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Roberts v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

September 14, 2017


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/05/2016







         ¶1. A Lauderdale County jury convicted Jafron Roberts of kidnapping and statutory rape, but acquitted him of sexual battery. The Circuit Court of Lauderdale County imposed the maximum penalty for the kidnapping conviction, thirty years, and sentenced Roberts to thirty-seven years for the statutory rape conviction, to run concurrently with his sentence for kidnapping. Roberts appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress his statement to the police, (2) the trial court should have granted his request for production and in camera inspection of medical records, (3) the State's loss of exculpatory evidence denied his right to due process, (4) the trial court should have excluded the testimony of the State's DNA expert, and (5) a pre-indictment delay of approximately one year violated his due process rights.

         ¶2. Finding no error, we affirm. Because the police did not violate Roberts's rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), the trial court did not manifestly err by denying his motion to suppress his statement. We find that Roberts's attack on the denial of his motion for in camera inspection of medical records is procedurally barred; notwithstanding the procedural bar, any error was harmless. And Roberts's argument that the State lost defense evidence is procedurally barred for his failure to bring the issue to the attention of the trial court; notwithstanding the procedural bar, it is without merit. The trial court committed no abuse of discretion in the admission of expert testimony on DNA testing. Finally, Roberts is procedurally barred from arguing that his indictment should be dismissed due to pre-indictment delay, because he never raised that argument before the trial court; notwithstanding the procedural bar, the issue lacks merit.


         ¶3. On the morning of October 1, 2013, Tanya, [1] a thirteen-year-old female, left her home in Meridian, Mississippi, and began walking through her neighborhood in the direction of her middle school. School started at 8:05 a.m., but Tanya was running late that morning due to stomach problems for which she had visited the hospital the night before. Tanya testified that, on her route, she passed a man standing at the open trunk of an automobile. Because the man looked suspicious and no one else was on the street, she quickened her pace. After Tanya had passed the man, he approached from behind, choked her, and thrust her into the vehicle's passenger seat as she struggled to get away. The man drove Tanya through the neighborhood, restraining her with his right hand as she repeatedly attempted to unlock the passenger door and escape. Finally, the man punched her in the face and told her that if she tried to get out of the car, she would not return home.

         ¶4. Tanya testified that the man asked her to perform oral sex, but she refused. Then, he stopped the car and forced her to perform oral sex. Tanya said that the man smelled awful, as if he had not bathed in a long time, and she pulled away after a few seconds. The man then drove to an abandoned house, took her inside, and ordered her to undress. When she refused, he informed her that, if she did not comply, she would not return home. Then the man sat in an old recliner, removed his penis from his pants, and ordered Tanya to sit on his penis, which she did, facing away from the man. He told her to "bounce up and down." Tanya complied, but after a brief time she got up because she was loathe to continue. The man masturbated and ejaculated on himself. At that point, Tanya got dressed, but she left her underwear in the house to prove she had been there. Tanya and the man left the abandoned house and he dropped her off approximately one block from where he had taken her.

         ¶5. Although Tanya had a cell phone in her possession, she had been afraid to use it during the kidnapping. Just after the man dropped her off, at 8:25 a.m., she used the phone to call 911 and report that she had been raped and hit in the face. She described her attacker as a light-complected black male driving a black vehicle. Officer Derrick Williams with the Meridian Police Department arrived, and Tanya was transported by ambulance to Rush Foundation Hospital in Meridian.

         ¶6. At the hospital, a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) examined Tanya and prepared a sexual assault kit. Tanya told the SANE that she had been kidnapped on the way to school and driven to an abandoned house. She reported that she had been held down by the wrists and hit in the face, and that her attacker had said that if she tried to get out of the car, he would knock her out. She told the SANE that he had forced her to perform oral sex against her will and also forced her to have intercourse. Tanya reported that, during the intercourse, she had been on top and penetration had occurred. The SANE testified that Tanya was visibly upset and had a two-centimeter bruise on her left cheek. Her shorts were torn and dirty. The SANE testified that there was mild vaginal redness but no bleeding or tears, which were findings consistent with what Tanya said had happened. After the examination, Officer Rita Jack secured Tanya's clothing and the sexual assault kit and later delivered them to the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory.

