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Evans v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

June 15, 2017

TIMOTHY NELSON EVANS a/k/a TIMOTHY N. EVANS a/k/a TIMOTHY EVANS a/k/a TIM EVANS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/23/2013

         HANCOCK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LISA P. DODSON TRIAL JUDGE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: TODD NATHAN THRIFFILEY MATTHEW DRAKE BURRELL.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: ALISON R. STEINER FRANK P. WITTMANN, IV.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: CAMERON LEIGH BENTON

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOEL SMITH.

          RANDOLPH, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶1. Timothy Nelson Evans was tried and convicted of capital murder with the underlying felony of robbery for the killing of Wenda Holling. At the conclusion of the sentencing phase, the jury imposed the death penalty. The Circuit Court of Hancock County denied Evans's post-trial motions. Evans appeals, raising ten assignments of error. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Evidence adduced at trial revealed that in the spring of 2009, Evans moved into Holling's home as her tenant. The two previously had been romantically involved, but that relationship had ceased before Evans moved in with seventy-year-old Holling. On the morning of January 2, 2010, fifty-two-year-old Evans and his friend, Joe Thomas, were on the way to perform a carpet-cleaning job when the van they were riding in broke down. Evans had consumed several beers that morning and asked Thomas for money to buy more beer, which Thomas did not give him. Evans called Holling and asked her to pick him up. After the call, Evans told Thomas that Holling was going on a cruise with her daughter and he had to drive her to the airport in Baton Rouge. Holling picked up Evans in her silver Kia and drove him to her house. When Evans left with Holling, he was intoxicated.

         ¶3. Once home, Holling was sitting in a chair in the living room when Evans attempted to smother her with a pillow. When his attempt to smother Holling failed, Evans strangled her to death. Then, Evans placed her body on her bed, showered, and got ready to go out. Evans took Holling's credit card and, at about 5:00 p.m., picked up Thomas in Holling's Kia, announcing "come on, let's go party." Evans had been drinking when he picked up Thomas. Evans and Thomas stopped at several ATMs where Evans used Holling's credit card to obtain cash. Then, the two traveled to Sawdoff's bar, where Evans used cash and Holling's credit card to pay for alcohol and food for himself and Thomas. Later, Evans dropped off Thomas and returned to Holling's home.

         ¶4. The next morning, Evans placed Holling's body in the trunk of her Kia, picked up Thomas, and drove to Harrison County. While driving, he told Thomas he had run over a skunk and asked several times if Thomas could smell it. He dropped Thomas off and then stopped at Pee-Wee's gas station, where he bought beer with cash, but he used Holling's credit card to buy gas. Evans then drove to a rural area where he dumped Holling's body in the woods about ten yards from the side of the road. The same day, Evans attempted to use Holling's credit card again at a Walmart in Wiggins, but it was declined.

         ¶5. Holling's adult children, who usually spoke with their mother regularly, became concerned about her whereabouts. On January 5, 2010, Holling's son called the Hancock County Sheriff's Department and reported her missing. Investigator John Luther detected no signs of a struggle inside Holling's home. He found several items of clothing and a pair of prescription glasses, all identified as Holling's, in a garbage can outside Holling's home. Evans gave a voluntary statement to Investigator Luther, not admitted at trial, in which he said that Holling had gone to Florida on vacation. Investigator Luther subpoenaed records from Holling's bank and determined that her credit card had been used at several locations on January 2 and 3, 2010. He obtained surveillance video and purchase records from Pee-Wee's gas station that showed Evans had used the credit card to buy gas. On January 26, 2010, Holling's body was discovered by a road crew in Harrison County. Dr. Paul McGarry performed an autopsy that revealed defensive wounds and the cause of death, manual strangulation.

         ¶6. Investigator Luther requested the assistance of the United States Marshals Service to locate Evans. On February 17, 2010, the Service apprehended Evans in a hotel room in Florida. Evans waived extradition and gave a statement to local investigators admitting that he had killed Holling; this statement also was not admitted at trial. The next day, Evans was transported back to Hancock County, where he gave an audiorecorded statement that was admitted. In that statement, Evans revealed that, after Holling had driven him home that afternoon, he had decided to steal her credit card from her purse, but she had caught him in the act. He and Holling began arguing, and he decided to kill Holling. As Holling was sitting in her living room chair, he "went and got a pillow and put it over her head . . . when that didn't work . . . I just strangled her and uh then I just picked her up and I put her up on her bed and I got the credit card and I took a shower and I just went out like everything was fine . . . ."

         ¶7. Evans also described how the next morning, before he transported Holling's body to Harrison County, he removed several items of Holling's clothing and placed them in the trash can outside. He said that, after he had deposited Holling's body in the woods, he threw her purse into some weeds farther down the road. Then he drove to Bogue Chitto and stayed with a friend. Evans also described how he had disposed of Holling's cell phone by throwing the phone's chip down a drain in Picayune and throwing the phone itself out of the car window beside an interstate exit.

         ¶8. Evans brought investigators to the area where Holling's body was found. He also showed them the area where he had thrown her purse, but it was never found. On March 10, 2010, Evans wrote a letter to Investigator Luther which amended his earlier statement. In the letter, Evans said that he had decided to "use [Holling's] credit card and cash I knew she had in [her]bedroom drawer, " and then he attempted to smother her with a pillow; when that failed to kill her, he got on top of her and strangled her to death. Evans said that his previous statement that Holling had caught him taking her credit card had been a lie. He wrote: "I planned this that day and I know that I just followed thru [sic] with plan." (Emphasis in original.) Evans wrote that "I had to confess truthfully to God and also to you for me to be forgiven by God, I don't expect man to forgive me. . . ."

         ¶9. In June 2010, Evans wrote a five-page letter to Donna Harris, a reporter with The Sun Herald. In this letter, Evans stated that he had planned the killing on December 20, 2009. He decided where and how to kill Holling, and "planned party time too." Evans wrote that, on December 29, 2009, he looked for a place to bury the body. Evans said that, after he "carried out murder on January 2nd 2010, " he "went out partying Saturday nite [sic]. . . ." He said that he "used her credit card too." Evans described how he used the credit card and said that he "meant to go back to place and bury body." However, before he could do so, he left the state to evade capture. Evans's letters to Luther and Harris were admitted at trial.

         ¶10. Defense counsel emphasized Evans's intoxication and attempted to show that Evans was guilty of, at most, heat-of-passion manslaughter. The defense presented no testimony but did offer the newspaper article that Donna Harris had written after her interview with Evans. Harris wrote that, during the interview, Evans had expressed remorse and said that he deserved to go to death row, did not deserve the mercy of the court, and "[i]f he could, he would plead guilty today and get a death sentence." Evans also had said that he had been drinking heavily the day of the killing, and "I just lost control of my thoughts. I just lost control of what I was doing and what I was thinking." He admitted that, when Holling was still breathing, he had second thoughts but decided to follow through on his plan.

