OF JUDGMENT: 09/18/2017
FROM WHICH APPEALED: MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL
JUDGE: HON. JOHN HUEY EMFINGER
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JACOB WAYNE HOWARD
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: MICHAEL GUEST
In 2006, Eugene Ealy pled guilty to murder for his
participation in a shooting that occurred when Ealy was
sixteen years old. He was sentenced to life imprisonment
without eligibility for parole (life without parole), which
was the only available statutory sentence. After the United
States Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama, 567
U.S. 460 (2012), that mandatory life without parole sentences
for juveniles are unconstitutional, the circuit court vacated
Ealy's sentence, held a sentencing hearing as mandated by
Miller, and resentenced Ealy to life without parole.
Ealy appeals. We find no error and affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On October 26, 2004, sixteen-year-old Ealy and two
friends-brothers, fifteen-year- old Dunta Dotson and
thirteen-year-old Robert Dotson-drove a stolen truck from
Jackson, Mississippi, to Madison County, Mississippi, with
the intent to steal a four-wheeler for Ealy. Ealy and Dunta
had already stolen a four-wheeler for Dunta and determined
Ealy needed one as well. Ealy and Dunta had surveyed several
neighborhoods and decided earlier that day that they would
steal a specific four-wheeler that they had noticed in the
back of a truck parked at a home. They also observed a white
Cadillac in the driveway. Ealy and Dunta recruited Robert as
a third driver before returning to the home.
When they arrived back at the home, they parked, and Ealy and
Dunta knocked on the door. Both were armed with .38-caliber
pistols. Robert Jeanes came to the door, and Ealy asked
Jeanes if he could use his phone. Jeanes obliged. Ealy and
Dunta engaged in small talk with Jeanes and then returned to
their car, where they discussed their next move. According to
Dunta, Ealy said, "[W]e should rob him but then again a
dead man can't talk." Ealy and Dunta also told
Robert that he would have to drive.
Ealy and Dunta exited the stolen truck again and knocked on
Jeanes's door. Ealy again asked to borrow Jeanes's
phone, and Jeanes obliged. But this time, Ealy handed the
phone back to Jeanes, and Dunta shot Jeanes in the head. With
Jeanes's body in the doorway, Ealy and Dunta entered the
home and stole firearms, a television, and other electronics.
They retrieved the keys for both of Jeanes's vehicles
from inside the home. Ealy then drove Jeanes's truck with
the four-wheeler in the back, and Dunta drove Jeanes's
Cadillac back to Jackson. Robert drove the stolen truck they
had arrived in, but after Robert wrecked into a ditch, they
abandoned the stolen truck; Robert then rode back with Ealy.
Police found Jeanes's white Cadillac parked across the
street from Ealy's father's home in Jackson.
Ealy agreed to talk to an investigator, waived his
Miranda rights, and confessed to his participation
in the crime. He led police to Jeanes's four-wheeler,
which was at a nearby home. The four-wheeler had been painted
and labeled with Ealy's nickname. Ealy also told police
that the stolen firearms were at Dunta and Robert's
house. The firearms were found under Dunta's bed in Dunta
and Robert's bedroom. Police also found a .38-caliber
pistol on a dresser.
A Madison County grand jury indicted Ealy for capital murder
under Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(2)(e) (Rev.
2004). On July 12, 2006, Ealy pled guilty to murder as a
lesser-included offense of capital murder under Mississippi
Code Annotated section 97-3-21 (Rev. 2004). As a factual
basis for his plea, Ealy admitted under oath that
"D[u]nta shot and killed Robert Jeanes while [Dunta] and
[Ealy] were engaged in armed robbery of [Jeanes]." The
Madison County Circuit Court sentenced Ealy to serve life in
the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections
(MDOC) without eligibility for parole. This was the only
possible sentence the court could impose because section
97-3-21 required, and still requires, a life sentence for
murder, and Mississippi Code Annotated section 47-7-3(1)(f)
(Rev. 2004) precluded parole eligibility for those convicted
of violent crimes between June 30, 1995, and July 1, 2014.
