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Jones v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

September 7, 2017


         On Appeal from the 177th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1314604

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Jamison and Busby.


          Kem Thompson Frost Chief Justice.

         Appellant Cornelius Lamont Jones challenges his conviction for capital murder. He takes issue with the sufficiency of the evidence, an evidentiary ruling, the trial court's denial of his request to charge the jury on spoliation, and the trial court's denial of jury-selection challenges. Concluding these issues afford no basis for appellate relief, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The complainant and two associates dealt in marijuana. One of the associates facilitated a prospective purchase through the associate's friend's brother, who knew appellant. The brother arranged for the complainant to purchase twenty-five pounds of marijuana from appellant for about $10, 000. The brother told the associates and the complainant where to go to complete the transaction and the three went together to the indicated apartment complex. Appellant got into their vehicle and showed the complainant a sample of the marijuana and then asked the complainant to walk with him to complete the purchase. As he exited the vehicle, the complainant had the money in his pocket, in a Crown Royal bag. The complainant also had on his person two cell phones and a gun. Appellant told the complainant to walk ahead of him.

         Two residents were hanging out on the balcony of their apartment building when they saw two males -who appeared to be friends -walking down the sidewalk. Then, suddenly the two residents heard a gunshot. Within seconds, one of the residents ran around the apartment building and saw a body. The other resident called 911.

         Meanwhile, the complainant's two associates, who had been waiting in their vehicle, started to become nervous. Both tried calling the complainant but he did not answer the phone. When the associates saw police officers arrive, they left the apartment complex believing they had been "set up."

         Officer Mark Champaigne responded to the resident's 911 call and discovered the dead body of a male lying face down in the stairwell in between apartments. Deputy Mark McElvany investigated the crime scene and recovered a single shell casing; he did not find any cell phones or guns on the complainant's body. He did find some cash in the complainant's pockets, but no Crown Royal bag filled with money.

         The complainant's two associates spoke with police officers later that evening and told them about the marijuana deal. The police task force then began searching for the man (the brother of the associate's friend) who had set up the transaction. He was not home, but the police located that man's girlfriend. Sergeant Alanis gave her a list of nicknames of the people for whom he was searching and the girlfriend provided him with Facebook photographs of those individuals. Sergeant Alanis used those photographs to match up the nickname with appellant's true name.

         Police officers then made photo spreads to show to witnesses. The complainant's two associates identified appellant as the man who entered their vehicle and left with the complainant to complete the marijuana purchase. The resident who discovered the complainant's body immediately after the shooting picked someone other than appellant from the photo spread. Police officers later disclosed to appellant's defense lawyers that the witness had identified another individual, but they did not save the photo spread to give to defense counsel.

         When appellant was apprehended, he waived his rights and spoke with police investigators. Appellant admitted that he shot the complainant. He said that "something didn't feel right" about the transaction and then the complainant pulled a gun on appellant. Appellant said that they struggled and he shot the complainant in self-defense. Appellant admitted taking the complainant's phone and gun but said he did not take any money.

         Appellant was charged with capital murder for killing the complainant in the course and scope of committing a robbery. Appellant pled "not guilty."

         After voir dire, appellant made a challenge under Batson v. Kentucky, to four of the State's peremptory strikes. See 476 U.S. 79, 89, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 1719, 90 L.Ed.2d 69, 83 (1986). The trial court denied all four of appellant's challenges.

         At trial, the complainant's two associates testified that they intended to complete the deal cleanly. One testified that he would never attempt to rob someone in an unknown location and that the complainant did not have the right physical attributes to successfully complete a robbery. (That associate touted his own background in robbery but testified that the complainant was more of a "hustler.") Both associates testified that the complainant had money in a Crown Royal bag to pay for the marijuana.

         The two residents testified that they heard the gunshot very shortly after one of them saw the two men walking together. Both residents testified that they would have been able to hear screaming and that they heard neither screaming nor sounds of a scuffle. One resident noted there was not enough time for a scuffle in between the time he saw the men walking amicably and the gunshot.

         At the charge conference, appellant requested a charge on spoliation of evidence due to the police department's failure to provide him with the photo spread the police had showed to the resident who did not identify appellant. The trial court denied the request.

         The jury found appellant guilty as charged and appellant received an automatic sentence of life imprisonment. Appellant raises four issues in this appeal.

         Issues and Analysis

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In his fourth issue, appellant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction for capital murder because the evidence does not show he intended to rob the complainant. We address this issue first because, if sustained, it would afford appellant the greatest relief. See Tex. R. App. P. 43.3; Campbell v. State, 125 S.W.3d 1, 4 n.1 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, no pet.).

         In evaluating a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a criminal conviction, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 111 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). The issue on appeal is not whether we, as a court, believe the State's evidence or believe that appellant's evidence outweighs the State's evidence. Wicker v. State, 667 S.W.2d 137, 143 (Tex. Crim. App. 1984). The verdict may not be overturned unless it is irrational or unsupported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Matson v. State, 819 S.W.2d 839, 946 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991). The jury is the sole judge of the witnesses' credibility and the strength of the evidence. Fuentes v. State, 991 S.W.2d 267, 271 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). The jury may choose to believe or disbelieve any portion of the witnesses' testimony. Sha ...

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