         ¶7. Officer Rita Jack, an investigator with the Meridian Police Department, testified that she had interviewed Tanya at the hospital. Tanya described her assailant as a light-complected black male with black eye tattoos on his forearms. She said that his car was sporty with loud-sounding pipes. Tanya reported that the abandoned house had a green roof and was across from a wooded area and had old furniture inside. Officer Jack drove Tanya and her mother through Tanya's neighborhood in an effort to find the abandoned house. But because Tanya had moved to the area recently, she was unable to locate the abandoned house, and Officer Jack proceeded toward Tanya's house to drop off her and her mother. As they approached Tanya's street, they passed a gold Chevrolet Camaro, and Tanya exclaimed, "That's him!" Officer Jack backed up her vehicle to read the Camaro's tag, but the car moved away. Officer Jack followed and radioed for backup. Another officer intercepted the car and Officer Jack pulled up to the scene of the stop. As the officer removed the driver, who was cooperative, from the vehicle, Tanya screamed, "That's him! That's him!"

         ¶8. When Officer Jack approached the suspect, she noted that his appearance matched Tanya's description. He was a light-complected black man with forearm tattoos of skulls that had black eyes. The suspect was identified as thirty-year-old Jafron Roberts. He was arrested and transported to the Meridian Police Department, where samples were collected from his person and later submitted to the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory. Roberts had a scratch on the left side of his neck. Officer Jack testified that Roberts's pants were soiled in the front and rear and he had a strong odor. He drove a sports car with loud pipes, as Tanya had said. Officer Jack testified that, although Tanya had reported that her attacker's car was black, Roberts's car was gold with a dark-colored interior. Officer Jack testified that Tanya had reversed the interior and exterior colors of the car in her description. Officer Williams testified, without objection, that it is not unusual for a victim, under stress, to make that type of mistake. Otherwise, Tanya's description of the assailant and his vehicle was accurate.

         ¶9. The next day, investigators located the abandoned house. Consistent with Tanya's description, the house was across from a wooded area, its carport had a green roof, and there was old furniture inside, including a recliner in one room. Police found Tanya's underwear inside the house, and subsequent testing revealed that her DNA was present on the underwear.

         ¶10. Three days after the incident, Officer Jack interviewed Roberts for about an hour and fifteen minutes at the police department. She read and explained Roberts's Miranda rights. Roberts refused to sign a rights waiver form, but continued talking to Officer Jack. He claimed that, at the time of the alleged crime, he had been at the WIN job center in Meridian, having arrived just before 8:00 a.m. when it opened. He said that he then had gone to the career center in Webb Hall at Meridian Community College, where he had encountered an old high school classmate, Karina Hodges. Later in the interview, Roberts said that he had seen Tanya walking to school and had asked whether she wanted to buy some iPads. After continued questioning, Roberts admitted that he had taken Tanya to a house where they had consensual sex in a chair. He related that the head of his penis had penetrated Tanya's vagina.

         ¶11. Brandi Goodman, a serologist with the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, testified that, based on the presence of p30 proteins, seminal fluid and sperm cells were found on Tanya's pants. Seminal fluid, but not sperm cells, was found on the vaginal and vulvar swabs. Nathan Holly, a forensic biologist with the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, testified that only the victim's DNA was found on the vaginal and vulvar swabs. But he also tested a cutting of Tanya's pants on which epithelial cells and sperm cells were found. The epithelial cells tested positive for the presence of Y-STRs. He explained that STRs are repeat sequences found on the Y chromosome, and that a Y-STR test identifies the presence of male DNA. Holly testified that he had obtained a partial Y-STR profile from the cutting from Tanya's pants, and that this partial Y-STR profile did not exclude Roberts and all males in his paternal lineage.

