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Gregory Eugene Mootye, III a/k/a Gregory Mootye v. State of Mississippi
Case Number: 2016-KA-01016-COA
Judge: Virginia Carlton
Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Plaintiff's Attorney: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH
Defendant's Attorney: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: JUSTIN TAYLOR COOK
At approximately 4:40 a.m. on Monday, February 22, 2010, Officers Robert Sybert
and Jason Pitts of the Hattiesburg Police Department were dispatched to 817 Dabbs Street
in response to a 911 hangup call. Even though the door was locked, it was ajar. The officers
entered the home, identifying themselves as law enforcement. Although the house was dark,
Officer Sybert detected movement in a doorway and saw what appeared to be a white
reflective band on the back of a person’s jacket. As he moved toward the individual, Officer
Sybert tripped over the body of a female covered in blood on the floor. The suspect, a tall
black male wearing a dark-colored hooded jacket with what appeared to be a white shirt
underneath, responded to the officers’ commands and moved forward slowly. However,
when Officer Pitts tried to arrest the suspect, he snatched his arm away, ran past the officers,
and jumped off the porch. The officers chased the suspect but were unable to apprehend him.
¶4. The deceased victim on the floor was identified as Angelica Twillie. A second
deceased female—Angelica’s mother, Alesia Twillie—was discovered in a bedroom.2
Autopsies of the women revealed they had both been shot and stabbed multiple times.
Furthermore, Angelica was several months pregnant, and it was determined that the unborn
child’s cause of death was ureteral placenta insufficiency due to the homicidal death of the
2 Police also found Angelica’s son, who was between fourteen and seventeen months old, alive at the residence. 2
¶5. Mootye was rumored to be the father of Angelica’s unborn child, and he was
questioned by police. Mootye told Detective Branden McLemore that he had been at his
apartment Sunday night until he left for work Monday morning, and his roommate, Deveiun
Tripp, confirmed his alibi; so Mootye was released. Soon thereafter, Officer Pitts was shown
a picture of Mootye and others on a digital camera, and he indicated that he was eighty
percent sure that Mootye was the person he saw at the Twillies’ house that night.
Furthermore, two individuals—Chekeita Pittman and Taborious Lindsey—came forward
with witness statements placing Mootye near the scene of the murders that morning. Before
trial, when questioned further by police and charged with accessory after the fact, Tripp
recanted his prior statement that supported Mootye’s alibi and said Mootye confessed to him
that he committed the murders. As we will discuss later in this opinion, Tripp also testified
as to such at trial, stating that he picked Mootye up at an apartment complex the morning
after the murders and that Mootye later asked him to move a gun.
¶6. Mootye was indicted on three counts of deliberate-design murder for the deaths of
Angelica, Alesia, and Angelica’s unborn child. A jury trial was held on January 24–26,
2011. The two officers dispatched to the 911 call testified to the facts as stated above.
Denise Rupple, a senior crime-scene analyst with the Bureau of Forensic Services, stated that
a fillet knife, like the ones used at Marshall Durbin where Mootye and Angelica worked, was
recovered near the house, and several .22-caliber shell casings were found in the home. No
gun was recovered. Rupple also testified that the arcing pattern of blood splatters on the wall
indicated the person used his or her left hand. (Mootye was left-handed.) She noted a
“gloved impression or fabric impression that was left in blood” and said the pattern was
consistent with fabric gloves obtained from Marshall Durbin, but Rupple admitted that no
glove was found at the crime scene. There were also bloody shoe prints at the scene.
¶7. During a search of Mootye’s apartment, police retrieved an empty .22-caliber shell
cartridge box from Tripp’s bedroom. Two pairs of Nike high-top sneakers were also taken
from the apartment for testing. Rupple testified that one pair’s size and class “was consistent
with the stains that were left – those shoe impressions that were left at the scene.”
¶8. Pittman testified that she spent the evening with Mootye that Sunday night. Pittman
stated that Mootye and Tripp watched a basketball game on television. She and Mootye went
to bed somewhat early, but at approximately 4 a.m., he asked her “to take him to get some
money from some dude” before he had to go to work that morning. Pittman was unfamiliar
with the area, so Mootye directed her where to go. Pittman testified that Mootye realized he
forgot his cell phone and he told her to come back for him later. Pittman turned the car
around to leave and noticed Mootye standing on the porch of a home, later identified by her
as the Twillies’ house. She drove away and soon thereafter saw the police cars drive by.
Worried, Pittman went to the apartment to get Tripp, saying they needed to check on Mootye.
