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Harrison v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

November 1, 2017



          Alvin Simes, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Valerie Glover Fortner, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         Appellant Lorenzo Harrison appeals after he was convicted by a St. Francis County jury of murder in the first degree and possession of a firearm by certain persons. He was sentenced to serve 300 months' imprisonment for murder in the first degree and 60 months' imprisonment for possession of a firearm by certain person, both to be served concurrently. On appeal, appellant contends that (1) the trial court's denial of his motion to sever resulted in prejudicial error; (2) the trial court erred in denying his motions for directed verdict as to the offense of murder in the first degree; and (3) the trial court erred in refusing to submit his proffered jury instruction on the "choice of evils" defense. We affirm.

         On July 4, 2009, appellant shot the victim, Joe Evans (Joe), during a "block party" in Hughes, Arkansas. Appellant was later arrested and charged with murder in the first degree, a Class Y felony, under Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-10-102 (Repl. 2013), and with possession of firearm by certain persons, a Class D felony, under Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-73-103. A jury trial was held on August 5-8, 2015, and the following facts were introduced at trial.

         There was testimony that on the day of the incident, the victim, Joe Evans; his brother, Roosevelt Evans (Roosevelt); and his cousin, Tavarious Speed (Speed) were all together and planning to attend the block party. The three men went to a nearby liquor store; Joe and Roosevelt went inside the store, but Speed stayed outside. Vanessa Harrison (Vanessa), appellant's wife, was also in the liquor store with other women. While Roosevelt and Joe were inside, Joe got into a heated verbal argument with Vanessa. Roosevelt testified that as Vanessa and the other women were leaving the store, Vanessa said she was going to call her husband, appellant, to get him to do something to Joe.

         Shortly thereafter, Roosevelt and Joe left the liquor store and were joined by Speed. As the three men were walking around a corner en route to the block party, appellant pulled up and got out of his car with a gun. Roosevelt and Speed each testified that appellant pointed and fired the gun at Joe and that Joe ran away. Speed testified that he was then hit in the head by someone with a gun and was "knocked out." Roosevelt testified that after Joe ran away, appellant pursued him and continued to shoot at him. Roosevelt followed and remained within twenty feet of the pursuit. At some point, appellant caught up with Joe. According to Roosevelt, at that point, Joe was facing appellant with his hands up begging for him to not shoot, but appellant shot him. Appellant left, and Roosevelt ran to his brother's aid, picked him up, and carried him to a nearby car to take him to a hospital. An ambulance was called, and at some point between Hughes and West Memphis, the car was met by an ambulance. Joe was transferred to the ambulance and transported to a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. However, Joe died as a result of his injuries en route to the hospital. Dr. Frank Peretti testified that Joe had been shot twice, the fatal shot having been in the abdomen.

         After the State rested its case, appellant moved for a directed verdict on the charge of murder in the first degree. Appellant specifically argued that the State failed to prove that he had purposely caused the death of the victim and that Roosevelt's testimony was inconsistent. The trial court denied the motion.

         There were two other eyewitnesses to the incident who testified for the State. Tamara Robinson (Robinson) and Roslyn Rucker (Rucker) testified that they were in a car approaching the block party when they saw appellant cross the street in front of them and walk toward Joe with a gun pointed at him. They testified that Joe backed away from the situation with his hands up in the air. Rucker further testified that she saw Joe mouth the words "put the gun down. Don't shoot me." Seconds later, appellant fired his gun toward Joe. Robinson and Rucker testified that they saw Joe turn and run and that appellant chased him. Robinson and Rucker lost sight of appellant and Joe. After they drove around the block, Robinson and Rucker saw Roosevelt carrying Joe to a nearby car.

         There were two other witnesses to the incident who testified for appellant. Vanessa, appellant's wife, and her sister, Felicia McDonald (Felicia), testified to a different version of events. Vanessa and Felicia testified that they were in the liquor store with Joe and Speed. Vanessa testified that she did not see Roosevelt in the store. Vanessa and Felicia testified that Joe confronted Vanessa and threw ice at her while they were in the store. After they left and walked around the block, they ran back into Joe and Speed. At that point, Joe threw some type of a firework at Vanessa. The women testified that Joe and Speed knocked Vanessa to the ground and punched her repeatedly. Vanessa testified that she was hit in the side, back, and face. Vanessa further testified that appellant arrived during the attack, screamed at the men to get off of her, fired a warning shot, hit Speed in the back of the head with the pistol, and began tussling with Joe. Vanessa testified that while the men were fighting, Felicia grabbed her and that they left the scene. Felicia testified somewhat differently in that she said she never saw appellant and that she simply grabbed Vanessa and took her home as soon as she could get Vanessa away from Joe and Speed. Felicia additionally stated that she called the police to report the incident.

         Lieutenant Tommy Watlington responded to Felicia's call and took Vanessa's statement. Lieutenant Watlington testified that he did not see any physical signs that Vanessa had been involved in a fight and confirmed that he did not call for any medical assistance.

         After the appellant rested, he renewed his motion for a directed verdict, and the trial court denied his motion.

         The State then called Chief Deputy Gene Wingo as a rebuttal witness. Chief Deputy Wingo testified that he went to appellant's home to interview him the day after the incident. Vanessa had told him that she did not know the location of her husband. However, ...

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