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Lenoir v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

May 18, 2017

LATERRENCE LENOIR a/k/a LATERRENCE A. LENOIR a/k/a LATERRENCE AWSON LENOIR a/k/a LATERRANCE LENOIR
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/19/2016

         LINCOLN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. MICHAEL M. TAYLOR

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: JUSTIN TAYLOR COOK GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: SCOTT STUART

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: DEE BATES

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE

         ¶1. This case involves Mississippi Rule of Evidence 701. Under this rule, when a fact issue exists about who is portrayed in a surveillance video, a witness with greater familiarity with the defendant than the jury could possess may offer an opinion that the defendant is the person in the video.[1] In this case, Laterrence Lenoir was claimed to be one of the armed robbers captured on surveillance video. So under Rule 701, the trial judge was within his discretion to admit testimony from witnesses familiar with Lenoir that, in their opinion, Lenoir was one of the robbers in the video. Thus, we find no error in the trial judge's admission of this testimony, nor do we find error in the judge's denial of Lenoir's motion for new trial. We therefore affirm Lenoir's convictions and sentences.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         I. Armed Robbery

         ¶2. Surveillance video showed that, on the evening of September 7, 2013, a man approached the front door of the Dollar General in Brookhaven, Mississippi. He looked inside and then walked away. The man soon returned with a second man wearing a mask. After the two men entered the store, the first man pulled a mask over his face too. The first man was carrying a pistol. And the second man was carrying a sack.

         ¶3. There were two employees in the store that night, Shanti Freeman Nettles and Kaitlynn Calcotte. Their manager, Jessica Odum, had instructed Nettles to open the safe early, so she and Calcotte could go home. When the two robbers showed up, Nettles was in the office counting the money in the safe. Calcotte was at the register. When she saw the two masked men, she went into the office with Nettles.

         ¶4. The video showed the two men followed Calcotte to the office. The first man pointed his pistol at them, and Nettles and Calcotte handed over their personal money and their cell phones. Then, at the direction of the second man, they handed over the money from the safe.

         II. Investigation

         ¶5. After the robbers left, Nettles and Calcotte called 911. Captain Byron Catchings with the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department was tasked with investigating the robbery. During his investigation, Lenoir had surfaced as a person of interest. So Catchings began surveilling him. Based on his personal observations of Lenoir, Catchings concluded Lenoir was the first man in the video. Lenoir was charged with two counts of armed robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

         III. Trial and Conviction

         ¶6. At trial, Catchings testified about his investigation and his identification of Lenoir as the first man in the video, which was played for the jury. The State also called two other witnesses familiar with Lenoir-Willie Bulter and Greta Mathis. Willie Butler's niece had dated Lenoir. At the time of trial, Butler testified he had known Lenoir for "possibly two years." Butler testified he recognized Lenoir as the man in the video based on "his body and his walk." He also testified he had seen Lenoir's face at the beginning of the surveillance video. Greta Mathis, like Butler, was related to Lenoir's girlfriend. She testified she also recognized Lenoir as the man in the video "just [by] the way he walk[ed]."

         ¶7. The State called a third witness familiar with Lenoir-Jeffery Thomas. Thomas went to church with Lenoir. Before trial, Thomas had given a statement identifying Lenoir as the man in the video. But at trial, he said he had given this statement under pressure. Thomas testified he did not know who it was in the video because it was too blurry make an identification. Odom, the Dollar General manager, testified on behalf of Lenoir. She said she had watched the surveillance video, and the man in the video was not Lenoir. Lenoir himself testified, denying any involvement in the robbery.

         ¶8. At the close of trial, the jury found Lenoir guilty of all three counts.

         IV. Appeal

         ¶9. After his motion for a new trial was denied, Lenoir timely appealed. On appeal, he raises two issues:

(1) The trial court erred in admitting the nonspecific, nonsubstantive identification of Lenoir by Butler and Mathis based solely ...

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