After looking for Mootye, they decided to go back to the apartment and wait. According to
Pittman, Tripp woke her up about 7 a.m. saying Mootye had called and requested that she
pick him up at her cousin’s house. Pittman observed that Mootye was wearing a white
“dingy-like shirt,” and he told her “he had been running from the police.” She noted “a little
speck of blood, like, on his forehead.” Pittman claimed that she met Mootye at his uncle’s
house the following day and that he pulled a gun out of the trunk of her car.3 Pittman
acknowledged she only told police what happened after she was arrested for accessory after
¶9. Lindsey testified that he was staying at a friend’s apartment and leaving for work at
approximately 6:45 a.m. on February 22 when he heard someone call his name. He turned
to see Mootye, whom he recognized from playing basketball at the YMCA. Mootye asked
to use his phone. Lindsey testified that Mootye was wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and black
Nike tennis shoes, and he was holding a dark shirt in his hand. When Lindsey discovered
Mootye had been arrested for the murders, he informed the police that Mootye had used his
phone that morning. Lindsey’s phone records reveal that the phone number called that
morning was Tripp’s number.
¶10. Tripp testified that he moved in with Mootye in November 2009 but had known him
for many years. According to Tripp, Mootye was concerned that he had gotten a coworker
pregnant.4 The night Pittman came over, he and Mootye watched television and played video
games. Mootye went to bed early because he had to work, but Tripp stayed up watching
television with his nephew, Mario Smith. The two men went to get some fast food around
2 a.m. then came back to watch television until almost 4 a.m. When Tripp went to bed, he
heard some movement coming from Mootye’s room. Tripp testified that shortly after 5 a.m.,
3 Testimony was that this was a .45-caliber pistol; not the gun presumably used in the murders. Pittman admitted that she only mentioned the gun in the trunk a couple of weeks before trial; she did not mention it in her original statement to police. 4 DNA testing later revealed that Mootye was not the father of Angelica’s unborn child. 5
Pittman knocked on his door and “panicked” because she could not find Mootye. Tripp and
Pittman left in her car, but they quickly returned to the apartment because Tripp “had a bad
feeling.”5 An hour or so later, Tripp got a call from an unknown number; it was Mootye
asking for Pittman to come get him. Pittman asked Tripp to go with her. They picked up
Mootye at an apartment complex where Pittman’s cousin lived and returned to Mootye and
Tripp’s apartment.6 Tripp stated that he heard Pittman say something about blood on
Mootye’s forehead, but Tripp testified that he never saw any blood. At the apartment,
Mootye took a shower and got ready for work. Before leaving, he asked Tripp to take out
the trash. Mootye called Tripp an hour later, informing him of Angelica’s death, and asking
Tripp to take a gun from Mootye’s nightstand (a .45-caliber handgun) and put it in the trunk
of Pittman’s car. Tripp testified that Mootye also owned a .22-caliber gun, which he had let
Tripp borrow, but Tripp claimed that he gave the gun back “a month before all this
happened.” Tripp testified that Mootye confessed to him later that afternoon that he killed
the victims. Tripp admitted that when police initially questioned him, he told the police that
Mootye had been home all evening. Tripp stated that he changed his statement to the police
when he was arrested for accessory after the fact.
¶11. Detective McLemore testified that he had been called to the Twillies’ residence in the
5 Tripp confessed that the reason he did not want to take his car was because his “car ha[d] drawn attention before” from police. 6 During opening statements, the State informed the jury that the apartment complex where Pittman and Tripp picked up Mootye was located “about a mile-and-a-half from the Twillie residence,” where the murders occurred. Detective McLemore also testified at trial that the apartment complex where Pittman and Tripp picked up Mootye was “less than a mile-and-a-half” walk from the Twillies’ residence. 6
past for domestic issues between Angelica and Curtis Price, the father of her other child; so
after the discovery of Angelica and Alesia’s bodies, police issued a “be on the lookout”
(BOLO) for Price. Upon learning Mootye was the suspected father of Angelica’s unborn
child, the police also issued a BOLO for Mootye.
¶12. Detective McLemore stated that Price gave him an alibi, which was later confirmed.
Upon Detective McLemore’s request, Mootye came to the police station that afternoon. Both
Price and Mootye submitted to a gunshot-residue test and a DNA test. Mootye also provided
an alibi—that he was home the entire evening—and Detective McLemore confirmed
Mootye’s alibi with Tripp. As a result, Mootye was released. However, Detective
McLemore said that the one thing that “stuck out” to him during the investigation was
Rupple’s indication that the person using the knife was left-handed, and Mootye was the only
left-handed suspect. During his second interview with police, Mootye again asserted that he
had been at his apartment Sunday evening until he went to work Monday.
