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Shoemake v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 12, 2019

CHARLES DALTON SHOEMAKE APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/08/2017

          DESOTO COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. CELESTE EMBREY WILSON JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: STACY L. FERRARO JOHN R. CASCIANO

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

         EN BANC.

          CARLTON, P.J.

         ¶1. In January 2012 Charles Dalton Shoemake and his friend Nicholas Walker murdered Paul Victor III. Shoemake was seventeen years and 347 days old at the time. In January 2014 Shoemake pleaded guilty to murder in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev. 2006). On March 18, 2014, the DeSoto County Circuit Court held a sentencing hearing pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Parker v. State, 119 So.3d 987 (Miss. 2013). On March 28, 2014, the trial court[1] issued its written order sentencing Shoemake to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole (LWOP).

         ¶2. After Shoemake was sentenced, the United States Supreme Court decided

         Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). On March 16, 2017, Shoemake filed a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR) asserting that his sentence should be vacated, set aside, or corrected under the Supreme Court's guidance on Miller's application in Montgomery. The post-conviction court[2] requested the State to file a response, which it did, and Shoemake filed a reply. The post-conviction court denied Shoemake's PCR motion.

         ¶3. Shoemake appeals, asserting that his LWOP sentence should be vacated because it is disproportionate as a matter of law; should be vacated and remanded for resentencing because the trial court did not make a finding that he is "permanently incorrigible," which Shoemake asserts is required under Miller as clarified by Montgomery; and should be vacated because sentencing a juvenile offender to LWOP violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 3, Section 28 of the Mississippi Constitution. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court's denial Shoemake's PCR motion.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶4. The record reflects that on January 21, 2012, under a ruse that Shoemake and Walker were going to repay a debt owed to Victor, [3] Shoemake and Walker contacted Victor to arrange to pick him up in Olive Branch, Mississippi in a subdivision where both Victor and Shoemake lived.[4] Before contacting Victor, the record reflects that Shoemake and Walker planned to kill Victor. They prepared to kill him by gathering a gun and a short piece of an extension cord, as well as a can of gas to use in disposing of the body.

         ¶5. With Walker driving, Shoemake and Walker picked up Victor. Walker drove a short distance and then pulled the car over. The record reflects that Walker then struck Victor several times in the head with the butt of a gun while Shoemake, who was in the backseat of the car on the passenger side, strangled Victor from behind with the extension cord. Shoemake and Walker then drove to Shelby Farms in Shelby County, Tennessee. There, they dragged the body to a wooded area off of a walking trail and set Victor's body on fire. Shoemake and Walker left the burning body in the wooded area where it was eventually discovered.

         ¶6. Shoemake was originally indicted for conspiracy to commit murder and for capital murder. In March 2013, Shoemake's indictment was amended to charge him with conspiracy to commit murder; murder under Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(1)(a); and kidnapping. On January 14, 2014, pursuant to a plea agreement, Shoemake pleaded guilty to murder, with the conspiracy and kidnapping charges to be remanded.[5] At Shoemake's plea hearing the trial court accepted Shoemake's guilty plea on the murder charge, finding that the State set forth a sufficient factual basis upon which to base the guilty plea and that Shoemake's guilty plea was freely and voluntarily given.

         ¶7. Shoemake's sentencing hearing was held on March 18, 2014. Because Shoemake was under the age of eighteen at the time he committed the crime, the trial court conducted his sentencing hearing in light of Miller and Parker.

         ¶8. Two witnesses testified for the State: Memphis Lieutenant Kevin Helms and Dr. Chris Lott. Victor's mother also gave victim-impact testimony. Lieutenant Helms testified briefly about the discovery of Victor's burned body and his initial interview with Shoemake.[6]He testified that Shoemake denied any involvement in the crime and that during the interview Shoemake was "nonchalant" and that it appeared that he "didn't care."

