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Taylor v. State

February 04, 1999


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

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






¶1. This case raises the issue of whether evidence should have been suppressed where the officer did not seize the evidence during the initial entry into the defendant's home at the time of arrest, but rather upon subsequent entries. The defendant also claims that the trial court erred in holding that he, on invoking Batson, would be required to provide race-neutral reasons for striking white jurors without the State first raising objection and showing a prima facie case for discrimination. We find that the entry into the defendant's home was warranted under the exigent circumstances doctrine and that the seizure of the evidence was warranted by the plain view doctrine. We, therefore, affirm the trial court's ruling regarding the admissibility of the evidence seized from the defendant's home and regarding the sufficiency of the evidence. We conclude however, that the trial court committed reversible error in disallowing certain defense strikes of jurors. Therefore, we reverse and remand.


¶2. Edith Chaves died on June 1, 1994, from complications associated with burns she received on May 4, 1994. Taylor was charged with causing Edith's injuries. On May 4, 1994, Julius ("Julius") and Rosalyn ("Rosalyn") Jones accompanied Taylor ("Taylor") from Louisiana to Pearl River County, Mississippi. They had agreed to assist him in getting himself and Edith Chaves ("Edith"), his girlfriend, to a detox center. Both Taylor and Edith had serious drinking problems and both were under the influence on May 4, 1994. In fact, Edith had recently been released from a detox facility. Taylor was also afraid that he may have hurt Edith by kicking her in the head earlier that day. Both Joneses testified that when they reached Edith's house she did not appear to be in good shape. Edith moved slowly and had a hard time moving on her own. Edith also complained of a headache.

¶3. Rosalyn assisted Edith in getting out of the tub and tried to help her dress, but stated that Edith was limp and would not cooperate. Rosalyn testified that she gave up trying to dress Edith and sent Taylor into the bathroom to try and dress her. Rosalyn stated that while she and Julius waited in the living room she heard Taylor raise his voice at Edith, cussing her. After Julius got Taylor calmed down, Taylor asked the Joneses to leave for a while and give him and Edith time to get ready. Refusing to drive back to Louisiana, the Joneses went outside and sat on the front porch, while Taylor, closing the front door, went back into the house. Rosalyn testified that she heard Edith say "no" several times and shortly thereafter Taylor called for Julius to come and help him.

¶4. Julius testified that when he got to the bathroom Edith was lying on the bathroom floor burning. Julius further testified that after he and Taylor had poured water on Edith to put out the fire, Taylor ran into the woods and did not come back. When Julius came out of the bathroom and told Rosalyn that Edith had burned she ran outside and waved down Ms. Mattie Delancey, Edith's neighbor, to call for help. ¶5. Upon receiving the call, Sheriff's Deputies Wesley Lossett and Len Landrum were dispatched to Edith's residence. They were told that there was a domestic dispute. When they arrived they found Julius and Rosalyn standing outside. The Joneses directed them through the house and into the bathroom. Upon entering the bathroom of the house the deputies found Edith lying nude on the bathroom floor with severe burns to her face, back, abdomen and legs. While in the house the deputies saw smoke and noticed an odor, which smelled like kerosene. Edith was airlifted to Forrest General Hospital. Later that night she was transferred to the Greenville Burn Center, where she remained until she died on June 1, 1994.

¶6. Various witnesses testified that Edith indicated that Taylor had set her on fire. Deputy Lossett testified when he asked Edith who caused her injuries she stated that Taylor had burned her. Ms. Delancey testified that when Emergency Medical Technicians placed a sterile sheet over Edith's legs and began pouring water on the sheet, Edith said, "Don't let him hurt me." Ms. Delancey also testified that she thought Edith told Julius that she did not know what it was that "he" had poured on her. However, there is some discrepancy as to whether this statement was made before or after the Emergency Medical Technicians poured water on Edith.