¶13. With regard to DNA testing of the sneakers confiscated from Mootye’s apartment, a
forensic DNA analyst with Scales Biolab, Katherine Moyse, concluded that neither Mootye
nor Tripp could be excluded as contributors. Tripp acknowledged that he had borrowed
Mootye’s shoes on prior occasions. Moyse testified that Mootye’s DNA also could not be
excluded as a contributor to the Y chromosome mixture on the handle of the knife that was
¶14. Mootye was convicted on all three counts of murder and sentenced to consecutive life
sentences in the custody of the MDOC on each count. On February 7, 2011, Mootye filed
a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or alternatively, for a new trial, which
the trial court denied. Four years later, on May 18, 2015, Mootye filed a petition for an out
of-time appeal and an affidavit, asserting that his trial counsel had failed to file an appeal
after his convictions or to advise Mootye of his right to appeal. The trial court granted
Mootye’s petition on July 13, 2016.7
¶15. Mootye is represented on appeal by the Office of Indigent Appeals, which argues that
the circuit court’s refusal to grant Mootye’s alibi instruction and failure to perform a
complete Batson8 analysis constitutes reversible error. Mootye filed a supplemental pro se
brief, reasserting as error the trial court’s refusal to grant his alibi instruction and additionally
claiming that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a lack of instruction on
venue and failing to request a Daubert9 hearing.
I. Alibi Instruction
¶16. Mootye argues that the trial court committed reversible error by refusing his proposed
alibi instruction. Mootye maintains that Detective McLemore established the evidentiary
basis for his alibi defense that he was at home on the night of the murders.
¶17. “We review a trial court’s rulings on jury instructions for an abuse of discretion.”
7 The circuit clerk erroneously forwarded Mootye’s petition to the Mississippi Supreme Court, treating it as a motion for post-conviction relief. By order of the supreme court on September 1, 2015, the petition was remanded to the circuit court for a ruling. 8 Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). 9 Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms. Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). 8
Wilson v. State, 198 So. 3d 408, 410 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). “It is fundamental in
Mississippi jurisprudence that jury instructions must be supported by evidence.” Morris v.
State, 777 So. 2d 16, 29 (¶63) (Miss. 2000). A defendant is entitled to a jury instruction
supporting his alibi defense theory where the “defendant asserts the defense of alibi and
presents testimony in support of that defense . . . ” Roper v. State, 981 So. 2d 1021, 1023
(¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008); see also Morris v. State, 777 So. 2d 16, 29 (¶63) (Miss. 2000).
Conversely, if the evidence presented at trial “does not support an alibi defense, the
instruction should not be granted.” Roper, 981 So. 2d at 1023 (¶12).
¶18. At trial, Mootye offered Jury Instruction D-5 as an alibi instruction. Jury Instruction
“Alibi” means elsewhere or in another place. In this case, the Defendant is asserting the defense of alibi by saying that he was at his apartment at the time of the crime.
“Alibi” is a legal and proper defense in law. The defendant is not required to establish the truth of the alibi to your satisfaction, but if the evidence or lack of evidence in this case raises in the minds of the jury a reasonable doubt as to whether the Defendant was present and committed the crime, then you must give the Defendant the benefit of any reasonable doubt and find the Defendant not guilty.
The State objected to the instruction, asserting that it had not “received any notice of an alibi
defense, and there certainly has not been any witnesses to indicate an alibi defense.”
¶19. At the time of Mootye’s trial, Uniform Circuit and County Court Practice Rule 9.0510
10 Rule 9.05 has been replaced by Mississippi Rule of Criminal Procedure 17.4(a)(1), which is substantively identical for the purposes of this claim. 9
Upon the written demand of the prosecuting attorney . . . the defendant shall serve within ten days . . . upon the prosecuting attorney a written notice of the intention to offer a defense of alibi, which notice shall state the specific place or places at which the defendant claims to have been at the time of the alleged offense and the names and addresses of the witnesses upon which the defendant intends to rely to establish such alibi.
As Mootye observes, “[t]he rule clearly states that the requirement to disclose an alibi
witness is triggered by the prosecution.” Hall v. State, 925 So. 2d 856, 857 (¶4) (Miss. Ct.
App. 2005). “Only after the prosecuting attorney makes a written demand is the defendant
then required to provide a written notice of his intent to offer a defense of alibi.” Id. (quoting
Ford v. State, 862 So. 2d 554 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003)). Moreover, “[t]he specific
purpose of alibi defense discovery is to allow the state an opportunity of investigation and
discovery of evidence, if any, which may rebut the anticipated alibi defense.” Robinson v.
State, 247 So. 3d 1212, 1227 (¶30) (Miss. 2018) (quoting Coleman v. State, 749 So. 2d 1003,
1009 (¶14) (Miss. 1999)). In this instance, the State made no such demand, and it concedes
that Mootye was not required to provide notice under the Rule.
