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Jones v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

September 5, 2019

JIKIEL T. JONES a/k/a JIKIEL TRAQWOYNE JONES
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/06/2017

          SCOTT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. CHRISTOPHER A. COLLINS JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: STEVEN KILGORE CHRIS POSEY MITCHELL D. THOMAS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: JUSTIN T. COOK GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: SCOTT STUART

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: STEVEN SIMEON KILGORE

          BEFORE KITCHENS, P.J., MAXWELL AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. A jury convicted Jikiel Jones of armed robbery, armed carjacking and kidnapping in Scott County Circuit Court. On direct appeal, Jones raises three errors: (1) that the trial court erred by excluding his alibi witness, (2) that the trial court erred by granting a deficient accomplice jury instruction and (3) that the State failed to disclose exculpatory evidence before trial.

         ¶2. After review of the first issue, we find that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the testimony of Jones's alibi witness. While a per se violation of Mississippi Rule of Criminal Procedure 17.4(a) did occur, this violation cannot be held against Jones in light of his original counsel's conflict of interest. Further, there is no indication in the record that Jones's failure to notice the prosecution of his alibi witness was willful or motivated by a desire to obtain a tactical advantage. Thus, we reverse Jones's conviction and remand the case for a new trial.

         ¶3. As to Jones's second issue on appeal, the accomplice jury instruction given at trial was deficient. On remand, should the trial court determine that Jones is entitled to an accomplice jury instruction, the proper instruction is to be given. Last, Jones waived his right to appeal the prosecution's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence by failing to object at trial.

         FACTS

         ¶4. At trial, the following facts were established. On the afternoon of November 30, 2014, Walter Felix Ramirez was vacuuming his Mazda 6 at a car wash on East Third Street in Forest, Mississippi. Johndarious Anderson and Jikiel Jones approached Ramirez at his car, intending to steal money. They beat Ramirez, took his wallet and phone, forced him into the back seat of his car and drove away from the car wash. While Anderson drove, Jones sat in the backseat and held Ramirez at knifepoint. Anderson testified that he and Jones had planned on killing Ramirez. Anderson, however, soon took a curve too fast and crashed the vehicle.

         ¶5. Chad Brantley heard the wreck and went to investigate. Upon arriving at the scene, Brantley saw Jones and Anderson running down the road away from the wreck. Brantley also saw Ramirez outside of the vehicle. Brantley stopped Jones and Anderson momentarily. One of them told him, "Don't call the law." Brantley called the sheriff's office and was informed that the car was likely stolen and that there had been a reported kidnapping. Brantley then pursued Jones and Anderson. He intercepted the two and held Anderson at gunpoint until law enforcement arrived.[1] Jones escaped into the nearby woods.

         ¶6. Law enforcement arrested Anderson that day. Jones was arrested several weeks later.

         ¶7. Upon his arrest, Anderson gave contradictory statements to law enforcement. At first, he stated that he simply witnessed two of his friends Jockell Ledbetter and Tywon "Ty" Roberson attacking Ramirez. He stated that he got in the car with them. Five days after his arrest, Anderson gave a second statement that implicated him and Joc (Jones's nickname). The second statement did not mention Tywon Roberson. Also, in the second statement, Anderson admitted his own participation in the crimes for the first time.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶8. On November 21, 2016, a grand jury indicted Anderson and Jones for armed robbery, armed carjacking and kidnapping. Anderson pleaded guilty to the charges on February 1, 2017. James Smith represented Anderson during his guilty plea. A condition of Anderson's plea bargain required him to testify at Jones's trial if the State chose to call him.

         ¶9. Jones was arraigned on August 25, 2017. That same day, Smith (Anderson's attorney) was appointed to represent Jones. There is no indication in the record that Jones had counsel before then.

         ¶10. On the evening of Thursday, October 12, 2017-seven days before Jones's scheduled trial date of October 19, 2017-Smith realized that he had a conflict of interest due to his representation of Anderson. That evening, Smith told Mitchell Thomas that Thomas would have to represent Jones. Thomas agreed to the representation.[2]

         ¶11. Thomas first met with Jones on Friday, October 13, 2017. During this meeting, Thomas first learned of Jones's alibi defense. According to Jones, his grandfather James Ledbetter would testify that Jones was at Ledbetter's home on November 30, 2014. Thomas met with Jones again on Monday, October 16, 2017, to discuss Jones's defense.

         ¶12. According to Thomas, he realized on the morning of Tuesday, October 17, 2017, that Rule 17.4(a)(1) of the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure required Jones to notice the prosecutor of an alibi witness no less than ten days after the prosecutor's written demand.[3] Thomas prepared and filed a notice of alibi that morning. The notice of alibi provided that "James Ledbetter, grandfather of Jikiel Jones, will testify that on November 30, 2014, prior to noon and throughout the afternoon and evening, Jikiel was with him at his house on Sherman Hill Rd. in Scott County, Mississippi helping him work around the house and tend to horses."

         ¶13. After voir dire, the State moved to exclude Ledbetter's testimony. Thomas responded that he did not intend to surprise the prosecution but that, given the gravity of the offenses, it would be "absolutely destructive" to Jones's defense to exclude Ledbetter's testimony. The trial court then asked the State if it would like to interview Ledbetter and stated, "I'm not going to exclude him as a witness at this time." The State then interviewed Ledbetter.

         ¶14. Once the State had presented its case and had rested, it renewed its motion to exclude Ledbetter's testimony. The State argued that the two-day notice was insufficient for it to have prepared to rebut Ledbetter's testimony.

         ¶15. Thomas responded to the State's motion. He explained his late assignment to the case and reviewed the timeline of events with the trial court. Thomas took full responsibility for the timeliness issue and emphasized the necessity of the alibi to Jones's case. The trial court then asked, "[D]id your colleagues in the Public Defenders' Office . . . advise you that this client, Jikiel Jones, had previously talked to them about an alibi?" Thomas responded, "Yes, I recall discussing that, Your Honor." Thomas clarified, though, that his colleagues had not told him anything about the case before his assignment late on Thursday, October 12.

         ¶16. The State replied to Thomas's argument and maintained that the public defender's office knew about the alibi defense before Thomas's assignment to the case. Thomas did not dispute that the public ...


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