In 2013, Ealy filed a motion for post-conviction relief,
seeking to vacate his sentence based on the United States
Supreme Court's decision in Miller. The motion
was granted, and the Madison County Circuit Court vacated
Ealy's sentence for resentencing under Miller
and Parker v. State, 119 So.3d 987 (Miss. 2013)
Before the resentencing hearing, Ealy filed several motions,
including a motion for mental evaluation and treatment. The
circuit court granted the motion so that psychologist Dr.
Criss Lott could address the presence of mitigating factors
for sentencing. Ealy also filed a motion for jury sentencing,
which the circuit court denied.
In May 2017, the court conducted the Miller
sentencing hearing. It heard testimony from Investigator
Kelly Edgar, Dr. Lott, Kenneth Jeanes, and Michael Jeanes.
Investigator Edgar was employed at the Madison County
Sheriff's Department at the time of Jeanes's murder,
and he testified about the investigation. Dr. Lott-the
court-appointed psychologist-interviewed Ealy and some of
Ealy's family members before the hearing, and he
testified about his findings. Jeanes's family members,
Kenneth and Michael, gave victim-impact statements. Ealy also
testified, apologizing and stating: "I understand what I
didn't understand back then. I was young in mind, not
just young of age, and with age will come maturity, and I
feel like I've elevated myself to that maturity. . .
." He further described his incarceration: "The
only thing I knew was to protect myself, do what I had to do
to survive. Okay. I did that. Over the years I have
changed." At the conclusion of the hearing, the court
took the matter under advisement so it could consider the
"voluminous records" provided at the hearing.
In September 2017, the circuit court reconvened the parties
and resentenced Ealy to life without parole. The court made
oral findings on each Miller factor: (1)
"chronological age and its hallmark features-among them,
immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and
consequences"; (2) "family and home environment
that surrounds [the defendant]"; (3) "circumstances
of the homicide offense, including the extent of his
participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer
pressures may have affected him"; (4) "that he
might have been charged and convicted of a lesser offense if
not for incompetencies associated with youth"; and (5)
"the possibility of rehabilitation."
Miller, 567 U.S. at 477-78.
Age and Its Hallmark Features
Ealy was sixteen years and two months old at the time of the
crime-the oldest of the three boys involved in the crime. Dr.
Lott testified that Ealy's IQ of 83 was in the average to
low-average range. The court noted Dr. Lott's testimony
that Ealy exhibited "the hallmark features . . . of . .
. youthful offenders, such as: [p]oor decision-making, not
thinking about the future, giving into peer pressure,
risk-taking, impulsivity, and self-control." Dr. Lott
opined that Ealy's age made him more likely to act
irrationally and impulsively. As to the crime itself, while
Dr. Lott recognized that Ealy had engaged in preparations to
commit a crime, he believed that the ultimate act was
"careless and haphazard."
The court noted that despite Dr. Lott's opinion that the
murder was an impetuous act, the evidence showed that the
crime was "a planned action over a period of hours, if
not multiple days, with the crime spree that was going
on." The court found the offense was not "spur of
the moment" or "haphazard." Rather, Ealy and
Dunta had been stealing trucks for multiple days for the
purpose of using those trucks to steal four-wheelers. They
scoped out Jeanes's house and picked up Robert so they
would have enough drivers to steal the two vehicles parked in
Jeanes's driveway. Ealy and Dunta each carried handguns,
and the court noted that there was evidence that Ealy had
provided the handguns. Further, the court found there were
multiple opportunities for Ealy to abandon the crime, but
Ealy chose not to. The court found that when they arrived at
Jeanes's house and realized someone was home, they could
have left, but instead, according to Dunta, Ealy instructed
that they should keep walking and "play it
off"-asking Jeanes for his phone and pretending they
were lost. Further, both Dunta and Robert stated that after
Ealy borrowed Jeanes's phone the first time, Ealy handed
it back, and he and Dunta returned to the vehicle they had
arrived in. He and Dunta then had a conversation about the
crime-at which time they could have left-but instead went
back to Jeanes's door and asked to borrow his phone
again, and then Dunta shot him.
