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Byrd v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 11, 2019

ANGELIA BYRD A/K/A ANGELINA BYRD A/K/A ANGELIA MARIE BYRD APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/29/2018

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. WINSTON L. KIDD TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LISA L. BLOUNT

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND McDONALD, JJ.

          McDONALD, J.

         ¶1. The Hinds County Circuit Court convicted Angelia Byrd on the charge of murder and then denied her post-trial motion. She appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On April 8, 2014, Angelia Byrd shot and killed her live-in boyfriend, Aaron Harper. Byrd did not testify at her trial, so her version of the facts is drawn from the testimonies of law enforcement officers and other witnesses with whom she had spoken.[1]

         ¶3. Byrd, a fifty-year-old nurse, and Harper, a thirty-three-year-old security guard, had lived together for a little over a year in Byrd's home in Jackson. Byrd paid all the living expenses and provided vehicles for both herself and Harper. But the relationship was waning. Harper had threatened her and her family on occasion, and Byrd had written Harper a four-page letter saying that she thought they should separate.

         ¶4. On the evening in question, Byrd came home from work and grilled steaks for dinner. Byrd had either left the four-page letter out, intending for Harper to see it later, or she gave it to him and asked him to read it later. But he opened it, read it, became angry, and started yelling.[2] Byrd slapped the letter out of his hands, [3] threw down a beer bottle she was holding, and told him to leave. At some point, Byrd said that Harper grabbed her but she had no bruises or scratches on her. Byrd also said that Harper picked up a steak knife and said he was going to get his gun. Byrd said she was afraid he would shoot her, so she got her gun, a .38-caliber revolver. Before Harper took any further action, Byrd shot him.

         ¶5. During the final moments of this confrontation, Byrd had called her sister, Cynthia Thornton. Thornton testified that she was on the phone with Byrd and heard Byrd and Harper arguing. She did not hear any shots but she did hear Harper say, "I don't believe you just did that," and then Byrd told Thornton that she had shot Harper. Thornton instructed Byrd to call an ambulance and the police.

         ¶6. After calling the police, Byrd went outside, taking the gun and spent cartridges with her. When the police arrived, she calmly, without emotion, voluntarily surrendered and told them that she had shot Harper.

         ¶7. Inside the home, police found bullet holes in the living room wall and blood on the floor along with a broken bottle. They also found a pink holster. In the bedroom where Harper was on the floor behind the door, they found Harper's duty-belt but no gun in the holster. Police found no gun in the home, but they did not search the vehicles outside.

         ¶8. Byrd was taken into custody, and Harper's body was taken for an autopsy. The autopsy report showed that Harper had gunshot wounds to the right abdomen, left chest, right back, and right side. Two wounds were perforating, meaning that the bullets created entry and exit wounds. Three of these wounds were fatal.

         ¶9. During her interrogation Byrd told one investigator that Harper had also threatened to report her to the nursing board for violating HIPAA laws.[4]

         ¶10. After her arrest, Byrd's adult son, Shane Byrd, posted her bond. At that time Byrd told him she shot Harper in self defense. But after her indictment, while awaiting her trial, Byrd later told her son that Harper had asked her to stop shooting him for the sake of his child. Despite this plea, Byrd told her son that she shot Harper again. Shane also told law enforcement that his mother had shot his father (her ex-husband) in the past.

         ¶11. Byrd was indicted on July 22, 2014, for murder by "shooting Aaron Harper two times in the stomach, one time in the chest, one time in the left side and one time in the back. . . ." After a number of continuances, the case was tried in March 2018. Byrd was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Her motion for a new trial was denied.

         ¶12. On appeal, Byrd raises three issues: (1) whether her trial was unfair due the entry of evidence of other bad acts; (2) whether her trial was unfair due to prosecutorial misconduct; and (3) whether her trial attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to request a Castle Doctrine instruction.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶13. The appellate court reviews the admission of evidence under the abuse-of-discretion standard and evidentiary rulings are affirmed unless they affect a substantial right of the complaining party. Boggs v. State, 188 So.3d 515, 519 (¶9) (Miss. 2016). The standard of review this Court applies to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during opening statements or closing arguments is "whether the natural and probable effect of the improper argument is to create unjust prejudice against the accused so as to result in a decision influenced by the prejudice so created." Fortenberry v. State, 191 So.3d 1245, 1251 (¶18) (Miss. Ct. App. 2015). Hannah v. State, 943 So.2d 20 (Miss. 2006), sets out the standard for evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel as set out in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984): (1) "the convicted defendant must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," and (2) "the defendant must show there is reasonable probability that but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Hannah, 943 So.2d at 24 (¶6).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether Byrd was denied a fair trial because of inconsistent court rulings that allowed the jury to hear evidence of other bad acts.

         ¶14. When interviewed by the police after the shooting, Byrd said that Harper had threatened to go to the hospital or nursing board to report her for HIPAA violations. Before trial, the defense had informed the court that seven years earlier, Byrd had a problem with drugs and had an encounter with the nursing board then. There was mutual agreement with the court's approval that this old problem would not be raised at trial. But the circuit court was not apprised before trial about Harper's more recent threat to report Byrd to her employer and that this may have been at least one of the reasons for the argument that resulted in the shooting. This issue came up in trial during questioning of the investigating officers. The State called Detective Daryl Owens and asked him:

Q. Okay. Now also during the course of your interview, Ms. Byrd told you that Aaron Harper was threatening to go to the nursing board on her; is that right?
MR. KNOTT: Objection, Your Honor. First of all, it's beyond the scope.
THE COURT: All right. That's sustained.
MS. HARRIS: Judge, may we approach[?]
THE COURT: You can.
(BENCH CONFERENCE)
Q. (By Ms. Harris) Detective Owens, did Ms. Byrd tell you that Aaron was threatening to go to the nursing board and tell the nursing board that she had ...

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