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Nelson v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 30, 2018

DERRICK NELSON A/K/A DERRICK DEMETRIUS NELSON APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/19/2016

          LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JAMES T. KITCHENS JR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DAVID NEIL MCCARTY

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

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: SCOTT WINSTON COLOM

         EN BANC.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. Derrick Nelson was convicted of first-degree murder for the shooting of his mother's boyfriend, Willie Hood. Nelson told police that Hood attacked him and tried to take his gun, which went off accidentally during the struggle and killed Hood. On appeal, Nelson claims the evidence was insufficient to convict him of first-degree murder and that the circuit court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on imperfect self-defense, a legal theory that reduces an intentional killing from murder to manslaughter where the defendant killed the victim out of a sincere but unreasonable belief that it was necessary to protect himself from death or great bodily harm.

         ¶2. The jury should have been instructed on imperfect self-defense, and, because it was not, we reverse Nelson's conviction and remand for a new trial.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Imperfect Self-Defense

         ¶3. Two eyewitnesses testified for the prosecution. Both were Nelson's sisters, and their accounts at trial were mostly consistent with his: Nelson, Hood, Nelson's sisters, his mother, and others were having a graduation party for Nelson's brother. There is no dispute Hood was drunk-a post-mortem examination confirmed that his blood-alcohol content was 0.21, more than two and a half times the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. Nelson took the keys to Hood's vehicle, and Hood demanded that he return them. Hood became very agitated when Nelson refused. Eventually, Nelson relented and gave up the keys, calling a friend for a ride. But Hood remained agitated and continued arguing with various members of Nelson's family.

         ¶4. Hood then began "swinging wildly" and punching his own vehicle repeatedly, breaking a wind guard and one of the vehicle's windows; then he picked up a beer bottle and threw it either at the vehicle or at Nelson; the bottle glanced off Nelson before hitting the vehicle and breaking, with some of the broken glass hitting Nelson. Around this time Nelson's ride arrived. A man from out of state whom Nelson knew only as "Smiley" was driving the vehicle. According to Nelson's statement, he saw a pistol on the passenger's seat of Smiley's vehicle, and he picked it up and fired it into the air several times in what he claimed was an effort to get Hood's attention and put an end to his tantrum. Nelson told Hood to "chill out" and that he would not hurt him, but Hood responded by advancing on Nelson and trying to take the gun. While they were grappling over it, the gun discharged, and Hood was hit in the forehead, killing him.

         ¶5. The sisters' testimonies mostly tracked Nelson's account, though both frequently claimed a lack of memory at trial, and they were impeached with statements they had given the police on the night of the killing that suggested the shooting was a murder by Nelson. ...


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