         ¶11. The trial court denied Evans's proffered manslaughter instructions, finding them unsupported by the evidence. The jury found Evans guilty of capital murder. At the sentencing phase, the State reintroduced all evidence from the guilt phase and then rested.

         ¶12. Evans then presented the testimony of a clinical and forensic psychologist, Dr. R.M. Storer, and a clinical and medical psychologist, Dr. Marc Zimmerman. Dr. Storer had performed a pretrial evaluation to (1) examine Evans's mental state at the time of the alleged offense, (2) determine his competency to stand trial, (3) evaluate whether he suffered from intellectual disability, and (4) provide any mitigating circumstances related to the alleged offense. Dr. Storer testified that his testing showed that Evans had a full-scale IQ of 87, in the nineteenth percentile, and that he was not intellectually disabled. Based on his interview of Evans, Dr. Storer opined that Evans had experienced a troubled childhood in which his parents had divorced and his mother had been emotionally abusive. Evans began abusing alcohol and drugs at an early age. Dr. Storer testified that Evans had a criminal history that was related to his abuse of alcohol and drugs. He diagnosed Evans with alcohol dependence, abuse of other substances, and conversion disorder which, he explained, is when "people have a lot of anxiety and . . . that anxiety comes out through physical symptoms." He testified that, based on his interview with Evans, he might have been under extreme mental and emotional disturbance at the time of the offense. However, Dr. Storer emphasized that he had been unable to corroborate any of the information Evans had provided. He concluded that, at the time of the crime, Evans had not been "suffering from a mental disease or defect that would have prevented him from knowing the nature and quality of his alleged acts or from knowing the difference between right and wrong . . . ."

         ¶13. Dr. Zimmerman testified that he had performed a mental evaluation of Evans for mitigation purposes. Dr. Zimmerman concluded that Evans either was abusing alcohol and drugs or he was addicted to them. He also detected a cognitive disorder and some form of anxiety disorder, possibly post-traumatic stress disorder, but he testified that further testing would be needed for a conclusive determination. He opined that, due to Evans's anxiety and chemical dependence, he had been suffering from extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the crime. Like Dr. Storer, Dr. Zimmerman was unable to corroborate any of Evans's assertions about his history.

         ¶14. The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Evans actually had killed Holling. The jury found the single aggravating circumstance on which it had been instructed-that the capital offense had been committed for pecuniary gain during the course of a robbery-beyond a reasonable doubt. Finding that insufficient mitigating circumstances existed to outweigh the aggravating circumstance, the jury found Evans should receive the death penalty. Evans filed a post-trial motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or a new trial. After a hearing, the motion was denied. Evans appealed.

         ISSUES

         ¶15. On appeal, Evans raises the following ten issues, verbatim ad literatim:

I. WHETHER, HAVING EXPRESSLY ORDERED EVANS EVALUATED FOR COMPETENCY, THE TRIAL COURT REVERSIBLY ERRED BY FAILING TO HEAR AND ADJUDICATE THE QUESTION OF EVANS'S COMPETENCY.
II. WHETHER THE JURY SELECTION PROCESS WAS CONSTITUTIONALLY INFIRM AND REQUIRES REVERSAL OF EVANS'S CONVICTION AND SENTENCE OF DEATH.
III. WHETHER ISSUES WITH THE JURY, EXACERBATED BY ITS APPARENT INABILITY TO FOLLOW JUDICIAL INSTRUCTIONS, ALSO INFECTED THE TRIAL ITSELF WITH REVERSIBLE ERROR.
IV. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE EVIDENTIARY ERROR AT BOTH PHASES OF THE PROCEEDINGS.
V. WHETHER EVANS'S CONVICTION AND SENTENCE MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE OF THE PROSECUTOR'S MISCONDUCT IN MAKING CONSTITUTIONALLY IMPROPER AND PREJUDICIALLY INFLAMMATORY CLOSING ARGUMENTS.
VI. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT DEPRIVED EVANS OF HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AT THE CULPABILITY PHASE OF THE TRIAL BY REFUSING HIS REQUESTED MANSLAUGHTER INSTRUCTIONS AND GRANTING THE STATE'S REQUESTED INSTRUCTIONS ON "ONE CONTINUOUS TRANSACTION" AND VOLUNTARY INTOXICATION.
VII. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT'S ERRONEOUS SENTENCING PHASE INSTRUCTIONS REQUIRE VACATION OF THE DEATH SENTENCE AND REMAND FOR A NEW SENTENCING HEARING.
VIII. WHETHER THE DEATH SENTENCE WAS IMPOSED IN VIOLATION OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION.
IX. WHETHER THE DEATH SENTENCE IN THIS MATTER IS CONSTITUTIONALLY A ND ST ATU T ORILY DISPROPORTIONATE.
X. WHETHER THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT OF THE ERRORS IN THE TRIAL COURT MANDATES REVERSAL OF THE VERDICT OF GUILT AND/OR THE SENTENCE OF DEATH ENTERED PURSUANT TO IT.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶16. We apply heightened scrutiny to an appeal from a sentence of death. Corrothers v. State, 148 So.3d 278, 293 (Miss. 2014). "This higher level of scrutiny requires that all doubts be resolved in favor of the accused because 'what may be harmless error in a case with less at stake becomes reversible error when the penalty is death.'" Bennett v. State, 933 So.2d 930, 939 (Miss. 2006) (quoting Balfour v. State, 598 So.2d 731, 739 (Miss. 1992)).

         ANALYSIS

         I. WHETHER, HAVING EXPRESSLY ORDERED EVANS EVALUATED FOR COMPETENCY, THE TRIAL COURT REVERSIBLY ERRED BY FAILING TO HEAR AND ADJUDICATE THE QUESTION OF EVANS'S COMPETENCY.

         ¶17. Evans was indicted for capital murder on January 18, 2011. On March 23, 2011, Evans, through appointed counsel, moved for a psychiatric or psychological evaluation to determine (1) whether he knew right from wrong at the time of the crime, (2) his competence to stand trial, and (3) any mitigating circumstances. On May 18, 2011, Evans filed an amended motion for a mental evaluation, requesting that the trial court obtain the services of Dr. Beverly Smallwood to perform the evaluation. On May 26, 2011, the trial court entered an order for Dr. Smallwood to perform the evaluation, finding that "the Defendant allegedly has a history of mental health treatment." The order directed Dr. Smallwood to evaluate Evans (1) to determine whether he knew right from wrong at the time of the alleged crime, (2) to determine whether he was competent to assist counsel in his defense, and (3) to prepare a mitigation study, if applicable.

         ¶18. At a hearing on October 24, 2011, defense counsel informed the trial court that Dr. Smallwood felt she could not perform the ordered evaluation and that Dr. Smallwood had recommended that Evans undergo a thorough evaluation at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield. The trial court granted Evans's request that the evaluation be conducted at Whitfield. On December 9, 2011, the trial court entered an order noting that both parties agreed that Evans should receive a psychiatric evaluation at the Mississippi State Hospital (1) to determine competency, (2) to determine whether he knew right from wrong at the time of the crime, and (3) to assess whether he was intellectually disabled.

