JOSHUA TAYLOR A/K/A JOSHUA MIQUEL TAYLOR A/K/A JOSHUA M. TAYLOR APPELLANT
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 04/21/2017
LOWNDES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JAMES T. KITCHENS JR.,
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY:
ERIN ELIZABETH BRIGGS GEORGE T. HOLMES
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
KAYLYN HAVRILLA McCLINTON
J. WILSON, P.J., TINDELL AND LAWRENCE, JJ.
On July 26, 2011, a Lowndes County jury convicted Joshua
Taylor of one count of capital murder for the death of
William Stallings. Taylor appeals his conviction, asserting
that the circuit court erroneously refused to give a
lesser-included-offense jury instruction for second-degree
murder and erroneously denied his motion to suppress
statements he made to investigating officers. Because we find
that Taylor's claims lack merit, we affirm his conviction
On the night of May 19, 2011, Stallings went to visit his
friend Michael Love. Love lived with his mother, Shirley, and
his two siblings in a home in Lowndes County. Both of
Love's siblings were out of town at the time. Stallings
and Love went to sleep around 1 a.m.
Around 3 a.m., Love awoke to a loud banging on the front
door. At first, Love assumed the sound was his siblings
returning home. But when he went to inspect the noise, he
found the front door wide open. Love exited the house but
then heard a gunshot. Fearing for his safety, he ran into the
woods and called 9-1-1.
Around the same time, Shirley heard "a big boom"
and assumed her son had returned home. She opened her bedroom
door to look but instead saw several men she did not
recognize as well as part of a gun. Shirley slammed her door
shut and fell to the floor. Shirley testified she then heard
a gunshot before the men forcibly entered her room and
rummaged through her purse. Afraid, Shirley began crying and
praying. The men told her to shut up before finally leaving.
A few minutes later, she heard another gunshot and remained
on her bedroom floor until Love returned to the trailer.
After Love returned, he and Shirley found Stallings dead due
to a gunshot wound to the head.
Investigator Eli Perrigin, a member of the Lowndes County
Sheriff's Department, investigated the shooting. After
following up on several leads, Perrigin made multiple arrests
in connection with the incident. After making these arrests,
Perrigin soon received a call from an Alabama citizen who
wished to speak about the investigation. The call came from
Lacee Cox, Taylor's girlfriend of over a year. Fearing
that the police had arrested the wrong suspects, Cox called
to inform them about Taylor's activities on the night in
question. Cox also gave Perrigrin Taylor's name as well
as the names of Brandon Brown, Richard Lee, Johnny Brock, and
Perrigin decided to investigate the information Cox provided
and first questioned Merriweather about the night in
question. Merriweather provided information that led Perrigin
to the remaining men, including Taylor. Brown, Lee, and Brock
all gave similar statements to the police regarding the
Perrigin first interviewed Taylor on May 27, 2011. Taylor
received and signed a Miranda waiver after
Perrigin read Taylor his rights. This first interview was
recorded, but the recording has subsequently been lost.
Perrigin did, however, write a narrative of the interview in
which Taylor initially denied any involvement in the incident
but later confessed that he had gone to Mississippi with his
friends on the night of the incident. Taylor still denied
being involved with the break-in of the Loves' home or
Perrigin spoke to Taylor a second time on the same day, May
27, 2011. This interview is the subject of Taylor's
motion to suppress that the circuit court denied. In this
interview, Taylor again signed a Miranda waiver
after he was read his rights. On two occasions during this
interview, Taylor indicated that he did not wish to talk
about the incident anymore, but he never indicated that he
wished for an attorney to be present. The investigators
continued the interrogation, believing that they were
authorized to do so based upon Taylor's actions. Taylor
continued his conversation with the officers and within
minutes admitted that he was the one who shot Stallings.
The following day, Taylor accompanied police to the site of
the incident to help them find the discarded gun. Despite
their best efforts, however, investigators were unable to
find the gun used. Perrigin spoke to Taylor one final time on
June 2, 2011. Unlike his prior interviews, Taylor initiated
this interview himself. Taylor confessed that he felt bad for
what he had done and that he and Merriweather were the only
ones who should be charged with murder.
At trial, Cox, Brown, Lee, and Brock all testified against
Taylor. Cox testified that on the night in question, she
overheard Taylor, Brown, and Lee talking about going to
"hit a lick," which Cox interpreted as "doing
something that they didn't need to be doing." Taylor
dropped Cox off at work and later drove her 1999 Crown
Victoria to pick up his friends. When confronted by Cox the
next day, Taylor admitted he and his friends had been at a
house when one of his friends kicked in a door. Cox also told
the police that Taylor initially admitted to shooting
Stallings while he was asleep on the couch. Taylor later
stated that he did not participate in the shooting, and from
that point on, Taylor gave Cox conflicting stories by
admitting to the murder and then denying participation.
