WILLIE BERNARD a/k/a WILLIE BERNARD, JR. a/k/a WILLIE HUEY BERNARD, JR.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
OF JUDGMENT: 01/27/2016
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. HON. WINSTON L. KIDD JUDGE.
COURT ATTORNEYS: ALICE THERESA STAMPS MICHAEL ERIC BROWN
GRETA D. MACK HARRIS IVON JOHNSON
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JANE E. TUCKER
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ROBERT SHULER SMITH
KING, P.J., MAXWELL AND GRIFFIS, JJ.
Willie Bernard appeals from his second murder trial for
shooting Larry Johnson to death after a traffic dispute in an
apartment-complex parking lot. The first trial resulted in a
jury finding Bernard guilty of murder and an accompanying
firearm enhancement. But the trial judge found he had wrongly
denied Bernard's request to instruct the jury on the
Castle Doctrine. So the judge granted Bernard's posttrial
motion for a new trial and set aside that jury's guilty
The State tried Bernard again. And this time, the trial judge
granted Bernard a Castle Doctrine instruction. He also
instructed the jury on self-defense. Once again, a jury found
Bernard guilty of murder and the related firearm enhancement.
He was sentenced to life in prison. Bernard now appeals this
After review, we find sufficient evidence supports the
jury's guilty verdict and the enhancement for using a
firearm during a felony. The convictions are also supported
by the weight of the evidence. Bernard is barred from
challenging the judge for granting the specific Castle
Doctrine instruction he requested. And his remaining
appellate challenges-over the record, other jury
instructions, the effectiveness of his counsel, jury
selection, and improper witness bolstering-are either wholly
speculative, not preserved, outside the record, or lack
We therefore affirm Bernard's convictions for murder and
for using a firearm during a felony. His challenge to the
effectiveness of his trial counsel may be brought in a
post-conviction relief petition, if he so desires.
Facts and Procedural History
On March 16, 2011, Brittany Wells was driving her tan Saturn
sedan, in which Bernard was a passenger. As Wells pulled into
the entrance to their apartment complex, a white Mustang,
heading the wrong way, drove toward them from the complex
parking lot and tried to exit the lot. Wells yelled,
"asshole, you're going the wrong way." And she
continued driving toward the parking lot.
The Mustang stopped, reversed, and backed up toward
Wells's car. The driver, Larry Johnson, got out of the
Mustang. He waved his arms around and yelled, "bitch, I
go wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go, how I want
to go." An argument between Johnson and Wells followed.
During the exchange, Bernard got out of Wells's car,
pulled out a .357 magnum revolver, and shot Johnson twice,
killing him. Wells and Bernard got back in Wells's car
and drove to their apartment.
Soon after, Bernard tried to leave the complex in his truck.
A police officer arrived and saw people pointing at
Bernard's truck. Bernard was stopped and taken into
custody. Bernard admitted to police that he shot Johnson. But
he claimed he did so in defense of himself and his children,
who he claimed were in the car.
A grand jury indicted Bernard for Johnson's murder and
for using a firearm in the commission of a felony. This
appeal is from his second trial. Bernard was initially tried
and found guilty by a jury in May 2013. But the judge granted
him a new trial. The judge found that a requested Castle
Doctrine instruction was incorrectly refused. In
Bernard's second trial, which occurred in January 2016,
three eyewitnesses testified about the shooting. And three
Jackson Police Department officers described Bernard's
arrest, the crime scene, and the murder investigation. A
State Medical Examiner testified that the autopsy he
performed showed Johnson was shot twice and died from the
According to eyewitness testimony, when Johnson got out of
his Mustang, he gesticulated with his arms, which were
visible. He argued with Wells but did not appear aggressive.
During this exchange, Bernard grabbed a .357 magnum revolver
from under the passenger seat, stepped out of Wells's
car, and shot Johnson twice. Each eyewitness the State called
claimed there was no physical altercation. And no weapon was
recovered from Johnson. Two of the eyewitnesses testified
that Bernard and Johnson were not even standing close to one
another when Bernard shot him. All three saw Bernard shoot
Johnson. One of the eyewitnesses tried to resuscitate Johnson
in the parking lot but was unsuccessful.
Wells and Bernard both testified in Bernard's defense.
Both claimed Johnson acted aggressively and approached their
car, toward the back door on the driver's side, with a
hand under his shirt like he had a weapon. Bernard testified
that to protect himself, Wells, and their kids-who he and
Wells claimed were in the backseat-he shot Johnson once.
