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Collins v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 7, 2014


DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/27/2013.

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[¶1] A Forrest County jury found Jairus Collins guilty of murder pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev. 2006). Collins now appeals his conviction and raises the following issues: (1) whether the circuit court erred by denying his motion to suppress his statement to police; (2) whether the Double Jeopardy Clause bars his retrial on the charge of murder; (3) whether the circuit court erred by refusing him the opportunity to challenge his statement during closing arguments; (4) whether the circuit court erred by allowing a witness to testify as an expert over his objections; (5) whether he was unconstitutionally sentenced as a habitual offender; and (6) whether his conviction is against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Finding no error, we affirm.


[¶2] On December 9, 2011, Ebony Jenkins's body was discovered behind a building in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. During the course of their investigation, police officers identified Collins as a suspect in Jenkins's murder. In November 2012, a grand jury indicted Collins as a habitual offender for Count I, the murder of Jenkins, and Count II, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. The circuit court granted Collins's motion to sever the offenses charged in his indictment.

[¶3] At Collins's murder trial, the State called Louis Dixon, Jenkins's father, as a witness. Dixon testified that he drove to Hattiesburg and filed a missing person's report after receiving a telephone call that his daughter failed to report to work. On the same day that Dixon filed the report, the Hattiesburg Police Department received a phone call about a homeless person sleeping behind a daycare. When police officers arrived at the scene, they discovered the person was actually Jenkins, who had died as a result of two gunshot wounds.

[¶4] The jury also heard testimony from Craig Mitchell, who lived in a house behind the daycare. Mitchell testified that on the night of December 7, 2011, he was smoking a cigarette on his porch when he heard three or four gunshots. Mitchell testified that the gunshots sounded very close, and he immediately locked himself inside his house and peered out the window. According to Mitchell's testimony, he saw a man running away from the area. Mitchell testified that the man was of medium build and wore a " hoodie-type sweater" that was " [e]ither blue or light gray or black."

[¶5] The State showed Mitchell a gray sweater belonging to Collins that police officers discovered in the woods. As later testimony revealed, police officers found the sweater wrapped around the suspected murder weapon in a bag hidden in the woods. Upon seeing the gray sweater, Mitchell testified that he was " [p]retty positive" that it was the same sweater he saw the man wearing the night of December 7, 2011.

[¶6] The State also called Jenkins's friend, Jessie Miles, as a witness. Miles testified that he and Jenkins spoke around 9:30 p.m. on December 7, 2011, about riding to work together the next morning. However, Miles testified that Jenkins failed to show up at work the next day. Miles also provided testimony regarding a gun that he bought in February 2010. According to Miles's testimony, he began experiencing problems with the gun and Collins's brother, Joshia, told Miles that Collins could fix the gun. Miles testified that he gave the gun to Collins around

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November 2011 after Collins confirmed that he could repair the gun. During Miles's testimony, the State showed him an exhibit, which Miles identified as the gun he bought and gave to Collins to repair. Although the gun's serial number was no longer visible at the time of trial, Miles testified that the serial number had been clearly visible when he gave the gun to Collins in November 2011.

[¶7] Collins's father, Melvin, also provided trial testimony about the time period surrounding Jenkins's murder. Melvin testified that his sons stopped by his house on either December 7, 2011, or December 8, 2011. Melvin testified that he picked up a bag inside his sons' vehicle and noticed that the bag felt " a little bit weighty." Although Melvin did not know what the bag contained, he told his sons that the bag made him feel uncomfortable. After Melvin instructed his sons to take the bag and its contents away from his house, Collins and Joshia took the bag and left.

[¶8] The jury heard additional testimony from Collins's brother, Joshia, who stated that both he and Collins had been friends with Jenkins. Joshia testified that he lived at an apartment complex located within walking distance of the place where the police found Jenkins's body. Joshia testified that his brother called him around 10:54 p.m. on December 7, 2011, from their sister's phone. Collins arrived at Joshia's apartment complex later that night. According to Joshia's testimony, Collins wore a gray hoodie when he arrived at the apartment complex and appeared to be out of breath.

[¶9] Joshia testified that he and his brother stopped by their father's house the next day. Joshia confirmed that his father told him and his brother to get rid of the bag they had in their car. Joshia maintained during his trial testimony that he neither looked inside the bag nor saw his brother with a weapon at any point in time. According to the statement he gave to police officers, however, Joshia said that, upon feeling the bag, he could tell the bag contained a weapon. Joshia also told officers that, when he and Collins left their father's house, they drove along Highway 59, and Collins hid the bag in the woods.

