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Patton v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

February 8, 2018


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/19/2016






          BEAM, JUSTICE,

         ¶1. Joseph Patton was convicted of murder following a jury trial in the Warren County Circuit Court. Patton appeals his conviction, claiming his trial was rendered fundamentally unfair by the trial court's refusal to strike for cause two prospective jurors from the jury venire who said during voir dire examination they knew the decedent's son. Finding no merit in Patton's claim, we affirm Patton's conviction.


         ¶2. In September 2015, Patton was living with his sixty-three-year-old uncle, Alfred Patton, in a mobile home in Warren County. On Tuesday, September 22, 2015, Alfred's next-door neighbor, William Thigpen, went to Alfred's trailer to check on him, having not seen Alfred in several days. Thigpen discovered Alfred's body inside the mobile home with an ax lodged in the throat. The body appeared to have been dead for several days.

         ¶3. Thigpen last saw Alfred alive on Friday, September 18. The Thursday night before, he and Alfred had watched a televised football game together at Alfred's trailer, and Patton also was present. Thigpen said Alfred had expressed to him on several occasions that Alfred did not like the circumstances of Patton living there.

         ¶4. Thigpen's live-in fiancé, Gabrielle Phillips, testified that Patton and Alfred had conflicts and that Alfred wanted Patton to move out. She recalled an argument Patton and Alfred had on Thursday, September 17, during which Alfred asked Patton to leave. Phillips said she heard Patton tell Alfred, "You keep on and one of these days you're going to regret it." Phillips said she last saw Alfred alive on Friday, September 18.

         ¶5. Phillips saw Patton on Saturday, September 19, and Patton spoke to her before going inside Alfred's trailer. He did not stay there long. She saw Patton again on Monday, September 21, between 4:00 and 4:30 p.m. They spoke to each other before Patton went inside Alfred's trailer. Phillips saw Patton come out of Alfred's trailer carrying a basket which Patton put in his car.

         ¶6. Warren County Sheriff's Investigator Chris Satcher described the ax which killed Alfred as a 26-inch Estwing brand camping ax. Investigators found a matching head cover for the ax in the trash outside Alfred's trailer. Investigators learned that a local Home Depot sells this brand of ax and obtained an in-store video from the store which showed Patton purchasing this type of ax on Wednesday, September 16, 2015. Investigators also obtained a receipt from the transaction, which showed a debit card was used to purchase the item.

         ¶7. Meanwhile, at the scene of the homicide, investigators observed and photographed a Cobra beer bottle on the floor inside the trailer, along with a Seagram's gin bottle. Satcher said the gin appeared to contain a cloudy foreign substance, which experts later determined was diphenhydramine, an active ingredient in Benadryl and other over-the-counter sleep aids.

         ¶8. Satcher also inspected and gathered a pair of athletic shorts from one of the trailer's bedrooms. Inside the shorts, Satcher found a folded envelope containing a grainy white powder similar to a crushed pill, which experts determined contained diphenhydramine.

         ¶9. Also found in the shorts was a debit card; a Nationwide life insurance proposal for a sixty-three-year-old male with a $25, 000 death benefit; a document addressed to Patton referencing the last four digits of Patton's social security number; and a receipt from a convenience store in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The receipt was for gasoline and one King Cobra 32-ounce beer, and was dated September 18, 2015. The transaction was made with the debit card found in the shorts, which matched the debit card number used to purchase the ax.

         ¶10. On the front deck of Alfred's home, Satcher recovered a few folded towels, garbage bags, and a gallon container of household bleach. From these items, Satcher recovered a receipt from a Family Dollar store dated September 18, 2015, with a time stamp of 3:36 p.m. Investigators also obtained a video from the Family Dollar store showing Patton purchasing the bleach.

         ¶11. When Patton developed as a person of interest on September 22, a BOLO ("be on the lookout") was issued. That same day, Vicksburg police spotted Patton's vehicle parked on Washington Street. As authorities approached the vehicle, Patton appeared, and he was arrested. Patton initially gave authorities Alfred's address as his residence, but in a subsequent interview, Patton claimed his address was 3133 Washington Street, the location where authorities found Patton's vehicle parked.

         ¶12. After obtaining a search warrant for Patton's vehicle, authorities found a small spiral notebook inside the vehicle. Written inside the notebook was a "to-do list" which included a list of items: "Clorox, garbage bags, Benadryl, blankets, and towels." Also found in Patton's vehicle was a term life-insurance policy death-benefit quote from Nationwide Insurance for a sixty-three-year-old male.

         ¶13. Investigators thereafter contacted several insurance companies and subpoenaed information about a term life policy issued by MetLife in the amount of $20, 000 on the life of Alfred Patton. The policy was issued September 16, 2015, to Joseph Patton as the beneficiary. The subpoena production included MetLife's recorded telephone conversations with the party who had purchased the policy and showed the initial premium was paid with the same debit card found in the shorts recovered from Alfred's home. Also produced were records sent to an email address, purportedly Patton's.

         ¶14. When Patton was arrested on September 22, authorities seized a cell phone in his possession. Investigators obtained a search warrant for the phone's records and data. Investigators found a text message dated September 16 from MetLife thanking the recipient for signing up for texts.

         ¶15. At trial, Patton testified he moved in with Alfred after moving back from Texas, and that he paid Alfred $75 a week in rent. He said he did not have a bedroom in Alfred's trailer and slept on the couch. Patton said he got along with Alfred. But when Alfred drank, Alfred wanted to be left alone and would ask Patton to leave, which is what occurred on Thursday, September 17. Patton said there was no argument and he complied with Alfred's request, leaving before the end of the football game they were watching to go stay with a friend in Vicksburg. Patton denied ever going back to Alfred's house after Thursday night.

         ¶16. Patton denied killing Alfred. He said the athletic shorts belonged to Alfred and were found in one of the rooms in which Alfred slept. Patton said he did not know whose debit card was found in the shorts, but he had a debit card and Alfred had another. Patton said he and Alfred shared ...

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