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Circumstantial evidence

Facts

On October 3, 1999, at about 4:00 a.m., Jeffrey Stewart and Starr Parker were parked in a field off White Street east of United States Highway 61 in Cleveland, Mississippi. Two men pulled in and parked next to them. Stewart and Parker heard the men arguing. Stewart heard a man say, “Deano, you know I wouldn’t do this to you,” then, “Oh God,” followed by a gun shot.

A short stocky man fitting the description of Antonio Neal approached their car. Frightened, Stewart and Parker drove away while the short stocky man fired a gun at them, shattering the back window of their car. Stewart and Parker began looking for the police and found Cleveland Police Lieutenant Reneal Little who was on patrol. Lt. Little testified that Parker was screaming and Stewart said that “somebody got shot or somebody got killed,” and gave him the location of the shooting. Lt. Little found Williams’s body in the location given to him by Stewart and Parker.

Other witnesses placed Neal and Williams together near the time of Williams’s murder and document an ongoing dispute between the two.

Joyce Jones testified that about 3:30 a.m., she saw Neal and Williams in a vehicle at a convenience store. Jones got in the vehicle. Williams began speaking to Jones and Neal told him to shut up and hit him on the shoulder or bumped his head.

She told Neal to get out of Williams’s car. Neal replied that he would not because Williams owed him too much money. Jones then got out of the car. Neal got out of the vehicle to go to the bathroom and Jones testified that he almost dropped a gun that was in his right front pocket. A short time later she saw Neal driving alone.

Michael Diggs also testified that earlier that morning, he had seen Williams, Neal, and Fred Miller in a heated argument about money at a nightclub and saw the three men leave together in a car.

Ira Williams, L.W. Williams’s brother, also testified that he saw Williams and Neal riding around earlier that morning.

Neal was convicted of murder and sentenced to life as a habitual offender. On appeal, he argued he was convicted on circumstantial evidence. MSC affirmed.

Analysis

Neal argues that the State did not put on any direct eyewitness evidence and that the circumstantial evidence presented was insufficient for a reasonable jury to have convicted him.

To sustain a conviction on circumstantial evidence, every other reasonable hypothesis of innocence must be excluded. This court has repeatedly held that direct evidence is unnecessary to support a conviction so long as sufficient circumstantial evidence exists to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Circumstantial evidence need not exclude every possible doubt, but only every other reasonable hypothesis of innocence. Each case must be determined from the circumstances shown in the testimony and the facts must consistently point to but one conclusion–guilt.

Neal is correct that the State’s evidence was circumstantial — there was no witness who testified that he saw Neal shoot Williams. The evidence shows that Stewart and Parker saw a vehicle pull up next to them and heard two men arguing. Stewart heard the distinct name “Deano” prior to a shot being fired. Following the gun shot Stewart and Parker saw a short stocky man fitting the description of Neal approach their car and fire at them when they pulled away.

There were other telling events in the hours before the murder. Joyce Jones testified that Neal and Williams were sitting in a car at a convenience store that morning. When Neal was getting out of the vehicle to go to the bathroom, she saw him almost drop a gun. Jones left them because they were arguing about some money being owed and she saw Neal strike Williams. She later saw Neal driving alone.

Michael Diggs saw Williams, Neal, and Fred Miller in a heated argument at a club earlier that morning.

Ira Williams saw L.W. Williams and Neal riding around that morning.

Officer Little found Williams’s body in the location that Stewart and Parker had described. A plethora of evidence existed on which a jury could have reasonably relied to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that no reasonable inferences of innocence existed and that Neal killed Williams.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/Conv11462.pdf