OF JUDGMENT: 08/15/2017
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. GERALD W. CHATHAM SR. TRIAL JUDGE:
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WANDA TURNER-LEE ABIOTO
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOHN W. CHAMPION
J. WILSON, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND LAWRENCE, JJ.
On July 14, 2015, a Tate County grand jury indicted Antonio
Hall for one count of conspiracy to commit murder in
violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-1-1 (Rev.
2014), and for one count of murder in violation of
Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-19(1)(a) (Rev. 2014).
Following a jury trial, which began on May 1, 2017, Antonio
was acquitted of the conspiracy charge, and the jury found
him guilty of first-degree murder on May 5, 2017. Following
his conviction, Antonio filed a motion for recusal, which the
circuit court denied. Antonio also filed a motion for
judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or,
alternatively, a new trial. After a hearing on his post-trial
motion for a JNOV or a new trial, the circuit court rendered
final judgment on August 15, 2017, and sentenced Antonio to
life imprisonment in the custody of the Mississippi
Department of Corrections (MDOC). Antonio appealed, and,
finding no error, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On February 8, 2015, James Shorty and Antonio Hall visited
Cauthen Circle (Newton), a housing community located in
Senatobia. The men claimed they were there to visit the
mother of James Hall's daughter. For unclear reasons, the
men stopped the vehicle outside of the home of Ludean Carter,
an elderly resident. Ms. Carter testified that she did not
know the men and told them to move out of her yard. Ms.
Carter claims that one of the men yelled back an expletive
and instructed her to return to her home; she acquiesced.
Shortly after the exchange, eight eyewitnesses testified that
a physical altercation ensued between Darrius "Dee"
Brooks (Ms. Carter's nephew) and James Shorty. Testimony
indicated that during the fight, Antonio retrieved a handgun
from the vehicle and shot an undetermined number of bullets
at a bystander named Travis Roberts. Roberts was shot in the
chest and pronounced dead shortly thereafter. When law
enforcement arrived, a host of eyewitnesses agreed to review
photographic lineups and identified Antonio as the shooter.
On July 14, 2015, the Tate County grand jury indicted Antonio
Hall, along with James Hall and James Shorty, for one count
of conspiracy to commit murder and one count of
deliberate-design murder in connection with the death of
Travis Lamar Roberts. Arrest warrants were subsequently
issued for all three men.
After negotiations, James Shorty and James Hall pled guilty
to a reduced charge of accessory-after-the-fact on May 22,
2017. On June 1, 2017, they were sentenced, respectively, to
twenty years in the custody of the MDOC with ten years to
serve, and placed on ten years of post-release supervision.
Antonio moved forward with a jury trial.
Prior to trial Antonio filed a host of motions, including a
motion to change venue, which was filed on April 13, 2017,
and a discovery request. Antonio asserted that he could not
get a fair trial in Tate County, citing media coverage of the
case and violent threats against the defendants'
families. On April 19, 2017, the court held a hearing to
address pre-trial motions and ultimately deemed it best to
hold the "Motion for Change of Venue" in abeyance
until after the jury was impaneled. During the hearing, the
court inquired as to whether there were any discovery issues
it needed to address. Antonio's attorney responded that
there were not.
Dissatisfied, Antonio filed a second "Request for a
Change of Venue" on April 25, 2017, again citing
violence against the defendants' families along with
purported familial connections among the jurors, the
defendants, and the victim. The court ultimately determined
these issues were insufficient to warrant a change of venue
and denied Antonio's motions. Accordingly, the case
proceeded in Tate County.
On April 25, 2017, five days before trial, Antonio also filed
a second "Request for Discovery" and a "Motion
for an Omnibus" hearing, making several evidentiary
requests and alleging the State provided him with incomplete
discovery. Antonio further requested funding for a ballistic
expert and noted that the State had not provided the full
pathology report for the deceased, Travis Roberts. As a part
of his numerous discovery requests, Antonio requested
"any and all police reports, investigative reports,
evidence and supplemental reports or the like made in
conjunction [to] reports of violence that occurred in Newton
on February 6, 2015, February 7, 2015, and February 8,
2015." Although citing the reports as irrelevant, the
State provided Antonio with the requested activity logs.