         ¶19. Delays attended the completion of Evans's evaluation, and the trial court continuously checked on the status of the mental evaluation at several hearings. On November 28, 2012, the trial court entered an amended order for a mental evaluation, ordering that Evans's evaluation take place at the Mississippi State Hospital "at the earliest possible date, " "pursuant to Rule 9.06 of the Mississippi Uniform Rules of Circuit Court Practice" to determine, inter alia, "whether or not he has sufficient present ability to consult with his attorneys with a reasonable degree of rational understanding in preparation of his defense, and has a rational as well as factual understanding of the nature and object of the legal proceedings against him . . . ." On January 18, 2013, Dr. Storer at the Mississippi State Hospital notified the trial court by letter that the evaluation had been completed and that a summary report had been provided to Evans's attorneys.

         ¶20. Following this notification, the trial court conducted a hearing on February 26, 2013. At that hearing, the trial judge again inquired about the results of the evaluation. Defense counsel responded:

Judge, Mr. Evans was seen at Whitfield, completed all of his evaluations and we have received the full report, the defense has received the full report and we are ready to move forward and we have come to an agreement on the trial date as well as on the nonevidentiary motion settings, the evidentiary motion setting and the omnibus hearing setting.
. . .
THE COURT: Mr. Thriffiley, I know the primary reason for the evaluation had to do with some mitigation but also I presume since you're ready to move forward that it found Mr. Evans was competent both to assist his counsel as well as to proceed to trial.
[Defense Counsel]: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: All right.

         After that exchange, the trial court proceeded to other pretrial matters.

         ¶21. Once again, on August 8, 2013, Evans's competency to stand trial was revisited in open court at an omnibus hearing:

THE COURT: Defense, any claim of incompetency for the defendant to stand trial?
Mr. Whittman: No, your honor.

         The case proceeded to trial. Dr. Storer's report was not made a part of the record.

         ¶22. In addition to the presumption of innocence, another presumption accompanies criminal defendants-the presumption of competency. See Silvia v. State, 175 So.3d 533, 540 (Miss. Ct. App. 2015) (citing Billiot v. State, 454 So.2d 445, 463 (Miss. 1984)) ("A criminal defendant is presumed competent."). The burden of proof rests on the defendant to prove that he is mentally incompetent to stand trial. Richardson v. State, 767 So.2d 195, 203 (Miss. 2000).[1]

         ¶23. This Court has safeguarded the right not to be tried while incompetent by adopting Uniform Rule of Circuit and County Court Practice 9.06:

If before or during trial the court, of its own motion or upon motion of an attorney, has reasonable ground to believe that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial, the court shall order the defendant to submit to a mental examination by some competent psychiatrist selected by the court in accordance with § 99-13-11 of the Mississippi Code Annotated of 1972.
After the examination the court shall conduct a hearing to determine if the defendant is competent to stand trial. After hearing all the evidence, the court shall weigh the evidence and make a determination of whether the defendant is competent to stand trial. If the court finds that the defendant is competent to stand trial, then the court shall make the finding a matter of record and the case will then proceed to trial. If the court finds that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial, then the court shall commit the defendant to the Mississippi State Hospital or other appropriate mental health facility.

URCCC 9.06. "[O]nce a mental evaluation is ordered, a competency hearing is mandatory." Hollie, 174 So.3d at 830. See also Beasley v. State, 136 So.3d 393, 398 (Miss. 2014) (affirming because an adequate competency hearing was held after the mental evaluation).

         ¶24. Based on Evans's motion and amended motion, [2] as well as the trial court's order, there was never a finding by the trial court that a "reasonable ground to believe the defendant is incompetent" existed. Of course, it is the trial court's responsibility to determine competency during an open-court hearing. When competency is placed at issue, the court should weigh all the evidence and determine whether the defendant is competent to stand trial.

         ¶25. Evans argues that his conviction must be reversed, not due to incompetency, but because the trial court failed to hold a separate hearing adjudicating his competency. The State counters that "[d]efense counsel admitted Evans was competent, based on the results of the mental evaluation, which obviated the need for a more protracted or extensive hearing." And "unlike Hollie, a hearing was held where the court acknowledged and defense counsel admitted Evans was competent to stand trial."

         ¶26. As the State argues, the learned trial judge addressed Evans's competency at multiple hearings. During the February 26 and August 8, 2013, proceedings, defense counsel informed the trial court that the examining doctors had found Evans competent and offered no evidence to dispute their findings. In other words, Evans never offered evidence to rebut the presumption of competency. Accordingly, having no evidence presented to the contrary, the trial court deemed Evans competent, and the case proceeded to trial.

         ¶27. Not only did the trial court have a statement by an officer of the court that the report found Evans competent, the trial judge was accorded numerous opportunities to observe Evans in pretrial hearings-no less than thirteen times[3]-at many of which Evans himself addressed the court, assisting his counsel. Evans further affirmed that he understood the procedural aspects of securing a mitigation expert and a mental evaluation. He specifically stated that he understood that seeking a mental evaluation may take time, which would delay his trial. He affirmed consultations with his attorneys and declared that was the course he wanted to pursue. When Evans's evaluation was delayed, the court repeatedly inquired as to its status, if he understood the status, and if he still wished to pursue the evaluation. Each time, he responded, "Yes, ma'am." At one of the multiple hearings, Evans described in detail the medical care he had been receiving at the jail. He described his medical history. He complained that he was not receiving proper medical care partly because, during the pendency of his incarceration, he had sued the medical director and claimed the doctor was now denying him treatment as retribution. When discussing the delay in his evaluation, Evans offered that he hoped to acquire funds through the lawsuit to enable him to hire a private psychologist or psychiatrist. When the attorneys could not immediately recall why Dr. Smallwood was unavailable, Evans raised his hand, was recognized by the court, and stated,

When we did this hearing last year, October 24th, Dr. Smallwood had contacted [defense counsel] and said that she couldn't conduct an extensive amount of evaluation that needed to be done. . . . She said she wasn't able to conduct th[at] testing[;] that's why she wouldn't be able to fulfill the obligations.

         At a later hearing, Evans informed the court that he had been seen by a medical doctor at the jail but that his needs were not being met. He alleged that the medical director had interrupted his preliminary mental evaluation. He further informed the court that his medications kept changing without explanation.

