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Woods v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

March 1, 2018

CASEY SHELDON WOODS a/k/a CASEY WOODS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/28/2016

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: ADAMS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LILLIE BLACKMON SANDERS TRIAL JUDGE:

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: RONNIE LEE HARPER TIM COTTON MICHAEL ZACHARY JEX CHRISTINA FERRELL DAUGHERTY RONNIE LEE HARPER PATRICIA F. DUNMORE EILEEN M. MAHER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: MOLLIE MARIE McMILLIN GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KAYLYN HAVRILLA McCLINTON

          COLEMAN, JUSTICE

         ¶1. On August 25, 2015, Casey Woods was indicted on one count of first degree murder, stemming from the shooting of his girlfriend's estranged husband. Woods also was indicted on one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The counts were severed and the case proceeded to trial solely on the murder charge on September 22, 2016.

         ¶2. An Adams County jury found Woods guilty of second degree murder in violation of Mississippi Code Section 97-3-19(1)(b). The trial court sentenced Woods as a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-83 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Woods's trial counsel did not file any post-trial motions. Woods appeals, arguing that (1) the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to overcome the presumption afforded by the Castle Doctrine that he acted reasonably when he killed Pierre Tenner, and (2) he received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel.

         ¶3. Woods waived his insufficient evidence argument; however, we reverse the judgment and remand for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel with regard to Woods's trial counsel's failure to file a post trial motion for a new trial challenging the weight of the evidence.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶4. Doris Tenner and Pierre Tenner were married and lived at Fourteen Hampton Court in Natchez, Mississippi. Doris's and Pierre's marriage became volatile over time and eventually deteriorated. Some time after Doris and Pierre separated, Doris began dating Woods in April 2015.

         ¶5. On May 4, 2015, Pierre called Doris, but she did not answer the phone. Later, Pierre came home from work and saw Woods's truck parked in the yard. Angered, Pierre kicked in the locked door and went into the house with a twelve gauge shotgun. Pierre saw Doris with a man in the house. Doris retreated down the hallway and locked herself in a bedroom. Pierre fired the shotgun through the door, hitting the wall and a television in the bedroom. Doris came out of the bedroom and she and Pierre tussled for the shotgun. Pierre claimed the shotgun went off while he and Doris were tussling for the shotgun. After tussling for a while, Pierre left the scene.

         ¶6. After the incident, Doris called the police and filed charges. Pierre was arrested and charged with domestic violence. Pierre was released on bond subject to certain conditions set by the municipal court. The municipal court ordered Pierre to have no contact with Doris, including telephone contact and physical contact, either at Doris's residence, place of employment, or any other place. The municipal court also ordered that Doris "shall have the exclusive use and possession of the residence . . . to the exclusion of [Pierre]."

         ¶7. Three weeks later, on the morning of May 24, 2015, Pierre called Doris. Doris could tell Pierre had been drinking. Pierre was at a nearby street, and Doris told Pierre not to come to her house. Doris left her house to get groceries. On her way home, Pierre called her again and they argued. Pierre told Doris that he was coming to her house, but Doris told him he did not need to be there. Doris arrived home and Woods was outside getting ready to wash his truck. While Doris was in the process of moving her vehicle so Woods could wash his truck, she saw Pierre's truck coming down the street.

         ¶8. Doris went inside and called 911 at 12:15 p.m. Doris requested that the police patrol Hampton Court because her husband was prohibited from being there. Doris told dispatch that she recently had filed charges against her husband Pierre for shooting in her house. Doris also told dispatch that Pierre had been drinking.

         ¶9. Pierre pulled up and parked at Willie Thomas's house across the street from Doris's house. Thomas and Paul Armstead, who lived next door to Thomas, were outside Thomas's house socializing. Pierre got out of his truck and began talking with Thomas and Armstead. Meanwhile, Woods was outside Doris's house getting ready to wash his truck.

