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Jones v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 27, 2018


          EN BANC ORDER


         The instant matter is before the Court, en banc, on the Court's own motion. The Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by Brett Jones was granted by order of the Court signed on July 26, 2018. Upon further consideration, the Court finds that there is no need for further review and that the writ of certiorari should be dismissed, as authorized by Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 17(f).

         It is, therefore, ORDERED that the writ of certiorari is hereby dismissed.

         SO ORDERED.




         ¶1. Four justices of this Court granted the petition for writ of certiorari filed by Brett Jones to review the circuit court's denial of parole eligibility after a hearing pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). This Court, en banc, heard oral argument on the petition. Citing Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), Jones argues that he is not the rare, permanently incorrigible offender who, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, can be sentenced to a lifetime in prison. Now, five justices dismiss Jones's petition for certiorari, finding "no need for further review." Thus the majority, without deigning to provide any discussion of the arguments presented to this Court, waves aside the United States Supreme Court's decision in Montgomery and allows an unconstitutional sentence to stand.

         ¶2. When Brett Jones, now age twenty-nine, was fifteen years of age, he stabbed his grandfather to death. He was convicted of murder, and the Circuit Court of Lee County imposed a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. See Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-21 (Rev. 2006). By operation of Mississippi Code Section 47-7-3(1)(h) (Rev. 2011), Jones's life sentence rendered him ineligible for parole. After this Court ordered that Jones be resentenced after a hearing and consideration of the factors from Miller, the trial court found that Jones should not be eligible for parole. The Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence. Jones v. State, 938 So.2d 312 (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). In post-conviction relief proceedings, this Court ordered that Jones be resentenced after a hearing pursuant to Miller to determine his entitlement to parole eligibility.

         ¶3. The circuit court found that Jones was not entitled to parole eligibility. But after that decision, the United States Supreme Court decided Montgomery, which held that "Miller did bar life without parole . . . for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility" and that "Miller . . . does not leave States free to sentence a child whose crime reflects transient immaturity to life without parole." Id. at 734, 735. ¶4. Despite the fact that the circuit court was without the benefit of Montgomery when it resentenced Jones, the Court of Appeals affirmed Jones's without-parole sentence. This Court's dismissal of the petition for writ of certiorari means that the decision of the Court of Appeals will be Mississippi's final word on the constitutionality of Jones's sentence. Because the record does not reflect Jones's permanent incorrigibility, the circuit court's ruling was an abuse of discretion. Therefore, I would vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing to life imprisonment with eligibility for parole.


         ¶5. The Court of Appeals, in its opinion affirming Jones's conviction and sentence, set forth the facts adduced at the murder trial:

