State Supreme Court declines to hear murder appeal

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The Mississippi Supreme Court refused last week to review the appeals of James Curtis Clark, who was convicted July 25, 2016, of second-degree murder and aggravated assault in Forrest County Circuit Court.

In two separate appeals – one made by himself and one by a public defender – Clark’s conviction was upheld on Aug. 8, 2017, by the Mississippi Court of Appeals after claiming that his defense counsel was ineffective, and the overwhelming weight of the evidence mandated an innocent verdict. However, his conviction was affirmed at the time and no review was warranted, the Supreme Court ruled.

On May 11, 2014, two men entered Patrick Snow’s apartment in Hattiesburg, shot Snow in the upper body and Snow’s friend, Matthew Campbell, in the forehead. Campbell died shortly after the incident. Snow told the police that two black males forced themselves into his apartment and tried to rob him. Snow described the intruders as possibly bald or having low haircuts, and then he identified the suspects by name a day later.

Clark, along with Timothy Jordan and Jarvis Holder, were indicted together in a three- count indictment for conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree murder and aggravated assault. Jordan and Holder pleaded guilty and testified against Clark in exchange for more lenient sentences.

However, conflicting evidence was presented about the shooting. Snow identified Holder and Clark as the robbers and said Clark shot him and Campbell. Holder testified that he and Clark went to rob Snow, and that he fired a shotgun upon entering the apartment. He also said Clark shot Snow and Campbell.

Jordan’s testimony differed from his past statements. He initially told police that he got in a physical altercation with Snow over drugs and that Holder did the shooting. Lavivian Wilson, Jordan’s sister, initially gave the police the same statement as Jordan – that Holder shot Snow and Campbell. But, like Jordan, she changed her story.

At trial, Lavivian testified that she heard about the shooting on Facebook and confronted her brother. A couple of days later, she went to Brookhaven on an errand, and Jordan and Clark rode with her and – without Lavivian’s knowledge – moved the guns used in the shooting. Lavivian testified Clark admitted to shooting both victims. But, ultimately, there was no physical evidence tying Clark, or anyone else, to either crime.

During the jury instruction conference, the court granted a jury instruction for second-degree murder. The jury found Clark guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated assault. The circuit court denied Clark’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial, so Clark appealed.

To prove his counsel was ineffective, Clark must show his counsel’s performance was deficient, and the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. The court ruled that Clark’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim lacks merit because he fails to meet his burden.

Clark next argued that the verdicts are against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. A challenge to the weight of the evidence will be successful only when the verdict “is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence that to allow it to stand would sanction an unconscionable injustice.”

Snow testified that Holder and Clark forced themselves into his apartment. He said that Clark demanded money, so he threw $600 on the floor. Clark said, “Forget that,” and shot him. According to Snow, Clark also told Campbell to empty his pockets, and Campbell said he did not have any money. Clark said “Forget that” again and shot Campbell. Snow’s testimony at trial was consistent with his prior statements.

Jordan testified that Holder and Clark planned to rob Snow. He also testified that he remained in the vehicle during the attempted robbery. Jordan said he heard gunshots, and then Clark returned to the vehicle and said, “I just shot one in the head and shot another in the chest.” Holder confirmed Jordan’s testimony. Lavivian testified that Clark admitted he had messed up and “shot the boy in the head.”

Clark claims that a majority of evidence presented at trial is questionable, since it came from co-indictees and witnesses who took plea deals. However, ample evidence was presented to the jury to show Clark was guilty of murder and aggravated assault. The jury was well aware of the deals given to Jordan, Holder, and Lavivian, and it was up to the jury to decide how much weight to give their testimony. So, the Appeals Court could not find the verdicts were against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

 

 

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