Antonio also requested NCIC reports on fourteen of the
State's potential witnesses. The State provided NCIC
reports for Antonio's co-defendants James Shorty and
James Hall but responded that it did not have reports for the
other twelve potential witnesses listed. The court addressed
the motions on May 1, 2017, prior to the commencement of the
On May 1, 2017, Antonio's trial ensued. The jury heard
sworn testimony from over thirty witnesses over the course of
the proceedings-including Antonio. At the conclusion of the
State's case in chief, Antonio motioned the court for a
directed verdict. The court denied the motion and allowed the
trial to proceed. A unanimous jury acquitted Antonio of
conspiracy to commit murder (Count I) but convicted him of
murder (Count II) on May 5, 2017. On May 30, 2017, Antonio
filed a motion for JNOV or, alternatively, a new trial, which
the court denied after a hearing on the matter. Additionally,
Antonio filed another post-trial motion for recusal, which
the court also denied. On August 15, 2017, the court rendered
a final judgment and sentenced Antonio to life imprisonment
in the custody of the MDOC. Aggrieved, Antonio Hall now
In his appeal, Antonio assigns a total of eighteen errors
related to the denial of pre-and post-trial motions, as well
as voir dire and perceived evidentiary violations. Given the
myriad of issues raised in the case sub judice, we have
categorized and reorganized Antonio's assignments of
error as necessary to facilitate clarity and efficiency.
Likewise, each issue is restated within its respective
category for ease of reference.
1: Whether the circuit court erred in denying Antonio's
requests for a change of venue.
"A change of venue is at 'the discretion of the
trial court, and its ruling thereon will not be disturbed on
appeal unless it clearly appears that there has been an abuse
of discretion or that the discretion has not been justly and
properly exercised under the circumstances of the
case.'" Davis v. State, 196 So.3d 194, 198
(¶17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (quoting Beech
v. Leaf River Forest Prods., 691 So.2d 446, 448
"The accused has a right to a change of venue when it is
doubtful that an impartial jury can be obtained."
Davis v. State, 767 So.2d 986, 993 (¶16) (Miss.
Mississippi law sets forth a procedure for defendants to
establish a requisite presumption that an impartial jury is
beyond reach in their current venue. "[A] motion for
change of venue must be in writing and supported by
affidavits of two or more credible persons showing that the
defendant cannot receive an impartial and fair trial in that
particular county because of prejudgment of the case or
grudge or ill will to the defendant in the mind of the
public." Gray v. State, 799 So.2d 53, 62
(¶33) (Miss. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(quoting Davis, 767 So.2d at 993 (¶15));
see Miss. Code Ann. §99-15-35 (Rev. 2015).
This presumption, however, may be rebutted by the State upon
proof that an impartial jury was impaneled during voir dire.
Holland v. State, 705 So.2d 307, 336 (¶97)
In his first assignment of error, Antonio argues that the
court erred in denying his pre-trial "Motion for Change
of Venue." In his motion, Antonio cited several local
news outlets reporting the murder. Consistent with the
procedure outlined above, Antonio provided supporting
affidavits from his mother (Arbedella Armstrong) and James
Shorty's mother (Ruthie Lee Hall). Antonio's
supporting affidavits and arguments at the motion hearing,
much like those on appeal, rely primarily on anticipated gang
retaliation and threats of violence made against
Antonio's family. The court concluded that a change of
venue would not "cure or prevent alleged
retaliation" and reiterated that the purpose of a venue
change is to "be certain that the defendant can obtain a
fair and impartial jury." At the venue hearing, though
seemingly unpersuaded by Antonio's arguments, the court,
out of an "abundance of caution," held the motion
in abeyance until after voir dire.
