OF JUDGMENT: 07/15/2014
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. BILLY JOE LANDRUM.
COURT ATTORNEYS: WILLIAM R. LaBARRE ANTHONY J. BUCKLEY J.
RONALD PARRISH JEANNENE PACIFIC MICHAEL DUANE MITCHELL JOHN
ANTHONY PIAZZA DENNIS LEE BISNETTE RAY CHARLES CARTER.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY:
ALISON R. STEINER WILLIAM R. LaBARRE.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
BRAD ALAN SMITH JASON L. DAVIS.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ANTHONY J. BUCKLEY.
Justin Barrett Blakeney was convicted of capital murder and
sentenced to death after a trial in Jones County before
Greene County jurors. Because reversible error occurred in
the denial of Blakeney's opportunity to present a
complete defense, by allowing evidence and testimony obtained
from informants working as State agents, and through
prosecutorial misconduct, we now reverse Blakeney's
conviction and sentence and remand his case for a new trial
on the merits.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On August 10, 2010, twenty-six-year-old Justin Barrett
Blakeney called 911, stating that two-year-old Victoria Viner
("V.V.") had become unresponsive. Blakeney and
Lidia Viner, V.V.'s mother, had been dating for
approximately eight months at that time. Viner was a
noncitizen of the United States.
Blakeney and Viner had been living together for approximately
six months. V.V. had attended daycare when Blakeney first
moved in, but Blakeney had been keeping V.V. at home for
around two months because he did not have a job and the
couple needed to save money. Blakeney would watch V.V. from
when Viner left for work around 10 a.m. until around 2 p.m.
when Viner returned home.
On August 10, Viner had left for work around 10 a.m., and
Blakeney had been alone with V.V. She was still asleep in her
crib at the time Viner left. Around 10:30, Blakeney saw that
V.V. was awake. Blakeney asked if she wanted to get some
milk, and she responded yes. Blakeney stated that he noticed
that V.V. had squinted her eyes and thought that she had a
headache. Blakeney picked her up from her crib and placed
V.V. on the floor. He began walking into the kitchen with
V.V. following behind. Blakeney stated that he had taken two
steps into the kitchen when he heard what sounded like a loud
thump. Blakeney turned around and saw V.V. lying face down on
the carpet. When Blakeney picked her up, V.V. was
unresponsive and limp. V.V. then began to tense and clench
both her fists to her chest. Blakeney called 911 and then
called Viner at work. Viner also called 911 and, when asked if
V.V. had been having medical problems lately, stated that
V.V. had been throwing up and had been cranky. Viner stated
that she had been giving V.V. Tylenol because she had not
Chief William Lee Garrick, a medical first responder for the
Calhoun fire department, arrived at Blakeney's house
approximately four or five minutes after Blakeney had called
911. Chief Garrick testified that when he arrived, Blakeney
had been sitting in a chair next to the couch where V.V. had
been lying and had waved Chief Garrick in. Blakeney had
informed Chief Garrick that he did not know what had
happened, that he had been in a different room and had found
V.V. that way.
V.V. was rushed to the South Central Regional Medical Center
emergency room. Michael LaRochelle, M.D., medical director of
the emergency department at South Central, saw V.V. when she
arrived at the hospital and began an examination. Dr.
LaRochelle stated that he had not found any obvious reason
why V.V. had been in an unresponsive condition but a CAT scan
had shown some diffuse injury throughout her brain. A diffuse
injury of the brain is a generalized brain injury as opposed
to a specific localized injury. Dr. LaRochelle explained that
if a person were to fall and hit her head, normally the
person would bleed at the point where she had hit her head. A
diffuse injury causes swelling and microscopic bleeding
throughout the entire brain. Dr. LaRochelle stated that the
diffuse injury had indicated to him "a repeated episode
or at least one severe shaken type scenario or certainly a
repeated type of injury that caused swelling and diffuse
injury." Because of suspected child abuse, personnel in
Dr. LaRochelle's department called in law enforcement to
investigate the matter. V.V. had no other abnormal bruising
or marks on her body.
Dr. LaRochelle made the decision to transfer V.V. to the
University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. While at
UMMC, V.V.'s attending physician asked Dr. Scott Benton
to assist in her treatment as a consulting physician. Dr.
Benton informed investigators that he believed the case to be
one of child abuse. V.V. had extensive brain swelling and was
showing signs of brain death. CT scans showed that V.V.'s
brain had begun pushing through her skull. V.V. never
regained consciousness. She was disconnected from life
support and formally pronounced dead on August 12, 2010.