         ¶28. Following defense counsel's statement during the February 26 hearing that the report found Evans competent, the trial judge noted, "[A]s I've explained on this record before[, ] this [c]ourt's concern with regard to the medical had to do with Mr. Evans being able to be evaluated, to be sufficiently competent and physically and mentally able to participate in his own defense with his attorneys." At that same hearing, Evans stated that he had been attacked at the jail by fellow inmates. He described both the details of the incident and the administrative procedures that followed. He then described going to Whitfield and meeting with Doctors Storer and McMichael. Evans was in possession of their report from that day and read portions of the report to the judge. At yet another pretrial hearing, the court reiterated, "Now Mr. Evans has to be physically and mentally healthy enough to go to trial. He has to be physically and mentally healthy enough to assist his attorneys. That's the only way we're going to get this trial done or a plea if you guys work out a plea." Evans consented to the court ordering Whitfield to forward his evaluation to Dr. Zimmerman, who would be one of Evans's mitigation experts. Finally, at the omnibus hearing, the court asked again of defense counsel if there were any claims of incompetence to stand trial or if any defense of insanity would be pursued. Counsel responded, "No, Your Honor." Trial began eleven days later.

         ¶29. The trial court considered defense counsel's unrefuted statements-made not once, but twice-as an officer of the court that the ordered evaluation resulted in a finding that Evans was competent to stand trial. The court also had the benefit of its own observations of Evans during multiple hearings. The failure to enter the evaluation into the record does not render the trial judge's determination of competency erroneous. Evans presented no evidence to rebut the presumption of competency. On one side of the scales of justice lay the presumption of competency, statements by an officer of the court that Evans was competent, and the trial judge's numerous observations. The other side lay empty. Therefore, no issue of Evans's competency remained. On at least two occasions in the record, the trial court related that it would not proceed to trial unless Evans was competent to stand trial. The fact that the court proceeded to trial is record evidence that the court deemed Evans competent.

         ¶30. The State also argues that this Court should affirm because the purposes of Rule 9.06 were satisfied under the circumstances regarding the specific facts of this case. Hollie recognized that, on one occasion, this Court held that the failure to hold a competency hearing after a mental evaluation was ordered was not reversible error because "the purposes of Rule 9.06 ha[d] been satisfied under the circumstances." Hollie, 174 So.3d at 830 (citing Hearn v. State, 3 So.3d 722, 730 (Miss. 2008)). In Hearn, although a mental evaluation had been ordered, no competency hearing occurred. Id. This Court found that:

the trial court failed to comply in the strictest technical sense with Rule 9.06 which mandates that a competency hearing be conducted following a court-ordered mental examination. Miss. Unif. Circ. & Cty. R. 9.06 ("After the examination the court shall conduct a hearing . . . .") (emphasis added). However, Dr. Montgomery testified at trial as to Hearn's competency and was subjected to cross-examination. Because Hearn was afforded the opportunity to present competing evidence, the purposes of Rule 9.06 were satisfied.

Id.

         ¶31. Assuming, arguendo, that what transpired before the trial court did not result in the formal words, "I adjudicate the defendant competent, " in the competency hearing held, the purposes of Rule 9.06 were satisfied. In addition to the defense attorney relating to the court that the examination revealed that Evans was competent, no evidence of incompetence was presented-combined with the trial court's multiple opportunities to observe and interact with Evans during the litany of pretrial hearings

         ¶32. Further confirming that the purposes of Rule 9.06 were satisfied, Dr. Storer, who performed Evans's mental and competency evaluation pretrial, testified during the sentencing phase of Evans's trial. During the competence assessment, Storer asked Evans to explain how a jury would reach a decision in the guilt phase of the trial. After some clarification by Dr. Storer, Evans responded, "Look at all the evidence, forensic evidence, police reports, listen to the presentation of both sides, defense and the [d]istrict [a]ttorney." When asked if Evans understood Dr. Storer's purpose, he knew Storer was to give him a psychological examination to "[s]ee if [Storer could] be of assistance in [Evans's] case, insane or not insane at the time" and address "mitigating factors." In Storer's testimony, he explained,

Finally[, ] we used a-because competence was one of the things that we were asked to evaluate, . . . it's typically known that if somebody is going to be ruled incompetent it's due to a mental disease or mental defect. So I administered what's called personality assessment inventory to assess whether or not there was any serious mental illness going on. . . . Mr. Evans did fine on all of those scales. He appeared to be answering items honestly so the results appeared to be valid.

         ¶33. As part of our desire to ascertain truth and a fair application of our laws, we focus on constitutional rights, statutory rights, and rules of procedure-the first two being substantive in nature. We find no evidence that Evans's substantive right not to be convicted while incompetent was violated. To be clear, the better practice is for our trial judges definitively to adjudicate competency on the record. However, the record in this case reveals that the trial court was assiduously vigilant to ensure Evans's competence to stand trial was protected. The purposes of Rule 9.06 were satisfied. We discern no error by the trial judge.

         II. WHETHER THE JURY SELECTION PROCESS WAS CONSTITUTIONALLY INFIRM AND REQUIRES REVERSAL OF EVANS'S CONVICTION AND SENTENCE OF DEATH.

         A. Whether the trial court improperly and prejudicially limited defense voir dire.

         ¶34. "[C]ounsel must have latitude in searching the minds and consciences of jurors in order to be able to exercise their peremptory challenges intelligently." Odom v. State, 355 So.2d 1381, 1383 (Miss. 1978); see also Miss. Code Ann. § 13-5-69 (Rev. 2012) ("the parties or their attorneys in all jury trials shall have the right to question jurors who are being impaneled with reference to challenges for cause, and for peremptory challenges)."

It is therefore perfectly proper for counsel to ask further questions beyond the court's inquiries reasonably necessary to assure himself and the court that the jurors selected will give his client the benefit of every right to which he is entitled under the law, as well as to reveal or signify particular antipathies that could prejudice his client before any proposed juror.

Harris v. State, 532 So.2d 602, 607 (Miss. 1988).

         ¶35. Evans argues that the trial court erred by sustaining the State's objection to a question by defense counsel during voir dire concerning the jurors' willingness to use alcohol abuse as mitigation. Defense counsel asked if any venire members had "prior contact" with alcohol abuse themselves or with family members. Twenty-four venire persons raised their hands. Counsel asked if alcohol were involved in the case if any juror's ability to serve would be affected; all said "no." Then, the following occurred:

[Defense counsel]: Would anyone have a problem considering that as a mitigating circumstance before rendering either a death sentence or life without possibility of parole? In other words, can everyone use or consider an alcohol problem as a mitigating circumstance?
[the State]: Objection, Your Honor, asking for a commitment.
THE COURT: Sustained.
[Defense counsel]: Let me rephrase that then. If you can raise your hand if anyone could not use that as a mitigating circumstance[].
[the State]: Same objection, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Sustained.
JURORS: I don't understand that.
THE COURT: The objection was sustained. He will rephrase it.

         Defense counsel then inquired, without objection, "Does anyone think that mitigating evidence should not be used to consider the sentence?" Counsel noted that none responded.

         ¶36. Evans argues that the trial court improperly limited defense voir dire by sustaining the State's objection to the questions asking if the jurors could or could not use an alcohol problem as a mitigating factor.