         ¶12. Roberts was indicted and tried for kidnapping Tanya and confining her against her will at the abandoned house; statutory rape for engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor under the age of fourteen, when he was twenty-four or more months older than she and not her spouse; and sexual battery of a child under fourteen, when he was twenty-four or more months older than she, by putting his penis in her mouth. Roberts asserted an alibi defense and produced a sign-in sheet from the WIN Job Center showing that "Jay Roberts" had signed in at 8:10 a.m. According to the WIN Job Center's branch director, visitors signing in do not have to provide identification, and the sign-in time written down by each visitor is not verified as accurate. Karina Hodges Sims testified that she was at the career center at Webb Hall on October 1, 2013, and she had seen Roberts; but she could not say that she had seen him on October 1, 2013, rather than on one of the many other mornings when she had visited Webb Hall. Roberts had not signed in at Webb Hall on October 1, 2013. The jury found Roberts guilty of kidnapping and statutory rape but acquitted him of sexual battery.



         ¶13. Roberts filed a pretrial motion to suppress his statement to Officer Jack. He alleged that his statement had been obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), because he previously had invoked his right to counsel and his right to remain silent. Specifically, Roberts contended that he had asked for an attorney while being taken into custody, that he had invoked his right to remain silent by refusing an interview with Officer Jack on the day of his arrest, and he had refused to sign the rights waiver form before his confession to kidnapping and statutory rape. The State filed a response denying that Roberts had invoked either right.

         ¶14. The trial court held a suppression hearing at which Officer Jack testified that, when Roberts was arrested, she had read him his Miranda rights and he never had requested an attorney, nor did he say that he wished to remain silent. Officer Williams and Officer Dareall Thompson gave testimony that they had been present at the traffic stop; and, although they did not hear everything that was said, they never heard Roberts invoke his right to counsel or say that he did not want to talk to the police. Officer Jack testified that she did not attempt to interview Roberts at the police department on the day of his arrest because he was combative and agitated, and he banged his head against the wall. Although he had calmed down by the time a nurse collected DNA samples from his body, Officer Jack informed him that she wanted to interview him later. Officer Jack's testimony seemed to conflict somewhat with her report, in which she had written that Roberts had "declined an interview." However, Officer Jack testified that Roberts never had said that he did not want to talk and actually had indicated that he wanted to talk. She explained that she had written "declined an interview" because his behavior was not conducive to talking.

         ¶15. Officer Jack testified that, when she had interviewed Roberts two days after his arrest, she began by making light conversation with him for twenty minutes. When he asked "what is all of this, " she read and explained his Miranda rights and presented to him the rights waiver form. She told him he did not have to sign the form, and that "I need your signature here for me to get your statement." Officer Jack testified that Roberts refused to sign the form and expressed concern about the rights he would give up by signing. After Roberts had refused to sign the rights waiver form, he proceeded to tell Officer Jack about his alibi and asked her to verify it. The conversation continued until he acknowledged having had sex with Tanya at the abandoned house. Officer Jack said that Roberts never asked for an attorney or said he wanted to stop the interview, and he did not otherwise indicate that he wanted to cease talking. She testified that she had made no threats or promises during the interview. In fact, the recording of the interview indicates that Officer Jack informed Roberts several times throughout that he was free to stop talking and terminate the interview.

         ¶16. Officer Jack testified that most of the interview was preserved on video, but that the final portion of it was preserved only on audio due to a recording malfunction. She also testified that the very end of the interview, after the confession, was not recorded. The recordings of the interview were admitted into evidence at trial.

         ¶17. During the suppression hearing, Roberts testified that he was not given his Miranda rights when he was arrested. He asserted that he immediately had requested an attorney at the arrest scene, but an attorney never was provided. On direct examination, Roberts testified that he had asked for an attorney three or four times at the scene; on cross-examination, he said he had made the request three times. He testified that, although he had spoken with Officer Thompson at the scene, he had not asked him for an attorney because he already had made the request to Officer Jack. Roberts denied that he ever had become agitated or had banged his head on the wall at the police station.

         ¶18. Roberts further testified that, during the interview, he had not believed he was being interrogated. He thought he was just having a conversation with Officer Jack and he did not believe he was incriminating himself. He admitted that he voluntarily had provided his alibi to Officer Jack. At the same time, he represented that, although Officer Jack had told him he could stop the conversation, he had not believed that he could stop it because he had been handcuffed and he had not felt free to leave. He said he thought that, by refusing to sign the rights waiver form, he was invoking his rights. Roberts also said that, although he had not requested an attorney during the ...

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