By Jack Elliott Jr./The Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Prosecutors have asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction of Jeffrey Dale Beecham, who won a new trial because the state failed to offer testimony to authenticate a death certificate in a fatal DUI case.
Special Assistant Attorney General Billy Gore told the court Monday that a death certificate was used at Beecham’s trial to provide the cause of death and other facts and did not require testimony from an expert to validate.
The state Court of Appeals last year ordered a new trial for Beecham on grounds that his attorney was not allowed to question the doctor who prepared Freda Lovelace’s death certificate. Beecham claimed — and the Appeals Court agreed — that it was a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers.
Beecham was convicted in 2008 in DeSoto County of being intoxicated when he was involved in a fatal wreck. Prosecutors said Beecham’s blood-alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
Beecham was sentenced to 25 years. Beecham died in 2011 while in prison.
At trial, Circuit Judge Robert Chamberlin had allowed a certified copy of Lovelace’s death certificate to be introduced by prosecutors without a sponsoring witness.
The Court of Appeals ruled the death certificate was tantamount to testimony in that it offered a conclusion that Lovelace died from “complications of blunt-force injuries to head and chest sustained in an automobile accident.”
The Appeals Court said the only information that Lovelace died in 2007 as a result of the automobile accident was the death certificate.
“Death certificates are different from laboratory or ballistic reports. If you can’t trust a death certificate, what can you trust? It is a record of vital statistics. It is self-authenticating,” Gore said.
John Watson, a Southaven attorney representing Beecham, said the death certificate noted that she had been involved in a traffic accident.
“The death certificate was the only thing put in by the prosecution as to the cause of death. The confrontation clause says that we’ve a right to cross-examine. There are many, many trials that result from traffic accidents. There are circumstances where information in a death certificate is testimonial and in this case it is,” Watson said.
He said the death certificate allowed the prosecution to admit facts of the case into evidence without testimony to support it.