By Patsy R. Brumfield
TUPELO – Travon Brown was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the shooting deaths of two Tupelo residents in 2011.
Before he was led away in to state custody, he made a statement and admitted his apology “was not sufficient” for the families’ losses.
The 12-member jury deliberated about two hours before it returned with guilty verdicts on Count 1 and Count 2.
Before he was taken away to await transfer to a prison facility, Brown tried to tell the jury that they hadn’t heard everything about what happened that night.
He also told the families in the audience that his apology “was not sufficient” for their losses.
Defense counsel say they have issues on which to appeal his convictions.
• • •
Emotional closing arguments ring in the minds of 12 jurors now tasked with deciding if Travon Brown deliberately murdered two people two years ago.
Brown, 28, was convicted in the Sept. 28, 2011, shooting deaths of Cornelius “Snoop” Harris and Felicia Ruffin at Harris’ Tupelo home.
Judge Thomas Gardner presides over the trial, which began Monday in the Lee County Justice Center.
Prosecutors are District Attorney Trent Kelly and assistants John Weddle and Brian Neely. Defense attorneys are Shane McLaughlin and Adam Pinkard of Tupelo.
Brown’s defense has insisted he and Harris struggled for Brown’s 40 caliber pistol that night as shots went wild through the small residence. They claim he acted in self defense.
• • •
(Below is a running account of proceedings in the courtroom. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely as I type rapidly. Some activity and testimony is paraphrased. Time stamps are posted to give readers an idea of how long activity occurs.) [My comments are in brackets.]
1:50 P.M. POST (EARLIER EVENTS BELOW)
1:25 P.M. – Looks like we’ve got a verdict. All attorneys are in the courtroom, defendant too. Sheriff mouths the phrase “verdict” to counsel. D.A.’s victims coordinator cautions audience members to restrain themselves or leave the courtroom now.
JUDGE – Advised jury has reached a verdict or verdicts. Anything from counsel to put into the record? No from both sides.
[Judge cautions audience to restrain themselves.]
This jury did not of their own free will choose to become jurors. Take it that this is their best effort on behalf of the defendant. I don’t care what you opinion is about this verdict. Keep it to yourself. I don’t want to hear anything. (Bring jury back)
[Jury enters … No eye contact with the defendant, for what that’s worth.]
Man is foreman. Judge asks if each one voted for those verdicts. They nod in agreement.
Verdicts ; Guilty as to Count 1, Guilty as to Count 2.
Judge asks each juror if voted that way? Each says yes. Verdicts accepted by the court.
JUDGE – A defendant convicted of murder is by law required to be sentenced to life in prison. Will proceed to sentence, unless you wish to be excused. [Nobody moves.]
Counsel and Brown go to podium, face judge.
JUDGE – Mr. Brown, found guilty of jury as to Count 1, a charge of murder, and Count 2, murder.
BROWN – Asks how long he has to speak. First, deals with presentation of the case. Won’t use any profane or derogatory language. On issue of a fair trial … but in the manner the state presented the case, they deprived me of a portion of this case. Left a piece of jigsaw puzzle. Kelly said something in closing argument I felt if jury had known this information, it might have influenced their deliberation. I feel compelled to offer as to female victim, Felicia Ruffin. (JUDGE INTERRUPTS. FEEL CRITICISM OF OPPOSING COUNSEL IF UNFAIR. EACH SIDE FOUGHT AS HARD AS THEY COULD. JURY HEARD ALL EVIDENCE. I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY FURTHER DISCUSSION ABOUT WHAT OCCURRED DURING THE TRIAL. NO CRITICISM OF COUNSEL.)
