Hattiesburg case convictions upheld by state courts

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Two cases involving Hattiesburg defendants were recently adjudicated at the state level after convictions in the Forrest County Circuit Court. Both convictions were upheld despite their appeals.

One case involves Marcus Andrew Walker, who was convicted of felony escape in Forrest County Circuit Court and sentenced to five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. His appeal was affirmed by the State Court of Appeals.

In 2008, Walker was convicted of simple robbery and sentenced to 20 years in the custody of the MDOC, with fifteen years suspended and five years of post-release supervision.

In October 2012, Walker was arrested on a misdemeanor charge. The circuit court entered an order revoking Walker’s probation for the robbery charge on Nov. 1, and he was ordered to serve five years of his suspended sentence in the custody of the MDOC. While Walker was being held by the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department awaiting transportation to an MDOC facility, he was assigned as a trusty to the service center utilized by the sheriff’s department for servicing its vehicles. On Nov. 26, 2012, he escaped from the work detail.

On Dec, 8, 2012, the United States Marshal’s Fugitive Task Force received a tip that Walker was in a motel room in Hattiesburg, and he was arrested without incident. On

Dec. 10, 2012, MDOC Investigator James Cooksey interviewed Walker. After being advised of his rights, Walker signed a waiver and gave a statement, admitting he was serving a five-year sentence for robbery.

Walker said he walked around the fence in the service center, camped out in nearby woods, and stayed with relatives until they discovered he was a fugitive and made him leave. He stayed at a nearby motel until he was apprehended.

After a jury trial, Walker was convicted of felony escape on May 12, 2016.

Walker submitted a pro se brief, arguing the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the required elements of felony escape; the jury should have been instructed on a lesser-included misdemeanor escape charge; and his indictment was defective as it had expired under Mississippi Code.

The judges, however, unanimously agreed that the sentence was affirmed.

In the second case, James Wesley Scott was indicted on Sept. 26, 2011, by a Forrest County grand jury on charges of attempted rape, kidnapping and burglary of a dwelling. He was arraigned on March 14, 2012. Scott filed a motion for recusal of the trial judge on April 12, 2012. No ruling on that motion appears in the record; however, the trial judge recused on his own motion on Sept. 6, 2012. The State Supreme Court appointed a special judge on Sept. 20, 2012.

On March 24, 2014, and May 2, 2014, respectively, Scott filed motions to dismiss in which he alleged speedy trial violations. His appointed counsel filed a third motion to dismiss alleging speedy trial violations on Aug. 14, 2014. Scott’s third motion was denied, and his trial took place on Aug. 19 and 20, 2014.

A Forrest County jury found Scott guilty of all three charges and he was sentenced as a habitual offender to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.                                                               

Scott appealed his conviction, and the State Supreme Court assigned his case to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. On direct appeal, Scott argued that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated, but the Court of Appeals held that it was not.

After the conviction was appealed to the State Supreme Court on the basis of right to a speedy trial, four justices said the judgment of the Court of Appeals should be affirmed, and four said it should be reversed. One judge, David Ishee, did not participate. Consequently, that judgment was affirmed.

Affirming the Court of Appeals’ ruling were Presiding Justice Michael K. Randolph, Associate Justice James D. Maxwell II, Associate Justice Dawn H. Beam and Associate Justice Robert P. Chamberlin. Objecting to the order were Chief Justice William L. “Bill” Waller Jr., Presiding Justice James W. Kitchens, Associate Justice Leslie D. King and Associate Justice Josiah D. Coleman.