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Jones v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 13, 2014

REBECCA LYNN JONES a.k.a. REBECCA JONES a.k.a. REBECCA L. JONES
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/22/2013.

Page 873

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: PRENTISS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JAMES SETH ANDREW POUNDS.

FOR APPELLANT: RICHARD SHANE McLAUGHLIN, NICOLE H. McLAUGHLIN.

FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LAURA HOGAN TEDDER, TRENT KELLY.

BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., PIERCE AND COLEMAN, JJ. WALLER, C.J., RANDOLPH, P.J., LAMAR, CHANDLER, AND PIERCE, JJ., CONCUR. DICKINSON, P.J., CONCURS IN PART AND IN RESULT WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. KITCHENS, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY KING, J.; DICKINSON, P.J., JOINS IN PART.

OPINION

NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY

Page 874

COLEMAN, JUSTICE.

¶1. The Circuit Court of Prentiss County convicted Rebecca Lynn Jones for the murder of her mother and sentenced her to life imprisonment. On appeal, she asserts that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of her prior drug use, that the trial court erred in denying her motions for judgment as a matter of law, and

Page 875

that the verdict is against the weight and sufficiency of the evidence. Finding no error, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

¶2. Rebecca Lynn Jones is the daughter of the decedent, Jane Jones. Rebecca visited Jane in May 2010. An altercation ensued, ending in Jane's death via two gunshot wounds. A grand jury indicted Rebecca for the murder of her mother. Her defense was that Jane saw the gun Rebecca kept in her purse and lunged for it, the two fought over the gun, and it accidentally discharged twice during the struggle.

¶3. Numerous witnesses testified that Rebecca and Jane had always had a tumultuous relationship and argued often. The family members and friends who testified knew that Rebecca had suffered from drug and alcohol addiction earlier in her life. In November 1989, Rebecca deeded some land to Jane that her father had left her in his will. The State alleges that the transfer took place because of Rebecca's drug problems. Rebecca claims instead that the transfer was in part because of her drug addiction, and in part because she was unable to pay taxes on the property. According to Rebecca, Jane agreed that she would deed the land back to Rebecca eventually.

¶4. In 2003, Jane filed a Petition for Custody of Rebecca's daughter, Brooke. Brooke's father, Rebecca's ex-husband, joined the petition. The State claims that Jane filed for custody due to Rebecca's drug addiction. Rebecca testified that she had a nervous breakdown and had " lost [her] health," so she did not oppose the change of custody. Brooke lived with Jane for about four years. She moved out after she got pregnant and had an altercation with Jane. Brooke testified that when she was pregnant, Jane had once " pushed [her] to the ground and kicked [her] in [her] stomach, told [her] that she didn't care if the baby lived or died."

¶5. At the time of Jane's death, Rebecca had participated in recovery programs and had ceased recreational use of drugs and alcohol. Rebecca, her husband, Brooke, and two uncles testified that Rebecca was living a sober life in Alabama, away from Jane. There was no evidence that Rebecca had been using drugs or alcohol on the date of Jane's death. The mental competency evaluation prior to trial stated that both her cocaine and alcohol dependancies were " in full remission."

¶6. Rebecca testified that, on the date of the shooting, she left her home in Alabama and traveled to Booneville, Mississippi, to visit friends and family. She had heard from friends and relatives that Jane planned to sell the land Rebecca had deeded to her, along with Jane's own house and land. Rebecca testified that she was concerned because her mother " worshiped that house," and she had lived there forty years and never mentioned selling. Rebecca also had heard that Jane had been " acting erratic." Rebecca said that she decided to go to Jane's house to check on her mother and to " get some stuff off her chest."

¶7. Only Rebecca and Jane were inside the house when the shooting occurred, and Rebecca and the State sharply disagree as to the course of events. The State maintains that Rebecca went to Jane's home with the pre-designed purpose of killing her because Jane was planning to sell the land that Rebecca had deeded to her in 1989, and because Rebecca was still angry with her mother over the 2003 custody transfer. The State claimed that both events -- the land transfer and the custody transfer -- resulted from Rebecca's past drug use. Rebecca testified that Jane saw her lift her pistol out of her purse to retrieve her keys from underneath it and

Page 876

Jane lunged for it, saying, " give me that damn gun." Rebecca claims that, in the ensuing struggle, the gun discharged twice and both bullets hit Jane. Rebecca testified that Jane let go of the gun after the second shot, and Rebecca threw the gun on the couch. Jane called 911 and reported that Rebecca had shot her. Rebecca fled the house but quickly turned around and returned. She did not call 911 or try to administer first aid to her mother.

¶8. The first officer on the scene, Tammy Johnson, found Rebecca talking on her cell phone in the driveway and placed her in custody. Johnson said Rebecca's hair and clothing were neat. Johnson did not observe any abrasions on Rebecca or any blood on her clothes. Rebecca said there had been an argument and a struggle and a gun went off; Rebecca was not crying or upset. When Johnson entered the house, nothing was out of place; she did not see any furniture or other items knocked over. The gun was on the couch, and the hammer was " cocked and ready to fire." Jane was still alive when Johnson arrived, and she told Johnson there had been an argument. Jane was not wearing a shirt; her shirt was lying on the floor beside her. Jane had been shot twice -- one bullet passed through her torso below her navel and the other bullet passed through her upper chest and upper arm at a sharp diagonal. Jane later died of her wounds.

¶9. The Mississippi Crime Laboratory found particles of gunshot residue on Rebecca's right palm and the back of her left hand, and particles indicative of gunshot residue on both palms and the back of her left hand. The lab found particles indicative of gunshot residue on both sides of both of Jane's hands. The gun was not tested for fingerprints. At trial, the Mississippi Crime Laboratory firearms examiner, Felicia Robinson, testified as to the range of tests she had performed with the pistol. Robinson said that the muzzle-to-garment distance determination test indicated that the distance between the pistol and Jane's shirt had been " greater than contact but less than nine inches."

¶10. Robinson explained that Rebecca's pistol could be fired as single or double action. Single action requires the shooter to cock the hammer and then pull the trigger, which releases the hammer while firing. Double action is when the shooter only pulls the trigger, requiring the gun itself to cock the hammer and then release when the shooter pulls the trigger. Rebecca's pistol requires more than five pounds of pressure to fire in single action and between fifteen and seventeen pounds of pressure to fire in double action. Robinson said that, unlike a semiautomatic, Rebecca's pistol does not automatically cock its hammer -- the hammer must be cocked manually. Her tests indicated that the pistol functioned properly.

¶11. Dr. Amy McMaster, a forensic pathologist, examined Jane's body. Dr. McMaster testified that there was no stippling around any of Jane's wounds. Stippling results from gun powder when a gun is shot at close range. Stippling would not be present if the gun was fired from several feet away or if something was between the skin and gun, such as clothing, which would prevent the gun powder from being deposited on the victim's skin. Dr. McMaster testified that, if Jane was not wearing a shirt when she was shot, then the gun was shot from more than a couple of feet away from the victim. Robinson had testified that there was a hole in the shirt that had been found beside Jane, ...


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