¶20. The trial court ultimately refused the jury instruction. The record reflects that the trial
court did not base his refusal of the alibi instruction on the issue of notice; instead, he found
that the evidence was insufficient to support the giving of the instruction. The trial court
explained: “I’m not addressing whether you gave the notice, but I do think it takes
something affirmative to show. You can’t base it on a detective’s testimony to say, well
that’s his alibi and have an alibi instruction submitted.”
¶21. Mootye argues that the testimony from Detective McLemore established Mootye’s
alibi that he was at home on the night of the murders. The record reflects that Detective
McLemore testified during both of his interviews, Mootye informed him that he was at home
all night on the night of the murders and that he did not leave. Detective McLemore testified
Mootye stated he went to sleep between 11:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. that evening and left for
work at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. Mootye argues that this testimony by Detective
McLemore established the evidentiary basis for his alibi defense.
¶22. The State maintains that Detective McLemore’s testimony did not support Mootye’s
alibi that he was home at the time of the murders; instead, Detective McLemore’s testimony
merely established that Mootye told him he was at home at the time. As a result, the State
argues that Mootye only presented evidence that he told someone he was at home; he failed
to present any evidence to show that he was actually at home or that his statement to
Detective McLemore was truthful. The State contends that because Detective McLemore’s
testimony is not sufficient to establish Mootye’s alibi that he was home when the murders
occurred, Mootye’s “defense is nothing more than a simple denial of guilt.” See Owens v.
State, 809 So. 2d 744, 746 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2002) (An alibi defense involves “more than
a simple denial by the defendant that he was present at the precise time the crime was
¶23. At trial, Detective McLemore testified that he conducted a phone call with Tripp and
verified Mootye’s alibi. Detective McLemore stated that after he verified Mootye’s alibi, he
released Mootye. Detective McLemore explained as follows:
A. I verified his – what [Mootye’s] alibi was. . . . He told me that the night before that him, himself, Deveiun Tripp, and Mario, which is [Tripp’s] nephew, were at the apartment at 200 Foxgate. They w[ere] there all night. They had watched the basketball game, I believe. The Lakers
– he stated to me – and he couldn’t remember the other team, but he said he watched it till around 7 or 8, and he remembers going to bed about 11 or 11:30. At that time[,] he said the next morning he woke up and went straight to work.
Q. Did he indicate if he had ever left his house during the night of February 21 from 11 p.m. until he went to work?
A. No, ma’am.
. . . .
Q. What, if anything, else did you learn from Mr. Mootye during that interview?
A. Basically who could verify his alibi. He advised me that Deveiun Tripp could verify that he was there all night, that he did not leave the house, and he woke up the next morning.
. . . .
Q. Were you able to verify the alibi that you were given by Mr. Mootye?
A. Yes, ma’am. It was – I did verify that alibi.
Again, the transcript reflects that Detective McLemore only released Mootye after verifying
his alibi. Tripp’s pretrial inconsistent statement that he recanted at trial was not substantive
evidence at trial to support Mootye’s alibi, but instead explained why Detective McLemore
released Mootye after his initial arrest. See DeHenre v. State, 43 So. 3d 407, 419 (¶57)
(Miss. 2010) (“Prior inconsistent, out-of-court statements made by a nonparty witness are not
admissible as substantive evidence.”).
¶24. However, Detective McLemore testified that later on in the investigation, Tripp gave
another detective consent to search the apartment and Tripp’s vehicle. Detective McLemore
then conducted an interview with Tripp in person at the police department. Detective
McLemore stated: “Once I began interviewing [Tripp], [Tripp] came up with the information
that stated to me that basically that [Mootye] was, in fact, not at home that night because he
had went with [Pittman] to go and pick up [Mootye] at the apartment complex.” Tripp
advised Detective Mootye that Pittman could verify this story. According to Detective
McLemore, Tripp also stated that Mootye told Tripp “he had hid the weapon that was used
in the commission of the crime of the . . . homicide . . . in the air condition vent at th[at]
¶25. The record reflects that Tripp, the witness relied upon by Detective McLemore to
verify Mootye’s alibi, testified regarding his statements to police as follows:
Q. Someone from the police department called you?
A. Yes, ma’am.
. . . .
Q. Okay. What did they ask you?
A. They just asked me, you know, just basic questions like what [Mootye] was doing that Sunday night. Excuse me. And just asked me did I see him leave the house or anything like that.
