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Jackson, MS - Criminal Defense lawyer represented defendant with an appeal from an order denying a motion for post-conviction collateral relief.
On July 5, 1997, two men attempted to rob Andrew Hairston in the parking lot of the
Sonic that Hairston managed in Nettleton, Mississippi. In February 1998, Augusta and
Anthony Isby were indicted for armed robbery. Both were tried together in August 2000.
AttorneyWayne Housely represented Augusta, and Attorney John Weddle represented Isby.
Both men were found guilty, and Augusta was sentenced to serve twenty-five years in the
custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. We affirmed Augusta’s conviction,
and the Mississippi Supreme Court denied Augusta’s petition for writ of certiorari. Hughes
v. State, 820 So. 2d 8, 12 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2002), cert. denied, 822 So. 2d 974 (Miss.
2002). On March 30, 2005, the supreme court denied Augusta’s pro se “Motion for State
¶3. In August 2015, the Mississippi Innocence Project filed a PCR application on behalf
of Augusta in the Mississippi Supreme Court. On May 17, 2017, the supreme court ruled
that Augusta could present three of his claims to the circuit court: (1) newly discovered
evidence; (2) the State’s failure to disclose a key witness statement; and (3) ineffective
assistance of counsel.
¶4. On June 14, 2017, Augusta filed his PCR motion in the Circuit Court of Lee County.
The motion contained numerous exhibits, including the transcript of Augusta’s trial, as well
as several affidavits. On July 23, 2018, the court held a hearing on Augusta’s PCR motion.
On August 28, 2018, the court issued its order denying the motion. Because Augusta claims
that his newly discovered evidence would have affected the outcome of his trial, a review of
the facts presented at trial is needed.2
A. The Armed Robbery
¶5. In the early morning hours of July 5, 1997, two men attempted to rob Andrew
Hairston in the parking lot of the Sonic that Hairston managed in Nettleton, Mississippi.
Hairston had closed for the evening and just deposited that day’s take in the bank. As he
returned to the Sonic, he saw one of his employees, Peggy Sue Jones, at a restaurant trying
to use a pay phone. He offered to give her a ride home. They went back to the Sonic for
Hairston to complete his paperwork. After he finished, he locked up, and they went to his
pick-up truck. As Hairston was unlocking the truck’s door, he heard a voice say, “Give me
the money.” Hairston turned and saw a black male at the rear of the truck and another man
with a shotgun pointed at him. Hairston told the gunman that the money was at the bank, and
he offered the gunman the keys to his truck.
¶6. Jones was on the passenger side when she heard Hairston say something. She looked
through the truck window and saw the man with the shotgun. The other man, who had been
standing at the rear of the truck, “peeped” out at Jones. Then both men ran off. The whole
incident lasted about forty seconds.
B. The Police Report and Investigation
¶7. Hairston and Jones immediately went to the Nettleton Police Department to report
2 Augusta attached the August 2000 trial transcript as an exhibit to his PCR motion.
what had happened. They spoke to Dispatcher John Edwards Sr., who took the information
and prepared a “Field Complaint Report.” The report listed the time of the offense as 00:30
and the time of the report as 00:33. The report says that the suspects were two black males
wearing dark blue or black cut-off pants and blue bandanas over their faces. The report also
stated that “Ms. Jones says she recognized one of the robbers from the projects while at a
¶8. Several days later, on September 12, 1997, Officer Shane Young, who was
investigating the case, remembered two individuals, Augusta and Isby, who had recentlybeen
arrested on another charge. Officer Young arranged for Hairston to visit the Monroe County
Jail where Augusta and Isby were being held. Hairston saw the two men, who were alone
in the library, and he identified them as the men who had tried to rob him. Later, Jones
visited the jail and picked the two men out of a line-up. Both Hairston and Jones gave
written statements that day. Augusta and Isby were ultimately charged with armed robbery.
C. The Trial and Direct Appeal
¶9. At the trial three years later in August 2000, the State called Officer Young, Hairston,
and Jones to testify. While on the stand, Hairston testified that he knew Isby was involved,
but he could not swear the other man was Augusta. Hairston was more focused on Isby, who
was the one with the shotgun. Jones, however, said she was positive that both Augusta and
Isby were involved. She also said there were no bandanas covering their faces.
