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White v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

November 7, 2013

Eboni Bena WHITE a/k/a Eboni White a/k/a Eboni B. White
v.
STATE of Mississippi.

Page 171

Cynthia Ann Stewart, attorney for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by John R. Henry, Jr., Deirdre McCrory, Scott Stuart, attorneys for appellee.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

PIERCE, Justice.

¶ 1. A Claiborne County jury convicted Eboni White of manslaughter, and the trial judge sentenced her to a term of twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). White now appeals to this Court claiming the trial court erred by: refusing to dismiss her indictment based on certain improper influences on the grand jury; prohibiting her expert witness, Jeffrey Curtis, from giving his opinion at trial on the use of force in self-defense; refusing to instruct the jury on her theory of self-defense; and not allowing her witness, Ricky Thompson, to testify because he was in the courtroom during Curtis's testimony. Additionally, White challenges the weight and sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction and argues cumulative error. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding no error. Having granted certiorari on the issues of whether the trial court erred by excluding Ricky Thompson's testimony and denying White's jury instructions, we find error and reverse for a new trial. On certiorari, we limit our review to White's claims that the trial court erred in not allowing Thompson to testify and by not allowing an instruction embodying the Castle Doctrine. Finding merit to both claims, we reverse White's conviction and sentence and remand the case to the Claiborne Circuit Court for a new trial.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. The following facts and history were adopted from the Court of Appeals' majority opinion. Eboni White and the victim, Danielle Newsome, were students at Alcorn State University and had been friends since high school. They lived in trailer homes across the street from one another in a trailer park near Lorman, Mississippi. White lived with other roommates, and Newsome lived with her four-year-old son, Daniel. White and Newsome had a " falling out" when Newsome accused White of failing to stop for her child's school bus one morning at the end of October 2009. The bus picked up Newsome's child every morning and took him to a Head Start program. White remembers the incident as follows. That morning she was taking a

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football player to practice. She backed out of her driveway and stopped behind the bus. The bus's lights were on, but it had no stop sign; so White drove around the bus, to its left, and drove to Alcorn's campus. Shortly after returning home, White heard banging at her door. It was Newsome, who wanted to know if White had gone around the school bus. White said yes. Newsome exclaimed, " You almost hit my f* *king baby." White responded that she came nowhere near the child. Newsome then threatened White: " If something happens to my baby, I [am] going to f* *k you up." White did not think much of Newsome's threat until later, when Newsome started a " campaign of harassment" against White. Newsome would call White a " b* * *h" every time she saw White. Additionally, Newsome told White the police were looking for her and her vehicle because of the bus incident.

¶ 3. Approximately one week after the bus incident, White filed a complaint for harassment with the Claiborne County Sheriff's Office against Newsome. Martha Lott, a dispatcher with the sheriff's office, filled out the complaint form for White. White stated that on November 1, 2009, Newsome came to White's trailer door and made threats because White had driven around the school bus. Further, every time White came home, Newsome was outside waiting for her, cursing and calling White names. While, normally, Lott would contact the law-enforcement authorities when a complaint was filed, this time she did not because White did not ask her to.

¶ 4. On the morning of November 12, 2009, at approximately 8:00 a.m., White started her vehicle, but she returned to her trailer with a case of beer her roommate had left in her vehicle, as she could not take it to school. She then heard banging at her door and Newsome threatening, " B* * *h, come outside. I'm going to get you. Come on. I know you are in there ... ain't no way out. You're going to see me today." A neighbor also testified Newsome woke her by repeated yelling at White's trailer something to the effect of: " B* * *h, I'm going to whoop your a* *. B* * *h, come out of there" for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. Another neighbor overheard the commotion and was so concerned she called the police. White stayed in the trailer for approximately an hour and a half trying to avoid Newsome, missing a college calculus test at 9:00 a.m. White made numerous phone calls to her brother, mother, and father; however, she could not get in touch with them. White's brother had dated Newsome; so White thought " he could talk to [Newsome] and figure out what was going on." When White finally reached her father, he told her to forget about her calculus test and go immediately to the courthouse and file for a restraining order. Also, he told her to bring home her handgun, which White had bought for safety during road trips, as the trips were concluded.

¶ 5. At some point, White exited her trailer, with the handgun in the pocket of her backpack, heading toward the driver's door of her vehicle. Newsome came forward from her trailer across the highway, approached the driver's door of White's vehicle, and blocked White's access to her vehicle. The two exchanged words in White's driveway, where White's vehicle was parked. Witnesses recounted that Newsome again stated, " You tried to hit my baby," and asked White, " Why did you try to run over my child?" White told Newsome they had " discussed this already" and to " chill out," but Newsome responded, " No, f* *k that. F* *k that. We fixing to discuss it again." White stated that, as Newsome was approaching her, Newsome's hand came up, and there was

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something silver in it, which White thought was a weapon.[1] One eyewitness testified that White was cursing Newsome as well, calling her a " b* * *h" and stating she was " tired." White then took her handgun from her backpack and shot Newsome several times. Law-enforcement officers arrived to hear gunshots and saw a crowd of people had gathered. Newsome fell to the ground. Officers told White to put the gun down, and she threw it towards them stating, " You can have it now." As they were arresting White, someone said, " Eboni, I told you to wait in the house. I told you to wait." White, very upset, responded, " Y'all was taking too long ... [Newsome] wouldn't leave me alone." Newsome died from multiple gunshot wounds.

¶ 6. White was indicted for murder. She filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for improper influence by the grand-jury foreperson, who White claimed knew and disliked her. The trial court denied the motion. A three-day trial ensued in September 2010.

¶ 7. At the trial, several of White's and Newsome's neighbors testified. One neighbor testified that, on the morning of the shooting, he pulled up in his vehicle to where Newsome was standing, and she told him a young lady had tried to run over her child. The neighbor told Newsome to " let it go" and return to her trailer. Newsome also tried to stop her child's bus driver, who was coming through the trailer park at the time, to tell the driver that White had tried to run over her child. Newsome then approached one of White's roommates who was outside. The roommate told Newsome she had nothing to do with the incident and to speak with White about it, and returned to her trailer.

¶ 8. Three neighbors testified they saw White shooting the gun. White, testifying on her own behalf, claimed she took the gun with her to take it home, on her father's advice-not to shoot Newsome. Regarding the shooting, White claimed that she had witnessed Newsome's capacity for violence in other prior instances and felt she had to protect herself. Newsome's autopsy showed a total of five gunshot ...


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