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Ryan v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 15, 2017

BRENT RYAN A/K/A BRENT EVERETT RYAN A/K/A BRENT EVERET RYAN A/K/A BRENT E. RYAN APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/03/2015

         LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LEE J. HOWARD TRIAL JUDGE

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

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ABBIE EASON KOONCE

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: FORREST ALLGOOD

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. Brent Ryan appeals the judgment of the Lowndes County Circuit Court, adjudicating him guilty of felony fleeing and aggravated domestic violence. His counsel submits that the verdict is against the overwhelming weight of the evidence, and that the court erred in sentencing Ryan as a habitual offender. In a supplemental pro se brief, [1] Ryan argues that he should receive a new trial because his trial counsel was ineffective, his due-process rights were violated, and prosecutorial misconduct occurred during his trial.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Ryan and Aelishia Horn[2] married in Onalaska, Texas, when she was nineteen and pregnant with the couple's child. Soon after their son was born, Ryan left to join the army, and Aelishia did not hear from him for many years. Years later, Ryan found her on Facebook and wanted to know about their son. Another year or two elapsed before she and Ryan spoke again and finally made arrangements for him to visit. Eventually, the couple agreed to work things out and began living together in Lowndes County, Mississippi. Horn was paying all the bills, because, at the time, Ryan was not working. Horn testified that after several months had passed, she told Ryan that "she couldn't do it anymore." The next morning, she repeated the sentiment and stated that Ryan pinned her on the couch and choked her until she was unconscious. Upon gaining consciousness, she escaped the home and ran to a neighbor's home to call for emergency assistance. Ryan was arrested the next day after a high-speed chase.

         ¶3. Ryan was indicted by a grand jury on one count of felony fleeing from a law enforcement officer, in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-9-72 (Rev. 2014). He was also indicted on one count of aggravated domestic violence against Horn, in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-7 (Supp. 2016).[3] On the eve of trial, the court granted the State's motion to amend Ryan's indictment to charge him as a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-81 (Rev. 2015).[4] Following the conclusion of the evidence, Ryan was found guilty of both counts. The circuit court sentenced him to five years on the felony-fleeing count and twenty years on the aggravated-domestic-violence count, with the sentences to be served consecutively in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, without the benefit of early release or parole. Aggrieved, Ryan filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. The court denied his motion, and this appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Weight of the Evidence

         ¶4. The Mississippi Supreme Court held in Bush v. State that

when reviewing a denial of a motion for a new trial based on an objection to the weight of the evidence, we will only disturb a verdict when it is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence that to allow it to stand would sanction an unconscionable injustice. We have stated that on a motion for new trial, the court sits as a thirteenth juror. The motion, however, is addressed to the discretion of the court, which should be exercised with caution, and the power to grant a new trial should be invoked only in exceptional cases in which the evidence preponderates heavily against the verdict. However, the evidence should be weighed in the light most favorable to the verdict.

Bush v. State, 895 So.2d 836, 843 (¶16) (Miss. 2005).

         ¶5. Ryan asserts that the jury's finding-that he strangled Horn-was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence, as he argues that the State failed to prove the legal element of strangulation. He argues that the only evidence the jury had to rely on to justify his conviction for aggravated domestic violence was Horn's testimony, photos taken at the scene, and the testimony of Deputy John Pevey. He points out that Horn had no visible injuries or symptoms the following day, that she refused to go the hospital on the day of the incident, and that the hospital found no abnormal results from her CT scans. He also notes that Horn was simply released from the hospital with pain relievers. Ryan contends that the jury based its guilty verdict on weak evidence, and points to the lack of medical evidence, the lack of credible eyewitness testimony, and Horn's subsequent actions. In his view, this proves that the jury did not have enough credible evidence to support its guilty verdict. For those reasons, he asserts that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a new trial.

         ¶6. The State responds that the jury's verdict on the charge of aggravated domestic violence was not against the overwhelming weight of the evidence presented at trial, and points out that the testimonies of Horn and Deputy Pevey, the photographs of Horn's neck, and Ryan's flight from authorities constitute ample evidence for reasonable jurors to find that Ryan committed domestic violence against Horn by strangling her. Further, the State asserts that Ryan presented no evidence to contradict its case, and that this is not an exceptional case where the evidence preponderated heavily against the verdict, requiring a reversal. We agree.

         ¶7. At trial, the State was required to prove that Ryan strangled or attempted to strangle his spouse. The Legislature has defined "strangle" as the following: "to restrict the flow of oxygen or blood by intentionally applying pressure on the neck, throat or chest of another person by any means or to intentionally block the nose or ...


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