Before Bridges, C.j., Payne, And Southwick, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Southwick, J., For The Court:
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/03/1997
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. MICHAEL RAY EUBANKS
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LAMAR COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: RICHARD LAWRENCE DOUGLASS
NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: CONVICTED OF TWO COUNTS OF CAPITAL MURDER; IMPRISONMENT FOR LIFE ON EACH, SENTENCES NOT TO BE REDUCED NOR SUSPENDED, NOT ELIGIBLE FOR PAROLE NOR PROBATION; SENTENCES TO RUN CONSECUTIVELY.
¶1. Herman Saunders was convicted by a Lamar County jury of two counts of capital murder. He appeals alleging these to be errors: (1) applying the murder for hire statute to the killing of a chance victim; (2) admitting evidence of a prior bad act; (3) informing the jury of Saunders's status as an habitual offender; (4) calling of a witness who was expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights; and (5) admitting evidence of a co-conspirator's prior conviction. We find no error and affirm.
FACTS CONSISTENT WITH VERDICT
¶2. On September 9, 1993, Herman Saunders fired shots into a vehicle occupied by Bennie Brown and Gloria Lampley. Lampley was then Saunders's girlfriend and by the time of trial was his wife. On October 30, 1993, which was two days before Brown was to testify about Saunders before a Lauderdale County grand jury, Brown and his niece were murdered.
¶3. Approximately two weeks before the murders, Saunders met with Carlos Stewart and Danny Porter for the purpose of purchasing a gun from them. He mentioned wanting someone killed. One week later, Stewart and Porter again met with Saunders at a local bar. Saunders informed Porter that he would pay him and Stewart $3,000 each for killing someone. Another meeting occurred the night before the murders. This time, Saunders provided details, informing Stewart and Porter that he wanted Bennie Brown killed because he was going to "send him to jail." Saunders attempted to procure a second handgun for Porter and Stewart but was unable to do so. He then drove them past Brown's home. Saunders informed them that Brown drove a red Porsche and they would know whether he was home by its presence in the driveway. Porter and Stewart were then instructed by Saunders to go in through the backyard and not the front of the house.
¶4. Early the next morning, the two gunmen approached Brown's home from the rear. They knocked and Brown's niece, Natasha Cole, answered. Stewart panicked, as he knew Cole and feared that she would be able to recognize him. When Brown approached the door, Stewart attempted to close it and flee. Instead, Porter burst through the door and shot Brown. The two contract killers then fled to their vehicle. Stewart told Porter why Cole might recognize him. They decided to kill Cole as well. Stewart went back inside the home and found Cole hiding in a crawlspace in the attic. He shot her four times.
¶5. Stewart, Porter, and a friend eventually stopped at a Hattiesburg hotel and Porter phoned Saunders. The next morning, Saunders arrived and the group followed him to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At a beach pavilion, Saunders paid Porter and Stewart $3,000 each. They then traveled to New Orleans, and, after a few days, returned to Gulfport where they placed their friend on a Hattiesburg bound bus. Porter and Stewart fled to Atlanta. While in Atlanta, the two met with Saunders who said that because of a nationwide search for them, he was surrendering to police. A few days later, Porter and Stewart were arrested in Atlanta.
¶6. Saunders was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of capital murder for the deaths of Bennie Brown and Natasha Cole. The conspiracy charge was dropped. After a jury trial, Saunders was found guilty on both counts. Since the jury was unable to decide on a sentence, the trial Judge sentenced Saunders to two terms of ...