DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/02/2013.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WARREN COUNTY CIRCUIT
COURT, TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ISADORE W. PATRICK JR.
FOR APPELLANT: HUNTER NOLAN AIKENS, OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER.
FOR APPELLEE: BILLY L. GORE, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL.
BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES AND ISHEE, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR.
[¶1] After a four-day trial, a Warren County jury convicted Lorenzo Hull of depraved-heart murder. He was sentenced to thirty-five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) as a habitual offender. He now appeals, raising several issues. Hull claims the trial court erred by permitting the State's expert witness in forensic pathology to give speculative testimony, refusing to redact the victim's death certificate to remove prejudicial hearsay, refusing two jury instructions, and sentencing him as a habitual offender. Hull also argues the weight and sufficiency of the evidence were inadequate to support the verdict. This Court affirms Hull's conviction but vacates his habitual-offender status because the State failed to offer competent evidence that Hull was a habitual offender. We remand the case to the Warren County Circuit Court for resentencing of Hull as a nonhabitual offender.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
[¶2] On the morning of December 5, 2011, Hull called 911 at approximately 7:30 a.m. after he awoke to find his girlfriend, Angela Andrews, unresponsive and hot, with red eyes and mucus coming from her mouth and nose. Hull told dispatchers he and Andrews got into a " little fight" and " things got out of hand." The evening before, the couple had argued over " money for grocery bills" and Andrews's alleged recent infidelity. Hull admitted the argument became physical, and he initiated it by slapping her a few times. He also admitted to " probably backhanding" Andrews with a closed fist a few times as well, but denied punching her. Hull is six feet tall and weighed 230 pounds, with admittedly " heavy hands." Andrews was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 171 pounds. Andrews later died from subdural hematoma, or bleeding into the brain, caused by blunt force trauma, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson, Mississippi.
[¶3] Hull had been living with Andrews at her home in Warren County, Mississippi, for approximately one year. Andrews, a military veteran, was a habitual crack cocaine user and suffered from seizures for which she was prescribed medication. Hull explained he helped Andrews keep up with her medication and made sure her bills were paid. Andrews gave Hull a portion of her check each month to use for bills.
[¶4] On December 1, 2011, Hull and Andrews began arguing over money. Andrews wanted to go smoke crack, and Hull eventually " let her run off for a little while . . . and do her thing." Andrews was gone for three days, staying at crack houses, while Hull used " powder" (cocaine) during this same time, sleeping at a friend's house and Andrews's house alone. Andrews returned home on December 4, when their fight ensued.
[¶5] Hull maintained that near the end of the altercation, Andrews ran out of the front door trying to escape his assault,
missed a step, and fell down the front porch stairs, hitting her head on concrete stepping stones. Hull helped Andrews up, but she came into the house " still frisky." Andrews " gestured" at Hull, so he backhanded her with his fist on the side of her face. She fell and hit her head on the floor. He helped her up, but she was " wobbling [and] staggering." He only noticed a scratch on the side of her face. Hull claimed he then helped Andrews take a bath because she was muddy. During the bath, Andrews was " moaning like she was crying," but never spoke. Hull helped her onto a mattress on the floor, while he slept on a couch in the same room. They went to sleep at about 8:30 p.m. He claimed Andrews never spoke after she fell, but she did turn over and snore during the night. He did not think she was seriously injured.
[¶6] After Andrews was taken to a regional hospital by ambulance, Hull was questioned by the Warren County Sheriff's Office and taken into custody. Later that day, when Andrews died at UMMC, Hull was charged with depraved-heart murder. In May 2012, Hull was indicted for depraved-heart murder as a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-81 (Supp. 2014) due to two prior cocaine convictions in 1993 and 2002.
[¶7] At Hull's trial in September 2013, six witnesses testified for the State. An EMT dispatched to the scene found Andrews unresponsive, on a mattress on the floor. Her heartbeat was weak, and the EMTs intubated and " worked on her" for twenty to twenty-five minutes without improvement. During this time, the EMT testified that Hull stated, " I think I messed up this time." Andrews was " near death" when she arrived at the local hospital, and was airlifted to UMMC in Jackson, where she died at 3:34 p.m. on December 5, 2011.
[¶8] That same day, Hull was interviewed by Sam Winchester, a detective with the Warren County Sheriff's Office, at 10:00 a.m., and again on December 6, after he found out Andrews had died. Portions of both interviews were entered into evidence at trial and played for the jury during Officer Winchester's examination. In the first interview, Hull told Officer Winchester that he had gotten " high all night" and admitted, " I f***ed up, bro. I probably hit her too much." However, he claimed that he only hit Andrews on her face with open hands, and did not know how badly she was injured when he lay her down on the mattress for bed.
[¶9] During the second interview, after Hull had been charged with depraved-heart murder, he could not remember how many times he hit Andrews, but he maintained that he did not beat her until she died. He did show Officer Winchester his hands, which he stated were swollen from beating her, but he did not use any other weapons. He also stated that Andrews had been cheating on him, and he had an " anger problem."
[¶10] Before the Warren County Coroner testified, a hearing was held outside the jury's presence on Hull's motion to redact a portion of Andrews's death certificate that stated " [s]ubject struck in head" as the means of Andrews's injury. The trial judge denied the motion and ruled the death certificate was admissible because it was an official state record, and Hull could
cross-examine the coroner concerning it. Over the defense's objection of hearsay, the State was allowed to introduce Andrews's certified death certificate.
[¶11] Dr. Erin Barnhart was accepted as an expert forensic pathologist for the State, and is the State's deputy chief medical examiner. During the autopsy, injuries found on Andrews's body included multiple abrasions and contusions, a scalp hemorrhage, a subdural hematoma on the left side, a subarachnoid hemorrhage, subdural contusions (bruising) on the brain itself, and swelling of the brain. Approximately 150 milliliters of blood and blood clot were found within her cranial cavity. She testified that Andrews's injuries were consistent with being hit by a fist, with multiple impacts of " significant force," and Hull's account of a fall down the steps was impossible. Dr. Barnhart testified the abrasion on Andrews's face could have been sustained by a blow with a fist, whereas a fall would have created a more significant laceration, and not an abrasion. Andrews's use of crack would not have caused or impacted her brain injuries. Finally, Dr. Barnhart testified that people are known to survive subdural hematomas if given immediate medical attention. She testified the cause of Andrews's death was " blunt force trauma," and the manner of death was " homicide," as stated on Andrews's death certificate.
[¶12] Hull testified on his own behalf. He gave his version of the events, related above. He admitted he " slapped her around pretty good" and " probably did hit her hard but not with the intention [of] killing her." He admitted he was high on cocaine during the fight -- " a two or three hundred dollar high." During cross-examination, the prosecution noted Hull told the 911 operator once, and Officer Winchester three times, that " things got out of hand last night." It was also noted that in Hull's statement he said, " I tried to do the right thing [by calling 911,] but it cost me my freedom." Hull told the jury that he had a " kind," and not a " depraved," heart.
[¶13] The jury was instructed on depraved-heart murder, culpable-negligence manslaughter, and heat-of-passion manslaughter. The trial court denied Hull's instructions on misdemeanor manslaughter and excusable homicide by accident or misfortune. The jury convicted Hull of depraved-heart murder, and the trial judge sentenced him to thirty-five years as a habitual offender under the custody of the MDOC. Hull's motion for a ...