         ¶10. Armstead explained that Pierre was a friend and former neighbor before he and Doris had separated. Armstead did not believe it was odd for another man to be at Doris's house. Armstead also was a friend of Woods. After only a few minutes, Pierre and Woods began arguing from opposite sides of the street. Armstead testified that Woods was not enticing Pierre to say anything, but he could not say who started the argument. No evidence was presented as to the actual content of the argument.

         ¶11. From inside, Doris heard Pierre and Woods arguing. Doris went outside and saw Pierre across the street and Woods in the yard by his truck. Doris told them to be quiet, and the argument subsided. Doris went back inside and again heard Woods and Pierre arguing. Doris called 911 at 12:20 p.m. Doris urged dispatch that the police needed to hurry to the scene.

         ¶12. Doris went back outside and told the two men to be quiet, but they continued to argue. Doris told Woods that the police were coming. The argument escalated to the point that Pierre got frustrated and jumped out of his chair. Pierre took his leg brace off, threw it to the ground, and began to walk in the direction of Doris's house.

         ¶13. Before crossing the street, Doris saw Pierre stop at his truck and roll the window down. Pierre put his hand in the truck. Pierre said to Woods, "I missed you the first time but I won't miss you this time." Pierre then put his hand behind his back and proceeded to cross the street toward Doris's yard.

         ¶14. Armstead did not see Pierre stop at his truck or see whether he had a gun. Armstead testified that Pierre did not act like he had a gun. Armstead also testified that Pierre did not have a weapon of any sort. Armstead could tell that Pierre was angry and assumed he went across the street to fight Woods. Armstead heard Doris tell Pierre not to come over to her house.

         ¶15. Doris went to the edge of her yard to stop Pierre from coming over and began pushing him. Pierre grabbed Doris and threw her to the ground. Doris said she was going to call the police, to which Pierre responded, "Go ahead and call them." Doris went back inside to call the police. Doris provided a statement to the police saying that Woods had followed her in the house and had gotten the shotgun because Pierre was threatening Woods. Doris explained that there were two doors under the carport, a door to the laundry room and a separate door to go inside the house. Doris had clarified in another statement that when her first statement said Woods had followed her in the house, she meant that Woods had gone into the laundry room and she had gone inside the house.

         ¶16. While Pierre was approaching, Armstead saw Woods go inside the house or through a door under the carport, attached to the house. Woods came back out the door with a shotgun as Pierre was walking toward Doris's driveway. Doris did not know that there was a gun on her property, and she assumed Woods had gotten the shotgun from the laundry room.

         ¶17. Woods remained under the carport. Initially, Armstead testified that when Woods came out with the shotgun, Pierre was not advancing toward Woods, but "he was walking that way[.]" Armstead then testified that when Woods came out with the shotgun, Pierre was advancing toward Woods. Woods, who was standing under the carport, shot Pierre, who was halfway up the driveway, in the leg. Armstead testified that Pierre got no closer than halfway up the driveway before Woods shot him.

         ¶18. Doris heard a gunshot while she was in the house. She did not know if Woods had shot Pierre or Pierre had shot Woods. She went outside to find that Pierre had been shot and Woods was holding a shotgun. Pierre fell to the ground and Woods left the scene.

         ¶19. Doris called 911 a third time at 12:33 p.m. Doris frantically told police that there had been a shooting. She urged police and an ambulance to hurry to the scene. Doris explained that her husband had come across the street, pulled a gun on a "man" and the "man" had shot him. Doris repeatedly said that she had told Pierre not to come over there. When dispatch asked Doris to explain again exactly what had happened, she responded that Pierre had been across the street and she told had him not to come over to her house. Doris said Pierre came over and "fooled" with "this man" and the "man" shot him. Doris said the "man" left, and her husband was lying wounded in the yard.