Antonio now argues that the court erred by waiting until
after voir dire to grant a ruling on the venue motion, citing
the State's alleged failure to "rebut the assertion
of violent threats and actual violence against the family
member of [Antonio]." Antonio relies on Davis,
196 So.3d at 199 (¶22), where this court found that
"the trial court erred in denying the motion for change
of venue in light of the fact that the State failed to rebut
the presumption that arose upon Davis's application for a
change of venue." In Davis, the defendant was a
public official entangled in a scandal involving the misuse
of public funds. Id. Davis was able to establish
that there had been a plethora of news coverage related to
his arrest, conviction, divorce, sexual orientation, and even
an unrelated lawsuit; the stories were heavily televised and
run in the local newspapers. Id. Antonio's
request based on threats against third parties does not
When "reviewing whether the trial court abused its
discretion in denying a change of venue, 'we look to the
completed trial, particularly including the voir dire
examination of prospective jurors, to determine whether the
accused received a fair trial.'" Id. at 198
(¶19) (quoting Lutes v. State, 517 So.2d 541,
546 (Miss. 1987)). In the present case, the court did not err
by determining whether a fair and impartial jury could be
impaneled before making a determination with regard to venue.
Antonio failed to provide a sufficient basis for his motion,
and voir dire ultimately amassed an adequate cross-section of
fair and impartial Tate County jurors for impanelment. Some
people were indeed removed for cause while others were deemed
capable of fairness and impartiality despite their loose
affiliations with the victim or other relevant parties.
"[O]ur supreme court has identified several factors
that, when present, make the presumption for a change of
venue irrebuttable," including the following:
(1)capital cases based on considerations of a heightened
standard of review;
(2)crowds threatening violence toward the accused; [or]
(3)an inordinate amount of media coverage, particularly in
(a) serious crimes against influential families;
(b) serious crimes against public officials;
(c) serial crimes;
(d) crimes committed by a black defendant upon a white
(e) where there is inexperienced trial counsel.
Id. at 198 (¶18).
Antonio also argues that there was an irrebuttable
presumption that a change of venue was warranted based on the
news coverage of the murder and the portrayal of Antonio and
his co-defendants as gang members. However, the record does not
support this assertion. During the hearing on the motion for
a venue change, Antonio's trial counsel admitted that
with regard to media coverage, "there [had] not been
anything recent" but anticipated that the impending
trial date would "garner further media attention."
In fact, the story had not been covered in the media at all
since the initial incident, two years prior to the venue
hearing. Based on the above facts, we find the circuit court
did not abuse its discretion and affirm the court's
denial of Antonio's motion for a change of venue.
Alleged Discovery Violations
The Court deems it appropriate to address issues 2 and 3
2: Whether the State's failure to comply with the rules
of discovery requires reversal.
In his second assignment of error, Antonio alleges the State
failed to comply with basic discovery requests for (a) police
crime logs, (b) witness NCIC reports, (c) Travis Robert's
GSR kit, and (d) gang activity reports. Antonio argues the
information was potentially exculpatory and withheld in
violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87
"A trial court's judgment is presumptively correct
and the appellant must demonstrate reversible error to this
Court. Lenard v. State, 812 So.2d, 1097, 1102
(¶18) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001) (citing Branch v.
State, 347 So.2d 957, 958 (Miss. 1977)). Part of the
appellant's burden is to support the argument of the
issues with reasons and authorities." Id.
(citing Pate v. State, 419 So.2d 1324, 1325-26
(Miss. 1982)). Antonio's brief raises a number of other
lone, alleged discovery violations. The additional issues are
comprised of mere assertions. Absent the required reference
to any supporting authority, statutes, or portions of the
record that Antonio relied on, we decline review of the
purported errors. M.R.A.P. 28(a)(7).
Daily Police Crime Logs
Antonio's second discovery request asked the State to
provide "any and all police reports, investigative
reports, evidence and supplemental reports or the like made
in conjunction reports of violence that occurred in Newton
(Cauthen Circle) February 6, 2015, February 7, 2015, and
February 8, 2015, that was referenced as being a part of the
incident occurring on February 8, 2015 resulting in the death
of Travis Roberts." Citing Brady, Antonio
alleges that although the state provided activity logs for
the specified dates, some possibly exculpatory logs were
intentionally excluded and prejudiced Antonio's theory of
In agreement with the State's response, we find the
record reveals this issue is without merit. As an appellate
court, we are bound to "matters contained in the
official record and not [mere] assertions in briefs.
