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Ealey v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

February 12, 2015


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¶1. Sheila Ealey gave birth to a baby boy in a hotel room, wrapped the baby in a comforter, put him in a suitcase, and left the suitcase behind her church. A jury found her guilty of capital murder with the underlying felony of child abuse, and the circuit court sentenced her to life without parole. On appeal, Ealey asserts that the trial court erred in refusing an accident-or-misfortune jury instruction and that the evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdict. She also urges the Court to abandon and replace the M'Naghten[1] Rule on insanity. Ealey's issues lack merit. We affirm.

Factual Background

¶2. Sheila Ealey claims a man abducted and raped her in September 2009. Ealey did not tell anyone. Several months later, Ealey discovered that she was pregnant. She did not tell anyone that she was pregnant; her family and coworkers never realized it. At that time, Ealey was a forty-one-year-old single mother of five children. Ealey's oldest daughter was a nurse, her oldest son was in high school, and her three youngest children were in middle school. According to her children, Ealey provided for them and was a good mother. Ealey worked at a church daycare, and her coworkers said she was a good teacher. Ealey attended Smith Chapel Baptist Church with her family,

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and she was involved in many church activities.

¶3. Ealey's great-uncle, Victor Washington, was the groundskeeper at Smith Chapel. On July 1, 2010, Washington was mowing grass at the church when he noticed a suitcase partially hidden in a wooded area behind the church. Although he thought it was strange, he did not then inspect the suitcase. The suitcase was still there when Washington returned the following day, and Washington called a church trustee to inspect it. The trustee was Calvin Ealey, who happened to be Ealey's father. Carolyn Robinson, Ealey's aunt, arrived at the church with her brother Calvin. As the trio approached the suitcase, they saw green flies swarming around it, and they suspected that something might be dead. They called the sheriff's department without ever touching the suitcase.

¶4. Madison County Sheriff Deputy Jimmy Knight responded and retrieved the suitcase. Inside the suitcase, Deputy Knight found a comforter stuffed into a black trash bag. As he inspected the contents, he saw blood and a baby's hand. Deputy Knight called Sheriff's Investigator Robin Welch, who came to the church with the police chief. Welch photographed the scene and called the coroner. Later that day, Welch was notified that Ealey was at the Sheriff's Department, and she wanted to speak to an investigator. Welch advised Ealey of her Miranda rights,[2] which she said she understood, and she signed a waiver-of-rights form. Ealey then gave a verbal statement.

¶5. Ealey told Welch that she had been raped in September 2009. In January 2010, she discovered she was pregnant, and she thought the pregnancy resulted from the rape. Ealey did not tell anyone about the rape or the pregnancy, and she did not seek prenatal care. On Saturday, June 26, 2010, Ealey woke up with labor pains. She left home around 1:00 p.m., taking a suitcase and a bed comforter. The suitcase was empty except for a trash bag that she used for laundry when she traveled. Ealey went to the Super-8 Motel in Gluckstadt and checked in. She spread the comforter on the floor and gave birth to a child on the motel room floor.

¶6. Ealey said that she fell asleep after giving birth. When she woke up, she wrapped the baby in the comforter, put the comforter in the suitcase, and put the suitcase in the trunk of her car. Ealey then drove to Smith Chapel and left the suitcase behind the church. Ealey went home, took a bath, and washed her clothes. She did not tell anyone what happened. Ealey attended church at Smith Chapel the following morning, but she said she could not sit through the entire service. Ealey's verbal statement was not recorded, but she provided a written statement as well. In her written statement, Ealey wrote that she intended to go back to the church and take the child to a hospital.

¶7. Welch conducted three interviews with Ealey and obtained two written statements. Her story was consistent each time with two exceptions: (1) whether Ealey had heard the baby cry, and (2) whether anyone other than the attacker could have been the baby's father. During the first interview on July 2, Ealey said she heard the baby cry only once in the motel room before she wrapped the child in the comforter and put him in the suitcase. In her written statement given the same day, she wrote, " I am not sure if the baby was crying, I did hear it initially but after that I'm not sure." During a second interview the following day, Ealey said the baby

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cried twice -- once at birth and once when she was putting the suitcase in the trunk. Investigator Todd Wilson was present for the second interview, and he confirmed that Ealey said the baby cried twice. Ealey later told a psychologist that " she thought she heard a baby cry, but she wasn't sure."

¶8. During the interviews on July 2 and 3, the implication was that the pregnancy resulted from the rape, and Ealey did not suggest that anyone other than the attacker could have been the father of the child. In her written statement from July 2, she wrote, " I had been carrying the incident around with me and to think I had to have a baby with someone who had raped me. I couldn't wrap my mind around it." Several days later, on July 7, Ealey contacted Welch and told him that Jerry Bolden, her longtime boyfriend and the father of four of her children, could have been the father. She provided a written statement confirming that " Bolden could possibly be the father of the child." DNA testing later confirmed that Bolden was the father.

¶9. A Madison County grand jury indicted Ealey for capital murder with the underlying felony of child abuse. Ealey entered a plea of not guilty, and she presented an insanity defense at trial.[3] Dr. Feng Li, who had performed the baby's autopsy, was accepted as an expert in forensic pathology. Dr. Li testified that he did not determine cause of death when he did the autopsy.[4] However, after reviewing details from the investigation, Dr. Li opined that the cause of death was " more likely than not asphyxia" and that the manner of death was homicide.

¶10. Ealey's son, Jerald Ealey, was called as a witness for the defense. Jerald testified that Ealey was the sole provider for her children and that she received little support from his father, Bolden. Jerald said his mother was very protective of her children and that they confided in her. Jerald testified that he went to church with Ealey the day after the incident. He said she looked fine, but she did not feel well and did not go to lunch with the family after church that day.

¶11. The defense also called Dr. Gerald O'Brien, and he was accepted as an expert in forensic psychology. Dr. O'Brien had evaluated Ealey and performed a full psychological assessment. He testified that Ealey's IQ was in the low-average range and that she did not exhibit signs of malingering. He testified that Ealey was suffering from major depression and anxiety and that she had been for at least one year prior to the incident. Dr. O'Brien opined that there was " clear evidence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the alleged offense" and, in his opinion, " strongly suggestive evidence" indicated that Ealey " was unable to know the nature and quality of her acts [and] the difference between right and wrong" at the time of the incident. However, he could not say " to a reasonable degree of scientific, psychological, or mental certainty" that Ealey did not know right from wrong at the time of the incident. And, to the contrary, he admitted that Ealey's statements that she would never hurt anyone,

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especially a child, and the fact that she turned herself in and wanted to make a confession reflected an understanding that she had done something wrong. Dr. O'Brien testified that, in his opinion, no one could say with any degree of certainty whether Ealey was sane at the time of the incident.

¶12. The State presented several lay witnesses and expert witnesses to rebut Ealey's claim that she was insane at the time she committed the offense. Three of Ealey's coworkers were called to testify. Ealey had worked at the daycare for a year and a half, and she worked with four-year-old children. The assistant director of the daycare testified that Ealey was a good teacher, that she got along well with the other teachers, and that the parents and children liked her. Likewise, another coworker testified that Ealey " did a great job" and that the parents and children loved her. They each testified that Ealey did not exhibit any odd or irrational behavior in the week leading up the incident, and they did not ...

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