         ¶37. The State argues that the trial court properly sustained the objection because Evans's question sought to secure a pledge that, if alcohol abuse were present, the jury would use alcohol abuse as mitigation. The State argues that the question violated the rule that the parties may not extract pledges or promises from potential jurors. Harris v. State, 532 So.2d 602, 605-07 (Miss. 1988). When presented with mitigating evidence, it is exclusively the province of the jury to accept or reject that evidence. Under Uniform Rule of Circuit and County Court Practice 3.05, an attorney may not ask "hypothetical questions requiring any juror to pledge a particular verdict." URCCC 3.05.

[T]his Court has repeatedly admonished and condemned attempts in voir dire questioning to exact a promise or commitment from jurors on how they will decide a particular case. Indeed, in Stringer, supra, we reversed because of an accumulation of several errors, including the error of permitting the prosecution over objection to ask questions seeking a commitment from the jurors. Questions such as these are never necessary to accomplish the basic purpose of securing fair and impartial juries.

Harris, 532 So.2d at 607 (citations omitted). The trial judge has considerable discretion in determining the propriety of a voir dire question. Harris, 532 So.2d at 607.

         ¶38. Evans argues that defense counsel's question did not attempt to secure a pledge or promise from the potential jurors that they would find an alcohol problem mitigating. Counsel's first question, [4] standing alone, was likely permissible. However, counsel failed to give the jury the opportunity to respond before rephrasing his question. The trial court sustained the State's objection to Evans's second question that asked the venire members if they could "use or consider an alcohol problem as a mitigating circumstance." (Emphasis added.) It is the conflation of "use" and "consider" that was impermissible.[5] Asking the jurors to "use" sought a pledge from the venire that they would use an alcohol problem as mitigating. When Evans rephrased the question, he asked the venire members if they could not use an alcohol problem as mitigating. Thus, Evans was inquiring whether any member of the venire, if the evidence demonstrated an alcohol problem, would not use such evidence as mitigating. Evans then asked, without objection, "Does anyone think that mitigating evidence should not be used to consider the sentence?" Notably, this question, like the first, used the word "consider" rather than "use."

         ¶39. This Court has ruled that any inquiry into the attitudes of the venire as to the defendant's alcohol abuse is hypothetical. In Holland v. State, 705 So.2d 307, 338 (Miss. 1997), Holland asked the jurors "if there was alcohol possibly consumed or alcohol involved in this case would you rule that out as a mitigating factor prior to passing on the life without parole or a death penalty?" The trial court sustained an objection to the question as hypothetical. Id. This Court affirmed. Id. Like Evans, Holland relied on Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 112 S.Ct. 2222, 119 L.Ed.2d 492 (1992), which held that the Constitution requires that defense counsel be allowed to inquire whether potential jurors will be able to consider mitigation evidence at all, or whether they automatically will impose the death penalty. This Court found that Holland's question fell outside the parameters of Morgan and was an impermissible hypothetical question. Evans cites a more recent United States Supreme Court opinion recognizing that "our cases ha[ve] firmly established that sentencing juries must be able to give meaningful consideration and effect to all mitigating evidence that might provide a basis for refusing to impose the death penalty on a particular individual . . . ." Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman, 550 U.S. 233, 246, 127 S.Ct. 1654, 1664, 167 L.Ed.2d 585 (2007). But Abdul-Kabir arose in the context of jury instructions, not voir dire, and it does not alter the law relied upon in Holland. Id. at 237-38. In Holland, this Court held that a question about whether potential jurors are able to rule out alcohol abuse as mitigating is properly denied. Holland, 705 So.2d at 339. The venire cannot be asked whether it will accept or reject the evidence before it is presented to it. In light of Holland's clear holding condemning an almost identical question, we find that this issue is without merit.

         B. Whether reversal is required because a peremptorily struck juror was seated on the jury.

         ¶40. The record reflects that Evans exercised peremptory strike D-3 on "Number 17, Ms. Kergosien." Evans then accepted "number 19, Ms. Cuevas." The transcript reveals that "the following jurors were selected and placed into the box . . . 4. Rosalie Kergosien." That portion of the transcript does not reflect Ms. Cuevas among the seated jurors. Defense counsel did not object to the jury as seated.[6] Evans now argues that the trial court seated Kergosien, a struck juror, instead of Cuevas, violating his right to a fundamentally fair trial and necessitating automatic reversal. He cites Hardison v. State, 94 So.3d 1092, 1101-02 (Miss. 2012), which held that the erroneous denial of a peremptory challenge cannot be harmless error when the objectionable juror is seated on the panel that convicts the defendant.

         ¶41. The State replies that the transcript disputes Evans's contention that a struck juror, Kergosien, actually was seated. After the guilt-phase verdict, the trial court polled the jury:

THE COURT: . . . Is this your verdict, Ms. Ladner?
Ms. Ladner: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Ladner?
Mr. Ladner: Yes.
THE COURT: Ms. Cuevas?
Ms. Cuevas: Yes.
THE COURT: Ms. Newman? Ms. Newman: Yes.
THE COURT: Ms. Sellier?
Ms. Sellier: Yes.
THE COURT: Ms. Dao?
Ms. Dao: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Holliman?
Mr. Holliman: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Larsen?
Mr. Larsen: Yes.
THE COURT: Ms. Ladner?
Ms. Ladner: Yes.
THE COURT: Ms. Martin?
Ms. Martin: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Sosville?
Mr. Sosville: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Breland?
Mr. Breland: Yes, ma'am.

         The transcript of the polling of the jury does not reflect that Kergosien served on the jury that returned the verdict. It reveals that the trial court polled Ms. Cuevas, juror 19, and Ms. Cuevas responded affirmatively to the court's question. Unless we assume the court erred when it addressed the juror, and further assume the juror erred by not recognizing the court's error and responding to a question addressed to someone else, we cannot accept Evans's argument. Such assumptions cannot be entertained to find error. We find that Evans has failed to demonstrate on appeal that Kergosien mistakenly served on the jury, resulting in a miscarriage of justice.[7]

         C. Whether jurors' untimely responses to voir dire questions resulted in an unfairly selected jury.

         ¶42. Evans concedes that he failed to preserve this issue for appellate review and requests that this Court review it for plain error.[8]

         ¶43. Evans's first argument concerns prospective juror St. Amant. This venire member was involved in several interactions with the trial court during jury selection. He stated that he could not be fair, he said that he would have a problem with sequestration; he requested an antacid; he asked for a drink of water; and he indicated that the death penalty is not given enough. When the jury returned from its lunch break, a venire member reported that St. Amant had spoken with defense counsel during the lunch break, although defense counsel had told him more than once that they could not speak with him. The trial court ascertained that "counsel as I understand it had some conversations about the case itself." St. Amant was dismissed for cause.

