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Harris v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 26, 2017


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/06/2013




         En Banc.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. Ranzino Ahmad Harris appeals his conviction in Lowndes County Circuit Court of murder asserting (1) the trial court erred when it admitted an unavailable witness's preliminary-hearing testimony because it violated his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation; (2) the trial court erred when it admitted a witness's hearsay statement as an excited utterance; (3) the evidence was insufficient; and (4) the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Finding no error, we affirm.


         ¶2. On the morning of May 17, 2010, Harris attempted to contact his ex-girlfriend, Ashley Lee, to no avail. In further efforts to make contact, he went to her house, where he discovered Ashley and her sister, Tericia Lee, each with their own overnight guest, Justin Murray (Ashley's) and Michael Brewer (Tericia's). Harris confronted Ashley, cornered her in her bathroom, and began choking her. Murray and Brewer came to Ashley's aid, pinning Harris on a bed, where the two assaulted Harris, punching him repeatedly. Ashley and Tericia implored the two to stop, and they subsequently unpinned Harris. After he was unpinned, Harris left. Then, moments later, he returned with his pistol drawn and, as the outside kitchen door opened, fired two shots. Both shots struck Murray, who died shortly thereafter from his wounds. At trial, Harris testified he returned to Ashley's home to retrieve his cellular phone, which he purportedly left in the house. Both Tericia and Brewer testified that Harris forced the door open. Brewer also testified he and Murray were both standing and not moving toward the door or Harris.

         ¶3. Detective George Harris[1] of the Columbus Police Department was one of two officers who responded to a 911 call reporting a possible homicide at Ashley's home. Among his discoveries upon arriving at the scene, Detective Harris found Brewer "walking around, " repeatedly stating, "he didn't have to do this, he didn't have to do this." Harris later surrendered at the Columbus Police Department.

         ¶4. Harris was indicted on October 27, 2010, for one count of murder in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19 (Rev. 2006) and one count of aggravated assault in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-7 (Rev. 2006). A four-day jury trial was conducted during September 3-6, 2013. Testimony was heard from Detective Harris and Ashley, among others.

         ¶5. Detective Harris testified, "When we walked up on the porch, I noticed a young man, I know him as Mike, we call him Little Mike, he was walking around in the living room and by the doorway area. Kept stating, 'He didn't have to do this, he didn't have to do this.'" Harris did not object, and Detective Harris continued his testimony, describing a diagram of the scene. Later, the State asked, "How would you describe [Brewer's] demeanor and his emotional state at that point, sir?" Detective Harris responded, "He was, like, walking in circles, kept repeating, 'He didn't have to do this. That wasn't called for.'" Harris (the defendant) contemporaneously objected to that answer as hearsay. In response, the State argued, "at that point it would have been an excited utterance, because he had just been shot and saw his friend killed." The trial court overruled the objection. The State continued, "Okay. Yes, sir?" Detective Harris resumed, "He was-this-'He didn't have to do that. This is my boy, he didn't have to do my boy like that.'" To which the State asked, "Okay. And was he visibly upset? Could you tell that, sir?" "Yes, he was, " Detective Harris replied.

         ¶6. Ashley was deemed unavailable to testify at trial. However, she had formerly testified during a probable-cause hearing in which she appeared as a witness for Harris. Prior to trial, the State filed a motion to use Ashley's prior testimony. The trial court heard arguments on this motion on two separate occasions, both of which occurred during trial, but outside the jury's presence. During these arguments, Harris did not contest Ashley's unavailability-only that he was limited in material and scope during the development of her testimony, stating, "it's a confrontation clause issue." Harris further claimed: "[T]hroughout the entire transcript, as I tried to develop the testimony more with each witness, [the State] would object and say, this is for discovery, Your Honor, we're not here to have the trial on the whole case. So I was limited on every witness in my ability to develop the cross-examination." The transcript of Ashley's prior testimony (approximately four pages in length) contained one objection to a question Harris asked: "And you had sex with [Murray], had you not?" Ashley did not respond. That question and objection colloquy was redacted for trial. Later, Harris maintained the redacted question was "the most important question with regard to heat of passion, " stating he "wasn't able to develop the testimony as [he] saw fit." However, the question and answer immediately preceding the redacted portion of Ashley's testimony was included. There, Harris asked, "Well, Justin Murry [sic] was in your bed at the time, wasn't he?" Ashley responded, "Yes."

         ¶7. Harris was found guilty of murder.[2] On the same day, he was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. On the tenth day following the verdict and sentence, Harris moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. Approximately three ...

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