OF JUDGMENT: 08/22/2016
LAUDERDALE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JUSTIN MILLER COBB
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SHARON D. HENDERSON.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
KAYLYN HAVRILLA McCLINTON.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BILBO MITCHELL.
J. WILSON, P.J., McDONALD AND McCARTY, JJ.
Following a jury trial, Christopher Jermaine Morris was
convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated assault, and
shooting into a dwelling. On appeal, Morris argues that the
State presented insufficient evidence to support his
convictions; that the jury's verdict is contrary to the
overwhelming weight of the evidence; that the trial judge
erred by denying a circumstantial evidence jury instruction;
that he was denied a fair trial for various other reasons;
and that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was
violated. However, we find no error and affirm Morris's
convictions and sentences.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On September 4, 2013, sometime between 10 and 11 p.m.,
Crystal King and Manuel Torres were sitting on King's
front porch in Meridian. King testified that Morris pulled up
in front of her house in a dark-colored truck or SUV and said
that he needed to talk to Torres. Morris and Torres argued
for five to ten minutes. Morris then left, but King saw him
drive around the block a few times.
King testified that Morris eventually returned and parked
across the street. He got out of his vehicle and called for
Torres to come to him. Torres walked over to Morris, and the
two men began arguing again. Morris then yelled out for King
to come to the street, but she told the two men that she was
not getting involved. Morris told her that was the
"wrong answer" and that she had "ten
seconds." Morris then pulled out a gun and started
shooting. He shot Torres, and Torres ran back toward
King's house. King yelled at Torres not to come her way,
so he turned and ran toward a funeral home directly across
the street from King's house. Morris followed Torres.
King heard Morris fire a few more shots, and Torres fell in
some tall grass near the funeral home. Morris fired still
Morris then walked back in the direction of King's house
and began shooting at it. King lay on the front porch, hoping
not to get shot. King's boyfriend, Wilson Gates, was
sleeping in a front room of the house when the gunfire woke
him. King yelled to Gates for help, so he crawled outside.
Morris shot seven or eight times into the house. Morris
finally stopped shooting, walked back to his vehicle, and
drove away. After Morris left, King noticed that Gates's
back was bleeding. He had a small graze wound on his back,
but he did not realize that he had been shot. When paramedics
arrived, they looked at the wound, but Gates refused further
When law enforcement officers arrived, they followed a trail
of blood from the street to where Torres lay in front of the
funeral home. Torres was bleeding heavily from his leg and
having difficulty breathing. Meridian Police Officer Eric
Shirley asked Torres who shot him, and, according to Shirley,
Torres said, "It's Bo. Bo's the one that shot
me." Shirley tried to get more information from Torres,
but Torres could only tell him "Bo" and that
"Bo" drove a Caprice. Shirley was with Torres for
five to ten minutes before the ambulance arrived. Shirley
turned the information about "Bo" over to
detectives and had no further involvement in the
Meridian Police Officer Kevin Boyd photographed and
documented the blood trail, and Officer Rusty Powell
recovered some shell casings found in the area after Boyd
photographed them. They found shell casings in front of the
funeral home, in the grass where Torres was found, and in the
street in front of King's house. Most of the casings were
within forty or fifty yards of where Torres was found. All
casings recovered were from a 7.62-caliber Winchester gun,
which Boyd testified was likely a rifle. No fingerprints were
recovered from the casings. Boyd and Powell also photographed
the exterior and interior of King's home, which had
several bullet holes through the front wall and into the
kitchen. Jars of food in the kitchen had been struck by the
bullets and exploded on impact. A few projectiles were
retrieved from the home as well.
Boyd and Powell asked King, Gates, and others associated with
the case if they could identify "Bo." King and
Gates would not speak with them the night of the shooting,
but King later gave a statement to police. She did not know
who "Bo" was, but she identified Morris as the
shooter. Powell also ran an alias search for the area and
persons known as "Bo," but it turned up nothing.
Torres was taken to a nearby hospital. Dr. Dru Denison
testified that Torres had been shot in his right leg, nearly
severing an artery in two, and had suffered significant blood
loss. After Denison stopped the bleeding, he placed a shunt
in Torres's leg to bypass the injured area. A blood clot
later developed and blocked the shunt, which required
additional surgery. Denison then created a bypass graft using
a vein from Torres's left leg. That procedure was also
unsuccessful, and Torres's leg had to be amputated.
Denison testified that Torres was in the hospital for several
days, possibly a week, before he died from his injuries.
Testifying as an expert in general surgery, Denison opined
that Torres died as a result of complications from his
Dr. J. Brent Davis, a forensic pathologist, also testified
that the cause of death was complications from the gunshot
wound. Davis did not conduct a toxicology screen on Torres
because Torres had been in the hospital for over a week prior
to his death, and he did not believe a toxicology screen was
necessary to determine the cause of death. Davis examined
Torres's body but was unable to examine Torres's
A Lauderdale County grand jury indicted Morris for
first-degree murder, aggravated assault, and shooting into a
dwelling. Morris did not testify or call any witnesses at
trial. The jury found him guilty on all three counts. Morris
was sentenced to serve life without the possibility of parole
for first-degree murder, ten years for aggravated assault,
and ten years for shooting into a dwelling. The court ordered
the ten-year sentences to run concurrently with each other
and consecutively to the life sentence. Morris filed a motion
for a new trial, which was denied, and then appealed.
After the appeal was docketed and assigned to this Court,
Morris filed a motion to remand the case to the circuit court
to supplement the record and subpoena the trial recording.
Morris alleged that the transcript omitted parts of
King's testimony, comments by the trial judge identifying
the alternate jurors, and an objection by defense counsel
during the State's closing argument. A panel of this
Court granted Morris's motion and ordered Morris's
attorney and trial counsel for the State to "work
together with the court reporter to ensure the transcript is
an accurate representation of what occurred at trial."
The panel also ordered the circuit clerk and the court
reporter to supplement the record as necessary. The court
reporter and circuit clerk supplemented the record with a
transcript of the post-trial hearing on Morris's motion
for a new trial, which had been omitted. However, the court
reporter swore in an affidavit that the transcript of the
trial itself was accurate.
Morris later filed a second motion in this Court in which he
alleged that the court reporter had refused to comply with
this Court's prior order. In response, a panel of this
Court again remanded the case to the circuit court for the
limited purpose of a hearing to resolve the dispute
concerning the content of the record. See M.R.A.P.
10(e). At the hearing on remand, the court reporter testified
that the trial transcript was accurate and that she did not
recall any of the statements that Morris claimed were
omitted. The disputed portions of the trial recording were
played during the hearing. The circuit judge stated that he
did not hear any of the allegedly omitted statements, and he
denied Morris's motion for supplemental transcripts or a
copy of the trial recording.
Morris subsequently filed a third motion related to the trial
transcript. In his new motion, Morris alleged that certain
parts of the trial recording "were not audible, muddled,
inaccurate and included gaps and breaks." He asked this
Court to supplement the record on appeal to include the trial
recording itself. A panel of this Court denied Morris's
motion, noting that Morris had not cited any specific
inaccuracy in the transcript that had not already been
addressed by the circuit court.
Morris now raises five issues on appeal. He argues that (1)
there is insufficient evidence to support his convictions;
(2) the jury's verdict is against the overwhelming weight
of the evidence; (3) the trial judge erred by denying his
request for a circumstantial evidence instruction; (4) a
series of alleged errors deprived him of a fair ...