[¶10] The State called two detectives as witnesses, and both men testified that Joshia led them and another officer to the location where Collins hid the bag in the woods. The detectives further testified that the bag contained a gray hoodie wrapped around a gun. Although the gun's serial number was partially scratched off, a crime scene investigator examined the gun and determined it was the gun registered to Miles. After performing additional tests, a forensic scientist concluded that the gun fired the shell casing police officers found near Jenkins's body.

[¶11] In addition to finding the shell casing at the crime scene, officers discovered Jenkins's cell phone and car keys on her body. Jenkins's phone records revealed that the last call she received came from a phone owned by Collins's father. Police learned that Collins's sister normally used the phone but that she allowed Collins to use the phone around the time of Jenkins's murder. When Detective Joey Scott interviewed Collins, Collins confirmed that he had possession of the phone around the time of Jenkins's murder.[1]

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[¶12] Detective Scott testified that Collins initially told officers he did not know Jenkins very well and was working the night of December 7, 2011. Officers subpoenaed Collins's work schedule, however, which showed that Collins was not at work on December 7, 2011. After officers showed Collins some phone records for December 7, 2011, Collins admitted to having contact with Jenkins that night. Detective Scott testified that Collins then told officers that Jenkins called him and asked for a ride. However, as Detective Scott stated in his testimony, officers had already learned that Jenkins's car was working when she was killed, that her car was parked within walking distance of her location, and that she had her car keys in her pocket. After further questioning, Collins told officers that he arrived at Jenkins's location on December 7, 2011, to pick her up but could not find her.

[¶13] Based on the phone records they obtained, officers determined that Collins and Jenkins exchanged several phone calls and text messages the night of December 7, 2011. Detective Casey Sims testified that he used the cell-phone records to create a map showing the coordinates of each phone call and text message. Detective Sims further testified that the map indicated that Jenkins's and Collins's cell phones moved geographically closer to each other as the night progressed. Detective Sims further testified that, at the time of the last few communications, Collins and Jenkins were both in the area where officers later found Jenkins's body.

[¶14] After hearing the evidence and testimony presented at trial, the jury found Collins guilty of Jenkins's murder. Finding Collins to be a habitual offender pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-83 (Rev. 2007), the circuit court judge sentenced Collins to life in prison in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with no possibility of parole or early release. Following his conviction and sentencing, Collins filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. The circuit court judge denied Collins's motion, and Collins now appeals to this Court.


I. Whether the circuit court erred by denying Collins's motion to suppress his statement to police.

[¶15] Collins contends that police officers violated his constitutional right to counsel during a pretrial interrogation and, therefore, the circuit court judge should have granted his motion to suppress his statement.

[¶16] The Mississippi Supreme Court has previously stated:

Findings by a trial judge that a defendant confessed voluntarily, and that such confession is admissible[,] are findings of fact. As long as the trial judge applies the correct legal standards, his decision will not be reversed on appeal unless it is manifestly in error, or is contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

Neal v. State, 57 So.3d 1271, 1276-77 (¶ 14) (Miss. 2011) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

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[¶17] In Barnes v. State, 30 So.3d 313, 316-17 (¶ 8) (Miss. 2010), our supreme court also provided the following guidance:

This Court will reverse a trial court's denial of a motion to suppress only if the ruling is manifest error or contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, [479, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694] (1966), custodial interrogation must be preceded by advising the defendant of his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney. Upon invocation of the right to remain silent, the interrogation must cease. If the defendant invokes his right to counsel, the interrogation must cease until an attorney is present. If the interrogation continues without the presence of an attorney and a statement is taken, a heavy burden rests on the government to demonstrate that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to retained or appointed counsel. Once a defendant asks for counsel, he cannot be interrogated further until counsel has been made available,unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.

(Emphasis added and internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

[¶18] In the present case, police officers identified Collins as a suspect in Jenkins's murder and brought him in for questioning. Detective Sims and Detective Scott were both present during Collins's interrogation, which was recorded by both audio and video. After Detective Sims read Collins his Miranda rights, Collins waived his rights. Detective Sims proceeded to question Collins until Collins stated that he would " rather speak to a lawyer." Following Collins's declaration, the questioning immediately ceased, and the detectives exited the room.

[¶19] As the record reflects, about five minutes elapsed, and then Collins knocked on the door. When Detective Scott opened the door, Collins began speaking to him. ...

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