¶7. During the trial, Dr. Emily Ward was called by the State to testify as an expert in forensic pathology. Dr. Ward testified that she had performed an autopsy on Edith on June 2, 1994, and that the cause of death was extensive burns. Dr. Ward also testified that it was her professional opinion that Edith's burns were neither self-inflicted nor accidental.

¶8. On behalf of the defense forensic pathologist, Dr. Kris Sperry, testified that Edith's blood alcohol level at the time she was burned would have been approximately .41. He stated that even an experienced drinker would appear intoxicated at that level and that the things she said may not have been reflective of reality. Dr. Sperry also testified that he had reviewed pictures of Edith's injuries and that it was his opinion that the burns were consistent with self-inflicted burns.

¶9. The defense also called various witnesses to testify that Edith had on several prior occasions threatened to commit suicide if Taylor went back into detox and had threatened to burn down her house for the insurance proceeds. The testimony of Ms. Stacy Joyner was offered to impeach the testimony of Ms. Delancey. Ms. Joyner testified that in prior interviews Ms. Delancey had not stated that Edith said Taylor had poured any thing on her.

¶10. Prior to trial Taylor filed a Motion to Suppress, seeking to suppress all evidence deputies obtained from Edith's house. Stipulating that Taylor had standing to challenge the search and seizure, the circuit court held an evidentiary hearing to determine the admissibility of the evidence. The testimony introduced at the hearing revealed that after the officers arrived on the scene on May 4, 1994, Officer Lossett stayed with Edith, while Officer Landrum walked through the house. Officer Landrum testified that his purpose in walking through the house was to secure the house and determine if there were other fires. He stated that when he entered the bedroom, which was connected to the bathroom, he noticed a hurricane lamp with the globe off. After Officer Landrum walked through the house he left to see if he could find Taylor. When he returned to the house he brought his camera with him and took pictures of Edith's injuries, the bathroom and the lamps. He testified that they were not told that Taylor lived in the house.

¶11. When Captain Rodney Spears arrived on the scene forty-five minutes later, Officers Lossett and Landrum went through the house a third time, pointing out various items. Captain Spears collected various items of evidence. Among the items collected were burned clothing, sweepings from the bathroom floor, a box of matches from the bathroom floor and the hurricane lamps on the bedroom dresser. Captain Spears also directed the arson investigator to take wood shavings from the bathroom floor to be analyzed for possible accelerants.

¶12. At the end of the hearing the circuit court found that the evidence was legally obtained and denied the defendant's Motion to Suppress. In so holding the court found that the officers were in an emergency situation, and that the objects seized were in plain view.

¶13. During jury selection, the defense requested that the State provide a race-neutral reason for its peremptory strikes, after the State peremptorily struck two black jurors. The defendant was a white male. The circuit court stated that if the defense invoked Batson, the Mississippi Supreme Court required that the defense give a race-neutral reason for every white juror it peremptorily struck. The defense readily agreed.

¶14. The defense attempted to strike a juror stating that she was a school teacher and since school was in she would be needed in the classroom. The defense further stated that the juror was involved in a divorce and had not completed her questionnaire. In response the State pointed out that another juror, whom the defense had previously accepted, was also a teacher and was also divorced. The court refused to accept as race-neutral and gender-neutral the defense's reasons for wanting to strike the juror. Prior to this attempted strike the defense had struck one (1) white male and two (2) white females, with the court accepting the race-neutral reasons offered. The defense had also accepted seven (7) white males and one (1) white female juror.

¶15. Next the defense sought to peremptorily strike a juror on the grounds that as a pension specialist he may be needed at work and that it was possible the juror was related to an attorney in the area with the same last name. The court declined to accept this explanation as race-neutral. The court stated that if the juror needed to be at work he could have submitted an affidavit to that effect. The court further pointed out there were a lot of people in the area with the same last name as the juror who were not related, so kinship was unlikely.

¶16. Next defense sought to strike a juror because he was self employed. The court once again rejected the defense's explanation, stating that the juror had an opportunity to submit an affidavit that leaving his job would cause undue hardship.

ΒΆ17. Taylor was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. ...

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