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Dennis v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 11, 2018

JOHN EDWARD DENNIS A/K/A JOHN E. DENNIS A/K/A JOHN DENNIS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/19/2017

          HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. ROGER T. CLARK JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: PHILLIP BROADHEAD

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KATY TAYLOR GERBER

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOEL SMITH

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND FAIR, JJ.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. Edward Dennis was convicted of burglary of an automobile. The trial court sentenced him to serve seven years as a habitual offender in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) without parole. Dennis appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On the morning of July 28, 2014, Stephen Tapper sat in his gray 2013 Ford F-150 truck, parked in front of his house in D'Iberville, Mississippi. As he sat in his truck, he realized that his center console had been moved and several items were missing: a laptop, laptop bag, laptop cords, a thumb drive with family photos on it, a Harley Davidson gym bag, gym clothes, headphones, and some cookies.

         ¶3. Tapper called the police. Officer Terry Joiner arrived at the Tapper residence, obtained Tapper's statement, and then examined the vehicle for evidence. Officer Joiner attempted to lift fingerprints but could not. While interviewing neighbors, he noted that some residents reported seeing individuals in the nearby wooded area; one neighbor believed his vehicle had been burglarized. Situated nearby was an unclaimed bicycle.

         ¶4. Tapper, owner of a security surveillance company, reviewed his own surveillance footage from the previous night, and saw a man entering his truck and removing several items. Tapper posted the surveillance video on Facebook asking for help identifying the individual. Fellow Facebook users responded with calls and texts identifying the defendant as John Dennis. In one response Tapper received an image of a Facebook photo of Dennis. ¶5. That afternoon, Officer Lee Donald went back to the Tapper residence to retrieve the surveillance video as evidence. He also took another statement from Tapper because he had possible suspect information. After the initial report was completed, Detective Marty Griffin was given the case to investigate further. On July 29, 2014, Detective Griffin started gathering information about the potential suspect. After receiving two photographs of the suspect from Tapper, he sent out a press release to the local media outlets in hopes that someone would recognize him. According to Detective Griffin, these results also indicated Dennis was the suspect. That same day, Detective Griffin participated in Dennis's arrest.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶6. On appeal, Dennis argues that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), and in the alternative, he claims that the trial court erred by denying his motion for a new trial because the jury's verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Dennis further argues that the trial court erred in allowing the State's witnesses to identify Dennis in the surveillance video. Finally, Dennis also urges that the trial court erred when it refused Dennis's request for a circumstantial-evidence jury instruction.

         A. JNOV

         ¶7. "When reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court will reverse and render only if the facts and inferences point in favor of the defendant on any element of the offense with sufficient force that reasonable men could not have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty." Hughes v. State, 983 So.2d 270, 275-76 (¶10) (Miss. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). "This Court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the State." Id. at 276 (¶11). "The [S]tate receives the benefit of all favorable inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the evidence." Id.

         ¶8. Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we find that there was sufficient evidence to convict Dennis. Dennis asserts the State did not prove that he was the person who committed the crime. At trial, several witnesses identified Dennis in the courtroom. Officer Joiner testified that he reviewed the video. He saw the suspect gain entry to the vehicle, and he saw the interior light turn on, "which actually illuminated his face and his facial features in the video." Officer Joiner was also able to determine distinct tattoo markings on the suspect, his clothing, and his facial features.

         ¶9. Tapper's testimony about the surveillance video was similar. He testified that the video showed a white male with dark hair and a "real clear six-point tattoo" enter his vehicle through the driver's-side door, rummage through the vehicle, and take various items. In addition, Tapper explained that when he posted the surveillance video to Facebook, people started "blowing [his phone] up" with calls and texts, which all identified the suspect as Dennis. Tapper also identified Dennis in the courtroom.

         ¶10. Detective Griffin testified that the information he received as a result of the press release was consistent with the information Tapper received-that the suspect was Dennis. Detective Griffin, who was present during the arrest, testified that he observed Dennis without his shirt on. He physically ascertained that Dennis not only had the distinctive tattoo but also had the same characteristics such ...


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