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Morris v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 14, 2020

CHRISTOPHER MORRIS A/K/A CHRISTOPHER JERMAINE MORRIS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/22/2016

          LAUDERDALE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JUSTIN MILLER COBB JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SHARON D. HENDERSON.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KAYLYN HAVRILLA McCLINTON.

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BILBO MITCHELL.

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., McDONALD AND McCARTY, JJ.

          J. WILSON, P.J.

         ¶1. 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.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. 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.

         ¶3. 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 more shots.

         ¶4. 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 treatment.

         ¶5. 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 investigation.

         ¶6. 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.

         ¶7. 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.

         ¶8. 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 gunshot wound.

         ¶9. 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 amputated leg.

         ¶10. 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.

         ¶11. 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.

         ¶12. 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.[1]

         ¶13. 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.

         ¶14. 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 ...


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