealed and assigned six points of error:

(1) WHETHER THE EVIDENCE IS LEGALLY SUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT BRUCE'S CONVICTION FOR MURDER.

(2)WHETHER THE GRANTING OF INSTRUCTION S-2A WAS TANTAMOUNT TO AN IMPERMISSIBLE AMENDMENT OF THE INDICTMENT.

(3)WHETHER AN EVIDENTIARY PREDICATE WAS ESTABLISHED FOR THE GRANTING OF A MANSLAUGHTER INSTRUCTION, AND IF SO, WAS INSTRUCTION S-2A PROPER.

(4)WHETHER THE JURY VERDICT IS CONTRARY TO LAW, CONTRADICTED BY PHYSICAL EVIDENCE AND AGAINST THE OVERWHELMING WEIGHT OF THE CREDIBLE EVIDENCE OF THE LAW.

(5)WHETHER THE COURT ERRED PREJUDICIALLY IN ADMITTING INTO EVIDENCE A SKS RIFLE, METAL BULLET JACKET AND PICTURES OF THE SUSPECTED SHOOTING SCENE.

(6)WHETHER THE APPELLANT RECEIVED A FAIR TRIAL IN LIGHT OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT, IMPROPER ADMONITIONS BY THE COURT TO DEFENSE COUNSEL AND FAILURES OF DEFENSE COUNSEL.

Finding no error, this Court affirms the circuit court judgment.

FACTS

¶2. On February 18, 1996, Bruce attended a party at Shady Oaks High School in Jones County, Mississippi. While at the party, Bruce argued with Darryl Jones about Veronica, who was Bruce's cousin. Veronica had accused Darryl of making an insulting gesture toward her.

¶3. Bruce left the party with a second cousin, Horace Jones, and Preston Knight, in a red truck. They retrieved a SKS rifle from Bruce's house. With Preston driving, the trio returned to the party and searched for Darryl. Unable to find Darryl, they returned to the truck. Later, they noticed Darryl riding in Daniel Turner's car.

¶4. They followed Daniel's car toward the town of Soso, but turned onto another road. After seeing the car later on Highway 28, they again followed it. Preston pulled the truck to the left lane of the highway. Bruce then leaned out of the window and fired his rifle toward Daniel's car. Afterwards, Preston drove the truck to Horace's house. The boys were later informed that Matthew Jones, who had been riding in Daniel's car, died from a gunshot wound to the back.

¶5. The day after the shooting, Mel Riley, an investigator with the Jones County Sheriff's Department, examined the shooting scene on Highway 28. Because of the chipped and scarred condition of the highway, no search was conducted to determine whether bullet fragments were present.

¶6. Investigator Riley also examined Daniel's car. He stated that a hole was present on the left side of the car trunk indicating that a bullet had entered at this point. Another possible bullet hole was found on the car roof above the left passenger side, rear window.

¶7. Jones County deputies later found two weapons, a SKS rifle and a nine millimeter pistol, in Daniel's car. A metal bullet jacket was found underneath the mat of the trunk. The pistol was returned to Daniel, but the rifle and bullet jacket were sent to the Mississippi Crime Laboratory for analysis.

¶8. On February 21, 1996, Investigator Riley participated in the retrieval of a .30 caliber, SKS rifle. He testified that Johnny Smith, a member of the Civil Defense Dive Team, recovered this rifle from the Lucy Hole *fn1 near Soso, Mississippi. Mr. Smith gave the weapon to Investigator Riley, who took it to the Mississippi Crime Laboratory for analysis. Because the rifle had been submerged in water, no fingerprints could be lifted.

¶9. Dr. Steven Hayne, a forensic pathologist, performed an autopsy on Matthew. He found an extremely large, entrance gunshot wound located over Matthew's back, and sixteen inches below the top of his head. Secondary missile fragments surrounded the gunshot. It was Dr. Hayne's opinion that "the entrance wound was consistent with having been produced by a large caliber, high velocity weapon and . . . the projectile had gone through an intermediate target prior to striking the deceased in the back." He stated that Matthew Jones "died of a gunshot wound to the back consistent with a re-entry distant and penetrating gunshot wound." The bullet went through an intermediate target and traveled some distance before it struck Mr. Jones, and the bullet did not exit the body. It was Dr. Haynes's opinion that Matthew's injury was consistent with someone having fired a gunshot from another vehicle and the bullet having traveled through the trunk and backseat of the vehicle.

¶10. Dr. Hayne removed the lead core of the bullet from Matthew's body. He gave it to Ann Hayne, his office assistant. Ms. Hayne sent it to the Mississippi Crime Laboratory for analysis.

¶11. Steve Byrd, a forensic scientist with the Mississippi Crime Laboratory, conducted analysis on the lead core of the bullet, the bullet jacket, and the SKS rifle retrieved from the Lucy Hole. He examined the lead core and the bullet jacket visually and microscopically. The rifle was examined visually and then test fired to retrieve test standards. After comparing the lead core and bullet jacket with the test standards, Mr. Byrd determined that (1) neither projectile could positively be identified as having been fired from the SKS rifle and (2) the hole located on the left side of the car's truck was consistent with that fired by a .30 caliber weapon.

¶12. Mr. Byrd also test fired the second SKS rifle into the right side of the trunk. It was Mr. Byrd's opinion that this test hole was also consistent with that fired by a .30 caliber weapon.

¶13. Bruce and Horace were subsequently indicted for their participation in the shooting. Preston was not charged. Horace was charged as an accessory to murder. However, the Jones County District Attorney's Office granted him leniency in exchange for his testimony against Bruce.

¶14. Bruce went to trial, and the jury convicted him of murder. He was sentenced to serve a term of life imprisonment. Bruce's motions for directed verdict and new trial having been denied, he now appeals his conviction and sentence.

I. THE EVIDENCE IS LEGALLY INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT BRUCE'S CONVICTION FOR MURDER.

¶15. In his first assignment of error, Bruce contends that the State failed to present evidence to support a finding that Bruce specifically intended to kill Matthew. Bruce argues that because the State presented no evidence to establish his specific intent to kill, his Motion for Directed Verdict should have been granted.

Standard of Review

¶16. The standard of review for appeals from an overruled motion for directed verdict is as follows:

"[T]he sufficiency of the evidence as a matter of law is viewed and tested in a light most favorable to the State." McClain v. State, 625 So.2d 774, 778 (Miss.1993). "We are authorized to reverse only where, with respect to one or more of the elements of the offense charged, the evidence so considered is such ...


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