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Alford v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

February 6, 2018

SPARTACUS ALFORD APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/11/2016

         JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. KATHY KING JACKSON

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LAURA HOGAN TEDDER

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ANTHONY N. LAWRENCE III

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., FAIR AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. Spartacus Alford was convicted of two counts of sexual battery, one count of attempted sexual battery, and one count of touching a child for lustful purposes, for which he received three life sentences and fifteen years' imprisonment without the possibility of parole, respectively, all to be served concurrently. The charges relate to the sexual abuse of his niece, Abby, [1] who was six years of age at the time. On appeal, Alford contends the circuit court erred in admitting the accounts of three other nieces or nephews who testified to sexual abuse by Alford, including one account under the tender-years exception to the rule against hearsay. Alford also complains that his rights under the Confrontation Clause were violated by the prosecutor's use of a screen to obstruct his vision of the victim when she testified. We find no abuse of discretion in the evidentiary rulings, and the Confrontation Clause issue has not been preserved for appeal. We therefore affirm.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Other Bad Acts Evidence[2]

         ¶2. Mississippi Rule of Evidence 404(b) provides that "[e]vidence of crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith." However, such evidence may "be admissible for other purposes such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident." Id. In Derouen v. State, 994 So.2d 748, 756 (¶20) (Miss. 2008), the Mississippi Supreme Court held that "evidence of a sexual offense, other than the one charged, which involves a victim other than the victim of the charged offense for which the accused is on trial" is not per se error "if properly admitted under Rule 404(b), filtered through Rule 403, and accompanied by an appropriately-drafted limiting or cautionary instruction to the jury."

         ¶3. In a recent decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that such evidence should survive the 403 relevance/prejudice analysis if it "demonstrate[s] that the defendant's means of accomplishing pedophilic sexual activities on past occasions bear substantial resemblance to each other and with the present offense, which serve[s] as proof of motive and a common plan or scheme." Boggs v. State, 188 So.3d 515, 520 (¶13) (Miss. 2016) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under Rule 403, the circuit court "may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence."

         ¶4. Here, the prosecution offered the accounts of three other victims: "Betty, " "Claire, " and "David." Each was related to Alford in a similar way to the charged victim - they were Alford's step-niece, great-niece, and nephew, respectively. All four children were prepubescent at the time of the sexual acts, and the acts occurred while Alford was living or staying in the same households as the victims. The witnesses also testified to the various means Alford used to discourage them from disclosing the abuse. The circuit judge admitted the evidence after observing that the other acts were "similar enough" because "all three witnesses were very young in age [like the victim, ] abused in a similar intrafamilial context[, ] and in a similar manner."

         ¶5. The admission of evidence is within the discretion of the trial court and can only be reversed on appeal if that discretion has been abused. Eckman v. Moore, 876 So.2d 975, 984 (¶31) (Miss. 2004).

         ¶6. Alford contends that the allegations regarding the other victims were not similar to the charged offenses. He focuses on the specific sexual acts Alford was alleged to have committed with each child: Betty testified that Alford made her perform oral sex on him; Claire said Alford touched her genitals while touching himself; and David testified that Alford made him touch Alford's penis. Alford was tried for anal and vaginal penetration of Abby with his penis, attempting to cause her to perform oral sex on him, and ...


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