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Cooper v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 28, 2017

RANDALL COOPER, JR. A/K/A RANDALL COOPER A/K/A RANDALL CARL COOPER, JR. A/K/A RANDALL C. COOPER, JR. A/K/A RANDALL CARL COOPER APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/15/2015

         LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LEE J. HOWARD, Judge

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES HUNTER N. AIKENS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: JEFFREY A. KLINGFUSS LADONNA C. HOLLAND

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: FORREST ALLGOOD

          BEFORE BARNES, WILSON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Randall Cooper was indicted for murder after he shot Virgil Harris. At trial, eyewitnesses to the shooting testified, as did investigating law enforcement officers. The court instructed the jury on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, heat-of-passion manslaughter, and self-defense. The jury found Cooper guilty of first-degree murder, and the court sentenced him to life imprisonment.

         ¶2. On appeal, Cooper argues that the circuit court erred by granting three of the State's jury instructions and by denying one of his proposed instructions. Cooper claims that the jury was not adequately instructed on the issue of self-defense and that the court's instructions on the concept of "deliberate design" and the relationship and differences between murder and manslaughter were confusing and misleading. Cooper also claims that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of first-degree murder and that the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. He argues that the evidence established a reasonable doubt that he shot the victim in the heat of passion or in self-defense.

         ¶3. For the reasons that follow, Cooper's arguments are without merit. In addition, Cooper failed to object to the jury instructions that he challenges on appeal, so those issues are procedurally barred. Accordingly, we affirm Cooper's conviction and sentence.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶4. On December 19, 2013, Cooper, Vursha Lovelace, and Virgil Harris (Virgil) all attended a party at Lovelace's brother's apartment. When Lovelace arrived at the party, Cooper was one of a dozen or so guests present. Guests were drinking and shooting dice. Lovelace left the party briefly, and when she returned, Virgil had also arrived. Lovelace noticed that Virgil had a gun when she first saw him, although she did not see the gun when she saw him again later.

         ¶5. Lovelace later received a call from Tevin Harris (Harris), who asked her to come pick him up. Earlier in the night, Virgil had asked Lovelace for a ride, so she told him that she was leaving the party to get Harris and that she could drop him off. Virgil told Lovelace that he wanted to go to Sanfield and gave her five dollars to drive him there. Virgil sat in the front passenger seat of Lovelace's Monte Carlo. Lovelace did not see a gun when Virgil got into the car. As Lovelace and Virgil were about to leave, Cooper followed them outside and asked for a ride. He got in the backseat behind Lovelace. They drove to Harris's house to pick him up, and Harris sat in the back seat behind Virgil. Harris later testified that he saw a .380-caliber handgun on Virgil's lap as he approached the Monte Carlo. The four then continued to Sanfield to drop Virgil off.

         ¶6. As they drove down the highway, Virgil became agitated and began "talking crazy." Cooper told Virgil to calm down. Virgil said he would slap Lovelace if she were not his brother's sister. Virgil threatened to "burn" (i.e., shoot) everyone in the car. Although they had not reached Sanfield, Virgil told Lovelace to pull over and let him out. Lovelace pulled over, and as Virgil exited the car, he called everyone in the car "the B word." Lovelace testified, "So when [Virgil] said that, Cooper leaned over [and] shot him one time." Virgil fell to the ground, and Cooper leaned over him and continued shooting. Lovelace put the car in park and ran to Virgil. Cooper and Harris got out of the car as well. Suddenly, Cooper and Harris jumped in the driver and passenger seats respectively, and Lovelace jumped in the backseat. Cooper drove a block or two and stopped, and then he and Harris got out of the car and ran. Lovelace returned to the scene.

         ¶7. At trial, Lovelace testified to the above version of events. She denied that she was ever afraid while Virgil was "talking crazy, " but she admitted that she was glad when he wanted to get out of the car. Though Lovelace initially testified that she did not tell the police that Virgil had said "take me to jail" or "I'll spray everyone in this car, " she later admitted telling police that Virgil had made those statements. Lovelace also reiterated that she never saw Virgil's gun in the car.