Brown, Lee, and Brock all presented similar accounts to the
jury of what happened on the night of Stallings's murder.
Taylor and the other men all decided to cross the
Alabama-Mississippi state line to purchase alcohol and drugs
at a convenience store. However, instead of going to the
store, Taylor drove the group to Love's house, where the
group believed they would purchase the marijuana.
Merriweather was the first to exit the car and knock on the
door, but he received no answer. Merriweather then suggested
moving the car out of sight because the design was similar to
that of a police vehicle. After Taylor moved the car, he and
Merriweather went back to the door. Brown, Lee, and Brock
stood by the car at this time.
Brown testified that after a while, he and the others went to
check on Taylor and Merriweather because they had been gone
awhile. Once Brown and the others had approached the home,
Brown stated that he saw Merriweather fire the gun at
Shirley. After Merriweather shot the gun, Taylor took the gun
from him and proceeded down the hallway toward Love's
room. Brown testified that he, Lee, and Brock all left the
home and walked back to the car. Later, the men heard a
second gunshot and saw Merriweather and Taylor running from
the house. The three men all testified that Taylor admitted
to the group that he had shot Stallings and demanded they all
keep quiet about that night.
Taylor argued at trial that his confession to Perrigrin was
not voluntary because he had invoked his right to remain
silent twice, yet investigators ignored it. Taylor also
requested jury instructions for the lesser-included offenses
of first- and second-degree murder. The circuit court gave an
instruction for first-degree murder but refused to give an
instruction for the lesser-included offense of second-degree
murder. The jury ultimately found Taylor guilty of one count
of capital murder on July 26, 2011, and the circuit court
sentenced him to life without eligibility for parole.
Aggrieved, Taylor now appeals his conviction and sentence.
"We review a [circuit court's refusal to give] a
lesser-included-offense jury instruction de novo."
Smith v. State, 171 So.3d 542, 546 (¶9) (Miss.
Ct. App. 2015).
When we review a court's decision to deny a motion to
suppress a confession,
we apply the familiar general rule that since the court sits
as the fact-finder when determining the issue of whether an
accused's confession has been intelligently, knowingly,
and voluntarily given, we will only reverse the court's
determination of this issue when such determination is
Keller v. State, 138 So.3d 817, 835 (¶16)
(Miss. 2014). "[W]e will not disturb the court's
determination on the admissibility of a confession unless the
court applied an incorrect legal standard, committed manifest
error, or rendered a decision which was contrary to the
overwhelming weight of the evidence." Id.
Upon review, we find no error in the circuit court's
refusal to give a jury instruction on the lesser-included
offense of second-degree murder. A criminal defendant is
entitled to jury instructions supporting his theory of the
case but only where sufficient evidence supports such
instructions. Gilmore v. State, 119 So.3d 278, 286
(¶13) (Miss. 2013). The Mississippi Supreme Court has
Our law is well-settled that jury instructions are not given
unless there is an evidentiary basis in the record for such.
. . . To warrant the lesser-included-offense instruction, a
defendant must point to some evidence in the record from
which a reasonable jury could find him not guilty of
the crime with which he was charged and at the same time find
him guilty of a lesser-included offense.
Goodnite v. State, 799 So.2d 64, 69 (¶24)
(Miss. 2001) (citation omitted) (emphasis added). Therefore,
for a lesser-included-offense instruction to be appropriate,
Taylor had to show sufficient evidence that a reasonable jury
could find him not guilty of capital murder but still find
him guilty of second-degree murder. See Smith, 171
So.3d at 546 (¶9). When determining the propriety of a
lesser-included-offense instruction, "[w]e must view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the defendant."
Gilmore, 119 So.3d at 286 (¶13). Also,
"lesser-included-offense instructions should not be
[given] on mere speculation." Franklin v.
State, 136 So.3d 1021, 1026-27 (¶11) (Miss. 2014).
We will only reverse the circuit court's refusal to give
a lesser-included-offense instruction in circumstances where
an evidentiary basis for the instruction exists in the
record. Lee v. State, 469 So.2d 1225, 1230-31 (Miss.
Taylor was originally indicted for capital murder but now
argues that he was entitled to a lesser-included-offense
instruction for second-degree murder. Second-degree murder
requires some evidence that the defendant killed the victim
"in the commission of an act eminently dangerous to
others and evincing a depraved heart, regardless of human
life, although without any premeditated design to
effect the death of any particular individual." Miss.