Bernard testified that Johnson did not stop after the first
shot, so he shot him again. None of the other eyewitnesses
saw Johnson reach under his shirt. And none of the other
eyewitnesses saw children in Wells's vehicle.
Each side rested, and the judge denied Bernard's motion
for a directed verdict. Both sides lodged objections to
several of the other's jury instructions. The trial
transcript shows the chief complaints during the
jury-instruction conference dealt with the State's murder
instruction and Bernard's proposed Castle Doctrine and
self-defense instructions. The judge granted Bernard's
request to remove language from the murder instruction that
addressed depraved-heart murder. The judge also granted the
State's request to remove the title "Mr." from
Bernard's name in the Castle Doctrine instruction. And at
Bernard's request, the judge modified a
justifiable-homicide instruction-that Bernard's trial
lawyer called a Castle Doctrine instruction-to reflect his
defense of himself and others.
At the end of the conference, the trial judge asked if either
side had any questions about the proposed revisions. Both the
State and the defense said no. The noted revisions were made
by court staff. And the judge read the instructions to the
jury, which reflected the trial judge's rulings from the
jury-instruction conference. At trial, neither side objected
or made any claim that the jury instructions, as read to the
jury, were incorrect.
After deliberating, the jury found Bernard guilty of murder
and guilty of using a firearm during the killing. The judge
sentenced Bernard to life in prison. Bernard filed a
posttrial motion and an amended motion for a new trial. Both
were denied. Bernard now appeals to this Court.
On appeal, Bernard argues: (1) the evidence was insufficient
to support his murder conviction and gun enhancement; (2) the
jury's verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the
evidence; (3) the record is deficient on the jury
instructions and there are numerous errors with the
instructions; (4) the State improperly bolstered witness
testimony; and (5) the trial court erred by granting the
State's challenge for cause against a juror.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Bernard argues the State's evidence was insufficient to
prove his murder conviction and firearm enhancement. When
reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court views
the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and
determines if any rational juror could have found the
elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.
Martin v. State, 214 So.3d 217, 222 (Miss. 2017).
Bernard was charged with deliberate-design murder. The State
had to prove Bernard killed Johnson without authority of law
and did so with the deliberate design to effect Johnson's
death. Scott v. State, 220 So.3d 957, 962 (Miss.
2017); Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev.
2006). The firearm enhancement required the State
to prove Bernard used or displayed a firearm during the
commission of a felony. Miss. Code Ann. § 97-37-37(1)
Viewing the evidence in the State's favor, there was
testimony that Johnson was arguing with, but not physically
threatening, Wells and Bernard. And there was testimony that
Bernard got out of Wells's car and shot Johnson twice
with a .357 magnum, killing him. According to the medical
examiner, Johnson died from the gunshots. While the
parking-lot episode escalated rapidly from mere road rage to
a killing, this Court has held "'[d]eliberate design
to kill a person may be formed very quickly, and perhaps only
moments before the act of consummating the intent.'"
Brown v. State, 965 So.2d 1023, 1030 (Miss. 2007)
(quoting Gossett v. State, 660 So.2d 1285, 1293
(Miss. 1995)). Because a rational fact-finder could find
Bernard killed Johnson with deliberate design, there is
sufficient evidence of murder. This same evidence is also
sufficient to prove Bernard used or displayed a firearm
during the commission of a felony.
Weight of the Evidence
Bernard also suggests the jury's guilty verdict was
against the weight of the evidence, entitling him to a new
trial. He specifically calls into question the
eyewitnesses' reliability and insists the only conclusion
is that he acted in self-defense.
This Court does not reweigh evidence or determine a
witness's credibility. Little v. State, 233
So.3d 288, 292 (Miss. 2017). When evidence or testimony
conflicts, the jury is the sole judge of witness credibility
and the weight and worth of their testimony. Id.
What this Court does is review the judge's denial of a
new trial for abuse of discretion. Id. We will only
find an abuse of discretion and disturb a verdict when,
viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
verdict, it is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the
evidence it sanctions an unconscionable injustice.
Three eyewitnesses testified that while Johnson was agitated
and waving his arms, there was no physical altercation. Two
eyewitnesses testified Bernard and Johnson were not even
close to one another when Bernard shot him. And none of these