OF JUDGMENT: 01/19/2018
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. ANTHONY ALAN MOZINGO TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JAMES EARNEST WATTS (PRO SE)
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD
IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND FAIR, JJ.
James Earnest Watts appeals the judgment of the Marion County
Circuit Court, denying his motion for modification of his
On April 19, 1994, the grand jury of Marion County indicted
Watts for killing Vanessa Nicole Lumpkin, a female child
under the age of twelve years old, while in the commission of
sexual battery in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated
section 97-3-19(2)(e) (Supp. 2018). In August 1996, a jury
convicted Watts of capital murder and decided that he should
receive the death penalty. Watts appealed; the Mississippi
Supreme Court affirmed his conviction but reversed his
sentence on the basis that the trial court had not properly
instructed the jury as to the three sentencing options in
capital murder cases provided by Mississippi Code Annotated
section 97-3-21(3) (Rev. 2014): death, life in prison without
the eligibility for parole, or life in prison with the
eligibility for parole. Rather, the jury was instructed only
that it had two sentencing options: the death penalty or life
in prison without the eligibility for parole.
On June 4, 1999, Watts-represented by counsel-appeared before
the trial court for resentencing. The State offered not to
seek the death penalty if Watts would agree to waive his
right to pursue a sentence before a jury of life with parole
and accept a sentence of life without parole. After
conferring with his counsel, Watts accepted the State's
offer, and the trial court sentenced him to life without the
eligibility for parole.
On December 11, 2017, Watts, acting pro se, filed a motion to
modify his sentence to life with the eligibility for parole,
wherein he argued that Mississippi Code Annotated section
97-3-21 (Rev. 2014) permitted the trial court to impose a
sentence of only imprisonment for life; thus, its imposition
of a sentence of life without parole exceeded the statutory
maximum. In support of his argument, Watts cited King v.
Epps, No. 1:10CV7-A, 2013 WL 1291632, at *1 (N.D. Miss.
Mar. 26, 2013), and Bell v. State, 160 So.3d 188,
189 (¶1) (Miss. 2015), for the proposition that
Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-107 (Rev. 2015) is
inapplicable because the death penalty was rendered
unconstitutional. The trial court denied Watts's motion
and found that the holding in King v. State, 165
So.3d 1289, 1289 (¶1) (Miss. 2015),  did not apply to
Watts; the trial court did not address the holding in
Bell. Watts now appeals. On remand, Watts and the
State entered into a plea agreement wherein Watts agreed to
be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Watts
subsequently filed a motion to modify his sentence, arguing
that the trial court had exceeded its authority with the
sentence it imposed. The trial court denied Watts's
motion and Watts has appealed. We find no error and,
"Our review of motions to reconsider a sentence is made
under an abuse-of-discretion standard." Ducote v.
State, 970 So.2d 1309, 1312 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App.
2007). However, as the State points out, this matter presents
itself more so as a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR)
because Watts argues that the trial court was without
jurisdiction to impose his sentence, that his sentence
exceeds the maximum authorized by law, and that his agreement
to waive being sentenced by a jury was involuntary. All of
these arguments are set forth as potential PCR claims under
the Mississippi Uniform Post-Conviction Collateral Relief
Act, Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-39-5 (Rev. 2015).
"Regarding post-conviction relief appeals, this Court
will not disturb the findings of the trial court unless they
are found to be clearly erroneous." Ducote, 970
So.2d at 1315 (¶14).
Watts makes multiple arguments in his pro se brief on appeal,
culminating in his contention that the trial court was
without the discretion to sentence him to life without
parole. First, Watts reiterates the argument he made in his
motion for modification that his sentence should be modified
in light of King v. State, 165 So.3d at 1289.
However, as the trial court properly provided in its order,
the facts of King differ from the matter at hand
because in King, the courts found the defendant
ineligible for the death penalty due to intellectual
disability. Id. and King v. Epps, 2013 WL
1291632, at *1. Watts has not proven intellectual disability,