The court further found that the crime was not "a direct
result of any peer pressure" associated with age;
rather, "it appear[ed] to be more of a lack of respect
for human life and for other people's property,"
which "would seem to be a motivator for these types of
crimes regardless of the age . . . ." The court found
that Ealy was "a leader or at least co-equal
participant" in the crime. Thus, the court ultimately
concluded that other than Ealy's age, "there appears
to be little else in this area that would weigh in favor of a
sentence of life with parole."
Family and Home Environment
As to Ealy's family and home environment, Ealy was the
seventh of eight children, and his parents divorced when he
was two. He lived with his mother and had little contact with
his father until age ten. His mother consistently worked one
or two jobs. She reported that Ealy did well in elementary
school but then developed behavioral problems after age ten
when he went to live with his father, where he was
"pretty much unsupervised," according to Dr.
Lott's evaluation. He was suspended from school more than
once for violent acts. There were reports of violence between
Ealy's parents, and Dr. Lott found that the parental
conflict as well as the lack of a male role model early in
life increased Ealy's risk of delinquency and gang
affiliation. Here, after considering the testimony, the court
found that "certainly . . . Ealy did not have an ideal
home environment or educational experience" and that
"[t]his factor weigh[ed] slightly in favor of a sentence
of life with parole."
Circumstances of the Murder
The court found that although Ealy was not the actual killer,
"the evidence presented show[ed] that Ealy was a leader
and that [the murder] happened how Ealy expected it to happen
and it happened after there had been plenty of time for Ealy
and [Dunta] to abandon the crime." The court further
found that Ealy demonstrated "a lack of respect for
human life and for other people's property" and that
this was "a predominant motivator" for the crime:
Ealy and Dunta "wanted what they wanted no matter what
they had to do to get it." The court concluded that
"everything about this crime itself favors [a] life
without parole sentence."
Incompetencies of Youth
On the next Miller factor-"that [Ealy] might
have been charged and convicted of a lesser offense if not
for incompetencies associated with youth"-the court
found that while Ealy was only sixteen years old,
"nothing in this case . . . indicates that Ealy's
conviction was a result of any incompetency associated with
his youth." The court noted that Ealy "had two able
attorneys representing him" who were able to negotiate a
plea to murder, although Ealy was "clearly guilty of
capital murder." The court found there was not
"anything here that would say that Mr. Ealy's youth
or unfamiliarity with the legal system had any impact on the
outcome of this case."
Possibility of Rehabilitation
Lastly, as to the possibility of rehabilitation, the court
noted that it found Dr. Lott's report and testimony
"most concerning" on this factor. Dr. Lott
testified that it is impossible to predict if a youthful
offender will reoffend. Dr. Lott presented several studies
showing that the older an offender is when released, the less
likely the person is to reoffend. Specifically, he testified
that studies show that people released after age forty tend
to have a low recidivism rate. Ealy was twenty-nine at the
time of the resentencing hearing. Thus, according to Dr.
Lott, he would be better able to determine later down the
road whether Ealy could be rehabilitated. However, Dr. Lott
concluded that because Ealy had an average-to-low-average
intelligence, he saw no impediment to Ealy being
rehabilitated. Dr. Lott further found that Ealy had shown
signs of maturity while in prison, such as working toward his
GED, no longer affiliating himself with a gang, and
exhibiting less "severe" behavior over time.
The court considered Dr. Lott's testimony but ultimately
concluded that "simply because there's no impediment
[to rehabilitation] doesn't mean that he can be
[rehabilitated] . . . ." In making this finding, the
court considered the extensive evidence of Ealy's violent
and disrespectful behavior in prison. According to the
"Drill Down Detail Report" provided by the MDOC,
between Ealy's booking in prison in July 2006 and ...