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Page v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 19, 2018

JERRY PAGE A/K/A JERRY ABRAM A/K/A JERRY ABRAMS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/26/2016

          MARION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. PRENTISS GREENE HARRELL.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: W. DANIEL HINCHCLIFF.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: SCOTT STUART.

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: HALDON J. KITTRELL.

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., WILSON AND TINDELL, JJ.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Following a jury trial in the Marion County Circuit Court, Jerry Page was convicted of first-degree murder, arson, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and simple assault on a law enforcement officer. The circuit court sentenced Page, as a violent habitual offender, to four consecutive terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

         ¶2. Through appellate counsel, Page argues that his convictions should be reversed for five reasons: (1) the trial judge erred by admitting an unredacted copy of Page's New Jersey Superior Court criminal case file, which the State used to establish that Page was a convicted felon, an essential element of the felon-in-possession charge; (2) Page's trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by refusing to stipulate that Page was a convicted felon, which led to the admission of the New Jersey court file; (3) the trial judge erred by allowing the jury to hear the audio of a witness's prior statement and by allowing the jurors to have a transcript of the statement while it was played; (4) the trial judge erred by limiting Page's cross-examination of a prosecution witness regarding the witness's criminal history; and (5) the cumulative prejudicial effect of these errors deprived Page of a fair trial. Page also filed a pro se brief that alleges additional errors. For the reasons discussed below, we find no reversible error and affirm Page's convictions and sentences.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. On Labor Day morning, September 1, 2014, a thoroughly burned, still smoldering pickup truck was found on East Reservoir Road in rural Marion County. A burned human body was in the bed of the truck. The truck was identified as a white Ford Ranger owned by Billy Paul Cooper. The body was identified as Billy Paul Cooper's son, Ryan Cooper.

         ¶4. Investigator Jamie Singley of the Marion County Sheriff's Department noticed a puddle of blood at the back of the truck and a trail of blood leading away from it. The trail led to another puddle of blood in the driveway of Jerry Page's residence on Goss-Bunkerhill Road. The blood trail then continued to James Kelly's home on nearby Expose Road.

         ¶5. Later that day, Singley was looking for Page when he saw a truck matching the description of Page's truck. Singley followed the truck to a gas station, and confirmed from a check of the license plate that it was Page's truck. Page parked at the gas station and exited his truck, and Singley exited his car and approached Page. Singley showed Page his badge and stated that he wanted to talk. Page then ducked behind a corner of the building, out of Singley's sight, and Singley heard the "very familiar sound" of "the rack of a pistol." Singley took cover and drew his pistol, and he saw Page pointing a pistol in his direction. Page then fled on foot, and Singley pursued him. Still holding his pistol, Page motioned at Singley in a threatening manner, as if to say "come on." Singley decided to wait for backup before continuing his pursuit of Page.

         ¶6. Page was apprehended that evening on Expose Road. The arresting officers saw Page throw something into a ditch just before he was taken into custody, and the officers recovered a black semiautomatic pistol, a Lorcin .380, from the ditch. Multiple witnesses implicated Page in Cooper's murder, and Singley's investigation led him to conclude that Page shot Cooper and that Anthony Abram[1] helped Page move and burn Cooper's body. Page and Anthony Abram were indicted and tried together.

         ¶7. Alex Abram[2] testified that on August 31, 2014, he hosted a barbecue at his home on Expose Road. As the party wound down, Abram and David Holmes[3] walked to James Kelly's home, which was about a quarter of a mile away on Expose Road. As Alex Abram and Holmes approached Kelly's house, Abram heard people talking and arguing outside the house. Abram saw two white trucks, one of which he recognized as Page's truck. Alex Abram saw Page, Cooper, Anthony Abram, and Alex Garner outside the house. As Alex Abram and Holmes drew closer to Kelly's house, Alex Abram realized that Page and Cooper were arguing. Alex Abram saw Page with a gun, he "heard the gun cock, " and then he and Holmes both turned and ran back toward his house.