Q. And what did you tell them?
A. I told them that, you know, he was home, and that I didn’t see him leave the house at no point.
Q. And was that the truth?
A. Yes, ma’am.
Q. Was that the truth[,] though[,] that you told the police that you didn’t see him leave the house?
A. Oh, yeah, I didn’t see him. I didn’t see him leave the house.
¶26. Although Tripp testified that he did not personally witness Mootye leaving the
apartment the night before or the morning of the murders, Tripp did testify at trial that he and
Pittman picked up Mootye from an apartment complex later that morning. Significantly,
Tripp also testified that Mootye eventually confessed to him that he committed the murders,
telling Tripp: “[I]t was me. I did it.” According to Tripp, Mootye said that after killing
Angelica and Alesia, he was able to escape from the police. He then ran to the apartment
complex where Tripp and Pittman later picked him up. On cross-examination, Tripp
admitted: “I should have said [the truth] from the beginning but I didn’t say it. . . . I mean,
I lied, you know what I’m saying, the first time that I was questioned.” Tripp again stated,
“I lied at first, but I’m telling the truth now.”
¶27. In Sims v. State, 213 So. 3d 90, 101 (¶43) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (quoting Owens, 809
So. 2d at 746-47 (¶¶7-8)), this Court held that “[t]he law relating to an alibi defense involves
something more than a simple denial by the defendant that he was present at the precise time
the crime was committed[;]” rather, “the defense requires evidence that the defendant’s
location at the relevant time was ‘so removed therefrom as to render it impossible for him
to be the guilty party.’” [(quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 71 (7th ed. 1999))].11 The Sims
Court explained that “a defendant in close enough physical proximity to have committed the
crime may deny the criminal activity and may affirmatively assert that he was elsewhere at
the critical time.” However, this Court clarified:
11 Owens, 809 So. 2d at 746 (¶7), quotes from Black’s Law Dictionary for this proposition. 14
[I]f the asserted alternate location is such that, based on the version of events contended for by the defense, it would remain within the realm of physical possibility for the defendant to have committed the crime, then the defense is nothing more than a denial and would not rise to the level of alibi.
Id. This Court further stated that “[i]t is a fundamental concept of our system of criminal
procedure that an instruction may not be given, even if it correctly recites the law, if there is
no evidentiary basis for the instruction.” Id.12 Therefore, “[a] defendant desiring to assert
an alibi defense must . . . present evidence that, if found credible by the jury, would raise a
reasonable doubt as to his [guilt] based on notions of the physical impossibility of having
been at the crime scene during the crime’s commission.” Id.
¶28. In Sims, the defendant, Sims, denied that he committed the charged crime of armed
robbery and he testified that he was at a night club at the time the crime occurred. Id. at
(¶44). Sims’s nephew testified that he saw Sims at the night club nearly forty-five minutes
after police officers responded to a call about the armed robbery. Id. Sims’s sister, however,
testified that she met Sims at a local mall at approximately the same time Sims’s nephew
placed Sims at the night club. Id.
¶29. Despite this testimony, this Court found that “Sims failed to offer ‘evidence as to the
physical distance from his alleged location to the place where the crime was committed from
which the jury could reasonably conclude that it was impossible for him to have committed
12 The Owens Court cited Hodge v. State, 801 So. 2d 762, 775 (¶42) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001), for this proposition. Owens, 809 So. 2d at 747 (¶7). In Hodge, this Court held that “a jury instruction must be supported by the evidence and be a correct statement of the law. A trial judge is vested with the discretion to refuse the jury instruction which misstates the law, lacks an evidentiary basis, or that is stated elsewhere in the instructions.” Hodge, 801 So. 2d at 775 (¶42). 15
the crime.’” Id. at (¶45) (quoting Owens, 809 So. 2d at 747 (¶8)). Rather, “Sims’s testimony
amounted to a simple denial of having committed the crime that failed to require an alibi jury
instruction.” Id. at (¶46). This Court therefore held that because Sims failed to present
sufficient evidence to set forth the necessary elements of an alibi defense, “the circuit court
was not required to instruct the jury on the issue.” Id. at (¶45).
¶30. In Morris, 777 So. 2d at 29 (¶65), the supreme court affirmed the trial court’s denial
of the defendant’s alibi instruction. In so doing, the supreme court explained that “the only
witness who could possibly have provided an alibi defense” for the defendant “testified that
she never saw [him] at her home on the night of the shooting.” Id. The supreme court
therefore found that “[n]o testimony was presented that would establish an alibi defense” for
the defendant. Id.
¶31. Additionally, in Moore v. State, 822 So. 2d 1100, 1110 (¶35) (Miss. Ct. App. 2002),
the defendant, Moore, appealed the trial court’s refusal to grant Moore’s alibi instruction.
Moore argued that testimony from a police officer supported the trial court granting his alibi
instruction. Id. at (¶36). After reviewing the testimony, this Court found no error in the trial
court’s failure to grant Moore’s alibi instruction because “[n]o evidence presented supported
such an instruction.” Id. at (¶37).
