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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

September 21, 2017

BRANDY NICOLE WILLIAMS a/k/a BRANDY WILLIAMS a/k/a BRANDY N. WILLIAMS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/18/2016

         GEORGE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. RICHARD W. McKENZIE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: TONY LAWRENCE, CHERIE R. WADE, ANDRE de GRUY, VICKI GILLIAM

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER JUSTIN T. COOK GEORGE T. HOLMES ANDRE de GRUY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LAURA H. TEDDER

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ANTHONY N. LAWRENCE, III

          BEFORE RANDOLPH AND KITCHENS, P.JJ., AND CHAMBERLIN, J.

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. On March 18, 2016, a George County jury convicted Brandy Williams of the capital murder of Sheriff Garry Welford. The George County Circuit Court sentenced Williams to life without the possibility of parole in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Williams now appeals. She argues that the trial court committed reversible error by not quashing her indictment, improperly instructing the jury and admitting evidence of Williams's prior crimes. After review, we affirm.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

         ¶2. Williams lived primarily in George County before July 21, 2010. She and Christopher Baxter had been dating since the fall of 2009-a fact that was known throughout the law enforcement community of George County. George County Deputy Bobby Daffin claimed that he never saw Baxter without seeing Williams and never saw Williams without seeing Baxter. Williams and Baxter regularly lived in her father's trailer together, and Williams often drove her father's maroon Chevrolet Z71 truck (the "Z71").

         ¶3. On April 26, 2010, Baxter pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court of George County to the manufacture of methamphetamine; the court continued his sentencing until July 19, 2010. Williams admitted that she knew Baxter had pleaded guilty in court and that he would have to go back to jail.[1]

         ¶4. Williams also had a prior criminal record; she had been indicted for two separate counts of grand larceny in November and December of 2008. Williams had enrolled in a pretrial diversion agreement in the Jackson County Circuit Court on July 15, 2010-only six days before Sheriff Welford was killed. One of the conditions of her participation in the pretrial diversion program was to "avoid persons . . . of disreputable or harmful character."

         Monday, July 19, 2010

         ¶5. On Monday, the day of Baxter's sentencing, Baxter left Williams's residence around 9:15 a.m. in his Sonoma. Williams alleged that Baxter told her that he was going to court. Baxter never appeared in court though, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Around 12:45 p.m., George County deputies arrived at Williams's residence, and Williams told them that Baxter had left that morning to go to court. Williams stated that she did not see Baxter again until Wednesday, July 21, 2010.

         ¶6. Rita Butler, Williams's next-door neighbor, admitted that on Monday morning Williams knew that Baxter "hadn't turned himself in . . . . So, yeah, she knew at that time that he had not and he was running from the law." Butler also testified that Williams had told her on Monday that she was through with Baxter.

         Tuesday, July 20, 2010

         ¶7. Robin Howell, Baxter's aunt, testified that Baxter arrived at Howell's house on Tuesday evening, driving the Z71. Further, she testified that Williams and Baxter left her home together that evening in the Z71.

         Wednesday, July 21, 2010

         Before the Pursuit

         ¶8. Williams alleged that on Wednesday morning she was at Baxter's father's house while Baxter's father repaired the Z71's brakes. She stated that Baxter drove up in his truck before noon and asked her to drive him into town to get some screws for his truck. Williams maintained that this was the first time that she had seen Baxter since he left her house on Monday morning to go to court. She agreed to drive Baxter into town in the Z71 and admitted that she knew that the police were looking for him. Williams claimed that she had told Baxter on the way into town that she wanted to break up, mentioning that she had just entered the pretrial diversion program.

         ¶9. According to Williams, she drove Baxter to the Walmart and entered the store alone to get the screws. Howell claims that Williams then called her and said that there were "too many cops" at the Walmart and that they should meet at a fire station in Twin Creek. Howell did meet Williams and Baxter to get the screws from them. According to Howell, Williams was driving the Z71 as she left the fire station, and Baxter was in the passenger seat.

         ¶10. At 2:38 p.m., Deputy Daffin, exiting a parking lot onto Scott Road, saw the Z71 on Old Highway 63 waiting to turn onto Scott Road. The Z71 turned onto Scott Road and was aligned parallel to Daffin's vehicle temporarily. Daffin saw that Williams was driving. He also saw that the passenger seat was leaned back and "could see what appeared to be an elbow or arm sticking up as if someone were trying to hide in the vehicle." At that point, Daffin believed Baxter was hiding in the Z71.

         The Pursuit

         ¶11. Daffin made a u-turn and approached the Z71 to attempt a traffic stop. Daffin testified that the Z71 accelerated as he turned around and that he did not catch up to it again until it had traveled down Scott Road to the intersection with Highway 26.

         ¶12. After stopping at the end of Scott Road, Williams turned onto Highway 26. Daffin followed Williams onto Highway 26 and turned on his blue lights and sirens. Daffin pursued Williams for approximately 16.8 miles from Highway 26 to the scene of the impact. The entire chase took only thirteen to fourteen minutes. Throughout the chase, Williams often drove recklessly at speeds from 75 to 100 miles per hour.

         The Checkpoint

         ¶13. After being notified of the pursuit, Sheriff Welford and Deputy Tony Keel left the Sheriff's department in Lucedale in Sheriff Welford's Dodge Charger (the "Charger"). They determined that the pursuit was headed west and set up a checkpoint at the intersection of Howard Road and Bexley Road South. Investigator Duane Bowlin and Agent Justin Strahan soon joined Sheriff Welford and Keel. Once the checkpoint was setup, Bexley Road South was not fully blocked in either direction. Two avenues of escape were left open in case Williams decided not to stop. Also, the blue lights in all three vehicles were activated.

         ¶14. Deputy Bowlin testified that as soon as he arrived at the checkpoint, he exited his vehicle and was walking toward Sheriff Welford's Charger when he heard the "steady roar" of the Z71's approach. He turned back toward his own vehicle and turned again toward the Charger in time to see Sheriff Welford struck by the Z71.

         ¶15. Bowlin further testified that he remembered seeing the passenger ...


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