¶10. Officer Young testified and said that on the night of the robbery, another officer had
seen John Edwards Jr., the dispatcher’s son, with a person named Gary Hughes. Both men
were walking down the street near the Sonic shortly after the robbery. Young, who was at
home when he heard the radio traffic about the robbery, left and went toward the Sonic,
which was near his home. He said that when he arrived, Officer Thomas Adams was
speaking to Edwards Jr. and Gary. Officer Young also spoke to Edwards Jr. Officer Young
said he did not suspect him of being involved because Edwards Jr. was not wearing the type
of clothing that the victims had described.
¶11. The defendants did not testify but presented three alibi witnesses: Jackie Louise
Walton, Sandrunette Isby and Mattie Walton. Jackie testified that she had a Fourth of July
gathering at her house. Augusta and Isby arrived at 9:00 p.m. They all went to the liquor
store at 10:00 p.m. Then they partied a while and left to go to “The Sticks,” a club about
fifteen minutes outside of Nettleton. Jackie drove Augusta, Isby, her sister Mattie, and Willie
Crockett to the night club. They arrived at 11:00 p.m. and left around 2:30 a.m in the
morning. She testified that Augusta Hughes and Isby were at the Sticks the whole time.
¶12. Sandrunette Isby testified that she arrived at The Sticks around 11:15 p.m. Augusta
and Isby arrived no more than thirty minutes later. Sandrunette paid Isby’s cover charge.
All of them stayed at the club until 2:30 a.m. Mattie testified that she was in the group at
Jackie’s house and rode with the others, including Augusta and Isby, to The Sticks. They all
stayed until 1:30 or 2:00 a.m.
¶13. On this evidence, the jury convicted both Augusta and Isby of armed robbery, and the
court sentenced them to serve twenty-five years in prison.
D. The Current Post-Conviction Proceeding
¶14. The George C. Cochran Innocence Project assisted Augusta with his latest PCR
motion. After the supreme court granted Augusta leave to file this current PCR motion, the
circuit court held an evidentiary hearing on July 23, 2018. Augusta contended that prior to
his trial in 2000, the State had failed to produce exculpatorymaterial, namely a statement that
Hairston had made to the dispatcher on the night of the robbery. Allegedly, Hairston had said
that the suspects were not “Hughes boys” because Hairston knew all the Hugheses. Augusta
also contended that since the trial, he had discovered new evidence; namely, that Edwards
Jr. had confessed to several family members that he, not Augusta, had committed the
¶15. On August 28, 2018, the court issued its ruling. The court said that after considering
all the testimony and evidence submitted, it found the motion to be without merit and denied
Augusta a new trial. The following is a summary of the testimony and evidence presented
at the PCR hearing and the court’s consideration of that evidence as reflected in its order.
1. Affidavit of Gary Hughes
¶16. Gary, Augusta’s first cousin, was fifteen years old at the time of the attempted robbery
in 1997. On January 12, 2015, when he was incarcerated at the Mississippi State
4 Gary signed an affidavit concerning the events that night and other matters.
In it, Gary said that on that night, he and another cousin Tony Hughes were outside James
3 Augusta presented no evidence on the competency-of-counsel issue and has
withdrawn that as a basis for his PCR motion.
4 There was no information presented as to Gary’s whereabouts at the time of
Augusta’s trial in 2000 or at the time of the hearing on the PCR motion.
Finney’s pool hall in Nettleton when Officer Young came by. Officer Young stopped Gary
and accused him of the robbery because Gary was wearing a blue bandana on his head.
Finney came out of the pool hall and vouched for both Gary and Tony, telling the officer that
they had been outside the pool hall for the past hour (during the time of the robbery).
¶17. Gary asserted in his affidavit that after the police left, Edwards Jr. and his friend
Robby Riley pulled up in a car owned by Riley’s girlfriend, Jamie Jernigan. Gary and Tony
got into the car, and they all planned to go to The Sticks. Gary was in the back seat where
he saw a sawed-off shotgun. Gary asked Edwards Jr. and Riley where they had been that
night. At first they said they had been to Arkansas, but later both men admitted they had not
gone to Arkansas; instead, they had tried to rob the Sonic that night. Riley said the shotgun
belonged to him.
