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Ward v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 7, 2019

JOSEPH WARD
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/10/2018

          NEWTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL HON. CHRISTOPHER A. COLLINS JUDGE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: P. SHAWN HARRIS BRITTANY WHITE BROWN CHRISTOPHER MORGAN POSEY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER GEORGE T. HOLMES

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

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: STEVEN SIMEON KILGORE

          BEFORE KING, P.J., COLEMAN AND BEAM, JJ.

          KING, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶1. Joseph Ward[1] was convicted of burglary of a dwelling, and the Newton County Circuit Court sentenced him to serve twenty-five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). Ward appeals and argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. Because the State failed to present substantive evidence proving the elements of the burglary charge against Ward, we reverse and render Ward's conviction and sentence.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. A Newton County grand jury indicted Ward on May 22, 2017, for burglary of a dwelling. Ward's trial began on August 13, 2018. Bernard Rigdon testified that he and his wife lived in Decatur, in Newton County, Mississippi. The Rigdons went out of town from July 19, 2016, to July 22, 2016. Bernard testified that when he returned home on the morning of July 22, his carport door and back doors were open and "everything [was] just strewed around all over the house." When a member of the sheriff's department arrived, Bernard went inside and determined that numerous personal items were missing. He testified that the missing items included

a bunch of guns and ammo and jewelry and television and, you know, had a jug of money, about - a five-gallon jug about half full of change, probably about $500 worth, I'd estimate. And I had knives and shirts and a lot of different things.

         ¶3. S.G., a juvenile at the time of the burglary, admitted that he had broken into Rigdon's house with his cousin A.E. and another juvenile named G.[2] At trial, S.G. testified that he and A.E. had been the only ones that had entered the Rigdons' house. S.G. denied that Ward had been involved in the burglary and denied that he knew Ward. The State produced a statement supposedly written by S.G. in which S.G. implicated Ward in the burglary. However, although S.G. admitted that his signature was at the bottom of the document, he repeatedly testified that he did not remember writing the statement. S.G. stated that he "used to smoke weed" and that his "memory really do[esn't] go past last week." S.G's statement was not admitted into evidence.

         ¶4. A.E., also a juvenile at the time of the burglary, testified that G lived with his mom and his stepdad and that sometimes "Poppa" also would stay there. A.E. identified Ward as "Poppa." He testified that G's house was "a couple of houses down" from the Ridgons' house. A.E. stated that in July 2016, he and S.G. were walking down the road when they saw that the door to the Rigdons' house was open. He stated that he and S.G. went to G's house to tell him about it.[3] A.E., S.G., and G then went back to the Rigdons' house and walked in. A.E. testified that the house had already been "messed up" from another person before they went inside. The trio took "a lot of things" outside and hid the items in a bush. He testified that the three then left the Rigdons' house and that A.E. and S.G. came back later in a stolen car to retrieve the items. A.E. said that after they retrieved the stolen property, they attempted to get Ward to sell the items, but Ward never got the chance because the police arrived.

         ¶5. A.E. testified that he talked to Sheriff Jackie Knight the night he was arrested. After speaking with Sheriff Knight, A.E. testified that he wrote a statement.[4] A.E.'s written statement read that he and S.G. went to G's house "like always" and that Ward was present because he lived there. He continued,

[T]he house, [P]oppa went there the night before and did what he did. Then I walked in the room and saw everything guns, money, and diamonds. Then that night he asked me and [S.G.] did we want to go and he needed us. So I really didn't want to go but I went so he wouldn't say I was a [b****] and I don't like when somebody call me that. So we all went back in there, and we were walking around look[ing] for the money but we didn't find some more diamonds that[']s it. [T]hen we left. Then the day the people came ...

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