JAMES DOUGLAS MCKNIGHT A/K/A JAMES MCKNIGHT A/K/A JAMES D. MCKNIGHT, APPELLANT
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 06/21/2013.
FROM WHICH APPEALED: PIKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. TRIAL JUDGE:
HON. DAVID H. STRONG JR. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: CONVICTED
OF COUNT ONE, MURDER, AND COUNT TWO, POSSESSION OF A FIREARM
BY A CONVICTED FELON, AND SENTENCED AS A HABITUAL OFFENDER ON
BOTH COUNTS TO LIFE IN THE CUSTODY OF THE MISSISSIPPI
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF
PROBATION, PAROLE, OR EARLY RELEASE, WITH THE SENTENCES TO
RUN CONSECUTIVELY, AND TO PAY FINES IN THE AMOUNT OF $10,000
ON COUNT ONE, AND $1,000 ON COUNT TWO, AND $6,000 IN
APPELLANT: CHARLES E. MILLER.
APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: STEPHANIE
LEE, C.J., BARNES AND MAXWELL, JJ.
James McKnight was convicted of murder and possession of a
firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to life in the
custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC)
on both counts, as a habitual offender without possibility
for probation, parole, or early release, with the sentences
to run consecutively.
On appeal, McKnight argues that numerous errors warrant a new
trial. Finding no reversible error, we affirm McKnight's
convictions and resulting sentences.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On August 30, 2011, James McKnight contacted Mary Marsalis,
asking if she had seen a mutual acquaintance, Derrick
Witherspoon, also known as " Twin." Mary stated she
had not seen Twin, and McKnight asked her to let Twin know
McKnight was looking for him. A few minutes later, Twin
arrived at Mary's house, and Mary related McKnight's
desire to talk to him. Mary then called McKnight on the
telephone, and Twin spoke with him. When Twin hung up the
phone, he told Mary that McKnight was on his way to her
Shortly thereafter, McKnight, his wife, Barbara, and Alreco
Hill, a friend of the McKnights, pulled up in McKnight's
SUV. McKnight was upset because he had not heard from his
adult son, James " J.J." McKnight Jr., in several
days, and he suspected that Twin was involved with J.J.'s
disappearance. Twin claimed he did not know where J.J. was,
but McKnight did not believe him and continued to question
him. McKnight asked Twin to get into the SUV several times,
and Twin finally complied.
The four drove off and proceeded through the town of McComb,
Mississippi, with McKnight continuing to question Twin
regarding J.J.'s whereabouts. When the SUV stopped at a
traffic light, Twin tried to jump out of the vehicle.
McKnight pulled out a .380 caliber gun and warned Twin that
if he tried to run away again, McKnight would shoot him. Twin
sat back in his seat and closed the door. The SUV later
stopped at the intersection of Avenue E and Locust Street,
and Twin jumped out of the vehicle and ran away. According to
Hill, McKnight fired two shots and pursued Twin. Hill also
got out of the SUV, following McKnight. McKnight fired more
shots at Twin, and then McKnight and Hill returned to the
SUV. McKnight told Hill, " What just happened stays in
While these events were occurring, David Wells and Terry
Williams, McKnight's uncle, were helping a neighbor move
into a nearby home on Locust Street. Wells was sitting
outside the home, and heard the gunfire. He saw the doors to
the SUV open and three people run from the vehicle. Williams,
who was in the garage, also heard the shots and ran outside.
He observed two men running from the SUV, which he recognized
as belonging to his nephew, McKnight. Williams heard more
gunfire as he began walking toward the SUV. As Williams
attempted to question Barbara about the situation, he
encountered McKnight and Hill returning to the SUV. McKnight
was holding a gun. The two men got into the SUV with Barbara,
and the three drove away. Williams returned to his
friend's home and told Wells that " his nephew done
got himself in some trouble." Wells called 911 and
reported the incident.
Barbara dropped McKnight off at his father's home, and
then drove back to Mary's house to instruct her to say
that Mary had not seen Twin that day. Hill and Barbara then
went to the McKnights' house to pick up clothes and the
McKnights' two younger sons, picked up McKnight at his
father's house, and drove to Jackson, Mississippi. Soon
thereafter, J.J., who was in Oklahoma and avoiding his father
because of an argument, called Hill's phone and talked to
McKnight. Since Hill's mother lived in Jackson, McKnight
dropped him off there, telling Hill that " it
[was]n't really supposed to happen that way" and
instructing him to keep quiet.