¶18. Gary also said that after Augusta was arrested, he (Gary) told Officer Young that
Edwards Jr. and Riley had committed the crime.5
¶19. The circuit court opinion makes no mention of this affidavit or any of its contents.
2. Affidavit of John Edwards Sr.
¶20. In a December 21, 2015 affidavit, Edwards Sr. (the police dispatcher), said that on the
night of the attempted robbery, he put out the description of the Sonic suspects as given to
him by Hairston and Jones. An officer called Edwards Sr. to say that he had seen a couple
5 Edward Jr. has a criminal record as well, including a ten-year sentence for the sale
of cocaine and a concurrent twenty-year sentence, with ten years suspended, for a second
sale-of-cocaine offense, both from June 2000. In 2017, Edwards, Jr. pleaded guilty to the
possession of marijuana and received a term of three years to serve with two years
suspended. Because of this possession of marijuana offense, the suspended portion of his
2000 conviction was revoked.
of the Hughes boys walking around. Hairston was still standing at Edwards’s desk when the
officer called. Edwards told Hairston what the officer said, and Hairston said, “It wasn’t a
Hughes—I know all of them.” In fact, at one point in time, Hairston had employed
¶21. Edward Sr. also says in his affidavit that he was not sure if he put this remark made
by Hairston in his report, “but I know that I told Shane Young (Officer Young) about it.”
¶22. Edwards Sr. did not testify at the hearing.
¶23. The circuit court’s opinion makes no mention of this affidavit or its contents.
3. Testimony of John Edwards Jr.
¶24. At the hearing, Augusta called Edwards Jr., who Augusta now contends attempted to
rob the Sonic that night. After the court informed Edwards Jr. that he had a right to remain
silent and the right to an attorney, Edwards Jr. declined to testify.
¶25. The circuit court opinion does note that Edwards Jr. invoked his right to counsel and
did not testify.
4. Testimony of Benetrial Long
¶26. Benetrial Long testified that back in 1997 she heard Edwards Jr. and Riley plan the
Sonic robbery. She was seventeen years old at the time, and she is the mother of a child
fathered byAugusta. But she said she and Augusta were estranged at the time of the robbery,
arrest, and trial. At the time of the trial in 2000, she said she had moved on with her life.
¶27. Long testified that at the time of the robbery, she lived across the street from her
cousin Jamie Jernigan, who was dating Riley. On the Fourth of July in 1997, Long went to
Jernigan’s house, and Edwards Jr. and Riley were there. Long said she heard them planning
to rob the Sonic. She wanted no part of that and left.
¶28. Long also testified that later that evening, she went to The Sticks and saw Augusta and
Isby. She arrived around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m., and she, Augusta, and Isbywere all there until
2:00 a.m. She said no one had contacted her about the matter, and she had not followed
¶29. The circuit court found that Long was an alibi witness and that her testimony was
cumulative and not newly discovered. The court found that her testimony would not have
produced a different jury verdict. The court made no mention of Long’s testimony of her
overhearing of Edwards Jr. and Riley planning to rob the Sonic.
5. Testimony and Affidavit of Shemeka Hughes
¶30. In an affidavit signed on March 4, 2015, Shemeka Hughes identified herself as
Augusta’s sister. At the time of the attempted robbery in 1997, she was fourteen years old
and lived with her grandparents. Edwards Jr. lived next door.
¶31. In her affidavit, Shameka said that not long after the Sonic robbery, Edwards Sr. came
over to talk to her grandparents. She was there in a shed in the yard when this conversation
occurred. Edwards Sr. said that he knew his son had committed the robbery and that it was
not right that Augusta and Isby had been charged with the crime. Edwards Sr. said that he
would talk to his son and that he would testify for Augusta about how Edwards Jr. was
responsible. Shameka said this promise is why she did not go to the police herself.
