Fulgham cell phone case sent back to Oktibbeha

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Convicted murderer Kristi Fulgham’s unheralded appeal over a jail cell phone was reversed Friday by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
It was her second reversal in two weeks.
While Fulgham, now 34, was an inmate in the Oktibbeha County jail in 2004 awaiting trial for her husband’s murder, she pleaded guilty to furnishing another inmate with “an unauthorized electronic device,” a cell phone and charger.
Circuit Judge James T. Kitchens Jr. of Caledonia sentenced her to eight years in prison for the plea.
She appealed, saying the related statute was unconstitutionally vague and that she had pleaded guilty to a crime for which she couldn’t be convicted.
Kitchens disagreed, denied her review without a hearing and said she waived her right to question the statute because of her guilty plea.
In a 5-4 vote, the court reversed Kitchens’ decision and sent it back to Oktibbeha County for a hearing.
Justice Jim Kitchens of Crystal Springs summed up his own opinion about the issue, when he wrote separately, “The extremely broad term ‘electronic devices’ can encompass everything from a secondhand toaster to the Hubble Space Telescope.”
But, he said, the court must leave the specifics to the Legislature to define criminal conduct.
Writing for the court, Justice Ann Lamar said it’s now for the trial court to determine whether Fulgham knew her conduct was prohibited and if law enforcement had standards to avoid arbitrary enforcement.
“The record before us is silent as to what was or was not ‘authorized,’ and what, if any, notice was given to Fulgham,” Lamar wrote.
Siding with Lamar for the reversal were Chief Justice William Waller Jr. and justices George Carlson, Jess Dickinson and Kitchens. Signing on to Presiding Justice James Graves’ dissent were justices Michael Randolph, David Chandler and Randy Pierce.
No date was set for Fulgham’s rehearing or reconsideration of her death sentence, which last week was sent back to Oktibbeha County, where her murder trial took place in 2006.
In that decision, also written by Lamar, the court said Judge Lee J. Howard was wrong to deny a social worker’s testimony, which might have affected the jury on whether Fulgham should get life in prison instead of the death penalty.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.