Police officers recovered Twin's deceased body, along
with shell casings from a .380 caliber gun and a partial
projectile, in a cane patch near the intersection of Avenue E
and Locust Street. An autopsy revealed that Twin died of
multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death was ruled a
homicide. The projectiles removed from the body were
determined to be .380 caliber, and they were fired from the
same gun. McKnight's SUV was later found stripped and
abandoned in Jackson. After a search warrant was issued, the
Mississippi Bureau of Investigations processed the vehicle
and found a .380 shell casing in the rear cargo area.
McKnight was arrested and charged with murder and possession
of a firearm by a convicted felon. Barbara and Hill were both
charged with accessory after the fact. After a jury trial
in Pike County Circuit Court, McKnight was convicted on June
13, 2013, on both counts, and sentenced as a habitual
offender pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section
99-19-83 ( Rev. 2007) to life in the custody of the MDOC for
each count, with the sentences to run
consecutively. He was also fined $10,000 for the
murder count, and $1,000 for the possession of a firearm by a
convicted felon count.
Prior to sentencing, McKnight was granted a substitution of
counsel; his new attorney filed several post-trial motions,
including a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict
(JNOV), or alternatively, a motion for a new
trial. After a hearing, the circuit court
denied all motions. McKnight now appeals, alleging several
errors. Upon review, we find no reversible error and affirm
the circuit court's judgment.
Whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain the
In his motion for a JNOV, McKnight argued that the
State's case relied entirely on circumstantial evidence;
thus, the evidence was not sufficient to sustain the verdict.
The circuit court denied his motion. On appeal, he reasserts
this argument, claiming that the witnesses' testimonies
" A motion for JNOV challenges the legal sufficiency of
the evidence." Abeyta v. State, 137 So.3d 305,
311 (¶ 14) (Miss. 2014) (quoting Taylor v.
State, 110 So.3d 776, 782 (¶ 19) (Miss. 2013)). In
its determination of whether to grant or deny the motion, the
circuit court " considers the credible evidence in the
light most favorable to the verdict." Id.
If after viewing all credible evidence in the light "
most favorable to the State, the evidence shows beyond a
reasonable doubt that the accused committed the act charged,
and that he did so under such circumstances that every
element of the offense existed," then the evidence will
be deemed legally sufficient and the verdict will be upheld.
Riley v. State, 126 So.3d 1007, 1010 (¶ 12)
(Miss. Ct.App. 2013) (quoting Melton v. State, 118
So.3d 605, 610 (¶ 20) (Miss. Ct.App. 2012)).
McKnight was convicted of murder under Mississippi Code
Annotated section 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev. 2006), which defines
murder as " [t]he killing of a human being without the
authority of law by any means or in any manner . . . .[w]hen
done with deliberate design to effect the death of the person
killed, or of any human being[.]" He was also convicted
of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon pursuant to
Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-37-5(1) (Supp. 2012),
which states that " [i]t shall be unlawful for any
person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of
this state, any other state, or of the United States to
possess any firearm[.]" We find the evidence sufficient
to support McKnight's convictions on both counts.
Marsalis saw Twin get into the SUV with McKnight and the
others shortly before his death. Hill testified that McKnight
threatened Twin with a gun and then fired the gun at Twin
multiple times when he ran from the SUV. The evidence
revealed that Twin died as a result of gunshot wounds, and
the projectiles retrieved from Twin's body match the
caliber of the gun that McKnight was believed to have
possessed. McKnight's uncle, Terry Williams, stated that
he saw a gun in McKnight's hand after he heard the
gunshots fired. McKnight's other uncle, Bruce Williams,
testified that he saw McKnight the morning of Twin's
murder and that McKnight was upset over his son's
disappearance. He further stated he saw a .380 caliber gun in
McKnight's vehicle approximately a week prior to the
shooting. The shell casings confiscated from McKnight's
SUV and the crime scene were .380 caliber.
Viewing the evidence and testimony in the light most
favorable to the verdict, this Court finds there is
sufficient evidence to support McKnight's convictions.
Whether the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of
McKnight also argues that a new trial is warranted, as the
verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.
" [A] motion for a new trial challenges the weight of
the evidence." Riley, 126 So.3d at 1010 (¶
12) (quoting Melton, 118 So.3d at 609 (¶ 17)).