         ¶8. Alex Abram testified that as he was running back to his house, he saw the two white trucks drive by, but he could not identify the drivers. The State was then allowed to refresh Abram's memory by playing the audio of his prior statement to law enforcement. The jurors listened to the audio and were provided with transcripts to follow along; however, neither the recording nor the transcript were admitted into evidence, and the transcripts were collected from the jurors immediately after the audio was played. His memory refreshed, Alex Abram testified that he could identify the drivers of the two trucks-Page was driving his own truck, and Anthony Abram was driving Cooper's truck.

         ¶9. Holmes similarly testified that he and Alex Abram walked to Kelly's house after the barbecue at Abram's house. As they approached Kelly's house, Holmes saw Page, Cooper, and Alex Garner engaged in conversation. Holmes did not see Anthony Abram. Holmes testified that "[w]hen [he] heard a gun cock, [he] turned and ran." He did not see the gun, but he heard a gunshot as he ran. Holmes acknowledged that he had been indicted for hindering prosecution in connection with Cooper's murder, but the State agreed to drop the charge in exchange for his truthful testimony against Page.

         ¶10. Garner testified that he rode with Cooper to Alex Abram's barbecue. He testified that Cooper argued with Page, Anthony Abram, Alex Abram, and Holmes. Cooper and Garner then left the barbecue in Cooper's truck. As they drove away, someone fired a gun in their direction. Garner testified that he and Cooper drove to Kelly's house, and the other men followed in Page's truck and confronted Cooper again. Anthony Abram put a gun to Cooper's head but put it down. Page then walked up and shot Cooper in the face. Garner testified that Holmes and Alex Abram walked away after the shooting.

         ¶11. Garner testified that Anthony Abram put Cooper's body in the back of Cooper's truck. Anthony Abram then drove off in Cooper's truck, and Page followed in his own truck. Page returned about forty-five minutes later, and Garner gave him a gas can to help burn the blood in the driveway. Garner also helped Page cover up blood with dirt. Page then left.

         ¶12. Garner testified that Page threatened that he would kill Garner and Garner's mother if Garner told anyone about the murder. Garner testified that Page made these threats both on the night of the murder and later while they were both in jail awaiting trial. Garner acknowledged that he had been indicted as an accessory after the fact to murder and for hindering prosecution. Garner testified that in exchange for his truthful testimony against Page and Anthony Abram, the State had agreed to recommend that he receive a sentence of twenty years' imprisonment, with sixteen years suspended and four years to serve, as an accessory after the fact.

         ¶13. A Deputy State Fire Marshal examined the burnt truck and testified that the fire was not set accidentally or caused by an electrical incident. He determined that the fire started in the cab of the truck, but he could not determine the specific cause or source. Expert witnesses established that blood found at Cooper's burned truck, at Page's house, at Kelly's house, and at various points on the trail between those locations was Cooper's blood. The bullet that killed Cooper did not match the .380 Lorcin pistol that Page tossed into a ditch just before his arrest. The murder weapon was never recovered.

         ¶14. After the State rested, Anthony Abram called only one witness, Hilda Patton, who testified that Anthony Abram was a friend, that he lived at her house in August 2014, and that he was at her house on the night of the murder. Patton testified that she disclosed this information to Anthony Abram's attorney about two weeks before trial. She acknowledged that she had not told anyone else about this during the two years that Anthony Abram had been in jail pending trial. Page then recalled Singley for the purpose of having the transcript of Singley's interview of Garner read to the jury. Page then rested and the State finally rested. The jury found Page guilty on all four charges against him-first-degree murder, arson, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and simple assault on a law enforcement officer-and found Anthony Abram guilty as an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.[4] The court sentenced Page, as a violent habitual offender, to four consecutive terms of life imprisonment. See Miss. Code Ann. § 99-19-83 (Rev. 2015). Page filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial, which the circuit court denied, and a notice of appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶15. As noted above, Page's appointed appellate counsel filed a brief that raises five issues. See supra ¶2. Page's supplemental pro se brief raises five additional issues. We address these issues in turn.

         I.The trial judge did not abuse his discretion by admitting certifiedrecords of ...


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