BROWN – About these circumstances … issue of drug usage in the house and the victims under the influence, especially of one – cocaine, marijuana and alcohol – didn’t come before jury. Pertinent because why person on couch didn’t move. At the time, this person did not have a normal state of mind and a normal person. Missing piece … says to juror, you don’t come from this kind of neighborhood … strange that I went to their house at that time…made that to police. It was pertinent… I was over there to smoke marijuana. It deprived me of fair defense. This is an issue I plan to raise … makes me unjustly look like a culprit… this person who went to this house and did something wrong to this well composed people. We smoked marijuana and I planned to do more drugs with them. But … it gives person an unfair advantage. JUDGE – BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU SAY HERE. YOUR ATTORNEYS SAY THIS ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD. MAY BE SOMETHING MORE COMING. I SUGGEST YOU BE VERY GUARDED ON WHAT YOU SAY HERE.
JUDGE – I’m going to cut you off.
BROWN – I respect the court. To the families, I cannot stand here today with words of apology or say I’m sorry. I know those words are not sufficient for what has been lost. I have not took this lightly, what occurred in that house. My heart goes out to you, though many of you may think I don’t have a heart. Like I said, this won’t replace anything. I have prayed for your well being. I played a part in what occurred but I wasn’t alone in playing a part. I am … I take responsibility for my part, even though it was nothing intentional. It doesn’t look there in the end, but I reacted in same manner as anyone else would have acted if those same elements were present. I just … I don’t think saying I apologize is sufficient. I apologize for having to be the person you have to look upon and attribute these losses to. Not solely done upon my will but I tried to leave. 1:44
COUNSEL – No.
JUDGE – As to Count 1 , Harris, … you are sentenced to term of life in MDOC custody, consecutive to sentence in Count 2. In Count 2, Ruffin, … serve a term of life in custody of MDOC, to run consecutive to sentence in Count 1. Custody of sheriff, await transport to facility designated by MDOC.
[Thanks jurors for their service. Says no one can compel any of them to talk about these verdicts or any feelings they have about this case. Judge says he has never served on a jury… said was called once for a criminal case and he was the judge for it. “This is a pretty heavy-duty kind of thing. Guess there was some soul searching among you in reaching a determination in this case.”] 1:50 p.m.
• • •
9:00 A.M. – Judge enters. Says work has been done on law instructions to be presented to the jury. Some interaction about details of the instructions. State says it will withdraw its manslaughter instruction/option to the jury. Some disagreement over the self-defense instruction – defense says it prefers its to the court’s.
[Brown is wearing a tan striped long-sleeve shirt, khaki pants and a white bow tie.]
[FYI – Instructions of law to the jury are very important. Recently, the Mississippi Supreme Court has thrown out several verdicts and convictions because of improper instructions.]
JUDGE – Speaks to the audience about what’s to come today. Tells them he expects that jury will give each and everything said their undivided attention. He warns audience not to come and go as distraction to the jury. (Short recess and will bring jury in.) 9:30
9:40 – Judge back. Asks if anything from attorneys. They say no. Weddle will open for the state. McLaughlin will make remarks for the defense. Kelly will wrap up state arguments.
Jury enters, takes sets in the jury box. Only 2 jurors among the 12 are black. Only three are male.
JUDGE – To read jury instructions. First explains to them that it’s jury’s “exclusive” province to make judgments about the evidence. They are to apply the law to the facts and make a fair judgment. “You are the sole judges of the facts in this case.” Jury is to assign weight to each aspect of the evidence and testimony. Also permitted to draw reasonable inferences from the exhibits.
Travon Brown charged in Count 1, murder. If find he … with malice aforethought killed Cornelius Harris by shooting him, not in self-defense… your duty to find him guilty. If prosecution fails to prove each element … find him not guilty.
In Court 2, charged with murder. [Same as above] … killed Felicia Ruffing by shooting her by deliberate design, not by accident or misfortune … your duty to find him guilty. (Same if prosecution fails to prove.)
Reminds jury the defendant’s presumption of innocence throughout, unless the jury decides otherwise. Burden of proof is on the state, beyond a reasonable doubt. State has the duty to prove he did not act justifiably. Defendant must have reasonable ground to believe he is in imminent danger. Jury determines reasonableness. If he acted in self defense, return verdict in favor of defendant. If you believe he was not the initial aggressor, you return verdict in favor of defendant in Count 1, same as Count 2. “Deliberate design” refers to intent to kill without authority of law or not legally excusable that would reduce the act to a lesser crime … full awareness of what one is doing. May be formed very quickly and only moments before act.
