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Ragland v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

November 30, 2017


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/30/2016





          BEAM, JUSTICE

         ¶1. A DeSoto County jury found Mario Ragland guilty of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Ragland appeals his convictions, claiming there was insufficient evidence to support either conviction, and the jury verdicts were against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Ragland also claims the trial court erred in allowing accomplice instructions to be submitted to the jury under the evidence of this case, and that those given were either defective or incomplete. He further contends his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to object to the accomplice instructions, and for requesting an accomplice instruction on behalf of the defense that was incomplete or incorrect.

         ¶2. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.


         ¶3. Shortly after 3:00 a.m. on November 17, 2014, Tamieka Campbell Manning, an employee at the Krystal restaurant on Craft-Goodman Road in Olive Branch, Mississippi, was cleaning the restaurant when she turned around and saw a gun in her face. A black male wearing a blue hoodie, surgical mask, gloves, and shiny black shoes, and brandishing a black revolver, demanded money and ordered Manning and two other Krystal employees to the back of the restaurant, where the office and a safe was located. There, the man took Krystal envelopes, along with a Krystal money bag, each filled with money. Afterward, the man ordered Manning and the other Krystal employees to lie on the floor and cover their heads. Manning saw the man leave Krystal from surveillance cameras in the office. She could not see anything outside the Krystal. Manning reported the robbery to 911 within a minute or two after the man left the restaurant.

         ¶4. Olive Branch Police Officer David Rumbarger was on patrol in the area when he received a dispatch at approximately 3:06 a.m. regarding a robbery that had just occurred at the Krystal restaurant by a suspect described as a black male. Rumbarger drove to a location on Highway 78 where he thought a suspect might flee; positioned his patrol car, turned on his dash camcorder, and began shining his spotlight toward oncoming traffic traveling westbound from the area of Krystal's location so he could see the occupants inside the passing vehicles. Rumbarger spotted a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed which slowed down as it approached his location and then sped back up. Rumbarger testified that he saw two black male occupants in the vehicle. Rumbarger said he pulled out behind the vehicle, which "continued to pick up speed at a high rate of speed." Rumbarger turned on his blue lights and siren for the purpose of stopping the vehicle. Rumbarger caught up to the vehicle as the vehicle was approaching an intersection where other vehicles were stopped at a red light. As Rumbarger got closer, the subject vehicle, with its turn signal activated, maneuvered into the left turning lane, the light for which was showing green for traffic turning left. When Rumbarger pulled up directly behind the vehicle, the vehicle then maneuvered back into the westbound traffic lane, pulling in front of traffic still stopped at the intersection's red light. The vehicle proceeded through the intersection, maneuvering across both westbound lanes and then onto the right shoulder of the highway, as though it were about to stop. The vehicle, however, continued moving, getting back on Highway 78 until eventually pulling over approximately thirty seconds later, inside the city limits of Memphis, Tennessee.

         ¶5. Once stopped, Rumbarger ordered both occupants to remain in the vehicle with their hands up. When backup arrived, Rumbarger ordered the driver out of the vehicle, and another officer placed Ragland in handcuffs. The passenger subsequently was ordered out of the vehicle and also handcuffed. Both occupants were cooperative, according to Rumbarger. Ragland was the driver of the vehicle, and he told Rumbarger the reason he did not stop immediately was because the vehicles's brakes were sticking. The passenger of the vehicle was identified as Elbert Nichols.

         ¶6. Olive Branch Detective Aaron Curtis assisted in the investigation of the Krystal robbery. Curtis responded to Krystal, where he watched surveillance video of the robbery. He then went to the location of the traffic stop, where Memphis police were then assisting. Curtis testified that Nichols's clothes matched the clothes of the individual shown on Krystal's video surveillance.

         ¶7. Curtis photographed evidence as Memphis police inventoried the inside of the vehicle. They found a money bag and envelopes taken from Krystal inside the glove compartment, and a Krystal envelope on the passenger-side floorboard; a Colt .38 revolver in the center console, a round of ammunition on the floorboard, blue latex gloves, and surgical masks. Latex gloves also were found on Ragland which matched the gloves worn by the suspect inside Krystal, according to the surveillance video.

         ¶8. Ragland and Nichols were arrested and taken to the Memphis Police Department. Detectives interviewed Ragland after he was read his Miranda rights.[1] Ragland denied being at the Krystal or knowing anything about the robbery. He said Nichols had picked him up from an apartment where he had stayed the night. Ragland told detectives Nichols came to the apartment and stayed for a minute, before the two left in the vehicle in which Nichols had arrived, with Ragland driving because Nichols was tired. Shortly thereafter, police pulled them over.

         ¶9. After the State's case-in-chief at trial, the defense moved for a directed verdict, which the trial court denied. Ragland thereafter testified in his own defense. According to Ragland, he was with a girl named Camille Patterson at an apartment complex on Stateline Road. Around 11:00 p.m., Ragland called Nichols asking for a ride home because he had to be at work early the next morning. Ragland said he worked as a custodian at the Shelby County Schools, and his job required him to wear gloves. Ragland testified Nichols got to the apartment around 3:00 a.m. and came inside the apartment, where they talked for about ten minutes before he and Ragland left. Nichols asked Ragland to drive because Nichols said he had been driving all day and was tired. Ragland could not remember the name of the apartment complex but said it was on Stateline Road.

