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
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 05/15/2015
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
BARNES, WILSON AND GREENLEE, JJ.
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.
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.
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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ...