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Stringer v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

February 13, 2014

Zachary STRINGER a/k/a Zac Stringer
v.
STATE of Mississippi.

Page 1183

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1184

Office of State Public Defender by W. Daniel Hinchcliff, George T. Holmes, attorneys for appellant.

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

Before RANDOLPH, P.J., PIERCE and KING, JJ.

KING, Justice.

¶ 1. Zachary Stringer (Zachary), a minor, was charged with the murder of his younger brother, Justin Stringer (Justin). The jury found Zachary guilty of the lesser-included offense of manslaughter. The trial court sentenced Zachary to twenty years, with ten years to serve and ten years of post-release supervision, with five years reporting. Zachary is to serve his sentence in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) in the Youthful Offender Unit of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

¶ 2. Zachary appeals his conviction and sentence, raising two issues: (1) whether the trial court erred by allowing multiple gruesome photographs of the victim and the crime scene into evidence; and (2) whether the trial court erred in denying Zachary's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). Finding no error, this Court affirms Zachary's conviction and sentence.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 3. Roger Dale Stringer (Roger), Zachary and Justin's father, testified that his sons were hunters, and that they were familiar with guns and gun safety. Both boys had gun racks in their rooms, and each had two guns and ammunition. Roger personally taught the boys everything he knew about gun safety, and Zachary had taken a firearm-safety course. According to Roger, Zachary was one of the safest people he had ever seen with a firearm.

¶ 4. On June 11, 2011, Roger had spent quality time with his sons throughout the day and had returned the boys to their mother's home at approximately 8:15 p.m. According to Roger, a television show was airing at 8:30 p.m. which Zachary wanted to watch. Kim Stringer (Kim), the boys' mother, was attending a party, so the boys were home alone.

¶ 5. Justin called Kim on her cell phone at approximately 8:21 p.m. He asked Kim where she was and if she could come get him. Kim agreed and told Justin she would pick him up after she was done eating. According to Kim, nothing was unusual about Justin's call; he did not

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seem upset, and he just " liked to go places." At 8:42 p.m., Kim received a phone call from the home phone. Because the party was loud, Kim declined the call and walked away to a more quiet area. A few moments later, Kim received another call from the home phone; this time, it was Zachary. She answered and Zachary told her that Justin had been shot.

¶ 6. Frantic, Kim called Roger and informed him that something was wrong with Justin. Roger immediately drove back to Kim's house, which was approximately three miles away. While in route, Roger received a phone call from Zachary. Zachary said, " I love you, daddy ... you know that, don't you?" Roger responded in the affirmative. Then, Zachary told Roger that Justin was dead, and that he had been shot with the .25-06 rifle.[1] Roger called 911 immediately, and the sheriff's office was dispatched to the scene.

¶ 7. Roger arrived at Kim's house first. Zachary attempted to stop his father from entering the home, but Roger pushed past Zachary. As Roger entered, he saw blood splattered on the wall. Justin's body was sitting in a chair, and the top of his head was missing. According to Roger, the only thing there was the roof of Justin's mouth. Roger also noticed Justin's twenty-gauge shotgun lying between his legs. Blood was on the end of the barrel. Roger stated that the scene did not look right and did not add up. Kim arrived at the house a short while later, but Zachary and Roger did not allow her to enter the home.

¶ 8. Next, police and medical responders arrived at the home. Zachary told Cole Robbins, a medical responder, there was " no use" in entering the home. Despite this warning, Robbins entered and found Justin in a chair with a traumatic gunshot wound to the head. Justin was still breathing but he had no pulse. Zachary told Robbins that he was in his bedroom when he heard the gunshot. Because Zachary's clothes were bloody, the clothing was collected as evidence. Robbins was allowed to retrieve clean clothes from Zachary's closet. While in Zachary's room, Robbins noticed a bloody fingerprint on the closet shelf. He immediately notified Investigator Jamie Singley of this discovery. Investigator Singley entered Zachary's room and noticed more evidence: a spent .25-06 rifle cartridge casing on the closet floor, bloody footprints on the carpet, and a .25-06 rifle with blood on it. All items were tested, and it was confirmed the blood belonged to Justin. According to Investigator Singley, these findings negated the report of a self-inflicted wound.

¶ 9. Zachary gave three statements to police. On June 13, 2011, Zachary, along with his parents, voluntarily gave the sheriff's office a handwritten statement in which he claimed Justin had shot himself. In pertinent part, Zachary stated that Justin had shot the family dog with a dart gun,[2] and the dog had run into Zachary's room. Zachary removed the dart from the dog, went into the living room, and returned the dart to Justin. As Zachary left to return to his room, Justin said, " I love you Zac," and Zachary responded, " I love you too man." Zachary returned to his room, put his rifle away, and continued to watch a movie. Seconds later, Zachary heard a shot. He ran into the living room, and blood hit him in the face instantly. Zachary ran to Justin, apologized for " all the crap" he had put him through, told Justin he loved him, and gave him a hug. Next, Zachary called his parents and told

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them Justin had been shot. Following this statement, Investigator Lee Cotton obtained a warrant for Zachary's arrest, ...


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