¶32. She also said in her affidavit that Edwards Jr. came by on a different occasion prior
to trial when she was sitting on the porch. Edwards Jr. said that he was sorry that her brother
was locked up for what he and Riley had done—specifically saying that they had tried to rob
the Sonic but got no money. Shemeka told her grandmother what Edwards Jr. had said, and
Edwards Jr. repeated the admission to the grandmother and apologized. Her grandmother
ran Edwards Jr. off and told him not to come back. In her affidavit, Shameka said she had
not spoken to Edwards Jr. since that time.
¶33. At the PCR hearing, Shameka testified about a recent contact she had with Edwards
Jr. She said she was at a party at Billy’s Pool Hall in November 2017. Edwards Jr. was there
and offered her a bag of marijuana, which she declined. She testified that Edwards Jr. said
that he knew she did not like him because of what went on with her brother. Then, he again
confessed, “[M]e and Robby did the robbery.” Edwards Jr. said that he hated that Augusta
got in trouble for it.
¶34. The circuit court noted that Shameka testified to Edwards Jr.’s confessing to
committing the crime. But the court found that she and the grandmother were available to
testify at trial, and thus this information was not newly discovered evidence. The court
added: “Further, John Edwards Jr. denied any alleged confession.”6 The court found that
her testimony would not have produced a different jury verdict.
6. Affidavit and Testimony of Amanda Hughes Graham
6 At the start of the hearing, Augusta’s counsel informed the court that Edwards Jr.
had recently been arrested. Augusta’s counsel and an investigator from the district
attorney’s office had interviewed Edwards Jr. the day before. Edwards Jr. did not admit that
he robbed the Sonic and said that he was also at The Sticks that night. Edwards Jr.’s
statements to Augusta’s counsel and the investigator in the interview were not given under
oath, and when called to testify in court, Edwards Jr. invoked his right to remain silent.
¶35. Amanda Hughes Graham, another sister of Augusta, signed an affidavit and testified.
She had worked at the Sonic in 1994 or 1995 when she was fourteen or fifteen years old. At
the time of the robbery, she could have testified as an alibi witness because she too was at
The Sticks that night. She arrived around 11:00 p.m and stayed until 2:00 a.m. She said her
brother was there the whole time.
¶36. Amanda also testified that she talked to Edwards Jr. years later in 2014. At that time,
Amanda was working full-time for the American Family Association and part-time at
Dodge’s Chicken Store. She testified that in January or February of 2014, Edwards Jr. came
into the store to get a money order from Western Union to pay his probation fee. Edwards
Jr. tried to strike up a conversation with her and asked her for Augusta’s address so he could
send him some money. Amanda was stunned and asked her supervisor to take over the cash
register so she could talk more with Edwards Jr. She and Edwards Jr. moved over to the
freezer area and talked for about ten minutes. Edwards Jr. told her that he knew everyone
in the family hated him and that he knew it was his fault that Augusta would not be able to
see his son’s high school graduation. Amanda asked Edwards Jr. why he had not come
forward long ago. Edwards Jr. replied that at first he did not think Augusta and Isby would
be convicted for something they had not done and that then when he saw the sentence they
received, he knew he could not do that kind of time. Soon after this conversation, Amanda
signed an affidavit containing this information.
¶37. The circuit court found that Amanda’s testimony as to Augusta’s alibi was cumulative
and not newly discovered evidence. The court also found that what Edwards Jr. told her at
the convenience store would be inadmissible hearsay. The court added; “Further, John
Edwards Jr. denied any alleged confession.” The court found Amanda’s testimonywould not
have produced a different jury verdict.
7. Testimony and Affidavit of Patrick Verner
¶38. Patrick Verner testified that he was Amanda’s supervisor at the convenience store in
January or February 2014 and that he relieved her from duties at the register so she could
speak to a man for about fifteen minutes. He also testified to Amanda’s veracity and
¶39. The circuit court found that Verner did not identify who Amanda was speaking to or
what they were talking about. The court found his testimony would not have produced a
different jury verdict.
8. Testimony of William Wayne Housely Jr. (Augusta’s Attorney)
¶40. Housely,Augusta’s trial attorney, testified that he was never informed of the statement
that Hairston made to Edwards Sr.—that it was not a Hughes who committed the attempted
robbery—even though Housely made a Brady demand.7
He testified that he petitioned the
court for funds to hire an investigator named Herb Wells, who was very competent. Despite
the investigation that was done, Housely did not know about Edwards Jr.’s potential
involvement or any of the information that the other witnesses testified to. Therefore, his
defense for Augusta was only an alibi defense.
