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Davis v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 13, 2013

Saheed DAVIS, Appellant
STATE of Mississippi, Appellee.

Rehearing Denied Nov. 19, 2013.

Certiorari Denied Jan. 30, 2014.

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Jane E. Tucker, Jackson, attorney for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Laura Hogan Tedder, attorney for appellee.



¶ 1. Saheed Davis shot and killed Maurice Warner at a family gathering on Christmas Day. Davis was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, he argues flaws in the jury instructions, hearsay testimony from an investigator, and his inability to introduce evidence of the victim's bad character warrant reversal. Davis also challenges the sufficiency and weight of the evidence supporting his conviction and claims his attorney was constitutionally ineffective. After review, we affirm his conviction and sentence.


¶ 2. On Christmas Day 2008, Davis and his fiancé e, Yolanda Wooten, joined a large gathering of Yolanda's family members at the Wooten family home in Jackson, Mississippi. Yolanda's sister, Latoya, and her husband, Maurice, were among those present. At some point that day, Davis and Maurice— who undisputedly had strong disdain for one another— exchanged words in front of several family members. When Davis and Yolanda later stepped outside of the house, Maurice followed them.

¶ 3. According to Yolanda, Davis asked Maurice what he had said to him earlier that day. And Maurice clarified for Davis that he had called him " a punk a*s, f*ggot a*s b*tch." When Davis asked, " What?" Maurice said, " N*gger, you heard me." Maurice then swung and hit Davis in the neck. After the tussle was broken up, Maurice headed for his car, and Davis jumped the fence and ran to his vehicle. Soon after, Davis returned armed with a .40-caliber pistol.

¶ 4. According to multiple witnesses, Davis then shot Maurice. One of the two initial bullets struck Maurice in the head; the other hit his throat. Maurice, who was unarmed, collapsed in the street. And while Maurice was lying face down on the concrete, Davis stood over his body and shot him eight more times— twice in the right shoulder and six times in the back. An ambulance transported Maurice to University Medical Center where he died from the gunshot wounds.

¶ 5. Davis fled and eluded authorities until October 2010, when he was caught by

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U.S. Marshals in Texas and returned to Mississippi. Davis was indicted for deliberate-design murder with a handgun in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev.2006). Davis pursued a self-defense theory at trial, but the jury rejected that the shooting was justified. The jury found Davis guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He now appeals.


¶ 6. On appeal, Davis argues the trial judge erred in (1) not sua sponte crafting a separate heat-of-passion manslaughter instruction, (2) instructing the jury that if it deemed Davis the aggressor, it could not find he acted in self-defense, (3) allowing hearsay testimony, and (4) preventing witnesses from testifying about alleged specific instances of Maurice's bad conduct toward Davis. Davis also challenges (5) the sufficiency and weight of the evidence and argues (6) his defense counsel was constitutionally ineffective.

I. Jury Instructions

A. Heat-of-Passion Instruction

¶ 7. Davis's actual trial strategy is somewhat incongruent with his more recently crafted appellate argument challenging the lack of instruction on heat-of-passion manslaughter. At trial Davis's attorney stringently argued that the shooting was in self-defense— and was not murder or manslaughter. But on appeal, he claims that even though he neither requested a heat-of-passion manslaughter instruction nor proposed one to the trial judge, the judge erred in not sua sponte fashioning a separate substantive instruction on this lesser offense. While this argument is waived, we find it is further complicated, as discussed below, by the fact that the State did indeed offer an instruction defining heat-of-passion, to which Davis did not object.

(1) Waiver

¶ 8. Our first inquiry involves Davis's waiver of this issue. Our supreme court has held that if a defendant fails to " tender a heat-of-passion-manslaughter jury instruction to the trial court[,] ... he is procedurally barred from arguing on appeal that the jury should have been instructed on heat-of-passion manslaughter." Neal v. State, 15 So.3d 388, 408 (¶ 51) (Miss.2009). And here Davis did not ask for, much less tender, a separate proposed heat-of-passion manslaughter instruction. Thus, he is barred from first raising this issue on appeal.

(2) Plain Error

¶ 9. Second, because Davis forfeited this issue by not urging it at trial, he proceeds solely under the more stringent plain-error doctrine. Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129, 129 S.Ct. 1423, 173 L.Ed.2d 266 (2009). Under this standard, we will generally only exercise our discretion to review and correct a clear or obvious error if it " seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings." Id. at 135, 129 S.Ct. 1423. So our review focuses on whether there was a manifest injustice.

a. Manslaughter

¶ 10. Considering the applicable legal principles and the relevant instructions given, we note that manslaughter is generally defined as " [t]he killing of a human being, without malice, in the heat of passion, but in a cruel or unusual manner, or by the use of a dangerous weapon, without authority of law, and not in necessary self-defense[.]" Miss.Code Ann. § 97-3-35 (Rev.2006). There are several distinct variants of this lesser-included offense of murder, including both " imperfect self-defense[,]" which our supreme court has recognized reduces " an intentional killing

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... [to] manslaughter if done without malice but under a bona fide (but unfounded) belief that it was necessary to prevent great bodily harm[,]" Moore v. State, 859 So.2d 379, 383 (¶ 9) (Miss.2003) (quoting Wade v. State, 748 So.2d 771, 775 (¶ 12) (Miss.1999)), and ...

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