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Bass v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 11, 2018

CORTEZ DEONTAE BASS A/K/A TEZ A/K/A CORTEZ BASS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/13/2017

          TUNICA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. CHARLES E. WEBSTER JUDGE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: CORTEZ DEONTAE BASS (PRO SE) HEATHER MARIE ABY.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ABBIE EASON KOONCE.

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BRENDA FAY MITCHELL.

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., GREENLEE AND TINDELL, JJ.

          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. A Tunica County grand jury indicted Cortez Bass and Dedrick Small for the first- degree (deliberate-design) murder of Donterrius Jackson with a firearm enhancement. See Miss. Code Ann. §§ 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev. 2014) & 97-37-37(1) (Rev. 2014). The Tunica County Circuit Court later granted Small's motion to sever his trial. Following the completion of Bass's trial, the jury found Bass guilty of first-degree murder. Because Bass was seventeen when he committed the crime, the circuit court held a sentencing hearing to determine whether he was entitled to parole eligibility under Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). Finding that Bass was not entitled to any relief, the circuit court sentenced him to life without eligibility for parole (LWOP) for the murder conviction and to a consecutive five-year sentence for the firearm enhancement, with both sentences to be served in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC).

         ¶2. On appeal, Bass[1] argues the following: (1) actions by law-enforcement officers violated his right to be free from self-incrimination; (2) the circuit court erred by failing to grant a mistrial; (3) the State erroneously denied him access to Jackson's criminal history; (4) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct; (5) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (6) the circuit court erred by denying his request for expert-assistance funds for mitigation investigation; (7) the circuit court's imposition of his sentence violated his constitutional right to a jury sentencing; and (8) the circuit court erred by sentencing him to LWOP.

         ¶3. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of Bass's conviction and sentence.

         FACTS

         ¶4. On the afternoon of March 10, 2014, Jackson and his friend, George Anderson, encountered Bass, Small, and Bass's cousin, Kendrick, at an intersection in Tunica. An argument erupted between the two groups. Seven witnesses testified that the altercation ended with Bass fatally shooting Jackson.

         ¶5. Prior to the shooting, witnesses testified that Jackson and Anderson were walking down Cotton Street when Bass drove by and tried to hit Jackson with his car. After missing Jackson, Bass drove away, and Jackson and Anderson entered a nearby house. Later that day, Jackson and Anderson exited the house and were standing near the Cottonland Village Apartments at the intersection of Beatline Road and Cotton Street, when Bass, Small, and Kendrick approached from the other side of the street. Although the two groups remained on their respective sides of the street, Bass and Jackson began to argue with each other.

         ¶6. At Bass's trial, multiple witnesses testified that Bass and Jackson initially appeared to be headed toward a fistfight. According to one witness, however, Bass claimed just prior to the shooting that he was going to kill Jackson. Witness testimony varied as to whether or not Bass obtained the gun he used from Small. Witness testimony also varied as to whether Bass fired the gun once or twice. Multiple witnesses for the State testified, however, that they never saw Jackson pull out a weapon and that he was trying to run away when Bass shot him. The medical examiner who performed Jackson's autopsy testified that Jackson died from a gunshot wound to the back of his head.

         ¶7. Jackson's younger brother, Kendarrius, testified that he witnessed Bass shoot his brother from the upstairs bedroom of his family's apartment. Kendarrius further testified that, after seeing the shooting, he retrieved a gun from a closet in the apartment and ran outside. Kendarrius stated that he no longer saw Bass in the area but that a crowd had gathered around his brother's body. As a result, Kendarrius testified that he shot the gun into the air a few times to disperse the crowd. Kendarrius identified State's Exhibit S-11, a Davis P-380 semiautomatic handgun, as the weapon he fired into the air.