¶41. The circuit court found that Housely testified that he presented his best case to the jury
7 Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963), established the obligation of the State
to produce to a defendant any exculpatory evidence in its possession.
and his best defenses. Housely’s testimony was not newly discovered evidence. The court
found that his testimony would not have produced a different jury verdict.
9. Testimony of Augusta Hughes
¶42. Augusta testified that he was at Jackie Walton’s house celebrating the Fourth of July
in 1997. From there he went to The Sticks and stayed there until 2:00 or 2:30 a.m. He said
he was innocent of the attempted robbery.
¶43. The circuit court found that Augusta waived his right to testify at trial and that his
testimony was readily available back then, so it was not “newly discovered evidence.”
E. The Appeal of the PCR Ruling
¶44. Augusta appeals from the court’s denial of his PCR motion. Augusta raises several
errors allegedly made by the circuit court. Among them, Augusta argues the court failed to
address the Brady violation issue and other evidence presented, and he contends the court’s
ruling that evidence of Edwards Jr.’s confessions would be inadmissible hearsay at a new
trial was erroneous. Because of these alleged errors and others, Augusta argues that the
denial of his PCR motion should be reversed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
¶45. When reviewing issues of law in an appeal from the denial of a PCR motion, this
Court’s proper standard of review is de novo. Russell v. State, 73 So. 3d 542, 544 (¶5) (Miss.
Ct. App. 2011). When reviewing findings of fact in an appeal from the denial of a PCR
motion, an appellate court “will not disturb the trial court’s factual findings unless they are
found to be clearly erroneous.” Van Norman v. State, 114 So. 3d 799, 801 (¶8) (Miss. Ct.
App. 2013) (quoting Collins v. State, 975 So. 2d 219, 222 (¶8) (Miss. 2008)).
¶46. The Supreme Court authorized Hughes to file his PCR motion signifying that he
made a substantial showing that he has a viable claim. Considerable evidence in the form
of affidavits, documents, and live testimony was presented to the court on two main issues:
evidence of Edwards Jr.’s confessions to the crime and evidence of a potential Brady
violation. In our review of the circuit court’s opinion, we find that it erroneously concluded
that testimony of Edwards Jr.’s confessions would be inadmissible at a new trial. Further,
the court failed to address Hughes’ issue of a Brady violation. Because the court is required
under Mississippi law to address all issues, and because of its error in its ruling on the
admissibility of Edwards Jr.’s confessions, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
I. The court’s failure to address issues and evidence presented
¶47. Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-39-5 (Rev. 2015) lists the bases under which
a defendant may seek post-conviction relief. One is the discovery of new evidence, which
the statute defines as “evidence, not reasonably discoverable at the time of trial which is of
such nature that it would be practically conclusive that had such been introduced at trial, it
would have caused a different result in the conviction or sentence[.]” § 99-39-5(2)(a)(i). If
a defendant has previously been denied post-conviction relief, he may still file a subsequent
petition if he alleges newly discovered evidence pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated
section 99-39-23(6) (Rev. 2015).
¶48. In determining whether to grant a PCR motion for which an evidentiary hearing is
required, the statute requires that the court “make specific findings of fact, and state
expressly its conclusions of law, relating to each issue presented.” § 99-39-23(5). Even if
a circuit court grants a PCR motion on the basis of some of the issues presented, its failure
to address each issue presented amounts to reversible error. Beal v. State, 271 So. 3d 713,
715 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018). In that case, Beal was convicted of the sale of cocaine and
the court sentenced him to serve sixty years as a habitual offender without eligibility for
parole and to pay a $2,000,000 fine. Id. at 713 (¶1). Beal’s habitual offender status was
based in part on a prior conviction for bribery. Id. at (¶2). The bribery conviction was later
reversed by the supreme court, and Beal filed for post-conviction relief regarding his
sentencing on the cocaine conviction. Id. In re-sentencing proceedings, Beal also sought a
proportionality review. Id. at 713-15 (¶¶2, 7). The circuit court held a re-sentencing hearing
and removed the habitual offender enhancement. Id. at 713-14 (¶2). The court re-sentenced
him to the same sentence of sixty years’ imprisonment and reduced the fine but made no
mention of parole or other relief. Id. at 714 (¶2). Beal appealed, and we reversed the circuit
court’s ruling. Id. at 714 (¶7). Citing section 99-39-23(5) and emphasizing its requirement
that the court make findings on all issues, we held that the court had not addressed Beal’s
third issue—specifically his request to receive a proportionality review. Id. We found this
failure constituted reversible error. Id.