         ¶44. Evans argues that the trial court erred by failing to inquire of the venire whether St. Amant had had any improper communication with other venire members. Evans points out that the record shows that, after the lunch break, St. Amant had contact with at least one other venire person from whom he acquired antacid medication. Evans cites Puckett v. State, 737 So.2d 322 (Miss. 1999). In Puckett, it was discovered during trial that a prospective juror had discussed the case with other venire persons during a break, including expressing opinions about delays in the case and about the death penalty. Id. at 331. The trial judge extensively inquired into the prospective juror's contact with other venire members and excused the errant prospective juror and another venire member who was found to have heard that person's comments about the case. Id. This Court held that, due to the trial court's measures, no mistrial was required. Id. at 332. Unlike in Puckett, there was no indication that St. Amant had discussed the case with other venire persons. The venire person who reported St. Amant's communication with defense counsel did not indicate that St. Amant had made any improper comments to any other persons. It is entirely speculative whether St. Amant made any improper comments to the venire. We can discern no plain error.

         ¶45. Next, Evans complains that the trial court should have questioned individually four venire persons who simply walked out during the proceedings. When these wanderers returned, the trial court strongly admonished them, stating:

Folks, when y'all get up and just walk out it's downright rude because everybody has to sit and wait on you. If you need a break you need to ask for it and we can all take a break at the same time, but I have never in my life seen people behave like this and it had better not happen again. That was four of you that just got up and walked out one at a time and everybody else, the other 92 people had to sit here and wait on you. If you need a break or you have an emergency at least have the courtesy to your fellow jurors to raise your hand and ask for us to take a break. Anybody unclear on that?

         Although Evans argues that the trial court should have paused the proceedings and questioned each wanderer individually, we find that, because the record discloses no impropriety by any of those persons other than leaving the courtroom without permission, the record does not reveal plain error.

         ¶46. Next, Evans contends that several selected jurors failed to respond to relevant questions during voir dire, thwarting his ability to intelligently exercise peremptory challenges. "The failure of a juror to respond to a relevant, direct, and unambiguous question leaves the examining attorney uninformed and unable to ask any follow-up questions to elicit the necessary facts to intelligently reach a decision to exercise a peremptory challenge or to challenge a juror for cause." Odom v. State, 355 So.2d 1381, 1383 (Miss. 1978). In Odom, a prospective juror did not respond to a voir dire question about whether he had any close relatives in law enforcement, despite the fact that his brother was one of the officers who investigated the crime with which the defendant had been charged. Id. at 1382. This Court devised the following procedure:

where, as here, a prospective juror in a criminal case fails to respond to a relevant, direct, and unambiguous question presented by defense counsel on voir dire, although having knowledge of the information sought to be elicited, the trial court should, upon motion for a new trial, determine whether the question propounded to the juror was (1) relevant to the voir dire examination; (2) whether it was unambiguous; and (3) whether the juror had substantial knowledge of the information sought to be elicited. If the trial court's determination of these inquiries is in the affirmative, the court should then determine if prejudice to the defendant in selecting the jury reasonably could be inferred from the juror's failure to respond. If prejudice reasonably could be inferred, then a new trial should be ordered. It is, of course, a judicial question as to whether a jury is fair and impartial and the court's judgment will not be disturbed unless it appears clearly that it is wrong.

Id. at 1383. The Court found that Odom was entitled to a new trial due to the strong inference of prejudice. Id.

         ¶47. Evans argues that Juror Larsen failed to respond to questioning about whether he knew any of the witnesses in the case. After the victim's son, John Compton, and another witness testified, Larsen asked to approach the bench and informed the trial court that he thought Compton might be his son's boss, although he was unsure. Larsen said that he did not respond at voir dire because he knew his son's boss only by sight, not by name. Larsen informed the trial court that this did not affect him one way or another and did not change his ability to be fair to both sides. Neither side objected to Larsen remaining on the jury.

         ¶48. Next, Evans contends that juror Emily Ladner failed to respond to questioning about whether any prospective jurors had any obligations that would interfere with sequestration. After jury selection, Emily Ladner, in tears, approached the bench and explained that she had just learned her husband had to go out of town for work and she would have no one to care for her child. After discussion with the parties, the trial court allowed her to call her husband to tell him not to leave town. When she returned, the trial court questioned her and ascertained that she had texted him and instructed him to reschedule his trip. The trial court assured her the child would not be left alone and instructed her to inform the court at once if the husband was unable to delay his trip. Evidently, the child-care problem was worked out, and defense counsel did not object to Emily Ladner's participation on the jury.

         ¶49. Evans also complains that two jurors, Tanya Ladner and Dennis Sosville, raised questions after selection that related to matters on which they had failed to respond during voir dire. Tanya Ladner expressed her desire to attend her child's birthday party on the Friday of the week of trial, and Sosville said he had a commitment on Saturday and wanted to know if the trial would be over by then. Defense counsel asked if, on Friday, the trial court could arrange for Tanya Ladner to call her eight-year-old son to wish him a happy birthday. The trial court agreed. Defense counsel did not object to these jurors' service.

         ¶50. We find that none of these circumstances rises to the level of reversible error under the plain-error doctrine. Although Larsen said that he believed he knew the State's witness, John Compton, nothing shows that Larsen failed to respond truthfully during voir dire. He simply did not know Compton's name, and thus did not discover that he might be acquainted with him until he testified. Most vitally, unlike in Odom, Larsen had no familial relationship with Compton. He simply thought he might be his son's boss, and he said it would not affect his ability to be impartial. In Magee v. State, 124 So.3d 64, 68 (Miss. 2013), this Court held that the fact a juror was the arresting deputy's fourth cousin was too distant a kinship for the juror to have been expected to respond to questions about family in law enforcement. We find no plain error.

         ¶51. And nothing in the record shows that Emily Ladner failed to respond truthfully to questions. Nothing shows she knew at the time the venire was questioned about child-care responsibilities that her husband would not be home. Instead, the record indicates that she learned after her selection that her husband had been called away on business. Therefore, no violation of Odom occurred, and we find no plain error.

         ¶52. As for Tanya Ladner and Dennis Sosville, Evans argues that, although "these two jurors' post-selection issues might not warrant reversal, they are corroborative of the larger problems with the jury following instructions." No inference of prejudice can be drawn from the participation of these jurors in Evans's trial. We therefore find no plain error.

         III. ISSUES WITH THE JURY, EXACERBATED BY ITS APPARENT INABILITY TO FOLLOW JUDICIAL INSTRUCTIONS, ALSO INFECTED THE TRIAL ITSELF WITH REVERSIBLE ERROR.

         A. Whether the seating of an alternate juror in the sentencing phase violated Mississippi's capital sentencing scheme.

         ¶53. Evans next claims that his state and federal rights to a fair trial by a qualified jury and the state constitutional and statutory guarantees of jury sentencing in death-penalty cases was violated by the departure of Tanya Ladner and the seating of alternate juror Larry Lind. After guilt-phase deliberations, but prior to the sentencing phase, juror Tanya Ladner was excused upon learning that her son had suffered an injury requiring emergency surgery. The trial court replaced Tanya Ladner with alternate juror Lind. Lind had been sequestered with the jury and sat with the jurors throughout the trial. He had heard all of the evidence, but as an alternate, he had not participated in guilt-phase deliberations. As Ladner's replacement, he joined and participated in the sentencing-phase deliberations.

