MELVIN POTTS a/k/a MELVIN JOSHUA POTTS a/k/a MELVIN J. POTTS
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
OF JUDGMENT: 05/15/2015
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JOHN HUEY EMFINGER, Judge
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY:
W. DANIEL HINCHCLIFF GEORGE T. HOLMES MELVIN POTTS (PRO SE)
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
LAURA HOGAN TEDDER
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: MICHAEL GUEST
DICKINSON, P.J., COLEMAN AND BEAM, JJ.
DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE
Melvin Potts appeals his convictions of first-degree murder
and motor-vehicle theft. arguing that the trial judge erred
by providing additional instructions to the jury, not
declaring a mistrial when the jury stated it was deadlocked,
and granting and refusing certain jury instructions. Potts
further argues that insufficient evidence supported his
conviction, and that his conviction was against the
overwhelming weight of the evidence. Finding no error, we
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On May 21, 2014, Georgia Courtney received a phone call from
Jackson State University informing her that her cousin-Dr.
Garrick Shelton-had not shown up for work. Courtney went to
Shelton's home, where she found him dead. The Madison
Police Department investigated and developed Melvin Potts as
a person of interest, after his mother's cell phone
number appeared on Shelton's recent phone records.
Potts's mother told the police that Potts had used her
cell phone and gave the police his address and description.
The police were unable to locate Potts at his apartment but
learned from neighbors that Potts had been seen with a large
bandage on his hand, and that he had been driving a car that
had broken down in front of a nearby apartment building.
Potts was located, arrested, and transported to the Madison
Police Department. He was indicted for first-degree murder
and motor-vehicle theft. At trial, Officer Jack David
Williams testified that he found a knife on the floor of the
bedroom where Shelton's body was located and a large
bloodstain on the bed's comforter.
Rodney Erikson-captain of the Madison Police
Department-testified that drops of blood were found on
Shelton's carport as well as on and around a knife on the
kitchen floor. He further testified that police found a
bullet hole entering the wall of the dining room and a
"projectile" by the dining room table. Erikson
testified that when he entered the bedroom containing
Shelton's body, he saw a pair of broken glasses laying on
the floor. He also observed an area on the dresser where
items appeared to be missing, a shell casing, and a bloody
knife with a broken tip. Erikson testified that Shelton's
car and cell phone were missing from his home.
Detective Jon Cooley testified that, when interviewed, Potts
stated that he had met Shelton on a website called
"Tagged" about a month before the killing. Potts
told Cooley that Shelton had picked him up and they had gone
to Shelton's home. Potts stated that he had been in the
living room and Shelton had been in the kitchen when Shelton
saw Potts had a gun. Potts told Cooley that Shelton had then
grabbed a knife, left the kitchen, and told Potts to leave.
According to Cooley, Potts told contradictory stories about
how he had ended up in the bedroom. One story was that he had
followed Shelton to the bedroom sometime after Shelton left.
Another story was that Shelton had "shot" to the
bedroom and Potts had "shot" after him.
Cooley further testified that Potts had provided multiple
stories to explain why he had stabbed Shelton. Potts first
told Cooley that he had told Shelton he wanted to leave and
Shelton "ran up on him." Cooley testified that
Potts also said he had been afraid Shelton was going to call
the police. Cooley told the jury that Potts later said he had
panicked and shot Shelton and then stabbed him with the
knife. Cooley further stated that at one point Potts said
Shelton had cut him with the knife.
Additionally, Cooley testified that Potts claimed to have
shot Shelton in the chest, and he had stuck to this story
after being told otherwise. He further stated that Potts had
admitted he had taken Shelton's car, television, and game
console. According to Cooley, Potts had said he had taken the
game console for his little brother. When Cooley asked Potts
why he did not call 911, Potts said he had been worried about
the history of the gun. Finally, Cooley testified that Potts
had sold the gun that was used in the shooting.