¶32. In the present case, Mootye argues that Detective McLemore established Mootye’s
alibi that Mootye was at home at the time of the murders. At trial, Detective McLemore
testified that he verified Mootye’s alibi by calling Tripp on the phone. However, as stated,
Tripp recanted his statement that Mootye was at home at the time of the murders and testified
at trial that Mootye confessed to killing Angelica and Alesia. Tripp testified that although
he did not see Mootye leave the apartment on the night before or the morning of the murders,
Tripp and Pittman picked up Mootye from an apartment complex after the murders. Trial
testimony from Pittman, Tripp, and Lindsey placed Mootye in a close proximity to the
Twillies’ home around the time of the murders. Detective McLemore also testified at trial
that the apartment complex where Pittman and Tripp picked up Mootye was “less than a
mile-and-a-half” walk from the Twillies’ home. Tripp also testified that Mootye called him
and asked Tripp to move a gun from Mootye’s nightstand and put it in the trunk of Pittman’s
¶33. Upon review, we find that Detective McLemore’s testimony that Mootye told him he
was at home during the time of the murders does not present evidence that, if found credible
by the jury, would raise a reasonable doubt as to Mootye’s guilt. See Sims, 213 So. 3d at 101
(¶43). The record shows that Mootye failed to “offer evidence as to the physical distance
from his alleged location to the place where the crime was committed from which the jury
could reasonably conclude that it was impossible for him to have committed the crime.”
Sims, 213 So. 3d at 101 (¶45) (internal quotation mark omitted). As stated, a defendant is
entitled to a jury instruction supporting his alibi defense theory only where the “defendant
asserts the defense of alibi and presents testimony in support of that defense . . . .” Roper,
981 So. 2d at 1023 (¶12); Morris, 777 So. 2d at 29 (¶63). The record contains no evidentiary
basis for Mootye’s alibi, and his defense is simply a denial of guilt that does not warrant an
alibi instruction.13 See Sims, 213 So. 3d at 101 (¶46); Morris, 777 So. 2d at 29 (¶65).
Accordingly, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of Mootye’s jury
II. Batson Challenge
¶34. Mootye next argues that the trial court failed to conduct a proper Batson analysis in
overruling Mootye’s Batson objection. Mootye claims that the trial court determined only
that the State offered a facially valid race-neutral reason for each peremptory strike and failed
to then consider whether the State’s facially-valid race-neutral reasons were a pretext for
purposeful discrimination. Mootye argues that the State’s challenges lacked support in the
record, which he asserts is an indicator of pretext. Mootye maintains that by failing to
13 Judge Westbrooks’s dissent fails to acknowledge that Tripp’s pretrial inconsistent statement, which Tripp recanted, is not substantive evidence to support an alibi defense instruction. As stated above, the evidence in the record before the trial judge failed to present any evidentiary basis for an alibi instruction. Tripp testified at trial that Mootye was not home on the morning of the murders; Tripp picked up Mootye after the murders at an apartment complex near the scene of the crime; and Mootye confessed to him that he murdered Angelica and Alesia. Judge Westbrooks’s dissent is faulty in the assertion that Tripp’s pretrial statement to police officers, which he later recanted, constitutes substantive evidence. It does not, as reflected by an application of the law to the facts in the record of trial of this case. See DeHenre, 43 So. 3d at 419 (¶57) (“Prior inconsistent, out-of-court statements made by a nonparty witness are not admissible as substantive evidence.”).
Additionally, contrary to the assertion of Judge Westbrooks in her dissent, the majority does not rest upon loose parallels of the facts in the present case to the facts of precedent. The majority follows the law in applying precedent to the particular facts of this case. 14 See also Sanford v. State, 372 So. 2d 276, 279-80 (Miss. 1979) (finding no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s alibi instruction where the instruction contained “erroneous language” that was not supported by testimony and where “ the instruction seems to focus and comment upon only the alibi testimony in isolation from the rest of the evidence . . .”). 18
consider whether the State’s race-neutral reasons were given as a pretext for discriminatory
intent, the trial court failed to sufficiently ensure that the State’s peremptory strikes of Jurors
4, 9, and 17 was credible and non-pretextual.
¶35. “Peremptory strikes may not be used for the purpose of striking jurors based solely
on their race or gender.” Lewis v. State, 239 So. 3d 1097, 1099 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018).
We review a trial court’s ruling on a Batson challenge “with great deference because finding
the striking party engaged in discrimination is largely a factual finding.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted). “The trial judge acts as finder of fact when a Batson issue arises.”