Unless the jury's verdict " is so contrary to the
overwhelming weight of the evidence that to allow it to stand
would sanction an unconscionable injustice," we will not
disturb it on appeal. Id. (quoting Melton,
118 So.3d at 610 (¶ 17)).
McKnight argues that he is entitled to a new trial because
Hill's testimony was " unreliable" and "
self-serving," as he was a co-defendant. He cites
Flanagan v. State, 605 So.2d 753 (Miss. 1992), a
case in which the defendant was convicted solely on testimony
by an alleged co-conspirator. The Mississippi Supreme Court
concluded in Flanagan that the uncorroborated
testimony of alleged accomplice, which was contradictory and
substantially impeached, would not support a conviction for
conspiracy to manufacture marijuana. Id. at 758.
The State argues that Hill was not an accomplice; he was
charged as an accessory after the fact for assisting McKnight
after Twin's murder. We agree.
Our supreme court has described an accomplice as " a
person who is implicated in the commission of the
crime." Slaughter v. State, 815 So.2d 1122,
1134 (¶ 66) (Miss. 2002). In other words, if the
evidence gives a reasonable inference that the person may
have been a co-perpetrator or the sole perpetrator, then the
person is an accomplice. Id. (quoting Williams
v. State, 729 So.2d 1181, 1188 (¶ 31) (Miss.
1998)). On the other hand, an accessory-after-the-fact has
been defined as " a person assisting one who has
completed the commission of a felony to avoid being
apprehended, arrested, convicted, etc." Chase v.
State, 645 So.2d 829, 851 (Miss. 1994).
Bailey v. State, 960 So.2d 583, 590 (¶ 30)
(Miss. Ct.App. 2007). In Bailey, we found "
[n]o evidence . . . that Tharpe agreed with Bailey to murder
Kirtland, that she planned the murder, that she helped Bailey
stab Kirtland or that she encouraged Bailey at any time
during the murder." Id. at (¶ 31). Rather,
the evidence demonstrated that Tharpe helped Bailey clean up
after the murder and failed to notify authorities of the
murder until confronted with evidence more than a year later.
Id. Because " Tharpe's actions assisted
Bailey after the murder[,] and . . . her silence allowed
Bailey to avoid being apprehended and punished[, her] actions
are considered those of an accessory-after-the-fact, the
charge to which she pled guilty." Id.
Similarly, in this case, there was no evidence presented that
Hill helped plan or facilitate Twin's murder. While Hill
did leave the SUV with McKnight, there is no evidence that he
assisted McKnight in shooting Twin or had planned to do so.
The only other evidence of his participation was going to
Mary's house to instruct her to keep silent and assisting
McKnight and his wife in going to Jackson to avoid arrest. He
also waited a few days before notifying authorities of his
Moreover, the alleged accomplice's testimony in
Flanagan was refuted by other testimony and entirely
uncorroborated. Here, although Hill was the only person who
testified that McKnight shot Twin, several witnesses
corroborated Hill's version of the events surrounding
Twin's murder. Marsalis saw Twin get into the vehicle
with McKnight and Hill. Terry Williams saw McKnight with a
gun in his hand after he heard the shots and saw the men
running. Thus, Hill's testimony was not substantially
impeached. As to the reliability and weight of Hill's
testimony, the supreme court has held that " the jury
will be the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and
the weight and worth of their testimony." Gathright
v. State, 380 So.2d 1276, 1278 (Miss. 1980). The jury
listened to Hill's testimony, including his admission
that he had initially lied to police and evidently believed
his testimony that McKnight shot at Twin multiple times.
When viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, we
find the weight of the evidence does not preponderate so
heavily against the verdict that to allow it to stand would
sanction an unconscionable injustice. Accordingly, we hold
that the circuit court correctly denied McKnight's motion
for a new trial.
Whether probable cause existed to arrest
After an arrest warrant was issued for McKnight, he
surrendered to authorities in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and waived his
right to extradition. McKnight did not address this issue
prior to trial. Rather, in his motion for a JNOV, McKnight
claimed for the first time that he was subject to an illegal
arrest. He claims on appeal that his arrest was illegal and
not based on probable cause because of the " lack of
corroborative evidence and the unreliability of [S]tate
We find no basis for McKnight's argument on appeal.
" Arrest warrants or search warrants shall be issued
only by the judge after a judicial determination that
probable cause exists based upon the affidavit or other
evidence before the court." State v. Woods, 866
So.2d 422, 425 (¶ 10) (Miss. 2003). Based on the
investigation by law enforcement and the conclusions of the
medical examiner, there was cause to believe a homicide had
been committed. Marsalis told police that Twin had gotten
into the SUV with McKnight shortly before his murder.
Furthermore, Hill gave a statement to police, claiming that
McKnight was responsible for the shooting. Consequently, we
find probable cause existed to arrest McKnight for Twin's
Whether the circuit court erred in denying McKnight's
motion to suppress evidence obtained as ...