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Palmer v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 25, 2018

GREGORY D. PALMER, APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, APPELLEE

          NEWTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. CHRISTOPHER A. COLLINS, JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., FAIR AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          WESTBROOKS, J.

         ¶1. Gregory Palmer was convicted of gratification of lust in the Newton County Circuit Court in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-5-23 (1) (Rev. 2014). Palmer was sentenced to fifteen years with three years suspended, leaving twelve years to serve in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). Additionally, Palmer was ordered to serve three years of supervised probation under the supervision of MDOC, as well as register as a sex offender with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety in accordance with Mississippi Code Annotated section 45-33-25 (Rev. 2015).[1] Aggrieved, Palmer appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Gregory Palmer was indicted and convicted of gratification of lust by a jury on August 7, 2017. Palmer resided at the Hidden Springs Arabian Horse Farm, along with Tricia McGehee, Betty Skinner, and K.S.[2] Skinner was the great aunt and legal guardian of K.S., and K.S. referred to her as her mother. McGehee was Skinner's best friend who had Parkinson's disease and required constant care by others. Skinner and Palmer met at church sometime between 2014 and 2015, and subsequently Palmer asked for work. Skinner hired him as a farmhand and a caregiver for McGehee. Palmer lived on the farm in a house about 200 yards away from the main structure where Skinner, K.S., and McGehee all resided. During the 2016 school year, K.S. was home-schooled by Palmer's ex-wife Jennifer Palmer, but she quit. Skinner asked Palmer if he would serve as K.S.'s teacher, and he agreed.

         ¶3. Palmer and Jennifer had a fourteen-year-old daughter, K.P., who K.S. became friends with. Palmer would often take the girls to the fair, to other events, and places around town. On December 9, 2016, K.S., her brother, E.S., K.P., and another friend, H.H., went to Palmer's house for a sleep over. The goal of the sleep over was to prepare clothes and jewelry to sell at the flea market that Palmer had agreed to take them to the next day. In anticipation for the market, Skinner loaned Palmer her truck. K.S. testified that shortly after arriving she watched a movie with Palmer and E.S., while K.P. and H.H. were in the bedroom "having fun." K.P. and H.H. testified that they were in the other room but not for the entire time. K.P. stated that the bedroom door was always open because she was not allowed to close it and that she was in and out of the living room watching the movie, sometimes staying in the living room for ten minutes at a time. H.H. stated that she was in the room with K.P. sorting items but still watched the movie. Both K.P. and H.H. claimed that K.S. was never alone with Palmer.

         ¶4. K.S. stated that initially she was on the same couch as E.S., but Palmer called her to sit in the recliner chair with him on his lap. K.P. and H.H. testified differently. They claimed that K.S. was sitting on the arm of the recliner, not on Palmer's lap, and that her legs faced away from Palmer. H.H. claimed that K.S. only sat on the arm of the chair for fifteen or twenty minutes. K.S. stated that E.S. and Palmer had fallen asleep at the same point during the movie. She alleged that Palmer awoke, began to rub her shoulders, and touched her chest over and under her shirt thinking she was asleep. K.S. also asserted that Palmer touched her skin under her bra and inside of her underwear on her "private areas" without penetration.

         ¶5. After the alleged incident, K.S. stated that she went into the room with K.P. and H.H. to separate the clothes and jewelry. Shortly after, Palmer came in the room and told the girls to calm down and go to bed. About twenty minutes later, K.S. testified that she snuck out of Palmer's house after sending a text message to Skinner asking her to come get her. Skinner said that she could not leave McGehee unattended and told K.S. to go back to sleep. K.S. replied that she was already coming through the woods, which was not her usual route because she was afraid of spiders and would normally walk the paved way. When K.S. got home, she told Skinner about what happened, and Skinner asked Steve Diamond, a long time employee who also lived on the farm, to go get E.S. and her truck from Palmer's house. Diamond testified that K.S. came to his door "hysterical, terrified, shaking, and crying" to alert him to what was going on. After returning from Diamond's door, K.S. requested Skinner to call Jennifer so that she could protect K.P. from Palmer. Jennifer immediately came to the main structure on the farm. About thirty minutes after K.S. arrived back at her home, Skinner called the police.

         ¶6. Police captain Johnny Martin was dispatched to the farm around 3 a.m. and was told that Palmer touched K.S.'s breast and inside her underwear. Martin stated that K.S. was crying but was not hesitant to tell him the allegations. Martin testified that he did not go to Palmer's house but did speak to Palmer on the phone about the allegations and the possibility of an arrest warrant. There was no inquiry about K.S.'s clothes or seizure of clothes for forensic analysis, no photos were taken, and none of the other people present in Palmer's house at the time were spoken to.

         ¶7. The following Monday, December 12, 2016, K.S. spoke with Newton Police Investigator Bruce McCraw and wrote a statement. McCraw testified that K.S. was "very reluctant to tell the story" and that she seemed embarrassed or withdrawn about speaking to a stranger about the incident. McCraw stated that he did not go to Palmer's house, but he did talk to K.S. on the phone. About five days later, Palmer turned himself in to authorities. During the trial, K.S. testified that she was fifteen years old, K.P. testified that she was fourteen years old, and H.H. testified that she was twelve years old. Palmer was convicted by a jury of gratification of lust. Aggrieved, Palmer appeals.

         STANDARD ...


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