Code Ann. § 97-6-19(1)(b) (Supp. 2018) (emphasis added).
Behavior constituting a depraved heart has been described as
"conduct so gross as to be tantamount to a wanton
disregard of, or utter indifference to, the safety of human
life." Nichols v. State, 27 So.3d 433, 440
(¶20) (Miss. Ct. App. 2009) (quoting Montana v.
State, 822 So.2d 954, 966-67 (¶55) (Miss. 2002)).
Capital murder, on the other hand, is defined as "[t]he
killing of a human being without the authority of law by any
means or in any manner . . . [w]hen done with or without any
design to effect death, by any person engaged in the
commission of . . . burglary. . . ." Miss. Code Ann.
§ 97-3-19(2)(e) (Supp. 2018). Unlike simple murder and
other categories of capital murder, the State is not required
to prove malice to obtain a conviction for capital murder
under section 97-3-19(2)(e). Ronk v. State, 172
So.3d 1112, 1126 (¶23) (Miss. 2015). As long as a
reasonable jury could find that the defendant was engaged in
the commission of one of the underlying felonies listed in
section 97-3-19(2)(e), which includes burglary, and the
victim's death resulted, the defendant is guilty of
capital murder. See id. at 1127, 1130
(¶¶25, 35) (citing Jacobs v. State, 870
So.2d 1202, 1209 (Miss. 2004)). But if sufficient evidence is
presented that separates the defendant from the underlying
felony, the defendant may be entitled to
lesser-included-offense instructions. See id. at
1127-28 (¶27). Therefore, to warrant a
second-degree-murder instruction, Taylor would have had to
point to some evidence in the record that separated him from
the underlying felony of burglary associated with the
As previously stated, the jury heard testimony from
Taylor's girlfriend, Cox, Brown, Lee, and Brown. Lacee
Cox testified that Taylor went to the trailer "to hit a
lick" and that, after entering the trailer, Taylor shot
a man who was lying on a couch. Brown, Lee, and Brock all
testified similarly regarding the night of the crime. Each
testified that the group went to the trailer to get
marijuana. Taylor and Merriweather both knocked on the
trailer door and then disappeared behind the trailer. Brown
testified that, after hearing a gunshot, he went behind the
trailer and saw that the door appeared to have been kicked
open. Brandon then saw Taylor take a gun from Merriweather.
Brown returned to the car with Lee and Brock, and then the
three men heard a second gunshot. They testified to seeing
Taylor and Merriweather run out of the trailer after the
second shot was fired, with Taylor still in possession of the
gun. Taylor then told the men, "I shot a guy, I shot a
guy," and for them not to speak to anyone about the
incident. Merriweather testified only that he knew Taylor,
Brown, Lee, and Brock and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights
as a co-defendant to capital murder. Taylor did not testify
at trial but did give a statement to law enforcement that he
and Merriweather were in the trailer that night. He also
stated that he took a gun from Merriweather and used the gun
to shoot Stallings. At the close of trial, the circuit court
refused to give Taylor's second-degree-murder instruction
If you're in a house where you don't have the right
to be in the middle of the night and you shoot a gun and you
kill somebody, how can that be second-degree murder? I think
there's caselaw that says that can't be. I mean the
only evidence before the jury is that he was in the house and
they had obtained entry by apparently kicking the door in. I
think they've submitted a first-degree murder and it was
a lesser-I don't see how you can get a second-degree
murder so I'm going to refuse [proposed defense
We agree that Taylor fails to make a sufficient showing of
evidence whereby a reasonable jury could have acquitted him
of capital murder and then convicted him of second-degree
murder. Taylor's only piece of evidence justifying the
second-degree-murder instruction was his statement to
investigators that "he did not intend to shoot
[Stallings] and that he simply shot the gun as a way to wake
up [Stallings] from his sleep." This evidence, however,
does not separate Taylor from the burglary. Sufficient
evidence existed to show that Taylor gained entry into the
house by force and was there to "hit a lick." This
certainly could lead a jury to find Taylor guilty of
burglary, and the fact that Stallings died as a result
elevates the crime to capital murder.
Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Taylor, we
find no evidentiary basis upon which a reasonable jury could
find Taylor not guilty of capital murder but guilty of
second-degree murder. We therefore find no error in the
circuit court's decision to refuse to give this
Motion to Suppress
We also find no error in the circuit court's
determination that Taylor's confession was knowingly,
intelligently, and voluntarily given. We therefore affirm the
denial of ...