OF JUDGMENT: 09/08/2017
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
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 issued its
written order sentencing Shoemake to life imprisonment
without eligibility for parole (LWOP).
After Shoemake was sentenced, the United States Supreme Court
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 requested the State to file a response,
which it did, and Shoemake filed a reply. The post-conviction
court denied Shoemake's PCR motion.
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.
OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The record reflects that on January 21, 2012, under a ruse
that Shoemake and Walker were going to repay a debt owed to
Victor,  Shoemake and Walker contacted Victor to
arrange to pick him up in Olive Branch, Mississippi in a
subdivision where both Victor and Shoemake
lived. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.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."
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.
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
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."
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."
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."
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.
The trial court issued its written order sentencing Shoemake
to LWOP on March 28, 2014. 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
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
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.
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.
"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). 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.
The Validity of Shoemake's LWOP Sentence
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."
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