You have the duty to determine the believability of each witness. You may reject all of any part of any witness’ testimony. Not to speculate why defendant did not testify and has no bearing on your considerations.
Jury verdict must be unanimous, guilty or not guilty. They are to return two verdicts.
WEDDLE (10:04) – CLOSING STATEMENT
Travon Brown murdered Felicia Ruffin and Cornelius Harris. Why? You have unusual opportunity. I will try not to be disrespectful to victims. They died a horrible death. And Felicia, the way she died, should be very interesting to you. When Mr. Kelly showed the photo of her sitting on the couch … she might as well have taken the stand and told you what happened to her. (Shows photo of Ruffin on the couch, dead.) Later you heard expert tell you about her manner of death. She said bullet entered where you see, downward. It injured her spinal cord at the neck. Would have caused paralysis from the neck down. You literally you see her in position as she was when she got shot. Relaxed, feet under, reading a book, turning the page of the book. (Shows another angle of her… items on couch, undisturbed.) Felicia Ruffin was shot first. Not by a stray bullet. She had no time to react. She did not know what hit her.
Brown’s statement to police needs to be looked at. You can. Brown would have you believe that Harris got mad at him playing X-Box football game. Brown was winning the game and said he’ll get girlfriend over here to cheer for me. He said Harris got angry and threw controller at him. This is when he says his gun fell out of his pants and that Harris and he scuffled. Says gun went off several times. Good time to bring up other evidence. Says when scuffling stopped, he saw blood everywhere… Harris and Ruffin shot. (Photo … wider shot of two bodies.) Complete accident, he said, I didn’t intend to kill anyone.
Ruffin didn’t know what hit her. His statement is untruthful. If you believe his statement, then you believe that these two men … were struggling over gun in small living room while Ruffin sits on the couch with her feet under her, reading a book. If you believe gunfire was going all over the place and she sat there, you can believe Brown. Otherwise you cannot. Not only does her position on couch reveal no scuffle in front of her… I believe evidence shows that Brown came to that scene with a loaded gun but … you cannot engage a bullet without its making a distinct sound. If that gun had been racked in front of her, she would have reacted to it.
She was reading a book, turning a page. No other way to explain this.
A few other problem with Brown’s statement. He says X-Box. It was in the back bedroom. It’s also unplugged. (Shows photo.) It’s not hooked to TV and they weren’t playing. TV wasn’t on when police got there. No photos to show it happened like he said. He had to come up with some reason why Harris attacked him. Doesn’t hold true. Consider … Brown needed place to drink his beer. Why did he do that? His fiance’ … did she say anythig about kicking him out? She said he left to get a beer. She didn’t say he couldn’t come back… just he took gun with him. Why did he need a placer to drink? Doesn’t make sense. Had some excuse to go there. That was it. When he was caught with weapon in murder scene, that’s the story he made up.
There was a struggle, I don’t deny it. Random pattern of gunshots in wall, casings on floor show you some kind of struggle. Heard testimony about struggle. Guarantee you that when Ruffin was shot … Harris saw it and there was a struggle… in struggle for his life. Might ad, in struggle, Harris was shot three times, once in back of head.
Forensic evidence … No question. Firearms expert … after autopsies testified about. Multiple shell casings at scene. Matched that gun. That gun. Gun was found with him in the bathtub. Let’s look at coverup. Shell casings … why would somebody take the time to put three in his pocket after killing someone in self defense? Makes no sense. Another one – recall Mansell’s testimony? He said when he got to the bathroom and saw Brown in the tub with the gun next to him …what did Brown say? I didn’t know if he was still here. Why imply to police that there was someone else there. Turns out that’s not possible. Remember … Det. Haynes shows back door. (Photo) Deadbolt. No prints, no traces found by K-9 units. Nobody went out front door either. Dexter Babbitt calls 911 and stays at the front of the house. Nobody comes out of that house. Three in there – two dead, one on trial.
