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Johnson v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

December 15, 2016

CEASAR JOHNSON, III a/k/a CEE CEE
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/09/2015

         BOLIVAR COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. CHARLES E. WEBSTER JUDGE

         AFFIRMED

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: LESLIE FLINT KELLIE WILLIAMSON KOENIG

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF INDIGENT APPEALS BY: JUSTIN T. COOK

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LISA L. BLOUNT

          WALLER, CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1. Ceasar Johnson was convicted in the Bolivar County Circuit Court for being a felon in possession of a firearm and for the murder of Gregory Johnson. He was sentenced to life in prison. He now appeals the conviction, which we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On November 1, 2012, Gregory Johnson (Greg) was shot and killed while in his vehicle in the parking lot of J.Y. Trice Apartments in Rosedale, Mississippi. Ceasar Johnson (Ceasar) was indicted for Greg's murder on August 26, 2013.[1] On April 9, 2015, a jury convicted Ceasar Johnson of being a felon in possession of a firearm and of murdering Greg. The circuit judge sentenced Ceasar to life in prison for the murder charge and to ten years for the felon-in-possession-of-a-firearm charge, with the two sentences to run consecutively. Ceasar filed a Motion for a New Trial on April 20, 2015. The trial court denied the motion on May 4, 2015. Ceasar timely filed his notice of appeal with this Court on June 3, 2015.

         ¶3. Ceasar Johnson asserted two issues on appeal: (1) Because the State's case rests solely on conjecture and supposition, and because Ceasar presented a reasonable hypothesis consistent with his innocence, the State presented insufficient evidence to convict Ceasar of first-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm; and (2) because the State's case against Ceasar amounts to nothing more than a hunch, and because Ceasar presented compelling corroborated evidence of a reasonable hypothesis consistent with his innocence, the overwhelming weight of the evidence requires a new trial.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         ¶4. When reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court will reverse and render only if the facts and inferences "point in favor of the defendant on any element of the offense with sufficient force that reasonable men could not have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty." Brown v. State, 965 So.2d 1023, 1030 (Miss. 2007) (quoting Bush v. State, 895 So.2d 836, 843 (Miss. 2005)). The evidence will be deemed sufficient if "having in mind the beyond a reasonable doubt burden of proof standard, reasonable fair-minded men in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions on every element of the offense." Brown, 965 So.2d at 1030 (quoting Bush, 895 So.2d at 843). This Court also considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the State. Bush, 895 So.2d at 843. The State receives the benefit of all favorable inferences that reasonably may be drawn from the evidence. Wilson v. State, 936 So.2d 357, 363 (Miss. 2006).

         ¶5. The instant case was based on circumstantial evidence since Ceasar did not confess and there were no eyewitnesses to the crime. As a result, the State had the burden to prove Ceasar's guilt "not only beyond a reasonable doubt, but to the exclusion of every reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence." Beasley v. State, 136 So.3d 393, 402 (Miss. 2014) (quoting Leflore v. State, 535 So.2d 68, 70 (Miss. 1988)). However, this Court repeatedly has held that "direct evidence is unnecessary to support a conviction so long as sufficient circumstantial evidence exists to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Underwood v. State, 708 So.2d 18, 35 (Miss. 1998) (quoting Conner v. State, 632 So.2d 1239, 1252 (Miss. 1993)).

         ¶6. Ceasar was convicted pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 97-3-19(1)(a), which defines murder as: "The 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 . . . ." Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev. 2014). Therefore, the prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: "(1) the defendant killed the victim; (2) without authority of law; and (3) with deliberate design to effect his death." Brown v. State, 965 So.2d 1023, 1030 (Miss. 2007).

         ¶7. Ceasar claims that the State failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis consistent with his innocence, as someone else could have killed Greg. After a review of the State's evidence, we find that the State presented sufficient evidence to show that Ceasar murdered Greg and that the other hypotheses were not reasonable.

         ¶8. At trial, the State presented evidence that Ceasar had planned to rob Greg. Christopher McKenzie, an admitted cocaine addict, testified that, maybe one or two weeks before Greg was murdered, he heard Ceasar speaking with two other men abut robbing Greg. Because Ceasar sold drugs for Greg, the State argued that Ceasar was looking ...


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