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Richards v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 23, 2019

LATOYA ATKINS RICHARDS A/K/A LATOYA ATKINS RICHARD AND FLOYD RICHARDS A/K/A FLOYD LEE RICHARDS APPELLANTS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/26/2017

          BOLIVAR COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. ALBERT B. SMITH III TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: W. DANIEL HINCHCLIFF NICK CRAWFORD

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LAURA HOGAN TEDDER

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BRENDA FAY MITCHELL

          BEFORE BARNES, C.J., WESTBROOKS AND LAWRENCE, JJ.

          LAWRENCE, J.

         ¶1. Floyd Richards (Floyd) was indicted for attempted sexual battery of his stepdaughter, M.A., who was fourteen at the time of the disclosure of the allegations.[1] M.A.'s mother, Latoya Richards (Latoya), was jointly indicted with Floyd on a separate charge of contributing to the neglect and delinquency of a child. After a joint trial, Floyd was convicted of the lesser offense of touching a child for lustful purposes, and Latoya was convicted of the crime charged. Both Defendants, each represented by separate counsel, appeal, raising numerous issues. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm both convictions and sentences.

         FACTS

         ¶2. In the fall of 2015, Willie Joe McCall taught a "Healthy Relationships" class at Shaw High School in Shaw, Mississippi. McCall and the students discussed several topics, such as dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. M.A. was fourteen years old at the time and a student in McCall's class. On December 11, 2015, McCall gave the students a test containing several "yes" or "no" questions. One question asked if the student had witnessed or experienced child abuse or sexual abuse, and, if so, by whom. M.A. marked "yes" and wrote "my stepdad."

         ¶3. McCall informed the principal, Daphne Young, of M.A.'s answers and gave Young M.A.'s test. Young and the school counselor met with M.A. immediately. During the meeting, they noticed M.A.'s legs were bruised. After speaking with M.A., Young reported the incident to the Department of Human Services (DHS).

         ¶4. DHS assigned Bertina White as M.A.'s caseworker. Based on the allegations of sexual abuse, White scheduled a forensic interview for M.A. at The Family Resource Center of Northeast Mississippi Children's Advocacy Center in Tupelo, Mississippi. Officer Ray Morris of the Bolivar County Sheriff's Department was contacted about the allegations. On December 29, 2015, Officer Morris and White both observed M.A.'s interview with Marie Frison, the facility's forensic interviewer. After the interview, Frison generated a three-page forensic interview summary detailing M.A.'s intake information and a summary of her statements.

         ¶5. M.A. testified at trial. She began her testimony with the incident that led to Floyd's indictment. M.A. testified that sometime after entering ninth grade but before Thanksgiving in 2015, [2] she rode with Floyd to the Dollar General to get medicine. According to M.A., after leaving the store, Floyd "pretended" like something was wrong with his Jeep. Floyd stopped the Jeep, turned it off, and asked M.A. to touch his penis. M.A. testified that she touched his penis. Floyd then made M.A. get in the back seat and take off her clothes. Floyd and M.A. both crawled into the back seat, and M.A. removed her clothing. Floyd remained clothed but had his penis out of his pants. M.A. testified that Floyd was trying to get on top of her, but she kept pushing him away. She also testified that she tried to open the door. M.A. testified that Floyd's penis touched the top of her vagina but that there was no penetration. Eventually, Floyd ejaculated. He then turned the Jeep back on and drove home.

         ¶6. M.A. testified to several incidents before the "Jeep incident" that caused her to be afraid of what Floyd may do to physically or sexually abuse her. One time, M.A. and her brother, K.A., came home from school, and Floyd sent K.A. to his room. Floyd then ordered M.A. to walk around the living room naked and then lie on the couch, where he tried to have sex with her. M.A. testified she pushed him off of her. She also testified that her mother was out of town that day. On another occasion, Floyd touched M.A.'s chest area while she was "picking his face." M.A. also testified that Floyd had shown her pornography in the past (before the "Jeep incident"). M.A. testified that she told Latoya "three or four" times about the abuse. Each time, Latoya would tell Floyd what M.A. said, and Floyd would "beat up" M.A. M.A. further testified that she and K.A. witnessed Floyd abuse their mother.

         ¶7. M.A.'s brother K.A. was the only defense witness. He testified that nothing ever happened between M.A. and Floyd and that M.A. and Floyd were never alone together. K.A. also testified that Floyd never harmed him or his mother.

         ¶8. The jury found Floyd guilty of the lesser offense of touching a child for lustful purposes. The circuit court sentenced Floyd to serve fifteen years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). The jury also found Latoya guilty of contributing to the neglect and delinquency of a child. Latoya was sentenced to serve ten years in the custody of the MDOC. Latoya and Floyd each filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, in the alternative, a new trial, which were denied.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶9. Latoya and Floyd raise one issue together and several other separate issues on appeal. In the interest of simplicity, their shared issue will be discussed first, and then their separate issues will be addressed below.

         1. Frison's Testimony

         ¶10. Latoya and Floyd both argue that the circuit court erred in allowing Frison to testify to M.A.'s reported time frame of the "Jeep incident." Specifically, both Defendants argue that the testimony was hearsay.

         ¶11. On cross-examination, Floyd's attorney attempted to use the first page of Frison's forensic-interview summary to impeach M.A. with an allegedly inconsistent statement-that M.A. said that the "Jeep incident" occurred on December 12, 2015, and not between August 1, 2015, and November 25, 2015, as alleged in the indictment. The first page of the summary document contained DHS's referral information, which stated that the sexual-abuse allegation stemmed from an incident occurring on December 12, 2015. The State objected to the use of the document as improper impeachment since M.A. did not provide the information on the first page of the forensic-interview summary nor was the document prepared by her. The trial court overruled the State's objection and allowed M.A. to answer questions concerning the information on the first page of the summary. When asked if she told Frison that she was sexually assaulted on December 12, M.A. responded, "Yes." But on redirect examination, the State asked M.A. if December 12, 2015, was the date of the "Jeep incident." M.A. testified that it was not. She clarified the "Jeep incident" happened before December.

         ¶12. After the jury heard the apparent confusion from the impeachment of M.A., the State called Frison to testify in an effort to clarify what M.A. actually said in the forensic interview since Floyd's attorney had "opened the door" as to the summary. Latoya's attorney objected at first but eventually agreed that the witness could testify "if it's only to clarify the statement as to the date of the incident." Floyd's attorney followed with, "I don't have an objection to putting the child forensic interviewer on the stand to clarify the information that she received from the [DHS] as to the date that the minor child was sexually assaulted." Oddly, when Frison began testifying to clarify the date of the incident, ...


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