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McKenzie v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 6, 2013

Rodney Phillip McKENZIE, Jr. a/k/a Rodney McKenzie a/k/a Rodney Phillip McKenzie a/k/a Rodney McKenzie, Jr., Appellant
v.
STATE of Mississippi, Appellee.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Richard C. Conant, Pascagoula, Justin Taylor Cook, attorneys for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Lisa L. Blount, attorney for appellee.

Before IRVING, P.J., BARNES and MAXWELL, JJ.

BARNES, J.

¶ 1. Rodney Phillip McKenzie Jr. was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), without eligibility for parole. He appeals his conviction, and finding no error, we affirm the circuit court's judgment.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. At approximately 3:00 a.m. on August 10, 2010, the Pascagoula Police Department was alerted to a single-vehicle accident. Upon arrival, the police discovered a blue van that had struck a telephone pole. In the driver's seat was the deceased body of Johnny Bullock, who had been shot in the neck. There was also evidence of blunt-force trauma to Bullock's head. A witness told police that two males, later identified as McKenzie and Daniel Hatten, had fled the scene of the accident. The police obtained surveillance video from a nearby apartment complex, which showed the two men had headed to another complex, Stewart Apartments. When given a description of the men, a maintenance worker for Stewart Apartments directed police to Apartment 22,

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where McKenzie resided. No one was in the apartment. However, McKenzie was quickly discovered in Apartment 17 and was taken into custody for questioning; McKenzie had Lortab pills on his person.

¶ 3. During a search of McKenzie's apartment, police found an empty prescription pill bottle for Lortab with Bullock's name on the label. Evidence later revealed the pill bottle contained Bullock's DNA. Zarea Reid, the resident of Apartment 17 and a coworker of McKenzie, told investigators that she had given McKenzie a ride to work that morning at approximately 6:00 a.m. After their shift ended, McKenzie borrowed Reid's phone, and she heard him ask someone if he wanted to buy some Lortab pills. She also said that McKenzie had lagged behind her while walking back to her apartment, and when she turned to see where McKenzie was, he came from the corner of the apartment building. A .380-caliber pistol was recovered in that same area, and ballistics testing later revealed that the recovered firearm had fired the bullet fragment that was removed from Bullock.

¶ 4. When interviewed by Detective David Sepulveda, McKenzie initially denied any involvement with Bullock's murder. However, when he was told police had discovered video-surveillance evidence placing him near the crime scene, a picture of him holding a pistol on an internet social-media website, and the pill bottle with Bullock's name at his apartment, McKenzie admitted he had been in Bullock's van. He said he had been walking to a nearby store that evening when Bullock picked him up and agreed to sell him some Lortab. McKenzie has a liver disease and claimed that he needed the medication for pain. At approximately 2:11 a.m., Bullock and McKenzie went to a local convenience store, where Bullock met with Hatten. Surveillance video from the store shows McKenzie and Hatten met in the parking lot and walked towards the north side of the store. Bullock's van exited a few minutes later. McKenzie told police that the three men went back to Bullock's home to get the pills. They then returned to the store approximately thirty minutes later, and Bullock went inside to buy cigars. According to McKenzie, Hatten fought with Bullock right before the accident occurred, and the incident was a " robbery gone bad." In his statement, McKenzie did not admit shooting Bullock.

¶ 5. McKenzie, along with Hatten, was indicted on January 14, 2011, for capital murder while in the commission of a robbery.[1] At trial, McKenzie testified on his own behalf and admitted he shot Bullock. He claimed that Bullock wanted sexual favors in exchange for the drugs and that he was merely defending himself. McKenzie said that due to his liver disease, any force applied to that area of his body could be fatal.

¶ 6. McKenzie was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in the custody of the MDOC, without eligibility for parole. He filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. The motion was denied, and McKenzie now appeals, alleging several errors involving the admission of evidence and the giving of jury instructions. Finding no error, we affirm.

I. Whether the circuit court erred in refusing to admit evidence of the victim's prior history of selling drugs and homosexual propensities.

¶ 7. James Muldoon, an employee of Bullock, told police that Bullock had homosexual

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tendencies and had previously traded drugs for sex. When defense counsel questioned Detective Darren Versiga regarding Muldoon's statements, however, the circuit court sustained the State's objection as to relevance. McKenzie argues that " evidence of Bullock's propensities towards homosexual conduct and his purported habit of trading pills for such acts are relevant under [Mississippi Rule of Evidence] 401, as they lend credence and support to [McKenzie's] story of the events." Specifically, McKenzie contends that he should have been afforded the opportunity to present this evidence to the jury as his theory of defense was that he was merely defending himself from Bullock's advances.

¶ 8. The determination of whether evidence is relevant and admissible is " largely within the discretion of the [circuit] court, and reversal may be had only where that discretion has been abused." Bennett v. State,76 So.3d 736, 741 (¶ 14) (Miss.Ct.App.2011) (quoting White v. State, 742 So.2d 1126, 1134 (¶ 29) (Miss.1999)). " [This] discretion must be exercised within the scope of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence, and ...


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