OF JUDGMENT: 10/28/2015.
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. WILLIAM A.
GOWAN JR., TRIAL JUDGE.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY:
HUNTER NOLAN AIKENS.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ROBERT SHULER SMITH.
A jury in the Hinds County Circuit Court, First Judicial
District, found Anthony Murry guilty of aggravated assault.
See Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-7(2)(b) (Rev. 2006).
On appeal from his conviction and sentence, Murry raises the
following issues: (1) whether the circuit court erred by
refusing to grant him a new trial due to juror misconduct;
(2) whether the circuit court erred by denying his motions to
compel evidence and to grant a continuance; (3) whether the
circuit court failed to adequately instruct the jury; and (4)
whether the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of
Upon review, we find dispositive Murry's first assignment
of error regarding the circuit court's failure to grant
him a new trial due to juror misconduct. During Murry's
trial, improper contact occurred between a juror and
Murry's fiancée. In denying Murry's new-trial
motion, the circuit court misapplied the relevant standard to
determine "whether it was reasonably possible that the
communication altered the verdict." Roach v.
State, 116 So.3d 126, 132 (¶17) (Miss. 2013)
(citing Gladney v. Clarksdale Beverage Co., 625
So.2d 407, 419 (Miss. 1993)). As a result, we reverse
Murry's conviction and sentence and remand this case for
a new trial.
On June 7, 2014, Murry shot Marquavious Brent in the ankle
during an altercation. A grand jury indicted Murry for
aggravated assault. At Murry's trial, the jury considered
all the evidence and testimony presented and then found Murry
guilty of aggravated assault. The circuit court sentenced
Murry to fifteen years in the custody of the Mississippi
Department of Corrections, with ten years to serve, five
years suspended, and five years of supervised probation.
Murry subsequently filed a motion for a judgment
notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, in the alternative, a
new trial. In addition to his other assignments of error,
Murry claimed in his motion that juror misconduct denied him
the right to a fair trial. Murry alleged that, during the
course of the trial, Dennis Harris, one of the jurors,
initiated improper contact with Murry's fiancée,
Laronda Brooks, and tried to begin a relationship with
Brooks. As a result of this alleged misconduct, Murry argued
that Harris lost his ability to remain fair and impartial and
tainted the jury. To support his claims, Murry attached to
his motion Brooks's affidavit, copies of pictures that
Harris sent Brooks, and copies of text messages between
Harris and Brooks.
The circuit court held a hearing solely on Murry's
allegation of juror misconduct. Brooks testified that she
first encountered Harris on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, on the
second day of Murry's trial. According to Brooks, Harris
initiated contact with her in the hallway during a trial
recess. Brooks stated that Harris asked her whether he was
too late. Brooks testified that she thought Harris was asking
whether he was late returning to the courtroom after the
recess. As a result, Brooks said she responded, "No,
you're not too late." Brooks stated that Harris then
told her he was not talking about returning to the courtroom
on time, and he asked for her phone number. Brooks testified
that she gave Harris her phone number and told him that she
was "with the [D]efendant." Brooks further
testified that she was unaware at the time of their initial
conversation that Harris was a juror in Murry's case.
Brooks stated that Harris called her Tuesday night after
their initial contact and that the two spoke for about
fifteen minutes. She said that, during their conversation,
Harris disclosed to her that he was a juror in Murry's
trial. In addition, Brooks stated that Harris told her that
he felt Murry was innocent. Brooks also testified that Harris
called her again the following night, on Wednesday, after the
jury reached a verdict in Murry's case. According to
Brooks, Harris sent her text messages saying she did not have
to worry and that, if she treated him right, he would take
care of her. She further stated that Harris sent almost nude
pictures of himself and asked her to send a picture of
herself to him.
Brooks testified that she first tried to contact the public
defender's office on the day of Harris's initial
contact. However, Brooks testified that the defense attorney,
Dennis Martin, was out of the office. Brooks then stated that
she told another of Murry's attorneys, Candace
Gregory-Mayberry, about the contact the following day as they
left the courtroom after the jury's verdict. Brooks said
she told Gregory-Mayberry that she (Brooks) felt the verdict
was not right since Harris had said he felt that Murry was