         ¶54. Evans argues that Lind's seating as an alternate violated Mississippi's statutory capital sentencing scheme, which requires that:

(1) Upon conviction or adjudication of guilt of a defendant of capital murder or other capital offense, the court shall conduct a separate sentencing proceeding to determine whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, life imprisonment without eligibility for parole, or life imprisonment. The proceeding shall be conducted by the trial judge before the trial jury as soon as practicable. If, through impossibility or inability, the trial jury is unable to reconvene for a hearing on the issue of penalty, having determined the guilt of the accused, the trial judge may summon a jury to determine the issue of the imposition of the penalty.

         Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-101 (Rev. 2015). Evans argues that, under this statute, if the guilt-phase jury is unable to reconvene, the trial judge must summon a sentencing-phase jury, and that the statute should not be read to permit the seating of an alternate juror at the sentencing phase, despite Lind's participation as an alternate to the trial jury.

         ¶55. Another statute applicable to capital and noncapital cases provides that "[a]lternate jurors in the order in which they are called shall replace jurors who, prior to the time the jury retires to consider its verdict, become unable or disqualified to perform their duties . . . . An alternate juror who does not replace a regular juror shall be discharged at the time the jury retires to consider its verdict." Miss. Code Ann. § 13-5-67 (Rev. 2012). Substitution of an alternate juror is proper if done before the jury retires for deliberations. Folk v. State, 576 So.2d 1243, 1251 (Miss. 1991). A substitution of an alternate juror during jury deliberations is improper. Id. at 1252; Balfour v. State, 598 So.2d 731, 753 (Miss. 1992). And the trial court's decision to dismiss a juror for good cause and substitute an alternate is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Shaw v. State, 540 So.2d 26, 28 (Miss. 1989). The defendant must show actual prejudice from the exclusion and substitution. Id.

         ¶56. Considering the fact that Section 13-5-67 allows the substitution of alternate jurors in capital cases, the trial court's substitution of Lind at the sentencing phase did not violate Section 99-19-101. Rather than discharging the alternate jurors after the guilt phase ended, the trial court permitted them to remain through the sentencing phase in case substitution was necessary. As an alternate juror, Lind did not participate in deliberations with the twelve-member panel, which undoubtedly would have been improper. See Luster v. State, 515 So.2d 1177, 1180 (Miss. 1987). However, when the trial court dismissed Tanya Ladner, the trial court substituted Lind for the sentencing-phase jury trial and deliberations, leaving the jury composed of twelve jurors who had heard all of the evidence presented. A purpose of selecting alternate jurors is so they are available to "fill the gap created by some contingency." Walls v. State, 371 So.2d 411, 413 (Miss. 1979). We discern no error.

         B. Whether the trial court erred by denying Evans's motion for a mistrial due to jury communications during deliberations.

         ¶57. Evans argues that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a mistrial based on an inference that the jurors, during guilt-phase deliberations, had not followed the jury instructions prior to reaching a verdict. After the jury had retired to deliberate guilt, the trial court entered the following:

For the record, and the attorneys are already aware of this as is the defendant, the jury first advised verbally that they had a question. They were told to write down the question. And then they advised, a different juror that there was a hung jury and then a third juror came out and actually handed the question to the bailiff. The attorneys were allowed read the question and then to retire to determine how they wanted to handle this and for the defense to be able to speak with Mr. Evans. The question will be marked as part of this record. It says some jurors believe one or more jurors are in violation of the judge's instructions. What recourse do we have? While the attorneys are able to determine how they wanted to proceed and how they wanted to handle this matter, and basically asked if the attorneys agreed to make a record on this, there was a knock at the door and the bailiffs were advise[d] that there was, in fact, a verdict in this matter. So apparently whatever the question was, whatever the problem was, the jurors have resolved amongst themselves without the necessity of the parties and the Court inquiring further of them.

         ¶58. At that point, Evans moved for a mistrial on the ground that the note made it clear that some of the jurors were not following the court's instructions. The trial court opined that the note could be read in a number of ways, and could indicate noncompliance with the instructions of law, or a dispute about interpreting the instructions of law or a violation of some other instruction. Because the jury had reached a verdict, the trial court decided to deny the mistrial, receive the verdict, and to then ask the jury foreman if they were able to

follow the other instructions with regard to not doing any research, et cetera. Some question of that type because that would be the only issue in my mind that would perhaps be cause for a mistrial. In other words if they are simply disagreeing over the instructions of law that's entirely within the province of the jury.

         After discussion, the defense agreed with that plan.

         ¶59. When the jury returned to the courtroom with the verdict, the trial court ascertained that Mr. Breland had been selected as the foreperson and that the jury had reached a unanimous verdict.

THE COURT: Sir, if you will hand [the verdict] to the bailiff for me. Mr. Breland, I have one other question for you while you are up, sir. In light of the question, the written question that was sent out by the jury, my only inquiry of you is this. Was the concern of some of the jurors that someone had not followed the instructions that you guys have been given each evening and during the lunch breaks?
MR. BRELAND: No, ma'am.
THE COURT: So this dispute had to do with simply your discussions of law and the evidence?
MR. BRELAND: Yes, ma'am.
THE COURT: All right, sir. Thank you. You can have a seat.

         ¶60. Evans argues that, because Mr. Breland responded that the jurors had not disobeyed the court's evening and lunch-break instructions on things like avoiding media coverage and not discussing the case amongst themselves, the jury's written question must have concerned jurors having violated the court's instructions of law. This Court presumes that jurors have followed the instructions of the court, because to presume otherwise would render the judicial system inoperable. Johnson v. State, 475 So.2d 1136, 1142 (Miss. 1985). As the State argues, the jury's note does not require the conclusion that the jury violated the instructions of law. Rather, as the trial court recognized and Mr. Breland confirmed, the note could have expressed a disagreement among the jurors concerning their discussions of the law or facts. Regardless, the jury resolved whatever issue it had without court intervention and unanimously agreed on a verdict. This issue is without merit.

         C. Whether the trial court erred by allowing the jury to reform the sentencing-phase verdict.

         ¶61. Evans argues that reversible error occurred when the trial court instructed the jury to reform the verdict after it returned a facially invalid sentencing-phase verdict. At the conclusion of the sentencing phase, the trial court gave the jury an omnibus instruction telling them exactly what they needed to find in order to impose a sentence. The instruction set forth a specific form of the verdict. When the jury reached a verdict, the trial court reviewed the verdict and discovered that it was not in the proper form. The verdict sentenced Evans to death, but it stated only the aggravating circumstances. The trial court asked the jury to return to the jury room, review the instructions on the form of the verdict, and provide the court with the form chosen. The trial court stated "[e]ither all of number one, all of number two or all of number three. It has to be exactly like on the instruction." The jury then conformed its verdict in the proper form and returned that verdict to the court.