         ¶9. Dr. Lott was admitted as an expert in the field of forensic psychology. He testified about the competency exam he performed on Shoemake. Dr. Lott recounted Shoemake's background, including Shoemake's home and school life. He testified that Shoemake came from a "stable and secure [home] environment" and that Shoemake had described his relationship with his mother and father "very positively." Dr. Lott also testified that Shoemake was an honor student, he had taken several Advanced Placement classes, "[he] was poised to attend college and doing quite well," and he had a part-time job working at a western supply store for about a year prior to his arrest. Dr. Lott described Shoemake as being quiet, respectful, and mild-mannered and that "he presented as a typical high school senior." Dr. Lott testified that he administered a number of tests to Shoemake, including an abbreviated IQ test, an achievement test, and a personality test. According to Dr. Lott, Shoemake put forth good effort, and his scores were average. His IQ score was lower than expected, but higher than an eleventh-grade level. Dr. Lott also testified that Shoemake had a history of anxiety. Dr. Lott testified that Shoemake was seventeen years and 347 days old at the time of the crime and that there would be no significant difference in maturity in someone eighteen days older or even a few months older.

         ¶10. The defense presented testimony from Dr. Fred Steinberg and re-called Dr. Lott. Other witnesses who testified for the defense included Shoemake's high school principal, George Loper, a number of Shoemake's friends or family friends, and Shoemake's mother, Nancy Foster. Shoemake was also given the opportunity to address the court at the end of the sentencing hearing.

         ¶11. Dr. Steinberg was admitted as an expert in the field of clinical and forensic psychology of children. He testified generally about the maturity level of minors, their "lesser ability" to appreciate risks and consequences of their actions, lack of the maturity to control impulses, and susceptibility to succumb to peer pressure. Dr. Steinberg's testimony about Shoemake's upbringing and his family stability was similar to Dr. Lott's testimony on these issues, and Dr. Steinberg also reiterated that Shoemake had a history of anxiety disorder. He testified that it was an understandable act by a juvenile not to cooperate with the police. Dr. Steinberg opined, "[I]t's probable that [Shoemake] can be rehabilitated . . . . I think there is rehabilitation potential down the road."

         ¶12. The defense re-called Dr. Lott. He identified several records from a Dr. Ali who treated Shoemake and, according to the records, had apparently prescribed pluoxetine for Shoemake. Dr. Lott testified that pluoxetine was an antidepressant that was also used to treat general anxiety disorder. When questioned about whether Shoemake should possibly be allowed back into society, Dr. Lott testified, "In my opinion, [Shoemake] is not a Ted Bundy. . . . He does not have that personality profile that would suggest to me that he would not be amenable to treatment."

         ¶13. The defense's next witness was George Loper, Shoemake's principal. He testified that Shoemake had graduated by taking his final exams while in jail, that Shoemake made a 25 on the ACT test, and that Shoemake was "college ready." Loper identified Shoemake's acceptance letters from Northwest Community College, Mississippi State University, and Louisiana State University. Loper also testified that he did not think that the circumstances surrounding Shoemake's involvement in Victor's death were normal for Shoemake, and he further testified that allowing Shoemake back into society some day "could be okay."

         ¶14. The defense's next three witnesses were Alex England, Shoemake's long-time friend; Darrin McDowell, Shoemake's mother's best friend who had known Shoemake all his life; and Linda Sutton, a family friend who had known Shoemake and his family since Shoemake was three or four years old. These witnesses provided similar testimonies that Shoemake was a normal, sweet, kind person with good support from his family and friends and that Shoemake belongs back in society some day. The defense's final witness was Nancy Foster, Shoemake's mother, who testified on his behalf. Finally, Shoemake gave an allocution in which he briefly apologized for his actions.

         ¶15. The trial court issued its written order sentencing Shoemake to LWOP on March 28, 2014.[7] In that order, the trial court set out its obligations under Miller and Parker and then it assessed each of the five Miller factors, as well as additional considerations described in Miller that the court found pertinent to its analysis. These considerations included comparing a fourteen-year-old to a seventeen-year-old, a "shooter" to an "accomplice," and a child from a "stable" home to a child from an "abusive" or "chaotic" home. Miller, 567 U.S. at 477. After assessing these factors and considerations in light of the record before it and the testimony and evidence presented at the sentencing hearing, the trial court found that "[i]t is hard to imagine many realistic situations where the factors would weigh more heavily against a defendant than they do in the case at hand." The trial court sentenced Shoemake to LWOP.