Not self defense. Murders occurred in a specific way. Will be an attempt … these exhibits and testimony show you that Brown is only one with gun, intended to kill them and accomplished that. No other explanation. You will hear about self defense. It just doesn’t fit the evidence. What I say isn’t evidence. People who defend themselves don’t lie about what happened. They don’t give false statements to the police and don’t try to clean up the crime scene.
He is guilty of two counts of murder. State asks you to find him guilty as charged. 10:21.
MCLAUGHLIN – FOR DEFENSE
Remember first day, I told you this was like a jigsaw puzzle would combine to make a big picture to see precisely what happened that day. I want to talk about two kinds of puzzle pieces… some don’t fit this story. Throw them away. Missing pieces, big holes.
Big missing pieces. Right in the middle of the ppuzzle is WHY. What is the motive? Why in the world, do they say, Brown did what he is accused of doing? What was his reason? Not one piece of evidence about why. They say deliberate design … judge told you he must have intent to kill them. No reason under the sun. Missing piece. Not one shred of reason why he would go to that house in a neighborhood he knew, killed two people – shoot the house up – nearly blow off his hand. No reason. Doesn’t make any sense.
Reason it doesn’t make sense because that’s not what happened. No reason for this. No one can show you a reason because it didn’t exist.
Another piece – struggle for firearm. Think evidence is overwhelming… there was a struggle for the firearm. That’s not consistent with deliberate design. Don’t see he walked in and killed them. While men were fighting for the gun, it went off. We know there’s a struggle… random bullets. Important … one struck Ruffin, like others went through walls. Four stray holes in the walls. In people, a total of 5. Six left in the gun. That’s 15. Let me talk about those bullet holes … (Photo… hole by front door) Angle went in. (Another photo) You will have these in jury room. This one, two holes… one low, other high close to ceiling. If that doesn’t indicate stray bullets … I don’t know what they are. At last day, that’s what everybody agrees to.
Do you think it’s possible that 4 strays were fired with deliberate design? He walks in and shoots down low and up high … low and in whole different room? Struggle happened, we all know it. Not with intent to kill. They struggled over the firearm.
What about the DNA? His is on the gun, of course. Attempt to mislead you … it was his gun. He carried it rightly or wrongly. Not what case is about. He touched it. It was his. His DNA was on it. Expert says more touch something, more likely you’ll deposit skin cells for profile. I picked it up and held it by the grip… she said I might not have left DNA, I only touched it once.
Babbitt’s testimony – he said he saw a struggle.
Next puzzle piece – not sure what you can do with it. Talbis Reagan said he was friends with Harris. After Sept. 28 … says he wants to give statement … says a stranger came up to him to sell him a machete and a pistol. He says stranger says he doesn’t want to sell the pistol. Then stranger tells him he’s going to kill somebody. And says, doyou know Snoop? Later, he says he signed this long statement. It’s incredible. Wasn’t the end of it – he says he wants to go back to first statement and second one was a lie, I was threatened. Then we had to track down the notary … she said he was the only one there when I witnessed his signature… didn’t say he was coerced… if he had, I wouldn’t have notarized it.
Also, Reagan was surrounded by law enforcement in jail. Did he tell anybody? He didn’t until he got in here and wanted to go to first statement.
Then we get to the real evidence … deliberate design… that Travon meant to kill somebody. First … the 911 call …(plays it … hear Dexter Babbitt make call for police from across street… says he heard a shot. Doesn’t know how many people involved.) Babbitt told operator he was across street. Said he didn’t know how many people. I believe that. He also gave statement to Wade… told him … saw someone trying to run out the door. Wade said this is exactly what he told me. Someone tried to run out. Babbitt uses “someone” … to describe Brown because he doesn’t know him. He knows Harris very well. He would have said Cornelius or Snoop.
Statement goes on and he saw another person pull someone back into the house. Person who pulled someone back … in his words, had a white t-shirt on. You know this. Only person in a white t-shirt that night was Harris. By the time Babbitt gets here, he’s bending the edges of his puzzle pieces. We’ve got video of Travon in red shirt, no t-shirt. Photo of Travon shows him handcuffed in a red shirt (shows photo). All evidence … no white t-shirt. Not one. So, Babbitt must tell you all this elaborate story … says man must have changed shirts, put on red one and did great job hiding the white t-shirt. It’s not here. Doesn’t exist. None of that is true.