Allen v. State, 235 So. 3d 168, 171 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). “We will not overrule a trial
court on a Batson ruling unless the record indicates that the ruling was clearly erroneous or
against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.” Id.
¶36. For the purposes of “safeguard[ing] against racial discrimination in jury selection,”
the United States Supreme Court set forth the following three-step process:
First, the party objecting to the use of a peremptory strike has the burden to make a prima facie case that race was the criterion for the strike. Second, if the objecting party makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the striking party to state a race-neutral reason for the strike. Third, after the striking party offers its race-neutral explanation, the court must determine if the objecting party met its burden to prove purposeful discrimination in the exercise of the peremptory strike—that the stated reason for the strike was merely a pretext for discrimination.
H.A.S. Elec. Contractors Inc. v. Hemphill Const. Co., 232 So. 3d 117, 123 (¶14) (Miss. 2016)
(citing Batson, 476 U.S. at 89). Mootye, as the opponent of the strike, bears the burden “to
show that the race-neutral explanation given is merely a pretext for racial discrimination.”
Pruitt v. State, 986 So. 2d 940, 943 (¶8) (Miss. 2008).
¶37. Here, Mootye argues that the trial court’s Batson inquiry ended with a finding that the
State had offered facially valid race-neutral reasons; the trial court did not undertake its duty
to perform Batson’s third step and determine whether the facially valid reasons were offered
as pretext for purposeful discrimination. The United States Supreme Court has expressed
that not until the third step that the persuasiveness of the justification does not become
relevant until the third step—“the step in which the trial court determines whether the
opponent of the strike has carried his burden of proving purposeful discrimination.” Purkett
v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 768 (1995) (citing Batson, 476 U.S. at 98). Mootye asserts that as in
Hardison, the trial court’s failure to undertake Batson’s third step amounts to clear and
reversible error, thus entitling him to a new trial. See Hardison v. State, 94 So. 3d 1092,
1100-02 (¶¶20-31) (Miss. 2012).15
¶38. The record reflects that Mootye made Batson challenges regarding the State’s striking
the following jurors: Juror 4, Juror 9, and Juror 17. Although the trial court did not
15 In Hardison, 94 So. 3d at 1097 (¶14), the State made a Batson challenge to the defendant’s peremptory strikes. On appeal, Hardison, the defendant, argued that the trial court erred by not requiring the State to make a prima facie showing of racial discrimination and by sustaining the State’s Batson challenge. Id. After the State made its Batson challenge, Hardison argued that he struck one of the jurors because the juror’s responses in voir dire indicated that he might be pro-prosecution. Id. at 1099 (¶23). The trial court ruled that Hardison failed to present a sufficient race-neutral reason for striking the juror. Id. at 1098 (¶20). The supreme court stated that “[i]n finding the reason was not race-neutral, the trial [court] did not proceed to the third part of the Batson analysis—pretext.” Id. at 1099 (¶24). The supreme court then explained that because “Hardison provided the trial court with a race-neutral reason,” the trial court was required “to proceed to the third step of the Batson analysis.” Id. at 1100 (¶26). The supreme court ultimately held that the trial court’s failure to proceed to the third step of the Batson analysis “constituted clear error.” Id. Unlike Hardison, we find that the trial court in the present case did complete the third step of the Batson analysis. 20
explicitly state a finding of a prima facie case, the trial court asked for a response from the
State. The State then offered race-neutral reasons. With respect to Juror 4, the State
explained that “there was concern from our law enforcement officers that there may be some
connection to [Juror 4]” and Jamie Hooker, a former law enforcement officer that was
recently arrested. As to Juror 9, the State argued that when the State asked about having a
close personal friend or family member that had been recently arrested for a felony, Juror 9
raised her hand and was very flippant when asked about whether or not she could set that
aside. The State explained that Juror 9 leaned back in her seat and leaned toward the wall,
appearing to dismiss the question. The State then argued that Juror 17 “had some very recent
employment history” and “was nonresponsive” about two different questions, as well as some
of the law enforcement questions. The State asserted that Juror 17 also raised his hand as to
having a person close to him that had previously been arrested for a felony. Defense counsel
responded that she did not recall seeing the body language and responses of Jurors 9 and 17.
The trial court ultimately overruled Mootye’s Batson challenges after finding that “having
close friends or relatives being previously charged with felonies” was a race-neutral reason.
¶39. Although the trial court did not make specific findings with regard to the third step
of the Batson analysis, the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that Batson “did not articulate
a particular means of accomplishing the third step.” Pruitt, 986 So. 2d at 946 (¶20). The
Pruitt court quoted a Second Circuit case rejecting a requirement that the trial court must
make specific findings of fact regarding the race-neutral reasons: “As long as a trial judge
affords the parties a reasonable opportunity to make their respective records, he may express
his Batson ruling on the credibility of a proffered race-neutral explanation in the form of a
clear rejection or acceptance of a Batson challenge.” Id. at (¶20) (quoting Messiah v.