         ¶16. The United States Supreme Court decided Montgomery in January 2016. On March 16, 2017, Shoemake filed a PCR motion, asserting that his LWOP sentence should be vacated, set aside, or corrected because in light of the Supreme Court's "clarification" regarding the application of Miller in Montgomery, the trial court applied the wrong legal standard by not making a finding that he was "irreparably corrupt." Alternatively, Shoemake asserted that the post-conviction court should adopt a categorical ban on LWOP sentences as unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment of United States Constitution and Article 3, Section 28 of the Mississippi Constitution. Shoemake further asserted that the post-conviction court should vacate his sentence on this basis.

         ¶17. Shoemake attached to his PCR motion his MDOC records that reflected that Shoemake had never received a rule-violation report while incarcerated. Also attached to Shoemake's PCR motion was an affidavit from Dr. Lott, the State's expert who testified at Shoemake's sentencing hearing. The record reflects that Dr. Lott provided his affidavit at the request of defense counsel to explain his testimony at the sentencing hearing where he said: "In my opinion, [Shoemake] is not Ted Bundy." He stated in his affidavit that "Ted Bundy was a malicious sociopath or psychopath" and that Shoemake had not exhibited any of the traits associated with these personality disorders. Lott's affidavit also provides:

All the information I obtained from collateral sources, including [Shoemake's] teachers, friends, and employer indicated that [Shoemake] was a very polite and respectful adolescent. This crime was the only violent act in [Shoemake's] life history. [Shoemake's] previous pattern of behavior indicated that he was a normal teenager who made good grades, had a part-time job, and was accepted into three colleges. Although I cannot opine with certainty regarding [Shoemake's] behavior post release, it is my opinion that [Shoemake] has the intellectual capacity and family support for a successful reintegration into society if given the opportunity and appropriate support, and he does not appear to be one of those "rare" and "uncommon" juvenile offenders who are incapable of being rehabilitated and thus are irredeemably incorrigible.

         ¶18. The post-conviction court requested the State to file a response to Shoemake's PCR motion, which it did, and Shoemake filed a reply. Based upon its review of the pleadings in the case before it and the contents of the criminal case, Cause No. CR2012-577GCD, the post-conviction court denied Shoemake's PCR motion without an evidentiary hearing. The post-conviction court found that the issues before it were "purely legal," thus an evidentiary hearing was not necessary. Regarding the first issue Shoemake raised, the post-conviction court found that the trial court had applied the correct legal standard in sentencing Shoemake to LWOP. The post-conviction court also addressed Shoemake's alternative request for it to impose a categorical ban on LWOP sentences. The post-conviction court declined to do so, observing that neither the United States Supreme Court, the Mississippi appellate courts, nor the Mississippi Legislature, had made such a categorical finding. Shoemake appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶19. "When reviewing a circuit court's denial or dismissal of a PCR motion, we will reverse the judgment of the circuit court only if its factual findings are clearly erroneous; however, we review the circuit court's legal conclusions under a de novo standard of review." Berry v. State, 230 So.3d 360, 362 (¶3) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted).[8] Specifically with respect to the issues in this case, the Mississippi Supreme Court held in Chandler v. State, 242 So.3d 65, 68 (¶7) (Miss. 2018), that "there are two applicable standards of review in a Miller case. First, whether the trial court applied the correct legal standard is a question of law subject to de novo review." Second, "[i]f the trial court applied the proper legal standard, its sentencing decision is reviewed for abuse of discretion." Id.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Validity of Shoemake's LWOP Sentence

         ¶20. Shoemake asserts that the Supreme Court "clarified" Miller in Montgomery when it observed that "[b]ecause Miller determined that sentencing a child to life without parole is excessive for all but 'the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption, . . .'" Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 734 (quoting Miller, 567 U.S. at 479-80) (internal quotation mark omitted), Miller "rendered life without parole an unconstitutional penalty for . . . juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth." Montgomery, 136 S.Ct. at 734. Relying on this language from Miller, as quoted by the Supreme Court in Montgomery, Shoemake asserts that "[b]ased on all of the evidence in the record, there is no question that [he] is not the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption. Therefore, [his] sentence is disproportionate as a matter of law and must be vacated."

         ¶21. In short, Shoemake contends that both the trial court and the post-conviction court applied the wrong legal standard in sentencing Shoemake to LWOP and that the post-conviction court ...


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