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Death penalty affirmed for subject who killed Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy

Facts

On May 27, 2017, Willie Godbolt arrived at the home of his in-laws, Vincent and Barbara Mitchell, on Lee Drive in Bogue Chitto. Godbolt’s wife, Sheena, was staying with her parents following a separation from Godbolt. Despite warnings from Sheena that she would call the police if he came to the house, Godbolt insisted on picking up his children. It was Memorial Day weekend and they were having a barbeque when Godbolt arrived. Godbolt fatally shot Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy William Durr (who was called to home), Tocarra May (Sheena’s sister), Brenda May (Sheena’s aunt), and Barbara Mitchell (Sheena’s mother). Sheena and her children managed to escape the violence.

Following the Lee Drive incident, Godbolt embarked on a violent spree, seeking out individuals connected to his marital and familial disputes. He went to the home of Shon and Tiffany Blackwell (Tiffany is close friend to Sheena and Shon is Godbolt’s second cousin) on Coopertown Road, where he fatally shot two children, J.B. (son of Shon and Tiffany Blackwell) and A.E (son of Shayla Edwards, who is Tiffany’s sister). He then abducted another child, X.L. (son of Kimberly Lilly – a friend), and forced him to drive around while sending threatening messages via Facebook.

Godbolt’s rampage continued, ultimately arriving at the home of Sheila and Ferral Burage (close family friends of Sheena and Godbolt) on East Lincoln Road, where he fatally shot both individuals.

At 6:17 a.m., 911 took a call from Angela Hardy, who had been on the phone with Sheila Burage when she heard the door being kicked in and gunshots through the phone call. First responders were dispatched to the scene on East Lincoln Road.

Deputy Chuck Francis with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department was one of the first officers to arrive at the East Lincoln Road scene along with Deputy Patrick Hardy and Deputy Brian Magee. When they arrived, Godbolt was standing just off the road. The deputies ordered Godbolt to lie on his stomach in the road and placed him under arrest. Throughout this time, Godbolt spoke about how much he loved his wife and children, and he stated that he had been shot. As Godbolt lay on the road, two officers placed their hands on his back, while a third placed pressure on his legs to keep Godbolt from kicking.

A video also depicted several exchanges between members of law enforcement and Godbolt. As Godbolt was held down on his stomach, a SWAT team member, Brian Sullivan, leaned down to Godbolt and asked exactly where the scene was located. Though Godbolt’s response in the video is unintelligible, several officers repeated the number of the home belonging to the Burages, and they subsequently rushed to the scene. Godbolt also told Officer Sullivan exactly where Sheila’s and Ferral’s bodies were located within the home. Officer Sullivan asked Godbolt if he had been shot, to which Godbolt replied affirmatively. Sullivan then directed a medic to attend to Godbolt.

Upon declaring once again that he had been shot, a second officer asked, “who shot you,” and Godbolt responded, “the guy in the house.” Godbolt then stated that he could tell the officers where more victims were located if the officer putting pressure on his legs would remove himself. At this point, Master Sergeant Damian Gatlin approached Godbolt and read him his Miranda rights. Godbolt responded that he understood his rights, and he continued to speak to law enforcement. An officer to the side of the scene spoke into his radio to record that Godbolt had been read his Miranda rights. The officers then transitioned Godbolt into a seated position, and a medic attended to the gunshot wound on his upper right arm. Godbolt then revealed that there were no more victims; he just wanted to sit up.

Willie Cory Godbolt was found guilty of four counts of capital murder, four counts of first degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, one count of attempted murder and one count of armed robbery. For each of his capital murder convictions, the jury sentenced Godbolt to death. For his other convictions, Godbolt was sentenced to six life sentences and two twenty-year terms.

On appeal, Godbolt argued his statement to law enforcement should have been suppressed and that all evidence should also have been suppressed. MSC affirmed.

Analysis

A. Statements Made to Law Enforcement

Before Godbolt was read his Miranda rights and while law enforcement was arriving at East Lincoln Road, Agent Brian Sullivan asked Godbolt exactly where the scene was located and if he had been shot. Sullivan stated that the sole purpose of asking Godbolt the questions was for “life safety,” to determine where potential victims were located and if Godbolt required medical attention. Deputy Porter asked Godbolt who shot him in an attempt to determine if there were other active shooters.

The trial court admitted Godbolt’s replies to Sullivan and Porter under the public safety exception established by SCOTUS in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984), to custodial statements made prior to Miranda warnings. This Court finds that the trial court properly denied the suppression of these statements as public safety exceptions.

Godbolt also argues that he continuously requested an attorney while he was detained by officers at the East Lincoln Road scene. After a thorough review of the video record of Godbolt’s arrest, this Court was unable to find a single instance in which Godbolt requested an attorney. After Godbolt was Mirandized by Gatlin, he continued to talk, without ever being prompted by law enforcement. He also complains that the detaining officers were causing him pain and he was therefore coerced into making self-incriminating statements. This Court notes, however, that when Godbolt complained of pain from the detention, the officers shifted themselves and eventually transitioned Godbolt into a seated position. Furthermore, other than the questions about where the scene was located and if Godbolt had been shot, the officers never made any inquiry of Godbolt during the arrest. Therefore, Godbolt’s claim of error regarding the admission of his statements to law enforcement officers lacks merit.

B. Motion to Suppress Evidence

Godbolt argues that the admission of evidence obtained from his home, vehicle, cell phone, other electronic devices and from his person violated his Fourth Amendment rights and constituted error. Aside from Godbolt’s vehicle, warrants were obtained to search his home and all electronic devices, and the trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence found in connection to those valid warrants. Additionally, the State decided not to used the information found on Godbolt’s cell phone at trial. Furthermore, Godbolt’s person was lawfully searched pursuant to his arrest. As for Godbolt’s vehicle, the trial court found that it was properly searched under the automobile, plain view, exigent circumstances and abandonment exceptions to obtaining a warrant.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting any of this evidence at trial, and this issue lacks merit. Only evidence obtained from the search of Godbolt’s vehicle was admitted at trial. This evidence included a duffle bag containing multiple boxes of ammunition found in the vehicle. Anna Savrock, the Lee Drive crime scene investigator, testified that the bag full of live rounds was visible through the open hatchback of Godbolt’s car, which he left at the Lee Drive scene. Savrock removed the bag from the vehicle when it began to rain outside and she worried that some of the evidence might become damaged. This search clearly falls under the automobile, plain view, exigent circumstances and abandonment exceptions to obtaining a search warrant, and the evidence was admissible.

See MSC Wolf v. State, 260 So. 2d 425 (Miss. 1972) (automobile exception); MSC Carney v. State, 525 So. 2d 776 (Miss. 1988) (plain view); MSC Deeds (exigent) ; and MSC Ray (abandonment).

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO173126.pdf