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Potts v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

June 8, 2017

MELVIN POTTS a/k/a MELVIN JOSHUA POTTS a/k/a MELVIN J. POTTS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/15/2015

         MADISON 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

          BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., COLEMAN AND BEAM, JJ.

          DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶1. 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 affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. 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.

         ¶3. 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.

         ¶4. 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.

         ¶5. 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.

         ¶6. 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.

         ¶7. 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.

         ¶8. 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.

         ¶9. 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.

         ¶10. 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 [Shelton's] skull."

         ¶11. 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."

         ¶12. 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.

         ¶13. 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.

         ¶14. 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 any time.

         ¶15. 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.[1] 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.

         ¶16. 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.

         ANALYSIS I. The trial judge did not err in answering a question from the jury.

         ¶17. 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.

         ¶18. 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 ...

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