Double-murder trial delayed for new defense expert analysis

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Trayvon Brown won’t go on trial Tuesday charged with a double murder.
He and his defense attorney, Adam Pinkard, convinced Judge Jim Seth Pounds they deserved additional time and at least one new expert to defend against a new state report on the Tupelo shooting.
Pounds granted the delay, citing last week’s Mississippi Supreme Court reversal of decisions by another circuit court and the Court of Appeals in a case in which the defendant claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The reversal, the judge said, came “for failure to grant the defense an expert witness.”
PTSD, Pounds conjectured, “isn’t nearly as important” as other issues in Brown’s case. And he termed likely trial testimony by the state as “contradictive” and in need of additional expert analysis.
Brown, 27, stands accused of the September 2011 shooting deaths of Cornelius Harris, 22, and Felicia Ruffin, 36, at a Chapman Street residence.
He has been held in the Lee County Jail on $1 million bond since his arrest.
The trial was set to begin Tuesday before Pounds.
Harris and Ruffin reportedly lived in the residence for a few months prior to the shootings. Harris, whom friends called “Snoop,” was a waiter and bartender at two local restaurants.
Circuit court’s February term began late last week with pre-trial pleas and other activity.
At least one other criminal trial is expected during the term for which 459 cases are listed on the docket.
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(Below is a running account of today’s courtroom activity. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely as I type rapidly.) State attorneys are Brian Neely and John Weddle. Defense attorney is public defender, Adam Pinkard.
9:00 – Judge Pounds enters courtroom. He’s asking prosecutors how long they think the Brown case will run. ADA Brian Neely says the case ought to be ready for a jury by Friday.
We’ll try to get the jury picked by 3 p.m. tomorrow, Pounds tells him. might want to start early every day. Don’t want the jury to have to come in Saturday. Please pre-mark exhibits and take up jury instructions ahead of time. Both sides they, for most part, their instructions are nearly complete.
Judge – Defendant has filed several pro se motions (motions by him). Let’s meet in chambers and see what we can agree on.
Let’s go over the docket. (Work through first week.)
9:40 – RECESS to work in chambers on some pre-trial motions.
10:20 – JUDGE BACK. Says he will do 2 revocations. Attorneys working on murder trial motions. Will meet with them, then bring motions out into courtroom.
37-year-old woman gets 20-year sentence suspended for Drug Court.
Atty Dennis Farris with his client, says negotiated a plea. We will admit the allegations are required. ADA Sadie Gardner. Defendant is Jartavious Penroe. Pontotoc County case – to revoke his post-conviction supervision. Pleaded guilty in 2007, selling cocaine. Sentenced then to 30 years, with 10 years to serve etc. Served part of his sentence per MDOC. Arrested Jan. 2, 2013 in Madison County – charged with felony controlled substance possession. Farris says he’s on work program, working out financial obligations. For purposes of hearing, Farris says, will admit Madison allegations.
Gardner – Intros confession.
Farris – For hearing, we will agree to statement but will reserve right to challenge statement in Madison County. Judge – so noted.
Judge – Probation revoked. Gardner – recommends 20 years, to serve 2 years.
Judge – Sentenced to 20, 18 suspended. If he gets out, I’d like payment plan for any balance. Farris – asks for credit of time served. Judge – he will.
10:38 – Proceedings complete for a few minutes. Will have a hearing in a few minutes, if they are ready. I am.
11:56 – Attorneys, defendant Trayvon Brown enter courtroom. Judge back soon. Adam Pinkard is public defender. ADAs are Brian Neely and John Weddle.
JUDGE – Takes seat. Attorneys resolve some questions about continuance motions filed months ago in the case.
Says depraved heart murder charge dropped. Sept. 8, 2011, record shows he was arrested. Indicted January 2012 – 2 counts depraved heart murder. Case continued in May, then June it was nol processed by DA’s office. New indictment returned in July – deliberate design murder. Case continued and then set before November term.
Pinkard says asked then for continuance since he had just been hired.
Judge – we’ll come back to that last. Case is set for tomorrow, Feb. 5. Bring up state’s motion first – to exclude speculative testimony from law enforcement about guilt.
Neely – To prevent to avoid not qualified witnesses, to avoid opinion. Whether could be accident. Pinkard – I don’t expect any questions of that nature. Judge – I don’t see problems. Certainly defense can have whatever defense desire.
Next – state motion to exclude evidence about drugs in victims’ system or on murder scene. Brian – WE withdraw. PINKARD – I have filed objection to that, or response. Think evidence was admissible. Judge – I think so too. I’ve been told it will be self defense by defense, as to who was aggressor, state of intoxication can be an issue. I could see it would be relevant in this case. I will keep an open mind. State of mind of all parties as to drugs or alcohol is relevant.
JUDGE – Now, defense motions. Speedy trial? Motions filed pro se by your client. Gave you time to review those to see what you want to proceed on.
Pinkard – I have discussed all of them. Multiple motions to dismiss, client has agreed to withdraw all but final motion to dismiss filed Nov. 1. Judge – is that correct? Yes sir, Brown responds.
