KENNETH BLAKE WATKINS A/K/A KENNETH, B. WATKINS, APPELLANT,
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, APPELLEE
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: DESOTO COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/16/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT P. CHAMBERLIN. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: MOTION FOR POST-CONVICTION RELIEF DENIED.
FOR APPELLANT: JOHN A. FERRELL.
FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD.
BEFORE IRVING, P.J., MAXWELL AND JAMES, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - POST-CONVICTION RELIEF
[¶1] Kenneth Watkins argues the circuit court wrongly denied him post-conviction relief (PCR) from his 2010 guilty pleas to sexual battery and felony child abuse.
Watkins entered these guilty pleas in the midst of his criminal trial for raping a sixteen-month-old girl. While Watkins told the judge at his plea hearing that he was voluntarily pleading guilty and was satisfied with his trial lawyer, he now claims his attorney and family coerced him to plead guilty to avoid a life sentence. Watkins also now insists he has new evidence that another man was present in the young child's home when Watkins supposedly assaulted her.
[¶2] The circuit judge granted Watkins an evidentiary hearing on his PCR motion. During the hearing, Watkins's trial attorney disputed the coercion claim. He testified that as the State's graphic evidence unfolded at trial, the possibility of an acquittal looked bleak. Both Watkins's family and his lawyer felt guilty pleas to the charges were the best course to minimize his potential sentencing exposure. So when offered a capped plea deal, Watkins's attorney recommended he plead guilty. As to the supposed newly discovered evidence, the victim's mother denied ever saying another man was present when Watkins allegedly assaulted her daughter.
[¶3] Based on this testimony--which the circuit judge found credible--and Watkins's representations during his guilty plea, the judge found Watkins failed to show his pleas were involuntary or that newly discovered evidence required vacating his guilty pleas. After review, we find the trial judge did not clearly err in making these determinations. We thus affirm the denial of Watkins's PCR motion.
Facts and Procedural History
[¶4] In January 2008, seventeen-year-old Watkins lived in a house in Walls, Mississippi, with his girlfriend, Tiffany, and her sixteen-month-old daughter from a prior relationship, Ann. Two other roommates also lived in the house--Mary and Mary's daughter.
[¶5] On January 25, 2008, Tiffany had a morning community-college class, so Watkins stayed with Ann. During this time, Watkins was the only person with Ann. When Tiffany returned home, she took a nap, and Watkins left to ...