OF JUDGMENT: 09/28/2016
FROM WHICH APPEALED: ADAMS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LILLIE
BLACKMON SANDERS TRIAL JUDGE:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]."
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
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.
"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).
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.
"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.
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.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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 ...