OF JUDGMENT: 05/22/2014
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JEFF WEILL, SR. TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC BY:
BENJAMIN ALLEN SUBER GEORGE T. HOLMES
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ROBERT SHULER SMITH
Laqunn Gary carjacked Vizavian Trent Darby at gunpoint. When
Darby refused to get out of the car, Gary shot Darby in the
head, killing him. At Gary's trial, the jury watched a
video of Gary confessing to killing Darby. The jury found
Gary guilty of capital murder. He was sentenced to life in
prison without parole.
On appeal, Gary challenges the admission of his confession.
Before trial, Gary had filed a motion to suppress his
confession, claiming he had not voluntarily waived his
Miranda rights. The trial court ruled the confession
was voluntary. But it reached this conclusion without holding
a full suppression hearing in which the State carried the
burden to prove voluntariness. Because this violated
Gary's due-process rights, we remanded this case to the
trial court to conduct a suppression hearing. At this hearing,
the State presented one of the detectives who was present
when Gary confessed. She testified Gary had not been coerced
or promised any reward. Instead, Gary signed the
Miranda waiver and answered the detectives'
questions voluntarily. Based on her testimony, the signed
Miranda statement, and Gary's demeanor during
the video confession, the trial judge determined Gary's
confession was voluntary.
To this decision, we apply the high standard of manifest
error. Because the evidence supports that
Gary's confession was voluntary, we affirm the trial
court's denial of the motion to suppress. We also find no
merit to Gary's claims that the evidence was
insufficient, the verdict was against the overwhelming weight
of the evidence, or reversal is warranted based on cumulative
We thus affirm Gary's capital murder conviction and
sentence of life without parole.
Facts and Procedural History
On February 11, 2012, Jackson police officers found
Darby's body lying in the grass at the corner of Carter
Avenue and Markham Street. He had been shot in the head.
Darby had last been seen alive driving away from his house in
a white Dodge Charger his mother had rented while her car was
in the shop. Two days later, police discovered the
Charger abandoned nearby. The windshield was cracked.
Forensic analysis linked the crack to impact from a
projectile from the inside of the vehicle. The crime scene
investigator's on-site testing also revealed the presence
of blood not visible to the naked eye. Later DNA testing
showed the blood in the car belonged to Darby.
The police picked up Gary as a suspect on February 14, 2012.
Detective Eric Smith and his partner Detective Patricia
Wilder were assigned the case. After advising Gary of his
Miranda rights and obtaining a written waiver, they
questioned him. Gary's interview was recorded by a video
At first, Gary claimed he had been walking down the street
when Darby stopped the car in front of him. Gary said he then
saw his friend Jamiria Travis jump out of the car and run
across the railroad tracks. Gary claimed Darby then drew a
gun on him. Gary said it was a "him or me"
situation. So Gary pulled his pistol and shot him. Gary said
he did not know Darby and could not explain why Darby would
jump out of his car and pull a gun on him.
The detectives then explained they had already talked to
Travis, and Gary's story was inconsistent with hers.
Plus, forensic evidence showed Darby had been shot
inside the car. Gary then confessed to what actually
happened. Travis had told Gary that Darby had a car and some
money. The plan was to rob him. Travis called Darby to come
pick her up at Gary's house and give her a ride. When
Darby arrived, Travis got in the front seat and Gary in the
back. Gary had a gun, and apparently so did Darby. When Darby
refused to get out of the car, Gary shot Darby in the back of
the head. Gary and Travis then drug Darby's body out of
the car. Gary drove Travis to South Jackson. Then he hid both
his and Darby's guns underneath a church and dumped the
After the interrogation, Gary led Detective Smith and Deputy
Chief Brent Winstead to the hidden guns. Gary also turned in
the clothes he had been wearing the day he shot Darby, which
he happened to be still wearing. His shirt was tested by the
Mississippi Crime Lab, which found traces of Darby's
blood and DNA.
Gary and Travis were indicted for capital murder, with
robbery as the underlying felony. See Miss. Code
Ann. § 97-3-19(2)(e) (Rev. 2014).
Motion to Suppress
Only Gary was tried. Before trial, Gary's counsel moved
to suppress the video confession, along with Gary's
signed statement. Gary's counsel argued Gary had only
been seventeen years old in February 2012-too young to
voluntarily waive his constitutional rights.
The State's position was that Gary's confession was
voluntary. But it could not call Detective Smith to verify
this, because Detective Smith had been shot and killed while
interviewing a suspect in an unrelated case. The State also
had trouble getting Detective Wilder to testify. She had
witnessed her partner's murder and purportedly was
suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The
State filed a pretrial motion to determine her availability
as a witness. Detective Wilder responded with a motion to
quash her subpoena. Four days before trial, the trial court
heard both motions. At this hearing, Detective Wilder's
therapist testified about Wilder's PTSD and the potential
harmful impact testifying might have on her.
Both the State and Gary informed the court that Detective
Wilder's potential unavailability would impact Gary's
suppression hearing, since the State intended to call
Detective Wilder to prove Gary's confession was voluntary
and to authenticate the video of the confession. Gary's
counsel reminded the court about Gary's pending
suppression motion, urging an age-based challenge to the
voluntariness of his Miranda waiver. At this point,
a disagreement arose about Gary's true age. While
Gary's counsel asserted he was seventeen when he
confessed, the State insisted Gary was in fact eighteen,
based on his birth date. Though the current hearing was about
Wilder's availability to testify-not the admissibility of
Gary's confession-Gary's counsel offered to put Gary
on the stand for the limited purpose of confirming the year
he was born.
When Gary testified he was born in November 1994, which would
have made him seventeen in February 2012, the State requested
they be allowed to cross-examine Gary. The State showed Gary
the Miranda waiver form and written statement, which
listed his date of birth. Gary confirmed that he could read
and write and that it was his signature on two of the pages.
But he insisted the officers never asked him about his
birthday. At this point, the State asked to show the video
confession, suggesting that within the first thirty seconds
of the video statement, Gary told Detective Smith and
Detective Wilder he was born in 1993-making him eighteen, not
seventeen. Over Gary's objection, the trial court
permitted several minutes of the video to be played-up to
when Gary was asked about his date of birth. Gary confirmed
that he was the person in the video, that the video depicted
him being interviewed by the two detectives, and that he had
told the detectives he was born in 1993.
After Gary's brief testimony, the hearing shifted back to
the issue of Detective Wilder's availability to testify.
The hearing ended with the trial court taking the issue ...