Duncan, 435 F.3d 186, 198 (2nd Cir. 2006)). As stated, Mootye has the burden “to show that
the race-neutral explanation given is merely a pretext for racial discrimination. Id. at 943
(¶8). Here, the record reflects that the trial court found the State’s race-neutral reasons
credible based on the trial court’s rejection of Mootye’s Batson challenge—thus
accomplishing the third step of the Batson analysis. Id. at 946 (¶20). Because the trial
court’s denial of Mootye’s Batson challenge was not clearly erroneous or against the
overwhelming weight of the evidence, we affirm the trial court’s ruling on this issue. See
Allen, 235 So. 3d at 171 (¶7).
III. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
¶40. In his supplemental pro se brief, Mootye argues that his trial counsel was ineffective
in two ways: (1) for failing to assert that the trial court committed reversible error by not
instructing the jury on the venue element alleged in the indictment and (2) for failing to
object to the State’s expert witnesses who were “damaging” to Mootye’s defense. As to his
expert witness claim, the crux of Mootye’s argument is that his trial counsel did not object
when the trial court failed to perform the gatekeeping obligation set forth in Daubert v.
Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), as to these witnesses.
¶41. We have held that “[o]n direct appeal, a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel
should only be addressed when (1) the record affirmatively shows ineffectiveness of
constitutional dimensions, or (2) the parties stipulate that the record is adequate to allow the
appellate court to make the finding without consideration of the findings of fact of the trial
judge.” Morton v. State, 246 So. 3d 895, 905 (¶26) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). Here, the State
maintains that the record is inadequate for this Court to make a finding on direct appeal
regarding Mootye’s claim that his trial counsel was deficient for failing to object to the
State’s expert witnesses. Where “the parties have made no stipulation as to the adequacy of
the record, we must inquire whether the record affirmatively shows that [Mootye] was denied
effective assistance of counsel.” Johnson v. State, 196 So. 3d 973, 975 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App.
2015). On direct appeal, we will deny relief in those matters “where the record cannot
support an ineffective assistance of counsel claim . . . [and we will] preserv[e] the
defendant’s right to argue the same issue through a petition for post-conviction relief.” Id.
(quoting McClendon v. State, 152 So. 3d 1189, 1192 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2014)).
¶42. However, the State makes no such stipulation as to Mootye’s venue argument, and the
State’s brief addresses the merits of this argument. Therefore, in the case before us, we find
that only one of Mootye’s claims is confined to the record and can be found within the trial
transcript. Accordingly, we will consider only Mootye’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel
claim as to venue. We decline to address his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim as to
trial counsel’s failure to object to the State’s expert witnesses because “[w]e cannot say that
the trial record, standing alone, validates [Mootye’s] . . . claim.” Morton, 246 So. 3d at 905
(¶28). We therefore preserve Mootye’s right to argue this issue in a motion for
¶43. “In order to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must
show (1) that his defense counsel’s performance was deficient, and (2) that the deficient
performance was prejudicial to his defense.” Johnson, 196 So. 3d at 975 (¶8) (citing
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)). We determine whether a trial court’s
performance was both deficient and prejudicial by examining the totality of the
circumstances.” Id. Upon review of an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, “a court
must indulge a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the presumption
that, under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial
strategy.” Id. (quoting Herrington v. State, 102 So. 3d 1241, 1244-45 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App.
2012)). The supreme court has clarified that “[t]rial counsel’s decisions on whether or not
to file certain motions, call witnesses, ask certain questions, or make certain objections fall
within the ambit of trial strategy and cannot give rise to an ineffective assistance of counsel
claim.” Id. (quoting Carr v. State, 873 So. 2d 991, 1003 (¶27) (Miss. 2004)).
¶44. Mootye argues that his trial counsel was deficient by not objecting to the trial court’s
failure to ensure that the jury was instructed that “before finding [Mootye] guilty, [the jury]
must determine that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt the issue of venue, that is.
that the crime occurred in Forrest County, Mississippi.”
¶45. Upon reviewing the record, we find that jury was instructed on all three counts that
in order to find Mootye guilty of murder, they must find that he killed the victims in Forrest
County, Mississippi. The record shows that Jury Instructions S-1A, S-2A, and S-3A were
all given and included the language regarding Forrest County. Mootye’s argument therefore
Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, we find that Mootye’s arguments lack merit, and we
therefore affirm the trial court’s judgment on all of Morton’s convictions and sentences.