¶49. In this case, Augusta sought a new trial and raised two issues to support his request:
(1) the newly discovered evidence of Edwards Jr.’s confessions and (2) the failure of the
State to provide Hairston’s pre-trial, potentially exculpatory witness statement in violation
of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). We find that the court did not deal with all the
facts presented and failed to address Hughes’s Brady violation at all, warranting reversal and
A. Court’s Failure to Consider the Brady Violation Issue
¶50. The court failed to address the issue of the Brady violation. In Brady v. Maryland,
373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963), the United States Supreme Court held that due process requires the
government to disclose favorable, material evidence not otherwise discoverable through due
diligence. The government’s duty under Brady extends to evidence impeaching the
credibility of government witnesses. Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 154-55 (1972).
A Brady suppression occurs when prosecutors fail to turn over evidence known to the
government or police investigators. Youngblood v. West Virginia, 547 U.S. 867, 869-70
(2006) (citing Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 437 (1995) (“[T]he individual prosecutor has
a duty to learn of any favorable evidence known to the others acting on the government’s
behalf in the case, including the police.”)).
¶51. The suppression of evidence includes evidence used for impeachment purposes. In
Roberson v. State, No. 2014-KA-00652-COA, 2017 WL 3872182, at *19 (¶97) (Miss. Ct.
App. Sept. 5, 2017), we said:
The suppression of favorable evidence is a violation of the defendant’s due
process rights. Favorable evidence includes that which is either directly
exculpatory or items which can be used for impeachment purposes. Manning
v State, 929 So. 2d 885, 890-91 (¶13) (Miss. 2006)
¶52. It is important for the circuit court in this case to address the Brady violation issue
because a defendant is not required to demonstrate that disclosure of the suppressed evidence
would have ultimately resulted in the defendant’s acquittal, as is required when the court
considers newly discovered evidence. In Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 434 (1995), the
United State Supreme Court said:
The question is not whether the defendant would more likely than not have
received a different verdict with the evidence, but whether in its absence he
received a fair trial, understood as a trial resulting in a verdict worthy of
confidence. A “reasonable probability” of a different result is accordingly
shown when the government’s evidentiary suppression” undermines
confidence in the outcome of the trial.”
Id. (quoting United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 473 (1985)). In Smith v. State, 500 So.
2d 973, 979 (Miss. 1986), the Mississippi Supreme Court said that when considering Brady
violations, “the trial judge should not focus narrowly on the probable effect of the evidence
upon the jury. He should take into account all the relevant facts including any impairment
upon the defense’s decision making process, either prior to or during trial.”
¶53. In the case at hand, Augusta presented the affidavit of Edwards Sr. to establish that
Hairston had told him that the perpetrators were not any of the Hughes boys. Edwards Sr.
also said that even if he failed to put this in the official report, he told Officer Young what
Hairston had said. Thus, the statement was apparently known by police investigators and
should have been disclosed. Prosecutors must learn of any favorable evidence others
operating on the government’s part, like police, might have. Strickler v. Green, 527 U.S.
263, 280-81 (1991). Augusta’s trial attorney, Housely, testified that he was not informed of
Hairston’s statement that “it was not a Hughes.” The State put on no evidence to rebut this
testimony. On remand, the court should address the evidence presented and its conclusions
of law concerning this alleged Brady violation.
