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Mitchell v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

April 18, 2018



          Bill Luppen, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Michael A. Hylden, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          BART F. VIRDEN, JUDGE.

         A Pulaski County jury convicted appellant Michael Mitchell of second-degree murder and first-degree battery, for which he received an aggregate term of thirty-four years' imprisonment.[1] Mitchell does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions; rather, he argues that the trial court made two evidentiary errors: (1) the trial court abused its discretion by excluding evidence of the victim's reputation for violence in the community and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by not admitting his statement made under the present-sense-impression exception to the rule against hearsay. We agree with Mitchell's first point; therefore, we reverse and remand.

         I. Trial Testimony

         Shannell Holmes was married to the victim, Troy Holmes. Shannell had two teenage daughters at home, Ayanna and Asia, and Roderick Gulley, Shannell's cousin, was staying with the Holmes family. On the evening of December 27, 2014, Roderick began arguing and "tussling" with his baby's mother, Tatiana Curry, about their baby spending the night at the Holmes residence. Roderick "removed" Tatiana from the home, and the police were called. Troy came home when he learned of the confrontation but soon left again. Shannell reached an agreement with Tatiana and her sister, Anjanae Curry, that they could return after a couple of hours to pick up the baby.

         The sisters left and picked up Mitchell and Anjanae's boyfriend, Shaheed Williams. The group drove to the local Walmart where they saw Roderick; Williams and Roderick had "back and forth words"; and both Mitchell and Williams chased Roderick through the store-Williams admitted that he "had plans to whoop [Roderick]." Anjanae recalled that Tatiana had said that she was going to get her baby because the baby was not with Roderick. The group then returned to the Holmes residence.

         Tatiana went to the front door with Mitchell, while Anjanae and Williams stayed by the car on the street. Tatiana knocked on the door, and Mitchell, whom Shannell described as wearing "a camouflage monkey suit, " began pounding on the door when no one answered. Shannell was home alone with her daughters and the baby, and she was frightened because Tatiana had arrived earlier than expected to pick up the baby and had not come alone. One of the daughters called Troy, who was nearby, and he quickly arrived back at the Holmes residence.

         Shannell said that when Troy got out of the car, she heard him say, "What the fuck you in my yard for? Move around." She said that she did not see Troy with a weapon and did not hear Troy threaten Mitchell, but she suddenly heard pops and saw sparks coming from Mitchell's direction. Ayanna said that she was in her bedroom looking outside and saw Troy get out of the car. She said that she heard Troy say "[p]lease get the 'eff' out of my yard." Ayanna said that Troy was "walking casual like" up to the front door when the man wearing "a monkey suit" pulled a gun and shot Troy. Asia did not see what happened, but she heard Troy ask why people were in his yard, and she heard two gunshots. Derrick Beasley, who had arrived at the Holmes residence with Troy, said that Troy had told people "to get off in front of his door." He said that he did not see Troy swing at anyone but saw Mitchell walk from the front door back to the car and then heard a gunshot.

         Tatiana said that, when Troy drove up, Mitchell ran back to the street and that Troy was arguing with Mitchell, Williams, and Anjanae. She heard Troy say "[g]et away from my house with that B.S." Tatiana described Troy as "pretty upset" and said that he was cursing. She was talking with Shannell about the baby when she heard gunshots behind her. Anjanae testified that, while Tatiana and Mitchell were at the front door of the residence, "some big guy pulls up and he was like he's going to beat our ass." She said that she and Williams then got out of the car and that Williams and Troy "square[d] up" to fight. Anjanae said that she was afraid of Troy because he had "charged" at them. According to Williams, Tatiana went to the front door alone to get the baby. He said, "[Troy] jumped out of the car. He started cursing and stuff and threatening us, telling us he going to beat our ass and shit like that. He ain't scared of nobody and stuff like that. He came rushing towards people." Williams further testified that Troy "didn't have no good intentions."

         The testimony reveals that, after the confrontation in the front yard, Troy ran inside the Holmes residence where he collapsed. Everyone followed Troy inside the home; another shot was fired; and a brawl ensued, during which Asia was struck on the head with a heavy object, and she later discovered that she had gunshot wounds on both thighs. The Curry sisters, Williams, and Mitchell got back into their car and drove away from the scene. Williams said that, when they got to his mother's house, "everybody was rattled up and shooken up and stuff" and that he took the gun away from Mitchell, who was shaking and scared.

         The medical examiner testified that Troy died of a gunshot wound to the torso and that he weighed 253 pounds, was six feet two, and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.163.

         The jury was instructed on the defense of justification. Mitchell alleged that deadly physical force had been necessary to defend himself, Williams, or Anjanae. The jury was instructed that the defense was available only if (1) Mitchell reasonably believed that Troy was committing or about to commit a felony battery with force or violence and (2) Mitchell used only such force as he reasonably believed to be necessary.[2]

         II. Standard of Review

         The decision to admit or exclude evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and this court will not reverse a trial court's decision regarding the admission of evidence absent a manifest abuse of discretion. Jones v. State, 2011 Ark.App. 324, 384 S.W.3d 22. An abuse of discretion is a high threshold that does not simply require error in the trial court's decision, but requires that the trial court acted improvidently, thoughtlessly, or without due ...

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