OF JUDGMENT: 02/28/2015
LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JAMES T. KITCHENS JR. JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY:
W. DANIEL HINCHCLIFF
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
KAYLYN HAVRILLA MCCLINTON
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: SCOTT WINSTON COLOM
A jury sitting before the Lowndes County Circuit Court found
John Knight guilty of sexual battery of a minor. After
finding that Knight qualified for enhanced sentencing as a
violent habitual offender, the circuit court sentenced him to
life in the custody of the Mississippi Department of
Corrections without eligibility for parole. Knight appeals.
His appointed appellate attorney claims that although Knight
chose to represent himself during the majority of his trial,
he performed so poorly that the circuit court should have sua
sponte declared a mistrial or forced Knight to step aside so
his appointed trial counsel could take over. Knight's
attorney also claims that the jury's verdict is contrary
to the overwhelming weight of the evidence, and the circuit
court should not have allowed the prosecution to introduce
pictures that a nurse took while examining the victim.
Finding no error, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Knight's conviction stems from his inappropriate sexual
contact with his twelve-year- old stepdaughter, Jane
Smith. In February 2007, Knight married
Jane's mother, Rebecca. On April 18, 2007, Jane's
aunt, Teresa Smith, took Jane to the emergency room at the
Oktibbeha County Hospital. Teresa had reason to believe that
Knight had been sexually abusing Jane. Based on Teresa's
concerns, the hospital contacted the local Department of
Human Services. Alexis Shumaker, a family protection worker,
went to the hospital. She stayed there until Jane left the
hospital. Thus, Shumaker was present while Jane was examined
by Michelle Johnson, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
Johnson's examination revealed that Jane had recent
injuries consistent with sexual assault.
While Jane was still in the emergency room, she was visited
by Detective David Criddle of the Columbus Police Department.
Jane did not want to talk to him at that time. By the next
morning, she had changed her mind. She told Detective Criddle
that beginning in February 2007, Knight had been touching her
inappropriately and having intercourse with her. She also
said that Knight ran off with her on April 17, 2007, and he
refused to return her until the following day. Jane told
Detective Criddle that she and Knight had intercourse at the
Budget Inn in Columbus after they checked in around 1 a.m. on
April 18, 2007.
Knight was subsequently indicted for sexual battery of a
minor. A lengthy pretrial history followed. It took more than
a year to apprehend Knight and extradite him from Louisiana.
After pleading not guilty and being released on bond, Knight
retained attorney Casey Lott. Lott filed a number of pretrial
motions for Knight. He successfully asked the circuit court
to subpoena Jane's records from the Columbus Police
Department, the Starkville Police Department, the Oktibbeha
County Hospital, and the Oktibbeha County Department of Human
Services. The circuit court received those documents under
seal but later allowed Lott to review them.
Through one of several motions in limine, Lott wanted to
explore a theory that Jane's vaginal injuries were caused
by one of her cousins. According to Lott's motion, during
a January 2007 appointment, Jane revealed "that she had
been sexually abused by her cousin," but Rebecca did not
press charges. The motion further said that Knight ran off
with Jane on April 17, 2007, because he wanted authorities to
prosecute her cousin.
On April 7, 2011, the circuit court conducted a hearing on
Lott's pending motions. Noting that Johnson's report
suggested that Jane had an April 16, 2007 doctor's
appointment,  Lott wanted to explore whether Jane had
vaginal injuries before Knight ran off with her. If she did,
Lott also wanted to determine whether Jane had attributed
those injuries to abuse by her cousin.
Jane explained that her cousin had molested her, but it was
three or four years before Knight abused her. She said that
in December 2006, she had seen a doctor for abdominal pain
that was caused by inflammation of her mesenteric lymph
nodes. She added that her abdominal pain was completely
different than the vaginal pain that Knight's abuse
caused. Jane also said that she had no memory of an April 16,
2007 doctor's appointment. The circuit judge ultimately
held that Knight would not be allowed to present irrelevant
evidence that Jane's cousin had molested her years before
she met Knight.
After the April 2011 hearing, Lott's relationship with
Knight began to deteriorate. About a month later, Lott moved
to withdraw as counsel for Knight. Lott said that Knight
insisted on pursuing imprudent objectives, he wanted Lott to
"convey threatening messages to various law enforcement
entities," and he wanted Lott to call the Lowndes County
District Attorney as a witness "despite the fact that
[he] was not a witness to any of the matters contained in the
indictment." Lott also said that Knight had been leaving
an average of thirty voicemails for him each night, and
contrary to Lott's admonishments, Knight would not stop
calling the prosecution and other agencies about his case.
After a hearing,  Knight said that he still wanted Lott to
represent him. The circuit judge warned Knight that Lott
would be allowed to withdraw if Knight continued to ignore
Despite the circuit court's admonishments, Knight's
behavior did not change. Approximately three months after the
hearing on Lott's first motion to withdraw, Lott filed
another motion to withdraw. Lott said that Knight disagreed
about "several aspects" of his trial strategy;
Knight no longer wanted his services; Knight insisted on
imprudent and groundless objectives; and Knight continued to
leave "dozens" of voicemails for him each night.
After a hearing, the circuit court allowed Lott to withdraw.
The circuit judge later found that Knight was indigent, so he
appointed Steven Wallace as counsel for Knight.
Knight's case was further delayed after he failed to
appear at his August 29, 2012 trial. He was later arrested in
Louisiana and again extradited to Mississippi. During a
January 2013 hearing, Knight continued to behave erratically.
Like he had done during previous hearings, Knight rapidly
transitioned between various complaints that the circuit
court had repeatedly addressed. Eventually, the circuit court
ordered Knight to undergo a mental evaluation.
During Knight's July 31, 2014 competency hearing, Dr. Reb
McMichael opined that Knight did not suffer from any mental
illness or intellectual disability. Dr. McMichael said that
Knight understood the proceedings against him, and he was
capable of consulting with Wallace and helping with his
defense. Dr. McMichael said that Knight often attempted to
"go off on tangents" during his evaluation, but
Knight was "redirectable." According to the report
that Dr. McMichael prepared along with Dr. Amanda Gugliano, a
psychologist, "Knight's version of the circumstances
surrounding his current legal predicament is not the product
of delusional thinking, or any other major mental disorder,
but is the result of his personality organization."
After Wallace's cross-examination, the circuit judge
asked Dr. McMichael if there was any reason to think that
Knight would not be able to assist Wallace with his case. Dr.
McMichael responded that Knight "does not have a major
mental disorder," but that he "may choose not to
cooperate." Dr. McMichael added that Knight "is not
an easy person to interact with," but that was not
because Knight had a "mental disorder." Dr.
McMichael then concluded by stating: "I spent two hours
with [Knight] in May [a]nd an additional hour with him this
morning. And I think that if he chooses to cooperate, [and]
confer with [d]efense [c]ounsel, he is able to do that."
The circuit court ultimately found that Knight was mentally
Despite the fact that the prosecution had successfully moved
to amend the indictment, the prosecution decided to
"re-present" the case to a grand jury. The new
indictment alleged that in Lowndes County sometime
between February 12 and April 18, 2007, Knight committed
sexual battery by penetrating Jane's vagina with his
penis. The new indictment also charged that Jane was younger
than fourteen at the time of the sexual battery, and Knight
was at least thirty-six months older than Jane. Finally, the
new indictment alleged that Knight was eligible for enhanced
sentencing as a violent habitual offender. Knight went before
the circuit court again on November 14, 2014, for his live
arraignment related to the new indictment. He immediately