B. Omissions and Erroneous Findings of Fact
¶54. In its opinion, the court addressed some of the proof presented on the issue of newly
discovered evidence, but not all. The court dealt with testimony of Edwards Jr.’s pre-trial
confessions to familymembers, finding it was not newly discovered evidence. But the court
did not discuss the affidavit testimony8
of Gary, who said that he and Tony met Edwards Jr.
the night of the incident and that he saw the sawed-off shotgun that Edwards Jr. admitted to
using when he and Riley robbed the Sonic. The court also did not discuss that portion of
Long’s testimony wherein she said she overheard Edwards Jr. and Riley plan the Sonic
Gary’s and Long’s testimony is separate and distinct from testimony concerning
Edwards Jr’s pre-trial confessions to Shameka and her grandparents and should be addressed
by the court.
8 The use of affidavits is permitted in post-conviction proceedings pursuant to
Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-39-23(4) and was allowed in Tobias v. State, 584
So. 2d 1276, 1278 (Miss. 1991).
9 Augusta argues that Long’s testimony of overhearing Edwards Jr.’s conversation
in which he was planning the robbery is admissible under Mississippi Rule of Evidence
A statement of the declarant’s then-existing state of mind (such as motive,
intent, or plan) or emotional, sensory, or physical condition (such as mental
feeling, pain, or bodily health), but not including a statement of memory or
belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the validity
or terms of the declarant’s will.
M.R.E. 803(3). “[S]tatements which indicate intention to do something in the future are
admissible to prove that the act intended took place.” M.R.E. 803(3) advisory committee
notes. “Statements which indicate an intent or plan to do something in the future are
admissible to prove that the proposed act occurred.” Bogan v. State, 754 So. 2d 1289, 1293
(¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2000).
¶55. In weighing the evidence, the court also erroneously found that Edwards Jr. had
denied robbing the Sonic. The court had been informed that prior to the hearing, Augusta’s
attorney and an investigator from the district attorney’s office had interviewed Edwards Jr.
In that conversation Edwards Jr. claimed to have been at The Sticks that night. But Edwards
Jr.’s comments in the interview were not given under oath. On the stand, Edwards declined
to testify to anything. Therefore, the court should not have found as a fact that Edwards Jr.
denied robbing the Sonic.
II. The testimony of Edwards Jr.’s confessions is admissible evidence.
¶56. In its opinion, the court repeatedly and erroneously stated that testimony of Edward’s
Jr.’s confessions to the crime would be inadmissible hearsay at a new trial. But the evidence
of Edwards Jr.’s confessions would be admissible under Rule 804(a) of the Mississippi Rules
of Evidence as a statement against his penal interest. On remand, the court shall factor this
into its analysis.
¶57. Rule 804 excepts from the bar of hearsay testimony that was given by a declarant who
is unavailable and that meets other criteria. Rule 804(a)(1) provides that an unavailable
witness includes one who “is exempted from testifying about the subject matter of the
declarant’s statement because the court rules that a privilege applies.” As our supreme court
held in Hartfield v. State, 161 So. 3d 125, 131 (¶12) (Miss. 2015), this first requirement is
met and a declarant is unavailable when he invokes his rights under the Fifth Amendment
not to testify. See also Williams v. State, 174 So. 3d 275, 280-81 (¶27) (Miss. Ct. App.
2014). In this case, Edwards Jr. was called to testify at the PCR hearing and invoked his
right to remain silent. Thus, he was unavailable to testify, and his alleged confessions would
be admissible if they met the criteria found in Rule 804(b)(3).
¶58. Under Rule 804(b)(3), the statement of an unavailable witness is admissible if it is a
“statement against interest,” meaning a statement that
(A) a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would have made only if
the person believed it to be true because, when made, it was so contrary to the
declarant’s proprietary or pecuniary interest or had so great a tendency to
invalidate the declarant’s claimagainst someone else orto expose the declarant
to civil or criminal liability; and
(B) is supported by corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its
trustworthiness, if it tends to expose the declarant to criminal liability and is
offered to exculpate the accused.
Edwards Jr.’s confession to the crime does satisfy subpart (A) of Rule 804(b)(3) because it
is clearly probative of the issue of his potential guilt and is against Edwards’s penal interest.
Edmonds v. State, 955 So. 2d 787, 796 (¶20) (Miss. 2007).