'Facts asserted to exist must and ought to be definitely
proved and placed before the Court by a record, certified by
law; otherwise, we cannot know them.' The Court 'does
not act upon innuendo and unsupported representation of fact
. . . .'" McDonald v. State, 807 So.2d 447,
451 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001) (quoting Colenburg
v. State, 735 So.2d 1099 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App.
Daily logs provided in response to Antonio's request were
admitted through the testimony of Lieutenant Billy Burrow of
the Senatobia Police Department. Lieutenant Burrow testified
that the shooting of Travis Roberts was the only shooting
incident reported in the Newton area on the dates requested.
Antonio's request specifically asked for reports related
to the death of Travis Roberts, and Antonio fails to point to
any evidence or testimony that relevant records existed and
were not turned over. Antonio's first Brady
On May 1, 2017, Antonio filed a motion to compel the
production of NCIC reports containing the criminal and
juvenile histories of each of the State's witnesses.
Antonio alleges that by denying his motion, the circuit court
and prosecution deprived him of "material evidence"
affecting the credibility of the State's witnesses in
violation of Brady and Giglio v. United
States, 405 U.S. 150, 154 (1972).
"It is well established that the State ha[s] [a] duty to
turn over all exculpatory material relevant to [a
defendant's] case." Howell v. State, 989
So.2d 372, 378 (¶13) (Miss. 2008). "There is little
dispute that a government witness's prior criminal
conduct may be used for impeachment purposes and should be
disclosed by the State." Minor v. State, 89
So.3d 710, 714 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012). In
Minor, we addressed a very similar issue regarding a
defendant's motion for the production and disclosure of
criminal records of the State's witnesses. Id.
at 714 (¶8). This Court held that "even where
impeachment material exists, nondisclosure by the State does
not necessarily establish that the outcome was unjust."
Id. at 714 (¶11). Minor's Brady
claim failed because he failed to show any evidence that the
witness in question had any felony convictions, thus there
was no showing that the State suppressed evidence.
Id. at 714 (¶12).
The State contends it obtained and provided NCIC reports for
the accused and his co-defendants and further argues that
Antonio provided no evidence that any of the State's
witnesses had criminal histories that should have been
disclosed. Antonio provided nothing to counter the State on
this issue. Again, Antonio's Brady claim fails.
Antonio cites King v. State, 656 So.2d 1168, 1174
(Miss. 1995) (restating the duty of the prosecution to
disclose exculpatory evidence to criminal defendants as
required by Brady and Giglio), once more
alleging the State withheld exculpatory evidence by failing
to submit the decedent's GSR kit for gun-residue testing.
Again, the record does not support Antonio's claim. At
trial, forensic expert David Whitehead of the Mississippi
Forensics Lab testified that it is standard procedure to
collect GSR samples during autopsies, but since 1998 the
agency policy has been not to perform tests on victim kits.
With gunshot victims in particular, the test only reveals the
obvious; to be shot, the victim had to be in the environment
of a discharged weapon. Whitehead further explained that
victims' GSR kits are only worked up upon special
request. Antonio presented no evidence that the GSR kit would
have had any evidentiary or exculpatory value; in fact,
according to Antonio's own testimony, no one else at the
scene brandished a weapon. Although futile, Antonio was still
free to request the test by motion to the court. Antonio made
no such request, and, accordingly, this claim was waived and
Gang Activity Reports
Additionally, Antonio, for the first time on appeal, argues
that the State improperly denied his request for "any
and all police reports, investigative reports, evidence and
supplemental reports or the like made in conjunction [with]
reports of violence that occurred from February 1, 2015 in
Newton through February 10, 2015, as it relates specifically
to violent actions of gang activity." In response, the
State asserted the request was "overly broad and
irrelevant." A review of the record reveals that during
a hearing on pending ...