Also, Travon must have done this with his left hand because hand is shot.
Crucial … floral curtain was on the door. Closest piece of evidence to show who was trying to run out that door., The blood on that curtain was Travon Brown. Floral curtain during struggle … only blood belonged to Travon. Doesn’t that tell you he was always shot in the left hand, bleeding, grabbed curtain trying to get away. That’s exactly what it shows. State claims he tried to conceal it because he picked it up and tried to put it back. This is not true… Babbitt says curtain goes up to conceal it and Brown paces around the house for several minutes, then final shot rings out. Then final shot, he says … trying to make you believe he shot himself. They claim he’d already put up the curtain. Wouldn’t be his blood on there if he weren’t already shot. Doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Quickly … Babbitt’s story … all that story about what he saw at the house… not true. No evidence of Brown kicking Harris’ fee out of the way to shut the door or puts curtain up… pacing around the living room and shoots himself. Then Babbitt says Brown tried to get out the back door. The police are there by now and don’t hear any of this. He didn’t try to get out the back door. He’d in the bathtub with his hand shot.
I don’t doubt that Babbitt … wants to see Travon Brown punished. But that’s not it. He’s not a murderer. It didn’t happen like he says. And so, I want to say there’s some reasonable doubt about what he said. It’s overwhelming… it did not happen that way. That he had loaded weapon that he intended to kill… careful, unhrried consideration to kill someone else.
It happened like Travon Brown told police. Isn’t that more consistent with the evidence. Two men struggled for a gun. Tragically, everybody got shot. Tragically, Felicia hit by a stray bullet. I am sympathetic. But Travon isn’t guilty of murder.
You will have one of your most important decisions that touches on the life of someone else. If you will consider the evidence …. your sworn duty to return verdict of not guilty.
Kelly will tell you why I am all wrong. He is persuasive. But he can’t change what the evidence shows. He can’t change it. I don’t get to go again or respond to what he says. I will disagree but I can’t say why. I don’t get to talk anymore. When you ehar him, compare it to actual evidence … do all these pieces fit? Are they all there? No conjecture when a man’s life is at stake. His fate will be up to you.
Ask you to what judge said. Follow the law and evidence. Only possible verdict is that Travon is not guilty. 10:48
KELLY -Hard not to chase all the red herrings and rabbit. When you read instructions, you will not find motive. It is not an element state has to prove. Big gaping piece – we did not prove motive. But we don’t have to prove it. Red shirt … it doesn’t matter. The judge told you about things that matter. It is for you to decide. I submit that evidence shows that whoever drug the person back in and shot that person down like statement says, feet were up on the floor … that was the person who was drug back in. Person with bullet in head was drug back in and shot. Person who did the dragging hung the curtain. Felicia Ruffin didn’t… she was dead. Cornelius didn’t… his feet were up and shot in the head.
Three people in house, one is alive and on trial. He is guilty of murder.
Only other mischaracterization … careful and unhurried consideration. That is one sentence. Read it carefully. Picture the whole. It’s the entire body of work. Overwhelming weight of evidence … (points) that Travon Brown pulled the gun he brought in his waistband and he shot Felicia Ruffin and close range. No struggle. (Find photo of Ruffin) There is no struggle. If a pistol falls down your pants leg and hits the floor … if your significant other is involved in a fight after pistol hits the floor, you are not sitting there reading a book. You’d try to get up. Not read a book, turning the page while a struggle … is going on in front of you. We know he had intent. I don’t know his motive. He told Talbis Reagan “I am going to kill someone.” He didn’t say who. Reagan would have told Snoop, but he didn’t know what to think about it. Reagan went to the police to tell the truth. He told the truth.
I don’t have to poit out, if the statement doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter than it changed. It is prevarication … an untruth. All those words are not his. They are not the way he talks.