¶59. The next consideration for the admission of Edwards Jr.’s confessions is whether
corroborating circumstances indicate their trustworthiness. Courts have considered the
following factors in assessing reliability: “[w]hether the guilt of the declarant is inconsistent
with the guilt of the accused, whether the declarant was so situated that he might have
committed the crime, the timing of the declaration and its spontaneity, the relationship
between the declarant and the party to whom the declaration was made, and the existence of
independent corroborating facts.” Williams, 174 So. 3d at 280 (¶25) (quoting Lacy v. State,
700 So. 2d 602, 607 (¶17) (Miss. 1997)). The corroboration requirement required by Rule
804(b)(3)(B) need not be “absolute,” and “the sufficiency of the corroboration must be
assessed in light of the importance of the evidence and the offeror’s fundamental
constitutional right to present evidence[.]” Williams, 174 So. 3d at 281 (¶28). For example,
in Edmonds v. State, 955 So. 2d 787 (Miss. 2007), thirteen-year-old Tyler Edmonds was
indicted for capital murder for killing Joey Fulgham, his sister Kristi’s husband. Id. at 790
(¶4). Danny Edmonds was Tyler and Kristi’s father. Id. at (¶3). Danny gave a statement
to law enforcement that Kristi had asked him for a pistol and that she wanted Joey dead. Id.
at 793 (¶12). She said she would kill him in his sleep. Id. She also told Danny that Joey had
a life insurance that she would get if he were dead. Id. At Tyler’s trial, the circuit court ruled
that Danny’s testimony about these statements Kristi made was inadmissible hearsay. Id.
The Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed. Id. at 795 (¶20). It found that Danny’s testimony
was sufficiently trustworthy because Danny was both Kristi and Tyler’s father. Id. at (¶21).
“Surely, he had a significant reason not to inculpate Kristi, and it is reasonable to assume that
he would not testify that she made the statements unless she really did make the statements.”
Id. at 796 (¶21). Other corroboration included the fact that Joey’s body was found in bed,
as if he had been shot in his sleep, and that Kristi had made inquiries to the National Guard
about Joey’s life insurance. Id. at 796-97 (¶22).
¶60. In the case at hand, the State argues that the testimony of Edwards Jr.’s confession
was not independently corroborated. However, it is undisputed that Edwards Jr. was found
in the vicinity of the Sonic that night shortly after the time of the robbery,so he, not Augusta,
may have been the one who committed the crime. It is significant that Edwards Jr. allegedly
confessed, not only at the time of the robbery (to fourteen-year-old Shameka and her
grandparent, and to fifteen-year-old Gary), but twice after the conviction (in 2014, to thirtyfour-year-old Amanda in the convenience store, and in 2017, to Shameka who was thirty-four
years old when he approached her at a party). Augusta also provided Verner’s affidavit to
establish Amanda’s reputation for truthfulness and the fact that she met with someone under
circumstances consistent with Amanda’s testimony. It is logical that the alleged confessions
were made to family members. In essence, Edwards Jr. was apologizing for what he had
done (something that affected the whole family). When Augusta was going to miss his son’s
high school graduation, Edwards Jr. allegedly apologized to the next most logical person,
Augusta’s sister. Both Shameka and Amanda testified in detail about their encounters with
Edwards Jr. Their conversations went beyond his alleged assertion that he had committed
the crime. To Amanda, he expressed regret about Augusta not being able to see his son
graduate. Shameka described Edwards Jr.’s behavior in approaching her and explaining that
he understood why she and the family did not like him. There was further conversation
between Edwards Jr. and both witnesses. While Edwards Jr.’s alleged confessions would be
stronger if they were documented in some written form, not all evidence needs be
documented. We find that there was sufficient corroboration of Edwards Jr.’s confessions
to meet the criteria of Rule 804(b)(3). Accordingly, we find that the circuit court erred as a
matter of law and that Edwards Jr.’s confessions, as statements against his penal interest,
would be admissible at a new trial.
Outcome: We reverse the circuit court’s denial of Augusta’s PCR motion and remand it for
reconsideration consistent with the rulings above. On remand, the court should consider all evidence and issues raised, and, in its discretion, the court may choose to reopen and rehear the matter anew before it renders its final opinion.