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Crockett v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

January 12, 2017

JUSTIN CROCKETT a/k/a JUSTIN RANDLE CROCKETT a/k/a JUSTIN R. CROCKETT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/17/2015

         CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF PANOLA COUNTY HON. GERALD W. CHATHAM, SR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: B. BRENNAN HORAN

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: JEFFREY A. KLINGFUSS

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOHN W. CHAMPION

          BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., KITCHENS AND KING, JJ.

          KITCHENS, JUSTICE

         ¶1. Justin Crockett pled guilty in Panola County Justice Court to headlighting a deer in violation of Mississippi Code Section 49-7-95 (Rev. 2012). Crockett appealed[1] his conviction to the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Panola County. After a bench trial de novo, that court found Crockett guilty. Crockett timely appealed to this Court, arguing solely that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. We find sufficient evidence in the record to sustain Crockett's conviction. Accordingly, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On January 30, 2014, at approximately 8:45 p.m., Lieutenant Marion Pearson received a call about a truck that had been stopped by authorities in Panola County. Pearson, a warden with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, was told that the truck was carrying three deer (a mature doe, a small doe, and a spike buck) in its bed and that the deer appeared to have been "freshly killed." Pearson arrived at the scene and questioned the three individuals who were in the truck: John Kyle Gordon, Michael Chad Lanier, and Seth Allen Wooten.

         ¶3. All three men admitted that they had been headlighting deer and informed Pearson that they had been doing so with Crockett. The three individuals further stated that Crockett had shot two of the deer and that they all had put them in the bed of the truck. One of them, Gordon, was working six weeks on and ten days off in North Dakota at the time of trial, and the State was not successful in securing his presence. Crockett raised no hearsay objection to Pearson's testimony about what Gordon, Lanier, and Wooten had told him. According to Pearson's testimony, Crockett later admitted having shot the spike deer, though Crockett claimed to have shot the deer during legal hunting hours.

         ¶4. The State responded with forensic evidence showing that the spike was shot well after legal hunting hours. The trial court accepted Pearson as an expert witness in the field of "forensic investigation of the death of a deer." Pearson testified that at approximately 3:00 a.m. on January 31, 2014, he returned to his house with the deer and performed standard procedures to determine the time of death. Crockett did not object to the trial court's acceptance of Pearson as an expert witness. Following the standard procedures, Pearson took the spike's temperature in various parts of its anatomy. Pearson then plugged the temperature readings into a computer program along with the ambient air temperature for the night of January 30, 2014. In addition, Pearson checked for rigor mortis in various parts of the deer's body. Finally, Pearson measured the diameter of the deer's pupils. After factoring in all of the above, Pearson and his supervisor Bruce Jenkins concluded-rightly or wrongly, and without objection-that the spike buck (the only deer for which Crockett was charged) had been killed between approximately 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on January 30, 2014.

         ¶5. The trial court, acting as both the judge and trier of fact, found Crockett guilty of killing a deer at night by headlighting in violation of ...


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