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Harris v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 17, 2013

Charles Dennis HARRIS a/k/a Charles Harris, Appellant
v.
STATE of Mississippi, Appellee.

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Benjamin Allen Suber, attorney for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Billy L. Gore, attorney for appellee.

Before LEE, C.J., BARNES and ISHEE, JJ.

BARNES, J.

¶ 1. In March 2011, a Rankin County grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Charles Harris for felonious child abuse of a nine-month old, Sue Brown,[1] under Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-5-39 (Rev.2006). The counts included breaking her left arm (Count I), breaking her right arm (Count II), burning her fingers (Count III), burning her lips and mouth (Count IV), and striking her chest causing " bilateral pneumothoraces" [2] (Count V). A jury convicted Harris on Count III, but was unable to reach a verdict regarding the other counts, resulting in a mistrial for those counts. The trial court sentenced him to thirty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), with eight years suspended and five years of supervised probation. Harris now appeals, raising three issues. He argues a mistrial should have been declared when the prosecution played a video recording to the jury. The video contained Harris's alleged exercise of his post- Miranda [3] right to an attorney during a custodial interview. He also claims the trial court erred in refusing a lesser-offense jury instruction on simple assault and a lesser-included-offense jury instruction on misdemeanor child abuse. Finally, he argues the verdict is against the weight of the evidence. Finding no error, we affirm.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. In March 2009, Sue, Carrie Crandle's nine-month-old daughter, suffered injuries after a series of " accidents" while under the care of her nineteen-year-old babysitter, Harris. Crandle and the baby's father, George Brown, had been living together in Jackson, Mississippi, when Sue was born, but three weeks after her birth, George relapsed into drug addiction. Crandle left Jackson and took Sue and her four-year-old half-brother to Leakesville, Mississippi, where some relatives live. She stayed with her best friend and received food stamps. After six weeks, Brown found a place for Crandle and the children to live in Florence, Mississippi, where they moved in August 2008. Through the WIN Job Center, Crandle

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obtained a job at a hotel in Brandon, Mississippi, as a front desk clerk, where she worked the night shift most of the time.

¶ 3. When issues arose with the child-care arrangements Crandle had initially made with friends and family, she began looking at babysitting services. She searched websites and interviewed a couple of individuals. Harris, whom Crandle had met at a church in Pearl, Mississippi, had offered to watch her children, but she initially declined his offer. Crandle had known him for three or four months. Having difficulty finding a babysitter, though, Crandle decided to contact Harris. Harris lived in a house with his grandparents, sister, uncle, uncle's girlfriend, and uncle's three children. Crandle set up a meeting to inspect the house and meet Harris's family. After the meeting, Crandle felt it would be " okay" to have her children cared for by Harris at his home. At first, Crandle sent only her son, but after Harris did " fine" with him, she also started leaving Sue. At the time, Sue was neither walking nor crawling.

¶ 4. On March 6, 2009, Crandle received a text message from Harris, stating he thought Sue's arm might be broken. Harris then called Crandle and explained Sue had been " fussy." When he was changing her diaper, she rolled off the bed and landed on a walking cane on the floor. Harris stated he then picked Sue up and put her in his bed, where she cried a bit and then went to sleep.

¶ 5. Crandle called Harris's grandmother to see " what was going on." After speaking with the grandmother, Crandle decided to leave work early and take Sue to River Oaks Hospital in Flowood, Mississippi. In the emergency room, Sue's left and right arms were x-rayed. Physicians confirmed Sue's left arm was broken. While at the hospital, Crandle also met with a social worker due to the nature of Sue's injury and her age. At this point, Crandle did not suspect Harris of abuse.

¶ 6. On March 22, 2009, Crandle left work at 11:00 p.m. to pick up her children from Harris's house. She found Sue sitting on Harris's bed and noticed a bandage on Sue's right middle finger. Harris explained to Crandle that Sue had a blister on her finger and had chewed it off. Crandle also noticed Sue's mouth had a red, blistery rash on it, and there were blisters on three fingers of her other hand. Harris claimed ignorance about what happened to Sue's fingers.

¶ 7. Crandle immediately took Sue to the Crossgates River Oaks Hospital emergency room in Brandon. Sue's fingers were treated, and it was recommended Crandle follow up with Sue's pediatrician, Dr. Phyllis Hightower. The next day, Dr. Bettie Knight saw Sue because Dr. Hightower was out. She informed Crandle that Sue had second-degree burns on her fingers caused from heat.

¶ 8. On March 24, 2009, Crandle took Sue to the Mississippi Sports Medicine Center for a follow up visit for Sue's broken arm. Crandle then took Sue back to Dr. Hightower's office to change the bandages on Sue's fingers. But when Dr. Hightower took Sue from Crandle's arms to examine her, Sue emitted " a high-pitched cry ... in obvious discomfort" as the physician held Sue around her trunk. Concerned about possible rib fractures, Dr. Hightower ordered a full skeletal survey of Sue at Rankin General Hospital's emergency room. Crandle proceeded to the hospital with Sue where the x-ray was performed. Physicians discovered Sue had additional injuries— her right arm was also broken, and there were issues with her lungs. Sue was taken by ambulance to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), where she had to have emergency surgery due to her lung injuries.

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Sue was in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for four days and in the ...


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