         ¶10. When asked about being stopped by the police, Ragland said that, as the police vehicle approached them from behind, he was in the process of slowing down to make a left-hand turn and he noticed the vehicle's brakes were sticking. Therefore, he continued through the intersection and then merged in front of the traffic sitting at the intersection's red light. Ragland said he had no idea there was money in the glove compartment and a gun in the console. Ragland testified that he asked the officer if he could get his girl to come down to the traffic stop to tell them he had just left her apartment. But the officer told Ragland he was messing with a crime scene. Ragland said no one mentioned the robbery until he was taken to the Memphis Police Department.

         ¶11. Ragland told the jury that he called Patterson on a cell phone while sitting in the back of the police vehicle. He said Patterson went to the scene of the traffic stop and sat across the street watching, and that the police would not allow her to come over and tell them Ragland had just left her apartment. Ragland said he told officers how they could get in touch with her, but they did not care to and never asked for her address in Memphis. According to Ragland, Patterson could not attend his trial as a witness because she was shot in the head two to three days after Ragland's arrest.

         ¶12. On rebuttal, Lieutenant Joshua Mucciarone testified on behalf of the State. Mucciarone said that, as a patrol officer, he is familiar with the streets and apartment complexes located in the area off Stateline Road. He marked the location on a map of Krystal entered into evidence, showing the location of the traffic stop and the location of two apartment complexes in the area. According to Mucciarone, it is 3.5 miles from Krystal to Plantation Apartment Complex, and it takes approximately seven minutes to drive the distance. And it is 4.7 miles from that complex back to the location where Rumbarger first spotted the suspect's vehicle, a distance that takes about ten to twelve minutes to drive.

         ¶13. Mucciarone, who was on patrol the morning of the Krystal robbery, assisted Rumbarger at the scene of the traffic stop. Mucciarone said he handcuffed Ragland and placed him in the back of the police vehicle. He said no one came to the scene on behalf of Ragland, and he did not see Ragland speak to anyone.


         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence; Weight of the Evidence

         ¶14. Ragland claims the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his convictions for armed robbery and conspiracy, and the jury's verdicts for each conviction were against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Ragland contends the State's theory for the armed-robbery count was that Ragland had aided and abetted Nichols in carrying out the armed robbery at Krystal. And for the conspiracy count, the State argued that he and Nichols had entered into a common plan to commit armed robbery, knowingly intending to further that plan. But Ragland submits the State's case against him was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, which requires a reviewing court to scrutinize the jury's verdict more closely. Ragland maintains that his presence in an automobile with Nichols proves nothing. Ragland argues the State's evidence does not reasonably exclude the hypothesis that Nichols picked him (Ragland) up at an apartment complex after Nichols committed the robbery and that he (Ragland) had no knowledge of the robbery. Ragland maintains that his own testimony supports a reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence, and the jury's verdicts in this case are so contrary to the credible evidence presented in support of that hypothesis that a miscarriage of justice would result were the verdicts affirmed.

         ¶15. When assessing the legal sufficiency of a conviction, a reviewing court determines "whether after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Cotton v. State, 144 So.3d 137, 142 (Miss. 2014). This Court will reverse and render a conviction "[i]f facts and inferences considered by the Court point in favor of the defendant on any element of the offense with sufficient force that reasonable men could not have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty." Edwards v. State, 469 So.2d 68, 70 (Miss. 1985).

         ¶16. When reviewing a trial court's denial of a defendant's motion for a new trial challenging the weight of the evidence, we will not disturb the jury's guilty verdict unless the record before this Court demonstrates that the verdict is "so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence that to allow it to stand would sanction an unconscionable injustice. Miller v. State, 980 So.2d 927, 929 (Miss. 2008). "In determining whether a jury verdict is against the overwhelming weight of the evidence, this Court must accept as true the evidence which supports the verdict and will reverse only when convinced that the circuit court has abused its discretion in failing to grant a new trial." Id. (quoting Boone v. State, 973 So.2d 237, 243 (Miss. 2008)).

         ¶17. In support of his claim that the State failed to prove its case with sufficient evidence, and that his presence in the vehicle with Nichols is not proof of the commission of any crime, Ragland cites the following cases: McRee v. State, 732 So.2d 246 (Miss. 1999); Corbin v. State, 585 So.2d 713 (Miss. 1991); Shepherd v. State, 403 So.2d 1287 (Miss. 1981); and McClain v. State, 198 Miss. 831, 24 So.2d 15 (1945).

         ¶18. In McClain, this Court reversed and rendered a defendant's conviction for grand larceny of an automobile, where the only evidence presented was a thumbprint of the defendant found on the vehicle's rear-view mirror by authorities after recovering the stolen vehicle. McClain, 198 Miss. at 836-37, 24 So.2d at 16. McClain held that, while the thumbprint was conclusive evidence of the defendant's identity and presence in the vehicle, it alone was not "equivalent to evidence of guilt of a particular crime." McClain explained: "No witness testified to having seen appellant in Clarksdale on the night the car was stolen, or on the day it was ...

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