TOBIAS COLEMAN a/k/a TOBIAS R. COLEMAN a/k/a TOBIAS RAYSHUN COLEMAN a/k/a TABIAS COLEMAN a/k/a TABIAS RAYSHUN COLEMAN
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
OF JUDGMENT: 02/01/2017
OKTIBBEHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JAMES T. KITCHENS, JR.
COURT ATTORNEYS: STANLEY ALEXANDER GERALD ALEXANDER MUMFORD
MARK TYLER JACKSON KATIE NICOLE MOULDS SCOTT E. ROGILLIO
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER
BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: SCOTT WINSTON COLOM
WALLER, CHIEF JUSTICE.
A jury found Tobias Coleman guilty of aggravated assault for
shooting a man in the head. The judge sentenced him to twenty
years' imprisonment, with five years suspended. Coleman
We find that the trial court committed reversible error by
admitting into evidence an undated, grainy Facebook image
taken of the defendant Tobias Coleman holding what appears to
be a handgun, years before the alleged crime, through the
testimony of a witness who denied ever having seen
Coleman's Facebook page or the photograph in question. We
reverse and remand for a new trial.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On March 30, 2014, Zacharias Blanchard was shot in the head
on the grounds of Club Rock, located in Oktibbeha County just
outside of Starkville, Mississippi. Blanchard was taken to
the Oktibbeha County Hospital by Joanna Burchfield, who had
found him lying next to her car and bleeding. Blanchard was
transferred by helicopter to the University of Mississippi
Medical Center in Jackson for treatment by a neurosurgeon.
Upon returning to Starkville, Blanchard identified Tobias
Coleman as the man who shot him. A grand jury charged Coleman
with aggravated assault. Coleman was tried over two days in
Blanchard testified that on the night of March 30, 2014, he
arrived at Club Rock under the influence of
"Molly," a drug described by Blanchard as a
"sexual enhancer," and alcohol. Blanchard was
accompanied by his friend Stephen Thomas Jr. Once inside Club
Rock, Blanchard's cousin told him that Coleman and a
group of friends had trapped him in the bathroom. To take up
for his cousin, Blanchard walked outside to confront Coleman.
Blanchard yelled at Coleman "from a distance," but
he could not recall what he said. Blanchard also could not
recall whether the area outside the club was well-lit or
dark, although he remembered that Coleman was wearing a black
t-shirt and black jeans. Upon seeing Coleman walking towards
him, Blanchard testified that he did not protest or run
because "if it was [his] time, it was [his] time."
Blanchard stated that Coleman had "walked upon
[him]" from behind and shot him "from the
back." When asked why he would walk to a dark area and
turn his back on a person that Blanchard alleged had
previously tried to kill him, Blanchard responded that he
"respect[ed] all and fear[ed] not."
Dr. Allen Butts was the State's second witness. He
examined Blanchard at the Oktibbeha County Hospital. He
determined that Blanchard had been injured by a gunshot wound
that had entered through his forehead, and he stabilized
Blanchard prior to his transfer to Jackson.
The State's last witness was Lieutenant Brett Watson, an
investigator with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office.
He testified that between eight hundred to one thousand
people were at Club Rock on March 30, 2014. Five people,
including Blanchard, had been shot that night. Investigators
found shell casings from three different calibers of
guns-.380, .40, and .45 caliber. Lieutenant Watson testified
that the different calibers of ammunition meant there likely
had been multiple shooters that night. Shell casings were
found in several different locations, but no DNA samples were
recovered from the casings. The area where Blanchard was shot
contained both .40 and .45 caliber shell casings, which,
according to Lieutenant Watson, indicated that there had been
more than one shooter. Lieutenant Watson and other
investigators conducted interviews with the shooting victims,
but most patrons had left the scene before law enforcement
arrived. Investigators received names, nicknames, and tips
about potential shooters. None were ever confirmed.
Lieutenant Watson interviewed Blanchard after he returned to
Starkville from Jackson. Blanchard positively identified
Coleman as the shooter, having picked him out of a photograph
After the State rested, the defense called Marcus Johnson.
Johnson testified that he had been at Club Rock that night
and had witnessed the shooting. According to Johnson,
Blanchard and Thomas were involved in an altercation with
another man. Johnson testified that both Blanchard and Thomas
brandished their weapons and fired at a "dude with
dreads[.]" But Johnson claimed that the man was not
During cross-examination, the State asked Johnson how long he
had known Coleman and if he had ever seen Coleman with a gun.
Johnson testified he had known Coleman several years and had
never seen him with a gun. The State then asked if Johnson
had ever seen Coleman's Facebook page. Johnson answered
that he had never seen Coleman's Facebook page because he
had many "Facebook friends." In response, the State
sought to introduce photographs from Coleman's Facebook
page. Coleman objected, and the jury was excluded. The trial
court reviewed the photographs-one showed Coleman holding a
handgun; the other showed him holding a rifle. While the
trial court excluded the photograph showing Coleman holding a
rifle, the trial court found the other photograph to be
relevant because it showed Coleman holding a black,
semiautomatic pistol "in his life."
Coleman testified on his own behalf. He stated that the
Facebook picture proffered by the State had been taken four
years before the crime when he was still in high school.
Coleman also stated that he was not in possession of a pistol
the night of the shooting. Coleman denied Blanchard's
allegations that he was the shooter and claimed to have fled
Club Rock upon hearing the gunshots.
The jury found Coleman guilty of aggravated assault. The
judge sentenced Coleman to twenty years in prison, with five
years suspended. The trial court denied Coleman's motion
for a new trial. Coleman now appeals.
On appeal, Coleman argues that the photograph, introduced
through a witness who had no knowledge of the pistol and used
as impeachment evidence, was irrelevant, inflammatory, and
The photograph was proffered by the State to impeach the
defense witness, Marcus Johnson, who testified that he had
never seen Coleman with a gun before. The photograph was an
undated, grainy image purportedly taken from Coleman's
Facebook page. The following exchange took place between the
State, the trial court, and defense counsel regarding whether
photograph should be admitted:
[The State]: My question to the witness was, had he ever been
on Tobias Coleman's [F]acebook page. Those pictures were
taken from his [F]acebook page. And I was going to ask him
did he recognize Tobias from those photographs.
BY THE COURT: Okay
[The State]: And also I was going to ask him has he ever seen
him with a gun? That was going to be the first question. Ask
[sic] the Court can see in both of those photographs, the
defendant is holding a gun, both a handgun and a rifle.
In response, defense counsel objected to the admission of the
photograph on the basis of relevance. The following exchange
occurred between defense counsel and the trial court:
[Defense Counsel]: Judge, if you will look at his hair on
that picture, you can tell that picture is ...