In 1995, James Lockhart was walking along West Tallahatchie Street in Clarksdale, Mississippi with Frederick Jones and Sean Jones when a car drove by. Several shots were fired from the car and Frederick and Sean Jones were able to escape; James Lockhart did not. Lockhart died as a result of a 9mm bullet wound to the chest. Throughout the trial there was testimony elicited which showed that Lockhart and both Joneses were members of a gang called the Vice Lords.
The State produced witness Lidell Houston who testified that he was a rear seat occupant in an automobile driven by Ayers and occupied by Anthony George. According to Houston, he and George hitched a ride with Ayers near Cotton’s Store on Fourth Street. Someone approached the car and told the occupants that there were three members of the Vice Lord gang walking by Ayers’s house.
Ayers drove to Tallahatchie Street and spotted the three individuals. Ayers slowed the car and then reached under the drivers’s seat and grabbed a 9mm pistol and fired several shots out of the window. Houston ducked down in his seat and did not see George shoot but testified that he heard gunfire from both the driver’s and passenger’s side. Houston testified that a night or two after the shooting, George told him that he had sold his .38 because he did not want to be caught with a gun.
Jennifer Mitchell testified for the prosecution. She stated that she and George had once been romantically attached and had a child together. Mitchell testified that on the night of the shooting George called her and said over the phone, “We blast your boy [Lockhart].” When Mitchell asked who he was talking about, George stated, “Baby James,” the nickname for Lockhart.
Captain Tim Fortenberry with the Clarksdale Police Department testified that he took several statements from George. In the first statement, George stated that he was a passenger in the vehicle and Lidell Houston was in the back seat of the vehicle. George gave another statement in which he asserted that he stuck a .38 caliber handgun out the vehicle window and fired six shots in the air. George gave another statement in which he told Fortenberry that he fired two shots in the air.
Two men, Mark Anthony Ayers and the defendant, Anthony Craig George, were jointly indicted and tried in this case arising from a drive by shooting that resulted in a death.
Count I of the indictment charged Ayers with aggravated assault against Sean Jones and Frederick Jones.
Count II of the indictment charged Ayers with murdering James Lockhart.
Count III charged Anthony Craig George with accessory-after-the-fact to a drive by shooting for aiding and assisting Ayers in avoiding arrest and prosecution.
Count IV charged George and Ayers with “individually or while aiding and abetting. . . .” aggravated assault.
George was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 15 years. On appeal, he argued his conviction should not stand since the jury was inconsistent with its decision. MCOA affirmed.
George, however, claims his conviction is flawed because the jury’s decision is in conflict with the acquittals. However, as a matter of law, this inquiry is for naught. Inconsistent or even contradictory verdicts are not, in and of themselves, reasons to overturn a criminal conviction.
In Holloman v. State, 656 So. 2d 1134 (Miss. 1995), MSC considered a case in which the defendant was convicted of the DUI maiming and killing of two occupants of a car yet acquitted of the DUI maiming of the occupant of his own truck, and the court concluded that upon appeal the fact that verdicts are inconsistent is not by itself determinative.
The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57 (1984) said the following:
Inconsistent verdicts–even verdicts that acquit on a predicate offense while convicting on the compound offense–should not be interpreted as a windfall to the Government at the defendant’s expense. It is equally possible that the jury, convinced of guilt, properly reached its conclusion on the compound offense, and then through mistake, compromise, or lenity, arrived at an inconsistent conclusion on the lesser offense. But in such situations the Government has no recourse if it wishes to correct the jury’s error; the Government is precluded from appealing or otherwise upsetting such an acquittal by the Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause.
Inconsistent verdicts therefore present a situation of “error,” in the sense that a jury has not followed the court’s instruction, most certainly has occurred, but it is unclear whose ox has been gored. Given this uncertainty, it is hardly satisfactory to allow the defendant to receive a new trial on the conviction as a matter of course.