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Gary v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

February 8, 2018


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/22/2014






         ¶1. 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.

         ¶2. 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

         ¶3. To this decision, we apply the high standard of manifest error.[3] 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 error.

         ¶4. We thus affirm Gary's capital murder conviction and sentence of life without parole.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         I. Investigation

         ¶5. 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.[4] 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.

         ¶6. 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 camera.

         ¶7. 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.

         ¶8. 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 car.

         ¶9. 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.

         ¶10. 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).[5]

         II. Motion to Suppress

         ¶11. 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.

         ¶12. 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.

         ¶13. 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.

         ¶14. 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.

         ¶15. 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 ...

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