During an interview with the police, Blakeney stated that
V.V. had an incident with a stool two weeks before she passed
away. Blakeney stated that V.V. had been sitting
outside on a stool while Blakeney had been smoking. When V.V.
attempted to get down, she fell off of the stool and hit her
head. Viner had not been present at that time. Blakeney
initially denied that V.V. had incurred any bruises resulting
from the fall. Blakeney later admitted that V.V. actually had
obtained two black eyes, "raccoon eyes, " after her
fall from the stool. He stated that after the stool incident,
V.V. had been complaining of headaches and had been throwing
up in the two weeks prior to her death. Blakeney and Viner
had not taken V.V. to the doctor because they thought that it
was getting better. Blakeney repeatedly denied harming V.V.
Dr. Amy Gruszecki, a forensic pathologist, performed an
autopsy on V.V. Dr. Gruszecki determined that V.V.'s
cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and
classified her manner of death as homicide.
On December 16, 2010, a grand jury for the Jones County
Second Judicial District indicted Blakeney for the crime of
capital murder while in commission of the crime of felonious
child abuse, pursuant to Mississippi Code Sections
97-3-19(2)(f) and 97-3-73.Viner also was charged. Viner pleaded
guilty to a negligence charge, was placed on probation, and
later was deported to Mexico.
The trial court appointed Blakeney counsel through the
Capital Defense Division of the State Public Defender's
Office. Blakeney's trial was continued several times, and
Blakeney remained in jail. On April 1, 2013, Jones County
Sheriff's Department officers conducted a shakedown,
which included a search of Blakeney's cell and person. In
the course of the search, deputies found in Blakeney's
possession the 88 Precepts of the Aryan
Brotherhood. Also found on Blakeney's body were
various tattoos that Blakeney had obtained after his
incarceration, including a large swastika on his chest area
and two lightning bolts on his side. These tattoos were
symbols of membership in the Aryan Brotherhood.
After the search, a confidential informant, later identified
as Gregory "Hobo" Hancock, contacted the
sheriff's department and relayed conversations that he
allegedly had with Blakeney concerning V.V.'s murder and
Blakeney's efforts to gain membership into the Aryan
Brotherhood. On April 5, 2013, Hancock was transported to the
sheriff's office. Hancock alleged that Blakeney had
confessed that he had killed V.V. "by placing a
telephone book on her head and hitting it as hard as he could
with his fist." Hancock also stated that Blakeney had
confessed to striking the child at other times when Viner was
not looking or had not been present, including an occasion
when he had kicked a stool out from under the child,
resulting in her having two black eyes. Hancock was himself a
member of the Aryan Brotherhood and stated that Blakeney had
relayed this information to see if he could use V.V.'s
murder to gain membership.
Hancock wanted to make a deal. The District Attorney's
(DA) Office stated that Hancock's word was not good
enough. Hancock then offered to wear a camera and microphone
back to the jail cell to talk to Blakeney. The DA's
office, along with Sgt. Tonya Madison and Maj. Don Scott,
instead agreed that Hancock would go to visitation the next
day to talk to Blakeney.
On April 6, 2013, the sheriff's department recorded a
phone call while Hancock had been visiting Blakeney at the
same time as Blakeney's mother. The conversation went as
Hancock: What's up buddy?
Blakeney: What you doing son?
Blakeney: You come over here to visit us huh?
Hancock: You alright?
Hancock: That's good.
Hancock: I told yall I was gonna come up here.
Blakeney: Hey, ah, I'm glad you came, Seth told me that
Big Dave sent the word up the road to get me smashed when I
got up there, what is that all about?
Hancock: About a bunch of lies, you know like I gave you my
Hancock: I talked to Bedrock.
Hancock: It's understood to me that the only way of a
child, death of a child, it's got to be bi-racial.
Hancock: And it's got to be under the 88 precepts,
that's what he told me. I spoke with him this morning,
him and Josh Maxey and they said the only way to get accepted
or passed out for vote is that if it was done bi-racial
Hancock: You know what I am saying.
Blakeney: You see I ain't, if I do go I ain't, it
ain't gonna be on capital murder gone be on
Hancock: It don't matter what it is, it don't matter
what charge it is.
Blakeney: It's gonna be negligent manslaughter if
Hancock: Just the bi-racial killing is gonna get you in
there; you understand what I am saying.
Hancock: You know the 88 precepts you gonna go by that.
Hancock: That cool with you.
Blakeney: Yeah I mean.
Hancock: Aight don't, I am sticking my neck out on the
line that's why I came up here to talk to you. I promised
you I would.
Hancock: Don't let me down ...