On cross-examination, Cooley stated that there were times in
the interview when Potts said he had gone to the door of
Shelton's home as if to leave. Cooley also admitted that
Potts consistently had said that he had shot Shelton only
after Shelton cut him.
Erin Barnhart-the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner- testified
that Shelton had been shot in the back, stabbed eighteen
times, and died as a result of "sharp forced
injuries." According to Barnhart, the eighteen knife
wounds generally were on Shelton's head and arms. She
stated that several of the wounds resulted in fractures to
Shelton's cheekbone and skull, and one resulted in the
transection of two arteries in his arm. Finally, Barnhart
stated that she found a "metallic fragment adherent to
Joe Heflin-a forensic biologist for the Mississippi State
Crime Lab-testified that blood found on the knife was
"consistent with the [DNA] reference sample of Garrick
Shelton." He further testified that the droplets of
blood found outside Shelton's home "were consistent
with the sample of . . . Potts."
Following the state's case-in-chief, Potts moved for a
directed verdict, which was denied. Thereafter, he testified
in his own defense. Potts testified that Shelton had picked
him up in Jackson on May 21, 2014, and had brought him to his
home in Madison County to engage in oral sex. According to
Potts, Shelton saw that he had a firearm and became
uncomfortable. Thereafter, Shelton grabbed a knife from the
kitchen and retreated to one of the bedrooms. Potts stated
that he eventually had gone to the bedroom, and Shelton had
asked him to leave his home. Potts told the jury he had taken
a nonthreatening step toward Shelton, and thereafter Shelton
had "charged" him and cut his hand. Potts explained
that he had become angry and "it came to [his] mind that
[his] life was being threatened, " so he shot Shelton.
He further stated that Shelton got up after being shot and
came toward him. Thereafter, the two men began
"tussling" over the knife, and during this
altercation, Potts killed Shelton.
On direct examination, Potts also admitted that he had taken
Shelton's car, television, game console, and video games.
He testified that he took Shelton's car because he
"didn't feel safe" in Shelton's home and
"the key was in [his] sight." He stated that he
took the television, game console, and games because his
fingerprints were on them.
On cross-examination, Potts admitted that Shelton had told
him to leave multiple times. Potts also admitted that he had
gotten angry after Shelton cut him, and at that time, Potts
had been blocking the entrance to the bedroom. Finally, Potts
admitted that he could have gotten up and left the bedroom at
At the close of the evidence, Potts renewed his motion for a
directed verdict and moved for an application of the
Weathersby rule; both of these motions were
denied. The jury was then instructed on
first-degree murder, second-degree murder, heat-of-passion
manslaughter, and imperfect-self-defense manslaughter. The
jury found Potts guilty of first-degree murder and
motor-vehicle theft. The trial judge sentenced him to serve a
life sentence for first-degree murder and a concurrent,
ten-year sentence for motor vehicle theft. Potts filed a
motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), or
in the alternative, a new trial, which was denied.
Potts now appeals, arguing that the trial judge erred by (1)
providing additional instructions to the jury, (2) not
declaring a mistrial when the jury stated it was deadlocked,
and (3) granting and refusing certain jury instructions.
Potts further argues that there was insufficient evidence to
support his conviction and his conviction was against the
overwhelming weight of the evidence.
I. The trial judge did not err in answering
a question from the jury.
After roughly three hours of deliberations, the jury sent a
note to the trial judge which stated: "What is the next
step if we cannot unanimously find that the State has failed
to prove all the elements of murder first degree?" The
trial judge-with agreement from the State and the
defense-questioned the jury foreperson regarding the
jury's deliberations. The jury foreperson indicated that
the jury had reached a unanimous verdict on Count II,
motor-vehicle theft, but not Count I, first-degree murder.
The following exchange took place between the trial judge and
the jury foreperson regarding the first-degree-murder charge:
THE COURT: All right. Now as it relates to Count I, I have
the question here that you sent out, but right now I'm
interested in this. As to Count I, during the course of your