During August of 2004, Jones was living with his paternal grandparents, Bertis Jones and Madge Jones. Jones's girlfriend, Michelle Austin, had run away from home in the first week of August 2004. Austin was staying mostly at Jones's grandparents' home, as well as at an abandoned fish restaurant near the home. One August 9, 2004, Bertis Jones discovered Austin in Jones's bedroom and told her to get out of his house. Austin then ran to the fish restaurant. According to her testimony at trial, both Jones and his cousin, Jacob, later came and told her that Jones was "in big trouble" with his grandfather. Austin testified that she asked Jones, "What are you going to do? Kill him?" Austin testified that Jones did not respond to this question. Austin also testified that Jones "said that he was going to hurt his granddaddy."
Jones testified that at about 4 p.m., he went into the kitchen to make a sandwich, and he and the victim got into an argument. Jones "sassed" him, at which point the argument escalated. Jones testified that his grandfather got in his face, pointing and yelling at him. He testified that his grandfather had never done that before. He testified that his grandfather then pushed him, that he pushed him back, and his grandfather then swung at him. Jones testified that he had a steak knife in his hand from making a sandwich, and because he "didn't have anywhere to go between the corner and him," he "threw the knife forward," stabbing his grandfather. He testified that his grandfather backed up, looked at the wound, and came at Jones again. Jones again stabbed him and tried to get past his grandfather. Jones testified that his grandfather grabbed him, they fought some more, and Jones then grabbed a filet knife. He stabbed his grandfather with this knife. Jones testified:
I was stabbing him because I was afraid, I didn't know anything else to do because he was so huge. He's not really a big looking man until he gets in your face with his hands up and swinging at you, and then he turns into a giant. And you just feel like there's no way out, no way to get away from him.
After they "got outside," Jones testified that he knew his grandfather was going to die if he did not try to save him, so he tried to administer CPR. He then tried to carry his grandfather, who was not breathing at that point, into the house "[m]ostly to get him out of the yard." Jones then pulled the body into the laundry room and shut the door. Jones used a water hose to try and clean the blood off of his arms, and then threw his shirt in the garbage under the sink. He then attempted to cover up the blood spots in the carport by pulling his grandfather's car over them. Jones testified that he walked around the house and saw Robert "Frisco" Ruffner; at this point, Jones was covered in blood.
Ruffner, who was living with and doing yard work for Thomas Lacastro, a neighbor at the time, testified that he had "heard an old man, you know, like holler out he was in pain," and about two or three minutes later, he saw Jones walking toward him covered in blood. Ruffner testified that Jones was carrying a knife, trembling and saying, "Kill, kill." Ruffner then ran into the house and called 911.
Thomas Lacastro arrived while Ruffner was on the phone with the police, and Ruffner related to Lacastro what he had seen. Ruffner was hysterical at the time, and Lacastro did not, at first, believe him. Ruffner told Lacastro that Jones had killed his grandfather. Lacastro then saw Jones in the bushes and asked him to come over to his house. Lacastro testified that Jones was pale and "had some blood on him." Lacastro testified that he asked Jones, "Where's your grandfather?" Jones answered, "He's gone," and Lacastro responded, "No, he's not gone. His car is right there, Brett." Jones again tried to say that his grandfather had left, but Lacastro told him, "Brett, you're lying. You need to get out of my yard." At some point during the conversation, Jones told Lacastro that the blood was fake and that "it's a joke." Lacastro responded, "It's not a joke, son. This is not a joke. This is real."
Lacastro testified that Jones then went back toward the bushes, where he met a young lady. He testified that the two walked "up and down the bushes . . . [a]nd then . . . out toward the levee." Lacastro told Jones before he left that he had called the police. After Jones and the young lady left, Lacastro went over to the bushes where they had been "milling around" and saw an oil pan covered in blood. He then went into the carport and saw more blood, but did not go any farther.
Jones testified that when he left the property, he was trying to go to Wal-Mart to meet his grandmother because he "wanted to tell her what happened." He and Austin ran through the woods to a convenience store, where a man asked them if they needed a ride. Jones testified that they got to a gas station in Nettleton, Mississippi, and were trying to get a ride to the Wal-Mart in Tupelo, Mississippi, when police apprehended them.
Jones and Austin gave the officers false names. Officer Gary Turner of Nettleton began a pat-down of Jones and found a pocketknife in his left pocket. Officer Turner asked whether it was the knife Jones "did it with," to which Jones responded, "No, I already got rid of it."
When Investigator Steve White went to investigate the home of Bertis Jones, he found Bertis Jones's body concealed in a utility room in the back of the carport. He found that someone had apparently used a car, an oil pan and a mat to conceal puddles of blood. Investigator White also found a bloodstained T-shirt in the carport, as well as more bloodstained clothing in the kitchen trash can. Officers also found a filet knife in the kitchen sink and a bent steak knife with blood on the tip of it. There were blood spatters on the walls.[1]
There were a total of eight stab wounds to the body of Bertis Jones. There were also abrasions consistent with the body's having been dragged, and cuts on the hand classified as "defensive posturing injuries." The cause of death was a stab wound to the chest.
Jones was convicted of murder in the Circuit Court of Lee County and sentenced to life imprisonment in the ...

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