In 1978, Becky Roberts’s body was found in the house trailer she shared with her husband at the Showtown East drive-in theater in Pearl, Mississippi. Becky had sustained two gunshot wounds to her head, one through the left eye and one through the forehead, a slashed throat, and several stab wounds, one which had punctured her left lung.
Five days later, police officers visited 17 year-old Richard Odom at the trailer where he lived with his brother, who consented to a search of the trailer. The officers recovered a pair of tennis shoes and a shirt that was missing three buttons from the Odom residence. Odom voluntarily accompanied the officers to the police station to submit to questioning regarding the homicide.
He was informed of his Miranda rights in transit. He gave three separate statements in 1978. In his statement to Jimmy Foster, chief of the Flowood Police Department, he admitted to being present in the Roberts’s residence when Becky was killed, but he attributed the murder to an older man who he claimed was also present.
In his statement to Ernest Simmons, chief of detectives for the Pearl Police Department, Odom admitted to shooting Becky twice with a bolt action .22 rifle he had found in one of the bedrooms of Becky’s trailer. Odom told Simmons that the first time he shot Becky was an accident caused by her grabbing the barrel of the rifle. Odom told Simmons that he intentionally shot her the second time because he was scared and he wanted to make sure she was dead.
In his statement to Clarence Smith, a probation intake officer with the Rankin County Youth Court and a personal acquaintance of Odom, Odom admitted to stabbing Becky and to accidentally shooting her twice.
In all three of his 1978 statements, Odom admitted to taking money from the safe that was located at the theater’s concession stand.
Odom’s fingerprints were found both on the murder weapon and on the outside of the car in which the gun was located. A bloody palm print that was found on the dryer located in Becky’s trailer matched Odom’s print. Three red buttons that were recovered from the crime scene matched the buttons on the shirt that was recovered from Odom’s residence. In short, an overwhelming amount of physical evidence connected Odom to the crime scene.
Odom was convicted of murder in 1978 but then received a new trial. He was convicted again of murder in 1998 and sentenced to life. On appeal, he argued that his Miranda waivers were not in writing. MCOA affirmed.
(In 1991, Odom escaped from prison and committed a separate rape and murder in Tennessee. He was captured and convicted in Tennessee and sentenced to death. When Odom was arrested in Tennessee and charged with capital murder, he gave two statements to Memphis police officers in which he unequivocally admitted to murdering a woman named “Becky” in Mississippi).
Odom gave a total of five confessions, three in 1978 and two in 1991. Odom argues that he was an uneducated, 17 year-old boy who was intimidated into giving his confessions to Jimmy Foster and Ernest Simmons. Specifically, he claims that four officers “kept on coming in” during his confession to Foster and that the officers showed him pictures of the victim and told him he was going to die in jail.
He also complains that his parents were not present during the interrogations. He claims that he could not read and write in 1978, and that the officers wrote his statements down and intimidated him into signing them. While there is no question that he was informed of his Miranda rights before giving his statements to Foster and Simmons, Odom’s waivers were not in writing.
Before ruling that a confession is voluntary, the trial judge must determine whether the accused, prior to his confession, understood (a) the content and substance of the Miranda warnings and (b) the nature of the charges of which he was accused.
Odom’s age and intelligence level did not in and of itself render his confessions involuntary. In Blue v State, 674 So. 2d 1184 (Miss. 1996), MSC said that a confession of a 17 year-old with a low IQ in a capital murder case was voluntary.
The record reveals that Odom both understood the Miranda warning and understood the nature of the charges of which he was accused. Odom had dropped out of school in the seventh grade and he had been living with his brother, away from his parents, and was making it on his own before the murder.
He testified at the suppression hearing that “coming off the streets” he knew about Miranda rights and had had them read to him before. While Odom claims that he signed the Foster statement because Foster had threatened and coerced him into doing so, Foster and Eudean Adcock, a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer who witnessed Odom’s statement to Foster, testified that Odom was not threatened or coerced in any way.
Tony Stewart, a lieutenant at the Pearl Police Department, witnessed Odom’s statement to Ernest Simmons. Both Stewart and Simmons testified at the suppression hearing that Odom seemed to understand what was going on and that he never requested an attorney or his parents.
That Odom did not waive his rights in writing is of no consequence since the lack of a written waiver does not invalidate the waiver. See MSC case Moore v. State, 493 So. 2d 1301 (Miss. 1986).
Odom’s statement to Smith was also voluntarily given, as evidenced by the written waiver of Miranda rights he signed. When Smith requested Odom to sign the waiver, Odom knew that Smith was not present simply as his friend and Odom’s argument that he was somehow tricked or psychologically manipulated into giving a statement to Smith is without merit.
The two statements Odom gave to the Memphis police in 1991 were also properly admitted. Instead of being a frightened, impressionable 17 year-old, he was a grown man who continued to claim responsibility for Becky’s murder approximately 13 years after the fact. We note that the 1991 confessions were admitted without any mention of the circumstances under which Odom was speaking to authorities in Memphis; therefore, the jury had no knowledge that Odom had been convicted of capital murder in Tennessee.