         ¶20. Armstead and another neighbor put Pierre in the back of a truck and took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. At trial, the parties stipulated that Pierre died as a result of the gunshot wound to his right thigh and that the manner of death was homicide. Pierre's blood alcohol content was .242, showing that he was heavily intoxicated at the time of the shooting.

         ¶21. Police responded to the scene and found no weapons at the residence. Investigator Joe Belling of the Natchez Police Department testified that the closest blood spot to the carport was found on the driveway just over seven and a half feet from the brick support of the carport. Belling did not know whether the blood was Pierre's. Belling repeatedly testified that he did not know where Pierre had been located when he was shot, however, Belling testified that it appeared he was shot somewhere around the carport.

         ¶22. The trial court instructed the jury on first degree murder, second degree murder, and heat of passion manslaughter. The court also instructed the jury on self defense and the Castle Doctrine. The jury found Woods guilty of second degree murder. On September 28, 2016, the circuit court sentenced Woods as a habitual offender to life without the possibility of parole. Woods's trial counsel failed to file any post-trial motions. Woods was appointed appellate counsel, who proceeded with the instant appeal.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         ¶23. At trial, Woods's defense theory was justifiable homicide, specifically, self defense and the statutory protections of the Castle Doctrine. The trial court instructed the jury on justifiable homicide under Section 97-3-15(e)-(f) and the specific provisions of the Castle Doctrine, codified at Mississippi Code Section 97-3-15(3)-(4). See Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-15 (Rev. 2014). The Castle Doctrine creates a presumption of fear and abridges a duty to retreat in certain prescribed circumstances. Newell v. State, 49 So.3d 66, 74 (¶ 22) (Miss. 2010). Woods argues that the State presented insufficient evidence to overcome the presumption that he reasonably had feared imminent death or great bodily harm when he shot and killed Pierre.

         ¶24. "A directed verdict, judgment notwithstanding a verdict and a request for peremptory instruction all challenge the legal sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial." Easter v. State, 878 So.2d 10, 21 (¶ 36) (Miss. 2004). "To preserve the issue of denial of a directed verdict, the defense must move for directed verdict at the close of the State's case-in-chief." Page v. State, 990 So.2d 760, 762 (¶ 9) (Miss. 2008). "When the defendant proceeds with his case after the state rests and the court overrules the defendant's motion for a directed verdict, the defendant has waived the appeal of that directed verdict." Holland v. State, 656 So.2d 1192, 1197 (Miss. 1995). Stated another way, "[i]f a defendant puts on evidence in his own defense after the denial of his motion for directed verdict, he waives his challenge to the sufficiency of the State's evidence up to that point." Robinson v. State, 749 So.2d 1054, 1058-59 (Miss. 1999).

         ¶25. At the close of the State's case-in-chief, Woods moved for a directed verdict, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence presented in the State's case-in-chief. The trial court denied the motion, and Woods proceeded with his case-in-chief, in which he called witnesses and introduced evidence. Consequently, Woods waived his challenge to the sufficiency of the State's evidence presented during its case-in-chief. See id.

         ¶26. "If a motion for directed verdict is denied and the defendant introduces evidence on his own behalf, the defendant must renew his motion for directed verdict at the close of all evidence." Page, 990 So.2d at 762 (¶ 9). "In the absence of a renewal of the directed verdict, a request for a peremptory instruction, or a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, [a defendant] has waived the sufficiency error on appeal." Holland, 656 So.2d at 1197.

         ¶27. At the close of all evidence, Woods did not renew his motion for a directed verdict, request a peremptory instruction, or file a post-trial motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). Therefore, Woods's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal is waived. See Wright v. State, 540 So.2d 1, 3-4 (Miss. 1989). Because Woods did not preserve his sufficiency of the evidence argument, the assignment of error lacks merit.

         II. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         ¶28. However, Woods also contends that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective because trial counsel (1) failed to request lesser included manslaughter jury instructions; and (2) failed to file any post-trial motion on his behalf. We address only Woods's trial ...


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