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Cook v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 8, 2017

JERRARD T. COOK A/K/A JERRAD T. COOK A/K/A JERRARD COOK A/K/A JERRARD TRAMAINE COOK A/K/A J-FAT APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/01/2016

         LINCOLN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. DAVID H. STRONG JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: ERIN ELIZABETH BRIGGS

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

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., WILSON AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Jerrard Cook shot and killed Marvin Durr during a robbery. Durr was eighteen years old at the time of his death. Cook was seventeen years old at the time of the offense. Cook's accomplice, Cearic Barnes, was eighteen years old. Cook shot Durr in the head while Durr was seated in the driver's seat of his car. He shot Durr because he and Barnes wanted to use Durr's car to commit a robbery. However, Cook and Barnes were unable to remove Durr's body from the car, so Cook sat on top of Durr's body and drove the car to an isolated location. To destroy evidence, Barnes then set fire to the car.

         ¶2. Cook was arrested, confessed, and pled guilty to capital murder, and the circuit court imposed a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. Cook's conviction for capital murder rendered him ineligible for parole. Miss. Code Ann. § 47-7-3(1)(f) (Rev. 2015).[1] Several years later, in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 2469 (2012), the United States Supreme Court held "that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." The Court held that the sentencer must have the "discretion" to "consider mitigating circumstances" before a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) may be imposed in cases in which the defendant was under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense. Id. at 2475.

         ¶3. The circuit court appointed counsel to represent Cook and held a new sentencing hearing to consider the factors discussed in Miller. After considering the testimony and other evidence presented, the judge found that Cook was not entitled to parole eligibility under Miller. On appeal, Cook argues (1) that the circuit court erred by not granting him parole eligibility, (2) that he should have been resentenced by a jury rather than a judge, and (3) that a sentence of LWOP is unconstitutional in all cases in which the offender is under the age of eighteen at the time of the offense. We find no error and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶4. On the evening of June 18, 2002, Cook, Barnes, and Eric Williams were walking together in Brookhaven. Cook had a gun, which he had obtained when he broke into his uncle's house a few days earlier. Cook and Barnes wanted some money. Cook later said he needed money to get his car fixed and could not find a job. So the three young men decided to rob a convenience store. Cook and Barnes planned to go into the store and commit the robbery, while Williams would remain outside as the lookout. Cook and Barnes had masks to wear during the robbery. However, the first store they planned to rob was closed. They planned to rob a second store, but Cook decided there were too many customers present. Eventually, Williams went home, leaving Cook and Barnes.

         ¶5. Cook and Barnes then decided that they would flag down a car and ask for a ride, carjack the car, and drive to McComb to rob a store. Cook and Barnes wanted to rob a store in McComb because they thought that they were less likely to be recognized there. The first car that Cook flagged down turned out to be a police car. Cook and Barnes spoke briefly to the police officer, and the officer drove on without incident.

         ¶6. Durr, who was Barnes's cousin, was driving the next car that Cook flagged down. Cook and Barnes asked Durr to give them a ride to Cook's aunt's house, and Durr agreed. Cook and Barnes gave Durr incorrect directions and caused him to miss the turn to Cook's aunt's house. They then told Durr that he could let them out along South Washington Street in Brookhaven. Cook and Barnes exited the car, and as Durr turned around on South Washington Street, Cook flagged him down again and walked up to the driver's side window to speak. Cook then shot Durr in the left temple from a distance of an inch or two. Cook later told law enforcement that Durr "was just at the wrong place at the wrong time." Cook also said that Durr "was like the weak type, " and he could have taken the car from Durr "without using a gun." Nonetheless, Cook shot Durr in the head.

         ¶7. Cook and Barnes then attempted to pull Durr's body from the car, but they were unable to do so. So Cook sat on top of Durr's body and drove the car to a bridge. It was Cook's idea to "[d]ump [Durr's] body under the bridge" because he knew there were "alligators" under the bridge. However, again, Cook and Barnes were unable to remove Durr's body from the car. Cook then went through Durr's pockets but did not find much money. Using a lighter, Barnes then set fire to the car to destroy evidence. Cook later told investigators that he thought that Durr was still alive when they set the car on fire. Cook stated that as he was sitting on top of Durr, he felt Durr "move" and just "had a feeling he wasn't dead." Nonetheless, Barnes set the car on fire, and then he and Cook fled into the woods. Cook discarded his gun in the woods, and Barnes later burned their clothes in order to destroy evidence.

         ¶8. Cook and Barnes were indicted for capital murder. Cook pled guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction makes him ineligible for parole. See Miss. Code Ann. § 47-7-3(1)(f). Barnes later pled guilty to murder, was sentenced to life imprisonment, and is also ineligible for parole. See Barnes v. State, 51 So.3d 986, 988 (¶2) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010).

         ¶9. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court held "that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2469. The Court held that the sentencer must have the "discretion" to "consider mitigating circumstances" before a sentence of LWOP may be imposed. Id. at 2475. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016), the Court clarified or expanded Miller's holding. There, the Court stated that a sentence of LWOP is valid only for "those rare children whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption." Id. at 734. According to the Court, the Eighth Amendment mandates parole eligibility for juvenile murderers "whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity." Id. at 736. Also, in Parker v. State, 119 So.3d 987, 995-99 (¶¶18-28) (Miss. 2013), our Supreme Court summarized the factors to be considered and procedure to be followed in cases in which Miller requires a new sentencing hearing.

         ¶10. Post-Miller, Cook filed a motion to be resentenced and granted parole eligibility pursuant to Miller. The circuit court appointed counsel to represent Cook and appointed Dr. Criss Lott, Ph.D., to conduct a mental evaluation of Cook. The court denied Cook's motion to have a jury determine whether he should be parole eligible.

         ¶11. On March 30, 2016, the circuit court held a hearing to determine whether Cook should be declared parole eligible pursuant to Miller. The State called the former district attorney, Brookhaven Chief of Police Bobby Bell, and Durr's father, Reverend Jerry Durr. The former district attorney testified about the murder and its investigation. Chief Bell testified that he mentored Cook when Cook was about thirteen years old; however, he lost touch with Cook thereafter. Reverend Durr testified that Cook attended youth events at his church until he was about twelve years old and that Cook generally was a respectful child; however, like Chief Bell, Reverend Durr had not been around Cook for several years prior to the murder.

         ¶12. The parties also stipulated to the admission of a number of exhibits, including transcripts of recorded statements that Cook, Barnes, and Williams gave to law enforcement; Cook's school records and prison records; and Dr. Lott's report. Cook's prison records show that he has been the subject of twenty-nine rule violation reports (RVRs) during his incarceration, including for assaulting a corrections officer, threatening a corrections officer, possessing a shank, using and possessing marijuana, and possessing a cell phone. Cook's school records show that he attended Oakley Training School (now known as Oakley Youth Development Center) from October 2001 to March 2002. Cook told Dr. Lott that the youth court sent him to Oakley because two friends asked him to drive them to a store, the friends robbed the store, and he was arrested for conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

         ¶13. Cook's cousin Angela Daniels testified on his behalf. She testified that Cook had no relationship with his father and was raised by his mother and grandmother. Daniels described Cook as a "typical child, " "always . . . smiling." She testified that Cook started to get into trouble as a teenager, and she became concerned that he was smoking marijuana ...


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