Judge – Was my summation correct, Mr. Pinkard? Time under constitution starts on day of arrest Sept. 28, 2011. Continues to arraignment. Sometime in January 2012. Pinkard – I believe it was February. Judge – 3 months and 2 days … then continued after arraignment until court term in May. See continuance order filed by his defense. Then case nul processed. Re-indicted, additional continuances until now, February court term. Pinkard – I believe that’s right.
Judge – I believe of all those dates … at most it’s been less than 120 days counting against the state. All others were defense. I find no violation of any speedy trial under constitution or state law. Anything else?
Pinkard – Our position, though you are correct. He wasn’t arraigned until February. Then continuances. Basically we agree that the delay … first of all, client has pointed out to me on numerous occasions … it was not his intent to delay. As time has progressed, more and more evidence comes forward and creates greater prejudice.
Judge – What prejudice has he suffered?
Pinkard – The fact that …. BROWN – The firt prejudice came from re-indictment of the state. The investigator took another statement from a family member allegedly a witness. Statement taken a year later. State delayed to produce discovery. My attorney was ineffective and made no effort to obtain discovery. Defendant remained incarcerated oppressively under $1 million bond. I was unable to … it was well established by justice court … DA Kelly … well established that defendant was the only witness to what occurred. A year later, new statement incriminates defendant but also contradicts several facts of common knowledge and scene of incident. Critical for defendant to have an expert to contradict these facts. BEfore re-indictment, these facts did not exist. I was arraigned Feb. 2. Between then and May of 2012, I made several attempts to try to inform that I had people with funds … but for our financial ability, wasn’t readily available. I filed several complaints to the court,should be in the sister case. Ihad to give supporters power of attorney to get discovery. In time that has passed, I have lost ability to defend myself as I would have been if reconciled sooner.
JUDGE – What kind of expert?
BROWN – A forensic expert. Judge – Pinkard, is this about distance of gun?
BROWN – Angle of bullet, distance one of victim to the door, other factors from the new statement, measurements, aligning of body. Not taken into consideration by Tupelo detectives. Material to the defendant.
JDUGE – Goes with your continuance? I find defendant was not prejudiced to deprive him of speedy trial. Deny that motion.
Next, defendant, abandoned all other motions except these motions and for expert.
First motion – to exclude evidence about coroner’s report, that it might be cumulative?
WEDDLE – We are not planning to call coroner unless her photos add to the crime scene. May be issues later, but not planning showing any duplicative photos.
JUDGE – Take it under advisement. If she does, it must be relevant or in rebuttal.
Second motion – defense requests that court limits officers or photos of bloody crime scene in an attempt to inflame the jury. Court will allow limited number. Let us pre-mark photos and see if you think any are duplicative or inflammatory. Evidence may reflect various issues. Court will review them at that time but not allow anything too repetitious.
WEDDLE – State plans to show video of crime scene. Think it gives better spacial look of scene. Pinkard seen it? Pinkard – I have. Judge – If it’s relevant will be admissible.
JUDGE – Let’s talk about other motion.
NEELY – Record will reflect … evidence raised questions from shooting scene. Photography evidence. Different results depending upon distance. We asked pathologist to explain what it meant. We gave these photos to the defendant, over a year ago.
PINKARD – Fact that DA or med examiner needed to make an addendum was that it should have been in the initial report. One thing to clarify, another to report to use so soon before trial. Changed my position completely on whether I needed an expert.
BROWN – Yes, also no one considered information about how I was shot. We want a qualified expert to testify. It will be material to the defense.
PINKARD – If it didn’t need to be said, why did they come back or see a need to provide addendum, if it’s just common knowledge.
NEELY – DA policy, once we get testimony, we are to reduce to writing and produce to defendant. Defense has had same evidence as we have. We gave them out entire file. Taken them to house. They have same thing for over a year that we have. They had access like we had. Only thing, in prep for trial … in drafting our questions, we saw we needed a definition. Defendant has wound to hand. All we did, anything we elicited, we memorialize and give to the defense. All this was readily available. I sought definition as I prepared this case.
JUDGE – That contradicts what you gave Mr. Pinkard. You said expert says one thing, you said another. I think I see their argument. Court has reviewed and researched this. Last week Supreme Court reversed COA and circuit court for failure to grant defense an expert witness. In that it was for PTSD, which isn’t nearly as important as distance in this case. State gave expert’s testimony. It is contradictive. Court is aware of Ward case, tried here. Ballistics experts testified about differences in distance. It is important, as Pinkard points.
Court will continue this case. Do you have funds or does he for an expert. Pinkard – His family had funds at one point but things have changed. No, what I would like to do is determine what expert will charge and ask for an amount somewhere about that.
Judge – I’ll let you look for an expert. As far as ballistics, you will be allowed to hire an expert.
NEELY – State heard him say he has supporters with funds. We say he is no longer indigent.
JUDGE – No longer. Case will be continued. Re-set… must look at my calendar. Not sure. Will be continued, based on defendant’s motion.