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Christopher Word v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 20, 2019

CHRISTOPHER WORD A/K/A CHRISTOPHER ERNEST WORD APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/08/2018

          PANOLA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JAMES McCLURE III TRIAL JUDGE:

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER MOLLIE MARIE McMILLIN

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH

         EN BANC.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. Christopher Word was convicted in the First Judicial District of Panola County for possession of 40 grams but less than 200 grams of MMB-FUBINACA and possession of 200 grams or more of 5-fluoro-ADB with intent Word was sentenced, as a non-violent habitual offender, to serve sixteen years for the charge in Count I and forty years for the charge in Count II, concur rently, in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). We affirm Word's conviction and sentence.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. In February 2018, a grand jury indicted Christopher Word for Count I, possession of 40 grams but less than 200 grams of MMB-FUBINACA with intent; Count II, possession of 200 grams or more of 5-fluoro-ADB with intent; and Count III, possession of 100 dosage units but less than 500 dosage units of Buprenorphine and Naloxone without a valid prescription. The indictment also charged Word as being a violent habitual offender pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-83 (Rev. 2015).

         ¶3. On March 19, 2018, Word pled not guilty to the charges against him, and the court entered an order setting trial for May 14, 2018. The State proceeded to trial on Counts I and II, as scheduled. However, Word was not present at trial. Defense counsel stated, "Your Honor, personally I am ready [for trial]; however, for whatever reason, my client has, which he has the right to do so, has chosen not to exercise his right to be present for the trial today." Defense counsel then requested a continuance.

         ¶4. The trial judge noted that Word had rejected a plea offer less than a month earlier. The judge then asked defense counsel if he had attempted to contact Word that day, and counsel replied, "No sir. Your Honor, I have not. I did not have any contact with him last week when I attempted to contact him." The judge then denied the request for a continuance. Afterward, defense counsel stated, "Your Honor, I just would state for the record that Mr. Word was told both verbally and in writing on numerous occasions when to be present for trial, if he so desired to be present."[1]

         ¶5. During the State's case-in-chief, Frank Caswell, a probation officer with MDOC, testified that in May 2017, Word was on probation and was being monitored by a Global Positioning System device (GPS). On May 9, 2017, Caswell and Gary Welch, another MDOC employee, went to Word's last known location-near an apartment complex in Sardis, Mississippi-to find Word because he had failed to charge the battery on his GPS.

         ¶6. When they arrived at Sardis Garden Apartments, Word was sitting outside on an air conditioning unit. Both Casewell and Welch testified that Word was "out of it" and appeared to be under the influence of a substance. They also testified that they noticed a plastic bag with a green leafy substance hanging out of Word's pocket. As a result, Caswell and Welch placed Word in custody and transported him to the DeSoto County Jail.

         ¶7. Wiley Lowder III resided at Sardis Garden Apartments, and he testified that Word spent a few nights at his apartment. According to Lowder, his friend Ashley and her friend Cody lived with him, and Word was Cody's friend. Lowder testified that while Word was staying at the apartment, Word put two boxes in a closet that was used for storage. Lowder knew that one of the boxes contained a drone because he saw Word flying it in the backyard, but he did not know what was in the other box. Lowder explained, "I figured it was parts for the drone. It wasn't my business, so I didn't open . . . it."

         ¶8. Sergeant James Hawkins with the Sardis Police Department testified that he went to the apartment complex around 7:30 p.m. to follow up on an unrelated issue. During that time, Lowder approached him and told him that Word had left two boxes in his apartment-a black plastic box and a cardboard box. According to Sergeant Hawkins, the plastic box contained a drone and a receipt. The receipt indicated that Christopher Word was the recipient and listed a Hernando, Mississippi address. It also indicated that the drone was purchased for $3, 438. According to Sergeant Hawkins, the cardboard box contained a vacuum sealer, shrink wrap, approximately nineteen cell phones, cell phone chargers, a distributor cap, [2] cigarettes, and what appeared to be marijuana in ...


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