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Nelson v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

August 22, 2019

DERRICK NELSON a/k/a DERRICK DEMETRIUS NELSON
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/19/2016

          LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JAMES T. KITCHENS, JR.

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: ARMSTRONG WALTERS TRINA DAVIDSON-BROOKS BRANDON LANGFORD DONNA SMITH

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: J. MATTHEW EICHELBERGER

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

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: SCOTT WINSTON COLOM

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Our review of this case arises from Derrick Nelson's murder conviction in Lowndes County Circuit Court. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by refusing an imperfect self-defense jury instruction; it reversed Nelson's conviction and remanded for a new trial. Nelson v. State, No. 2016-KA-00835-COA, 2018 WL 5603699, at *1 (Miss. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2018).[1] The State filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which we granted. Because no evidentiary basis in the record supports the grant of an imperfect self-defense jury instruction, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. While the Court of Appeals did not reach Nelson's argument that the State deprived him of a fair trial, we review it and find no reversible error. Thus, we affirm Nelson's murder conviction and sentence of life imprisonment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On the evening of May 4, 2013, Nelson was celebrating his younger brother's graduation at his mother's house. Nelson's mother, Chiquita Nelson, two sisters and his mother's boyfriend, Willie Hood, Jr., also attended the party. Everyone had been drinking at the party, including Hood, who was intoxicated.[2] The celebration, though, ended tragically when Nelson shot Hood.

         ¶3. According to Nelson's statement to Officer George Harris, Nelson and Hood had argued over the keys to Hood's car, which was parked in the driveway. Nelson was attempting to stop Hood from driving. Hood told Nelson that Nelson could have Hood's car because he could get another one. Nelson then took the keys to Hood's car out of the vehicle and held them. Hood then started walking up the street. He returned, though, "hipe[d] up and talking loud." Nelson maintained that his sister Asia Nelson told him to give Hood's keys back to Hood since Hood would not have had the car if it had not been for her. Nelson stated that he placed the keys in Hood's hand.

         ¶4. After talking with his mother and Asia about Hood, Nelson walked to the mailbox and called his friend Smiley for a ride. Soon, Smiley pulled up in a white Dodge Charger. Nelson walked back to tell his mother that he was leaving; Asia, Nelson's mother and Hood were arguing. Nelson claimed that Hood was "jumping around talking loud" and tried to break the driver's side window of his car with his bare fist. Hood ended up breaking a wind guard on the vehicle. He also grabbed a beer bottle and threw it in Nelson's direction; the bottle glanced off Nelson's shoulder and burst against the rear window of Hood's car. Nelson's other sister, Kinuna Davis, later told Officer L.C. Cockrell that Hood was hitting his car with a beer bottle, that the beer bottle shattered on Hood's vehicle and that "some of the glass got on" Nelson, upsetting him.

         ¶5. At that point, Nelson reached into the Charger, which was parked on the street, and withdrew a black handgun from the passenger seat. He held the gun in his right hand, fired two shots[3] into the air and told Hood to "chill out" because he was not trying to hurt him.

         ¶6. According to Nelson, Hood then walked up to him, and they began to wrestle.[4] Nelson stated that they locked up and wrestled from the back of Hood's vehicle to the front. Nelson told officers that the "gun went off" when they fell back onto the hood of the car. Dr. Brent Davis, a forensic pathologist, later determined that the cause of Hood's death was a gunshot wound to the head. Davis also determined that Hood's death was a homicide.

         ¶7. Nelson recounted that he did not really remember what happened after the shot. He stated that he was standing there in shock and that he threw his hands into the air. When his hands went up, Nelson stated that the gun left his hands. Asia and Davis testified that Nelson threw the gun over a fence. Officer Harris later recovered the gun on the other side of the fence that bordered an adjacent lot.

         ¶8. After the shooting, Nelson got into the Charger and drove away. Smiley dropped him at a friend's house. Later, Nelson called Chief McQueen who went and picked Nelson up from his friend's house.

         ¶9. At trial, Davis failed to recall portions of her statement to Officer Cockrell on the night of the shooting. In her statement that night, Davis had stated that "My brother Derrick Nelson grabbed Willie Hood, Jr.[, ] from behind and put his hands around his neck. Derrick place [sic] Willie Hood, Jr.[, ] on the car and shot Willie Hood, Jr.[, ] in the head." At trial, Davis testified that she remembered having made a similar statement to Officer Cockrell but that she did not remember its actually having happened that way.[5]

         ¶10. Davis did testify, though, that Hood "always acts, you know, crazy. We're used to that." She stated that Hood's acting crazy meant that "he beats up on things. Himself, you know, stuff like that. He does things like that." Also, Davis testified that Hood "kind of turned up a little bit after" Nelson fired the gun into the air. Ultimately, though, Davis did not recall the specifics of the actual fight. The following exchange took place on cross-examination:

Counsel: But today as you sit in the stand, do you know how the actual altercation that ended up with Willie Hood being shot? [sic]
Davis: No.
Counsel: Do you recall seeing exactly what ...

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