         ¶8. Harris testified that he felt threatened by Virgil's statements in the car because he had seen Virgil's gun when he entered the car. Harris said that he had seen Virgil with the same black and chrome .380 previously. Harris acknowledged that he also saw Cooper's gun in his waistband, which added to his unease. Harris testified that he asked if Cooper and Virgil were "alright, " and Cooper said, "Yeah, I'm cool, man." Virgil also said, "I'm good." Harris claimed that there was a disagreement about money, which may have caused Virgil to start "talking crazy." Much of Harris's testimony about Virgil's statements was vague and difficult to follow, but he did testify that Virgil said he was going to "burn somebody" or "burn" everyone in the car. He also testified that Virgil told Cooper that he (Virgil) had a gun and was cursing everyone in the car. Finally, Virgil demanded to be let out of the car.

         ¶9. Harris said that as Lovelace stopped the Monte Carlo in the middle of the street, Virgil opened the door and then stopped as he was exiting. He turned around, pointed at Harris, and said, "If you are going to ride with them, you can get it too." He then looked at Lovelace, "flinched" at her, and threatened to slap her. Harris said that Virgil then turned as if to get out of the car, grabbed the gun from his lap with his left hand, had his right hand on his sagging pants, and then Cooper suddenly fired one shot. Virgil fell, and Cooper fired several more times. Harris said this happened very quickly. Harris also claimed to see Virgil's .380 on the ground near his body. Though Harris maintained that he saw a gun in Virgil's lap, he admitted that he never saw Virgil point the gun at anyone in the vehicle.

         ¶10. Linda Ingram, who lived near the crime scene, was resting on her couch when she heard gunshots. She testified that she heard one shot, then a pause, then several more shots. She ran outside and saw Virgil in the street. No one else was present, but a police officer soon arrived. Ingram's cousin, Joshua Jackson, was sleeping on her porch. He also heard one shot, a pause, then several shots. Though he did not see the actual shooting, he saw one man get into the Monte Carlo and drive away.

         ¶11. Officer Oscar Lewis of the Columbus Police Department responded to an emergency dispatch and arrived on the scene within minutes of the shooting. He found Jackson kneeling over Virgil and pleading for help. After paramedics and other officers arrived, Lewis photographed the scene. Lewis observed shattered glass, shell casings, and blood, but he did not find a gun at the scene.

         ¶12. Austin Shepard of the Columbus Police Department crime lab testified about the evidence he collected from the scene. He collected six shell casings and three projectiles near Virgil's body. He noted that the Monte Carlo's front passenger window was broken, and he found one shell casing on the back passenger seat.

         ¶13. The day after the shooting, two employees of Golden Triangle Waste Services found a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun in the bottom of a trash can near the crime scene. One of the men took it home, but when they discovered that it might have been used in the shooting, they turned the gun over to the Columbus Police Department.

         ¶14. Investigator Chris Van Houten collected two projectiles from Virgil's body at Baptist Memorial Hospital. One was underneath Virgil's body, and the other was embedded in his clothing. Van Houten later attended Virgil's autopsy and collected four .380 rounds and a brown bag containing a bottle of unknown liquid from Virgil's effects.

         ¶15. Tommy Bishop, a forensic scientist at the Mississippi Crime Laboratory, testified as an expert in firearm identification. Bishop concluded that all of the casings and projectiles collected at the scene or during the autopsy were fired from the .40-caliber Smith & Wesson recovered from the nearby trash can.

         ¶16. Brent Davis from the State Medical Examiner's Office performed Virgil's autopsy. Davis found two bullet entry wounds to the right side of Virgil's neck and six entry wounds to the left side of Virgil's torso. All entry wounds had a corresponding exit wound except for one wound ...


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