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Stevenson v. State

December 31, 1998

ARTHUR L. STEVENSON, A/K/A ARTHUR LEE STEVENSON, A/K/A ARTHUR LEWIS STEVENSON
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



Before Prather, C.j., McRAE And Waller, JJ.

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

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/04/1997

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. FRANK G. VOLLOR

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WARREN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: G. GILMORE MARTIN

NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY

I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶1. This case arises from the fifth trial of the appellant, Arthur L. Stevenson, for the 1974 capital murder of Warren County Deputy Sheriff A.H. "Holly" Koerper. The first trial ended in a mistrial. The second and third trials resulted in convictions and sentences of death, but both judgments were reversed on appeal. *fn1 As the fourth trial commenced, the appellant entered a guilty plea, which was later invalidated by this Court, in 1996. *fn2

¶2. The case was tried, once again, and Stevenson was convicted of capital murder, and sentenced to life in prison. From that judgment, Stevenson appeals, and raises the following issues for consideration by this Court:

A. Whether the trial court erred in admitting two photographs of the victim?

B. Whether the trial court erred in ruling Sheriff Paul Barrett was an unavailable witness in the context of M.R.E. 804 and in allowing the sheriff's prior testimony to be read to the jury, even though the sheriff had been convicted of perjury?

C. Whether the trial court erred in denying the defendant's motion for directed verdict or peremptory instruction to dismiss the charge of capital murder?

D. Whether the trial court erred in denying the defendant's motion for JNOV, or in the alternative, a new trial?

¶3. This Court finds that the issues raised by the appellant are without merit. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

II. STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶4. On Saturday, July 6, 1974, Arthur L. Stevenson, age 23, was a trusty at the Warren County Jail. Early that morning, Stevenson killed the jailer, A. H. "Holly" Koerper, age 72. Stevenson stabbed Koerper twenty-six times with a large butcher knife, while Koerper begged to be spared, and offered Stevenson the keys to the jail. Another trusty attempted to stop Stevenson, but retreated when Stevenson threatened him with the knife.

¶5. Stevenson then took the keys from Koerper's pants pockets, and ransacked the locked cabinet containing the prisoners' personal belongings. Stevenson locked the door between the other inmates and the telephone/radio room. He unlocked the female cell, and escaped with his girlfriend, an inmate named Geneva Mitchell. Mitchell was scheduled to be tried the following Monday, July, 8, 1974. Stevenson and Mitchell were both apprehended a short time later, in a vacant house near the jail.

¶6. Stevenson and Koerper had been friends, and Koerper thought very highly of Stevenson. Stevenson claimed that, for the first time, on the morning of the murder, Koerper verbally abused him by using racial slurs, and physically abused him by slapping him. Stevenson also testified that he feared for his life and he "lost it" when Koerper slapped him. Stevenson testified that he does not remember the attack, but admitted that he killed Koerper.

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Whether the trial court erred in admitting two photographs of the victim?

¶7. Stevenson first claims that the trial court erred in admitting Exhibits S-5 and S-6, which were 7.5" x 10" photographs of the victim's body, as it appeared when the authorities arrived at the jail. *fn3 Stevenson argues that the trial Judge should have admitted two smaller photographs, which Stevenson concedes were probative of issues concerning the events and the scene of the crime. However, he contends that the two larger photographs were intended to merely accentuate the gore at the scene and prejudice and inflame the jury. In addition Stevenson argues that the trial Judge should only have admitted one of the larger photographs, since the two photographs are almost identical.

¶8. This Court's position as to the admissibility of photographs is well settled.

In Westbrook v. State, 658 So. 2d 847, 849 (Miss. 1995), this Court found that photographs of a victim have evidentiary value when they aid in describing the circumstances of the killing, Williams v. State, 354 So. 2d 266 (Miss. 1978); describe the location of the body and cause of death, Ashley v. State, 423 So. 2d 1311 (Miss. 1982); or supplement or clarify witness testimony, Hughes v. State, 401 So. 2d 1100 (Miss. 1981).

The admissibility of photographs rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. Jackson v. State, 672 So. 2d 468, 485 (Miss. 1996); Griffin v. State, 557 So. 2d 542, 549 (Miss. 1990); Mackbee v. State, 575 So. 2d 16, 31 (Miss. 1990); Boyd v. State, 523 So. 2d 1037, 1039 (Miss. 1988). Moreover, the decision of the trial Judge will ...


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