By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – Dr. David Parvin, a retired Mississippi State University economics professor, waits in prison although he’s legally innocent, in the eyes of the law.
Parvin, now 73, was convicted in 2011 in the shooting death of his 68-year-old wife, Joyce, at their Monroe County home.
But Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court cleared the path for a new trial.
Two months ago, the state’s highest court voted 8-0 to reverse his conviction and send it back for retrial. Last week’s decision, also 8-0, denied a state motion to reconsider the earlier decision.
The reversal restores his “presumption of innocence,” which is any defendant’s right to be deemed innocent of a crime until proven guilty.
First order of business for Parvin’s defense team is to secure his release on bail while they plan for the trial.
Since June 28, 2011, Parvin has been held in East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian.
Jim Waide of Tupelo, one of Parvin’s attorneys, describes his client’s experience as “horrendous” and said he hopes they’ll have him free soon.
Parvin maintains his wife’s death was an accident when he tripped and shot her with the rifle he carried on Oct. 15, 2007.
Paul Howell, a spokesman for District Attorney Trent Kelly, said their office will take a look at all the records and get it back on the active schedule as soon as feasible.
Circuit Judge Paul Funderburk will preside as he did over the first trial.
With the mandate for a new trial, 1st District prosecutors must take a new look at how to try the case because of the high-court decision.
“We’ll go back to the beginning and develop our own strategies,” Howell said late last week.
A prominent shadow over the old trial and new one comes from controversial forensic pathologist, Dr. Steven Hayne.
Hayne, a former state medical examiner, has testified in perhaps hundreds of Mississippi death cases, and what he said in Parvin’s 2011 Monroe County trial was key – to the conviction and to its reversal.
As expected in Parvin’s trial, Hayne testified about his findings from Joyce Parvin’s autopsy.
But then, he spoke about how he thought the shooting occurred and his opinions on ballistics, firearms and shooting-distance calculations he’d made from the autopsy.
Jurors also watched a visual depiction, developed from Hayne’s conclusions, suggesting how Joyce Parvin was shot.
So, why does it matter that the court rejected Hayne’s key trial testimony and the depiction?
Because Hayne is not certified as an expert to testify about such things.
Another state witness, a firearms expert, contradicted Hayne and said it wasn’t possible to make some of those calculations without actually firing the weapon in question under similar circumstances.
Last week before the MSSC ruling, Kelly said it was too early to know about a new trial, as his prosecution team waited on the rehearing request.
But recently, he said his office plans to take the case back to court, although he was not district attorney when the first trial was conducted.
Among the lingering questions:
• Will Hayne stay focused on his certified area or will he go off again into disallowed territory?
• What happens to the state’s case without the “crime reconstruction” display?
• And without any other witnesses to Joyce Parvin’s death except the defendant, will the state have sufficient circumstantial evidence to be effective?
HAYNE AN ISSUE
In a sworn statement for the defense to the Mississippi Supreme Court, Alabama pathologist James Lauridson said it’s not possible to determine certain gunshot findings from an autopsy.
Parvin’s case isn’t the first in which Hayne’s “extra” opinions have contributed to a conviction or required a new trial.
Teenager Tyler Edmonds languished four years in a youth prison while his attorneys appealed his 2004 Oktibbeha County conviction in the shooting death of his half-sister’s husband.
During Edmonds’ trial, Hayne told the jury it was obvious to him that Edmonds, then just a frail 13-year-old, was helped to pull the trigger – the now-infamous “two-shooter” theory.
The Mississippi Supreme Court threw out that conviction, saying numerous trial errors forced a new trial. Among them was Hayne’s lack of qualifications to make such an assessment about firing the murder weapon.
In 2008, Edmonds was found not guilty and walked away a free man. Today he runs his own business in downtown Columbus.
Tucker Carrington is an interested observer with Parvin’s other appeals attorneys, with James L. Robertson of Jackson and Rachel Pierce Waide of Tupelo.
Carrington also is director of the Mississippi Innocence Project.
He says cases like this continue questions about Hayne’s impact. Hayne’s testimony has been key to hundreds of Mississippi convictions across the past 15 years.
The Mississippi Innocence Project is challenging numerous convictions in which Hayne played a part.
Carrington also says he wonders about the effect of Hayne’s participation in cases where guilty plea deals were struck by defendants who didn’t want to risk opposing what Hayne had to say at trial.
Meanwhile, Parvin awaits the state court’s decision about bail, and prosecutors look at the calendar.