OF JUDGMENT: 06/13/2017
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. CHARLES E. WEBSTER JUDGE.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: CORTEZ DEONTAE BASS (PRO SE) HEATHER
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
ABBIE EASON KOONCE.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BRENDA FAY MITCHELL.
IRVING, P.J., GREENLEE AND TINDELL, JJ.
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).
On appeal, Bass 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.
Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of Bass's
conviction and sentence.
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
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
After being taken into custody, Bass gave a recorded
statement to law-enforcement officers. Investigator James
Clark testified that Bass voluntarily waived his
Miranda 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.
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.
Aggrieved, Bass appeals.
Right against Self-Incrimination
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.