         ¶8. Contrary to the testimony of the State's witnesses, Bass and his cousin, Kendrick, testified that Anderson escalated the altercation between the groups by saying, "Let's pistol play." Both Bass and Kendrick testified that Jackson then pulled out a gun and pointed it at them. In response, Bass and Kendrick stated that Small pulled out a gun of his own, a nine-millimeter handgun, which Bass snatched from Small. Bass's and Kendrick's testimonies differed as to what happened next. Bass testified that he fired the gun once and that he, Kendrick, and Small immediately ran back to his home on Cotton Street.[2] As he was running, Bass testified that he saw Jackson's brother, Kendarrius, arrive at the street corner and pick up Jackson's gun. Kendrick testified, however, that before Bass fired his shot, Kendarrius ran out of an apartment with a gun and started shooting at them. Despite this discrepancy, both Bass and Kendrick testified that Kendarrius followed them down the street toward Bass's house and shot in their direction.

         ¶9. The State's witnesses corroborated that Bass, Kendrick, and Small ran to Bass's home on Cotton Street after the shooting. One witness testified, however, that as Bass ran by her he said, "I hope I killed that bitch." Lieutenant Dennis Hopson testified that he arrived at Bass's home shortly after the shooting to take Bass into custody. According to Lieutenant Hopson, when Bass exited his home, his hands were wet and sudsy as though he had just washed them. Captain James Smith, who also responded to the dispatch about the shooting, testified that he performed a gunshot-residue test on Bass. The forensic scientist who analyzed the test results stated that, although thoroughly washing one's hands can remove gunshot residue, the test performed on Bass showed Bass still had particles indicative of gunshot residue on both his hands. The forensic scientist further stated that no gunshot residue was found on Jackson's hands. Emergency responders did, however, discover a .32-caliber handgun in Jackson's pocket after the shooting. The emergency responder who found the weapon testified that Jackson was wearing two pairs of pants and that the gun was tucked into the front right pocket of Jackson's inner pair of pants.

         ¶10. Captain Smith testified that he also collected evidence from the crime scene. Captain Smith stated that he found four .380-caliber shells in the front yard of the home on Cotton Street where the shooting occurred. He also found one nine-millimeter shell casing in the middle of the road.

         ¶11. After being taken into custody, Bass gave a recorded statement to law-enforcement officers. Investigator James Clark testified that Bass voluntarily waived his Miranda[3] rights and spoke to both him and Captain Rico Harris. The State called Investigator Clark as a rebuttal witness to testify about the differences between Bass's pretrial statement and his trial testimony. Investigator Clark stated that, during their interview, Bass claimed Jackson pulled out a gun and shot at him twice. Bass then told the officers that he pulled out his own gun, which he had brought with him, and shot back at Jackson once or twice. Unlike during his trial testimony, Bass denied during the pretrial interview that Small gave him the gun. In fact, Investigator Clark testified Bass said Small had nothing to do with the gun. Bass instead told the officers that he had bought the gun from a man for $100 and that he kept the weapon under his mattress.

         ¶12. After considering all the evidence and testimony, the jury found Bass guilty of first-degree murder with a firearm enhancement. Prior to sentencing, Bass filed multiple motions, including a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, in the alternative, for a new trial; a motion for sentencing pursuant to Miller; and motions seeking expert-assistance funds for a psychologist and a mitigation investigator. The circuit court granted Bass's request for funds for a psychologist but denied the requested funds for a mitigation investigator. The circuit court also denied Bass's motion for a JNOV or, in the alternative, a new trial. After considering the evidence presented at Bass's sentencing hearing, the circuit court sentenced Bass to LWOP for first-degree murder and to a consecutive five-year sentence for the firearm enhancement, with both sentences to be served in MDOC's custody.

         ¶13. Aggrieved, Bass appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Right against Self-Incrimination

         ¶14. For the first time on appeal, Bass contends that law-enforcement officers violated his right against self-incrimination. Specifically, Bass asserts that, because he was only seventeen years old at the time of the crime, Investigator Clark and Captain Harris should never have accepted his Miranda-rights waiver or questioned him without permission from a parent or guardian. Because Bass never raised this objection before the circuit court, he is procedurally barred from doing so now. See Morton v. ...


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