Defense wants you to believe this is a tragic accident … it’s not an accident. Cold blooded premeditated intentional killing of two human beings… deliberate. Follow me. Gun just doesn’t go off. Each shot is a full and complete pulling of the trigger. (Pulls the trigger toward the ceiling.) (Counts … nine accidental pulls of trigger.) Trigger. you must completely pull it and release it nine different times. Accidents did not happen.
I ask you to walk with the detective on the scene. Shows exactly what it looked like 2-3 minutes after police arrived. Facts support a couple of theories… not accident or self defense. One they do … that Brown, that man, went to Ruffin and Harris’ house. They were sitting on the couch, like Brown said. First shot, Travon grabbed pistol and he shot her in the face without her ever seeing it. She is frozen in that moment forevermore.
Snoop is beside her on the couch. Remember that? That’s his statement. Hole through couch and in bottom of the wall. Expert talked about hole through couch into the wall. If second person was on the couch and you missed, where would bullet go? There, I’d say. There was a struggle of flight … not a fight. WE don’t know why gunshots are all over the place. Two people can’t tell us what happened. We know they are dead. But the arguments about the struggle… (photo).
X-Box… it doesn’t matter. TV’s not on. Not plugged up. But does it matter? What matters, shot in face then struggle for flight. One person tried to get out the door, drug back in and shot in the back of the head. That’s not a kill shot… the hand shot. It hurts. Shot into the back of the head, it’s a kill shot… that’s where the struggle ends. Where Travon grabbed the curtain and pulled it over the window. See blue lights coming, he knows he can’t get out the front. I don’t know if he tried to get out the back. I think he did. At that point, know cops are coming. He picks up three casings, puts in his pocket. No reason to do that except trying to coverup the crime scene. Then, he cooly and calmly gets his beer and goes and sits in the bathtub. He’s so shook up, closes the door and puts cold beer between his legs with the gun.
Police come there, he says he doesn’t know if someone is still here… that’s my gun. Why? To cover up your tracks.
Look at Dexter Babbitt’s statement … look at both of them. They are consistent in every detail that matters. Only dispute … is about white t-shirts. You can decide if that’s important. We know guy who was drug back in was Cornelius Harris. How do you struggle and get shot in the back of the head unless the person has complete control? How do you sit on the couch … unless shot.. without any thought to react? When someone points the gun, do you continue to read your book? Never saw it coming.
It was cold, calculated murder. Presence of mind to cover up. Why else would he put the curtain over the window. If you thught somebody was getting out, you’d be trying to chase them. There was no other person.
DNA report… I heard absolutely that she said might or might not be on there, if you touch it. But if you’re grabbing a gun and exerting pressure in a fight, do you think you’re gripping hard? Every trace of DNA belongs to Travon Brown because he is the only guy … he said I had to keep him from getting the gun. Another made up lie. We don’t get to pick our witnesses on the scene. They are the ones there. Babbitt, Reagan their statements are consistent except the “prevarication statement.”
Final thing … (photo) that’s what the police saw (Ruffin dead on couch, Harris dead on the floor) … those pages 286-287 will never be read by Ms Ruffin. Two unfinished lives. Never ever finish those memories… becuase this man (points to him) Travon Brown brutally with intent before he got there… took his 40 caliber firearm and shot them brutally to death. No way a struggle gets there. Find him guilty of murder in both counts. 11:10
JUDGE – Now, it’s time for you to form opinions. Indictment charges two offenses. Hope you can agree on some disposition on each of these for two verdicts. Your determination, not mine. (Asks alternates to stand aside… two women, one white, one black.) Will bring lunch in for the jury. Jury leaves 11:12 A.M.
To alternates, excused if you want to. Instruction not to talk to others is over. If you don’t want to talk about this, you don’t have to. If you want to stay and watch proceedings, you can.
Says he is going to retain three lives rounds in evidence, “so I will feel safe” and prevent live rounds and gun in the jury room.Attorneys say they have no problem with that. (Deputies escort Brown to holding room near the courtroom.)
• • •