         ¶62. A statute and precedent clearly establish that the trial court properly instructed the jury to reform its verdict. "If the verdict is informal or defective the court may direct it to be reformed at the bar." Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-11 (Rev. 2015). In Dickerson v State, 175 So.3d 8, 28 (Miss. 2015), the jury returned a verdict that was not in the proper form because it did not list the aggravating factors. See Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-103 (Rev. 2015) ("[t]he jury . . . shall designate in writing, signed by the foreman of the jury, the statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances which it unanimously found beyond a reasonable doubt. Unless at least one (1) of the statutory aggravated circumstances enumerated in Section 99-19-101 is so found . . . the death penalty shall not be imposed"). This Court found that the trial court properly had instructed the jury to reform the verdict to comply with the jury instructions. Id. In Dickerson, the trial court did not instruct the jury to make any particular finding but only to correct the formal defects in the verdict. As in Dickerson, the trial court here properly instructed the jury to reform the verdict to comply with the jury instructions. We find no error in doing so.

         IV. THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE EVIDENTIARY ERROR AT BOTH PHASES OF THE PROCEEDINGS.

         ¶63. Evans makes several arguments concerning the admissibility of evidence during both the guilt and sentencing phases. This Court reviews the trial court's decisions admitting or excluding evidence for abuse of discretion. Green v. State, 89 So.3d 543, 549 (Miss. 2012). We will not reverse unless the ruling resulted in prejudice to the accused. Id.

         A. Whether excluding evidence of the victim's blood-alcohol content deprived Evans of his right to present a defense.

         ¶64. Dr. McGarry's autopsy report showed that Holling's blood-alcohol level was .127 at the time of her death.[9] During trial, the State moved to exclude any evidence of Holling's blood-alcohol level. Evans opposed the motion, arguing that Holling's recent alcohol intake rebutted Joe Thomas's testimony that she did not drink and that it was relevant to show she may have provoked Evans to kill her. The trial court found that Thomas had not testified that Holling did not drink, but rather that he had never seen her drink. The trial court granted the motion because, "at this point on this record, and again there is no been self-defense raised [sic], there's no claim that she was the initial aggressor, there's been no testimony with regard to her particular behavior at this time of the particular incident, " so the evidence was not relevant. The trial court further found that, for the evidence to be relevant, there would have had to have been testimony as to how alcohol would have affected her behavior. The trial court invited the defense to raise the issue again, at any point, if it became relevant. However, Evans never again raised the issue.

         ¶65. Evans argues that the trial court's exclusion of Holling's blood-alcohol level was an abuse of discretion. He argues that it was relevant to his manslaughter defense at the culpability phase and at the mitigation phase. He now contends that after the trial court's ruling, when the State introduced Evans's February 18, 2010, statement that he killed Holling after the two fought about his taking her credit card, evidence of Holling's blood-alcohol content became relevant. Assuming relevance for the sake of argument only, Evans made no further attempt at trial for the trial court to reconsider its prior ruling. Thus, the issue is waived.

         ¶66. Evidence is relevant when it has any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence more probable or less probable. M.R.E. 401. In Mallett v. State, 606 So.2d 1092, 1095 (Miss. 1992), this Court held that evidence of the victim's intoxication is not relevant in and of itself. Evidence of the victim's intoxication is not relevant absent evidence that the accused acted in self-defense. Farmer v. State, 770 So.2d 953, 958 (Miss. 2000).

         ¶67. We find that the trial court's exclusion of the evidence of Holling's blood-alcohol content was not an abuse of discretion. Evans did not offer any evidence to support a self-defense theory. When the trial court granted the State's motion, Evans's statement was not yet in evidence. And even if it had been in evidence, neither the statement nor any other evidence adduced suggests that Holling was the initial aggressor. As Evans did not raise the issue again, even though invited to do so by the trial court, we find no error. This issue is without merit.

         B. Whether the trial court erred by denying Evans's motions to suppress his statements in the absence of a determination as to his competency.

         ¶68. Evans complains that the trial court's denial of his motions to suppress was done without an adjudication of his competency. Because Evans presented no evidence to overcome the presumption of competency-coupled with the trial court's observations of Evans and defense counsel's relating to the court that Dr. Storer had found Evans competent, which was later confirmed by Dr. Storer's testimony[10]-this issue is without merit.

         C. Whether the admission of a photograph of Holling's body where it was discovered, and testimony from the pathologist concerning it, was irrelevant and unduly inflammatory.

         ¶69. The State sought to admit three photographs depicting Holling's body where it was discovered in the woods to show the location of the body and to supplement the testimony of the investigating officers. Evans objected on the ground that, because the killing had not taken place where the body was discovered, the photographs lacked probative value. Evans also complained that, because the body had sustained animal predation after the death, the photographs would show injuries not caused by Evans and were extremely prejudicial. The trial court admitted only one of the photographs, photograph S-13, finding it to be relevant to the issues. It is hardly gruesome. The trial court excluded the other two photographs, one because, due to its angle, it was not particularly probative, and the other because its depiction of postmortem animal predation was more prejudicial than probative.

         ¶70. "Photographs are considered to have evidentiary value in the following instances: (1) aid in describing the circumstances of the killing; (2) describe the location of the body and cause of death; (3) supplement or [clarify] witness testimony." Dampier v. State, 973 So.2d 221, 230 (Miss. 2008) (quoting McIntosh v. State, 917 So.2d 78, 84 (Miss. 2005)). "The discretion of the trial judge is 'almost unlimited . . . regardless of the gruesomeness, repetitiveness, and the extenuation of probative value.'" Dampier, 973 So.2d at 230. Nonetheless, "[m]eaningful limits must be placed on a trial judge's discretion to admit photographs, and those limits must be defined by weighing a photograph's probative evidentiary value against its prejudicial potential to arouse the passions of the jury." Bonds v. State, 138 So.3d 914, 920 (Miss. 2014). There is nothing in this photograph which to the naked eye would potentially arouse the passions of the jury.

         ¶71. As directed in Bonds, the trial court carefully considered the probative value versus the prejudicial effect of each of the three photographs proffered by the State, and after that weighing process, it excluded two of them. Photograph S-13 was relevant to "describe the location of the body." And, as the trial court found, photograph S-13 was not particularly gruesome. Photograph S-13 is a long- or medium-range distance photograph of a clothed body lying in the brush along a highway. No animal predation is visible to the naked eye. We find the trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding that photograph S-13 was more probative than prejudicial.

         D. Whether Evans's conviction must be reversed because the State violated the Constitution and Mississippi Rules of Evidence by eliciting evidence of otherwise inadmissible prior bad acts and criminal convictions from Dr. Storer.

         ¶72. The defense called Dr. Storer to testify in mitigation at the sentencing phase. After establishing that Evans had a history of using alcohol at an ...


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