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Walden v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 25, 2018


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/03/2017





          LEE, C.J.

         ¶1. Following an evidentiary hearing on Nathaniel Walden's motion for postconviction relief (PCR) in which he asserted ineffective assistance of counsel, the Holmes County Circuit Court denied Walden's motion on the merits. Walden now appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

         ¶2. The present appeal comes before this Court following an evidentiary hearing in the circuit court on Walden's ineffective-assistance claim. This hearing took place following the supreme court's decision in Walden v. State, 201 So.3d 1042 (Miss. 2016), reversing the circuit court's decision to dismiss Walden's initial PCR motion and this Court's decision to affirm the circuit court in Walden v. State, 213 So.3d 547 (Miss. Ct. App. 2016), rev'd, 201 So.3d 1042 (Miss. 2016). Thus, the facts and circumstances giving rise to this appeal are the same as those in his previous PCR appeals, as well as Walden's direct appeal in Walden v. State, 29 So.3d 17 (Miss. Ct. App. 2008). Walden's present ineffective-assistance claims are largely based on this Court's discussion and disposition of issues raised in his direct appeal. As such, it is necessary to detail not only the facts and procedural history underlying Walden's present appeal but also his previous PCR-motion appeals and direct appeal.


         ¶3. On April 28, 2005, Walden shot and killed his sister-in-law, Mary Walden, who was married to Walden's brother, James. Walden and James had been arguing over the course of a couple weeks regarding items James's son had purportedly taken and not returned. On the day of the shooting, Walden went to James's property in Holmes County, Mississippi, to confront him about a missing saw. The two became involved in a heated exchange. According to James, Walden would not leave his property, so he pointed an unloaded shotgun at Walden so that he would leave. Walden left and went to his sister, Maddie Brown's house, but after about twenty minutes he returned to James's trailer house. The two exchanged gunshots. Brown later provided a statement to the sheriff's office and also testified at trial that Walden was angry when he left her house and stated that he was going to kill James. Both James and Walden gave conflicting accounts regarding the shooting, and each testified at trial that the other began shooting first. Once Walden left James's property, James discovered that Mary was dead, lying in a pool of blood in the doorway between the master bedroom and the bathroom. Mary's autopsy revealed she had died from a single bullet to the head, and the Mississippi Crime Laboratory determined that this bullet came from Walden's pistol he had on his person at the time of his arrest. Walden testified at trial that he did not know at the time he left James's property that he had shot Mary who was in the house.

         ¶4. Following a jury trial in the Holmes County Circuit Court, Walden was convicted of murder and shooting into an occupied dwelling. For the murder conviction, Walden was sentenced to life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). For shooting into an occupied dwelling, he was sentenced to ten years in the custody of the MDOC, with five years suspended and on probation, with the sentence to run consecutively to the life sentence. Additional facts are discussed as relevant in the course of the procedural history and analysis.


         1. Direct Appeal

         ¶5. Walden directly appealed his conviction and sentence to this Court in Walden v. State, 29 So.3d 17 (Miss. Ct. App. 2008). One of his claims on direct appeal was that "the trial court erroneously refused Walden's proffered jury instruction D-2." Id. at 19 (¶2). Jury instruction D-2 (the accident instruction) would have "instructed the jury to find Walden not guilty if it found that Walden, without design or deliberation to cause death, possessed a pistol and 'in the heat of passion in a struggle between James Walden and Nathaniel Walden the fatal shot was fired accidentally and through misfortune, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation.'" Id. at 23 (¶20). Walden argued on direct appeal that the trial court's refusal of the accident instruction prevented him from presenting his theory of the case to the jury. Id. Walden had testified at trial "that he was running away and shooting into the air, so he did not know how many rounds he had fired into the trailer house . . . [and] maintained throughout his testimony that he never intended to kill anyone." Id. at 21 (¶11). This Court explained that "[w]hile a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction that presents his theory of the case, this entitlement is limited by the court's ability to refuse a defense instruction that incorrectly states the law or lacks a foundation in the evidence." Id. at 23 (¶21) (citing Howell v. State, 860 So.2d 704, 745 (¶142) (Miss. 2003)). We then held that "jury instruction D-2 lacked an evidentiary foundation, and the trial court correctly denied it" because the accident instruction would have been warranted only if there had been evidence that Walden accidentally fired the gun. Id. (citing Montana v. State, 822 So.2d 954, 962-63 (¶¶33-34) (Miss. 2002)). But, "Walden's theory of the case was based upon his own testimony that he intentionally fired each shot. There was no evidence from which a jury could have found that Walden fired the shots accidentally." Id. at 24 (¶22). This Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the accident instruction.

         ¶6. Also in his direct appeal, Walden alleged there was insufficient evidence to support his murder conviction because there was "no evidence that he fired the gun with deliberate design to effect death." Id. at 25 (¶25). But this Court found that there was sufficient evidence to support Walden's murder conviction, particularly Brown's testimony that Walden stated he was going to kill James just before returning to James's property when the shooting occurred. Id. We also noted there was testimony that Walden shot at James first and that James retreated into the trailer house and Walden shot into the trailer. Id. We then explained that Walden's intent to kill James was transferred to Mary under the doctrine of transferred intent, so there was sufficient evidence of intent to support his murder conviction. Id. at (¶26).

         2. Initial PCR Motion

         ¶7. On June 20, 2013, the supreme court granted Walden leave to proceed in the circuit court, and Walden filed his PCR motion on July 12, 2013. Walden's PCR motion asserted a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, alleging that his counsel was constitutionally deficient for advising him to reject a manslaughter plea deal and that his counsel told him that the State would not be able to prove at trial that Walden intentionally murdered Mary. He further alleged that his counsel was ineffective for presenting an accident defense when there was evidence that Walden had intentionally fired the shots. The circuit court found that Walden's petition was procedurally barred because Walden failed to seek leave from the supreme court to proceed and that the petition was time-barred. As to the merits, the circuit court found that Walden's petition should be denied because the evidence at trial supported his murder conviction. The circuit court also found that Walden's claims were supported only by his own affidavits, thereby warranting dismissal.

         ¶8. Walden appealed the circuit court's dismissal of his PCR motion to this Court in Walden v. State, 213 So.3d 547 (Miss. Ct. App. 2016), rev'd, 201 So.3d 1042 (Miss. 2016). We found that the motion was not procedurally barred because Walden had sought leave to proceed in the circuit court, which the supreme court had granted. 213 So.3d at 549-50 (¶10). We also found that Walden's motion was not time-barred, noting that "Walden filed his motion seeking leave before the three-year statute of limitations expired, but it was not granted until after the three-year deadline had passed, [so] we must presume that the supreme court intended to allow Walden to file his motion without subjecting it to the three-year statute of limitations." Id. at 550 (¶13).

         ¶9. Though finding Walden's claim was procedurally alive and not time-barred, we found that the circuit court did not err in dismissing the claim on the merits, noting that "where a party offers only his affidavit, then his ineffective assistance claim is without merit." Id. at 550 (¶15) (quoting Cherry v. State, 24 So.3d 1048, 1051 (ΒΆ6) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010)). Affirming the circuit court's dismissal, we held that "because Walden fails to present any evidence that he was offered a plea deal for manslaughter, he has no grounds to ...

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