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McGrath v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

April 18, 2019

JASON CUNNINGHAM McGRATH a/k/a JASON McGRATH
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/08/2017

          JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. HON. MICHAEL H. WARD JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: NESHONDRIA DEQUANDRA ELLERBY GEORGE RANDALL HUFFMAN FRANK PHILIP WITTMANN, IV ROBERT KEITH MILLER DAVID CARSON FUTCH

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL W. CROSBY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KAYLYN HAVRILLA McCLINTON

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ANGEL DANIELLE PATANO-MYERS

          BEFORE RANDOLPH, C.J., MAXWELL AND BEAM, JJ.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE

         ¶1. A jury found Jason McGrath guilty of four counts of sexual battery by a person in a position of trust and one count of touching a child for lustful purposes. The charges stemmed from McGrath's sexual assault and molestation of his stepdaughter, M. M. He was sentenced to what amounts to forty years' imprisonment.[1] On appeal, McGrath argues the trial judge wrongly admitted Rule 404(b) evidence of McGrath's previous sexual assaults and molestations of a different stepdaughter and his adopted daughter. We disagree.

         ¶2. After hearing from both previous victims and the parties, the judge found McGrath's earlier sexual assaults and molestations were relevant to show McGrath's intent, motive, opportunity, knowledge, and absence of mistake. The judge admitted this evidence under Rule 404(b), having deemed it more probative than prejudicial under Rule 403. We find there were several legitimate purposes supporting these admissions, and we see no abuse of discretion in these rulings. We affirm.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         I. Rape and Sexual Assault

         ¶3. On the morning of June 23, 2014, thirteen-year-old M. M. awoke after receiving a text message from her stepfather, McGrath. The message asked her to come to the living room. M. M. walked to the living room and sat on the couch next to McGrath. When she did, McGrath reached over and began touching M. M.'s vagina with his hand. He eventually put his finger inside M. M.'s vagina. M. M. got up from the couch and went into the kitchen. McGrath followed her. Once there, he mixed some vodka with cranberry juice, handed the drink to her, and told her she was "better when [she's] drunk."

         ¶4. M. M. ate some food, drank some of the cocktail McGrath had made, and returned to her bedroom. Soon after, McGrath entered M. M.'s room. He removed her clothes and performed oral sex on her. He then climbed on top of M. M. and had sexual intercourse with her. Afterwards, McGrath apologized. And before leaving M.M.'s room, he suggested they act like it never happened. But just a few hours later, when both McGrath and M. M. were back in the living room, McGrath asked M. M. if she had ever performed oral sex. She said she had not. McGrath then grabbed M. M. by her shoulders, pushed her to the floor, and forced her to perform oral sex on him.

         ¶5. The next day, M. M. gave her mother a brief description of what McGrath had done. This prompted M. M.'s mother to take M. M. to the hospital, where the young girl gave a nurse a written statement detailing McGrath's sexual abuse.

         II. Indictment and Trial

         ¶6. McGrath was indicted on April 10, 2015. He was charged with four counts of sexual battery by a person in a position of trust and one count of touching a child for lustful purposes. McGrath was also under indictment in another sexual-abuse case. In that case, he was charged with sexually assaulting his former stepdaughter, A. D., between 2010 and 2011. And several months before trial in the present case, the State filed a motion-under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 404(b)-seeking to admit testimony from A. D. about her past sexual abuse by McGrath.

         ¶7. At a February 16, 2017 hearing, the State proffered A. D.'s testimony and heard argument from the State and McGrath. Afterwards, the judge ruled that evidence McGrath had forced then-nine-year-old A. D. to perform oral sex on him was more probative than prejudicial under Rule 403. So he admitted it in this case under Rule ...


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