FROM THE CRAIGHEAD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 16CR-15-613]
HONORABLE DAVID N. LASER, JUDGE
Law Firm, by: Michael Kiel Kaiser and William O.
"Bill" James, Jr., for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Darnisa Evans Johnson, Deputy
Att'y Gen., and Adam Jackson, Ass't Att'y Gen.,
F. WYNNE, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE
Mitchell appeals following her conviction for first-degree
murder in the Craighead County Circuit Court, for which she
was sentenced to life imprisonment. She raises the following
points on appeal: (1) the trial court violated her
fundamental right to a public trial by closing the courtroom
to the public during the testimony of State's witness
Vikkesha Menifee; (2) the trial court erred in denying trial
counsel's motion to withdraw and her motion to change
attorneys; and (3) the trial court erred in denying her
motion for new trial based on jurors seeing her escorted into
the courtroom by bailiffs while she was bound by arm
restraints just prior to jury selection. We find merit in her
first point, and we therefore reverse and remand for a new
25, 2015, Nelson McCullough was shot and killed at his house
in Jonesboro. Appellant was charged with first-degree murder
in McCullough's death, and appellant's jury trial was
held on June 20-23, 2017. Ladarius Lee testified that he and
Antonio Watson, who was deceased at the time of trial, rode
with appellant in a borrowed silver Dodge Charger to the
victim's house to purchase marijuana. While Lee was
inside, appellant came in and shot McCullough without saying
anything. Watson fled, and Lee and appellant drove away and
immediately exchanged the Charger for appellant's
vehicle. In addition to Lee's testimony, the victim's
girlfriend testified that she had identified Lee as the
person who knocked on the door the day of the shooting; the
owner of the Charger testified regarding appellant borrowing
the vehicle; and Vikkesha Menifee testified that appellant
told her she had shot the victim. Appellant was found guilty
of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
She filed a pro se motion for new trial and her appointed
counsel filed an amended motion for new trial because members
of the jury panel had allegedly seen appellant in restraints
prior to voir dire. Following a hearing, the circuit court
denied the motion. This appeal followed.
first point on appeal, appellant argues that the closure of
the courtroom during the testimony of State's witness
Vikkesha Menifee violated her constitutional right to a
public trial. The issue arose in the following bench
[Deputy Prosecutor]: Your Honor, for this next witness, I
would ask the Court to close the courtroom and exclude any of
the audience from it.
The Court: Who is the witness?
[Deputy Prosecutor]: Her name is Vikkesha Menifee. She is the
aunt of the defendant, and we have what we believe is
credible evidence that certain members of the defendant's
family have reached out in an effort to intimidate her to
prevent her from testifying, and so we are going to ask that
the courtroom be closed and all of the gallery excluded
during her testimony.
The Court: Well, of course the defendant ...