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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 2, 2014

BRANDY NICOLE WILLIAMS A/K/A BRANDY WILLIAMS A/K/A BRANDY N. WILLIAMS, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, APPELLEE

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/10/2012.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: GEORGE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, TRIAL JUDGE: HON. RICHARD W. MCKENZIE.

FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER, BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES, ANDRE DE GRUY.

FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: SCOTT STUART.

BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., ISHEE AND CARLTON, JJ. LEE, C.J., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR. IRVING, P.J., DISSENTS WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.

OPINION

Page 276

GRIFFIS, P.J.

[¶1] Brandy Williams was convicted of the capital murder of George County Sheriff Garry Welford, in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(2)(a) (Rev. 2014). We find reversible error on an evidentiary ruling and a jury instruction. We reverse Williams's conviction and remand for a new trial.

FACTS

[¶2] On July 21, 2010, George County Sheriff Garry Welford was killed when a pickup truck ran over him. Although it is disputed who was driving the truck at the time it killed Sheriff Welford, Chris Baxter and Williams occupied the truck. Both were indicted and tried for capital murder in separate trials. Baxter was convicted first, followed by Williams. Baxter was

Page 277

called as a defense witness at Williams's trial but asserted his Fifth Amendment right to not testify.

[¶3] On April 26, 2010, Baxter pled guilty to the possession and manufacture of methamphetamine. His sentencing hearing was set for July 19, 2010, and he remained free until then. When Baxter failed to appear for his sentencing, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

[¶4] George County deputies were familiar with Baxter. They knew of his relationship with Williams. They were also familiar with the vehicles Baxter and Williams each drove. However, on July 21, because their vehicles were both being repaired, Baxter and Williams were driving Williams's father's truck to run errands in Lucedale, Mississippi.

[¶5] Deputy Bobby Daffin was serving process when he spotted Williams's father's truck. He knew that Baxter and Williams used the truck, so Daffin made a U-turn and pulled in behind the truck. He notified the sheriff's central dispatch of the encounter, and he initiated pursuit. A high-speed chase began.

[¶6] Other deputies, and Sheriff Welford, knew of the active warrant, and joined in the effort to stop the truck. They headed to a location where they might intercept the truck. As the pursuit began, Daffin testified that Williams was the driver and another person was slouched down in the passenger seat. Daffin believed the passenger was Baxter, based on his knowledge that Williams and Baxter were inseparable. After losing sight of the truck and traveling some distance, Daffin saw the truck again with its brake-lights on while stopped at an intersection. Daffin testified that upon approaching the truck, it took off in a reckless manner at a high speed. He pursued the truck with his siren and blue lights turned on. Daffin testified that he pursued the truck at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, and the truck passed through traffic in no-passing zones and drove two vehicles off of the road.

[¶7] Just before the roadblock, Daffin lost sight of the truck when it turned toward the area where the roadblock was set up. Two witnesses confirmed Daffin's version of events. They both testified that a female was driving the truck and a George County Sheriff's Department vehicle was in pursuit.

[¶8] Sheriff Welford announced over the radio that he and Chief Deputy Tony Keel were going to intercept the truck at an intersection. Sheriff Welford instructed Daffin to not pursue too hard. Keel and Sheriff Welford were joined by two other officers, Investigator Justin Strahan and Deputy Duane Bowlin. All four officers stood outside of their vehicles in the right-of-way.

[¶9] Keel testified that the law enforcement vehicles were parked so as not to block the intersection entirely. A pathway was left open in the middle of the road between the vehicles. Just before the truck reached the roadblock, Keel stated that he heard the truck's engine and said: " Here it comes." At that moment, Keel saw the truck coming around a curve, and he and Sheriff Welford drew their guns. The truck engine accelerated, and the truck turned to the left toward Keel and Sheriff Welford. Keel, Bowlin, and Strahan testified that the truck traveled to the left of the road, and it ran over Sheriff Welford. Sheriff Welford's body hit the hood of the truck and was thrown. The truck did not stop after the collision.

[¶10] Keel was able to jump out of the way. He felt a wind from the passing truck and heard an impact. Keel turned and saw a body tumbling, at which point Strahan announced over the radio that the

Page 278

truck had struck Sheriff Welford. Keel did not see who was driving the truck at the moment of impact.

[¶11] Bowlin testified that he was walking toward Sheriff Welford to find out what the plan was when he heard the truck come up the hill. Bowlin testified that he could not see the driver, but that the passenger's face appeared to be a man. He thought the man was Baxter, whom he knew. Before trial, Bowlin told an investigator from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation that he could not tell if the passenger was male or female.

[¶12] Strahan testified that he had moved away from the open area to avoid the oncoming truck. Daffin tried to locate the truck afterwards but could not find it.

[¶13] Megan Jarmin testified that she saw the truck cross Highway 98 moments after it passed through the roadblock. The truck did not stop and swerved on and off the road. Jarmin stated that she had a good view of the driver, who was a male with acne complexion.

[¶14] The truck was later found in a ditch with a significant dent in the center of the hood. Expert testimony established that Sheriff Welford's DNA was on the hood and side of the truck. Also, Baxter's DNA was found on the truck's steering wheel. No female DNA was found in the truck.

[¶15] On July 22, 2010, Williams and Baxter were both arrested. After a jury trial, Williams was convicted of capital murder, in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(2)(a) (Rev. 2006). It is from this judgment that Williams now appeals, raising issues which we consider in the following order: 1) the trial court erred in excluding Baxter's statement to authorities; 2) the trial court erred in giving instruction S-7A on liability for a contributing cause of death; 3) the trial court erred in refusing a defense jury instruction on identification evidence; 4) the trial court erred in giving instruction S-5A on accomplice liability; 5) the trial court erred in preventing the defense from introducing the State's closing argument from Baxter's trial; and 6) the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

ANALYSIS

I. Whether it was reversible error to exclude Baxter's statement to law enforcement under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3).

[¶16] Williams argues that the trial court erred in excluding Baxter's post-arrest interview. The standard of review concerning the admission or exclusion of evidence is abuse of discretion. Williams v. State, ...


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