Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trouble for Steve Simpson from the Court of Appeals

A March 2011 Mississippi Court of Appeals decision is one Republican AG nominee Steve Simpson is probably hoping you don't read.  In 2008, while still a sitting circuit judge, Simpson presided over the murder trial of Edna Mae Sanders.  Ms. Sanders was on trial for pouring hot cooking oil on her husband, which led to his death.  Normally, that's not a very sympathetic defendant.  But let's allow Judge Ishee of the Court of Appeals to tell us what happened at trial:

The trial was held before Judge Stephen B. Simpson. At the trial, counsel for the defense proceeded on a theory of self-defense and defense of others, as Sanders asserted that Sherman’s death was the result of her protecting the lives of herself and her children. In support of Sanders’s claim that she had a reasonable apprehension that she and her children were in imminent danger from Sherman, her counsel attempted to present testimony which would prove Sherman’s violent nature toward her and her children. However, the trial court excluded most of the testimony regarding Sherman’s violent character. Specifically, Sanders was prevented from discussing her discovery of Sherman raping her then thirteen-year-old daughter on the night of the incident and threats made by Sherman on her life. Likewise, Sanders’s daughter was prohibited from testifying as to the violent sexual assault made on her by Sherman, which was the immediate precursor to Sherman’s physical attack on Sanders.

Additionally, Sanders testified that she was aware Sherman possessed a gun. Although Sanders’s counsel attempted to question her regarding her knowledge that Sherman kept the gun hidden under the mattress in their bedroom, the trial court sustained an objection to the testimony on the ground that the information was irrelevant. However, Sanders was allowed to testify that toward the end of the altercation, Sherman let go of her and headed toward their bedroom in the back of the house. She attempted to testify as to a threat made by Sherman against her life upon his letting her go and walking to the bedroom, but she was again stopped by the court. Sanders then stated that she followed Sherman to the bedroom in fear of her life and the lives of her children and on the way, she reached for the nearest weapon she could find – a pot of hot oil that she had heated on the stove to cook a late-night snack. Upon reaching the bedroom, Sanders testified that she found Sherman reaching for his gun and then turning to her with it. It was then that she tossed the pot of oil on him and fled from the house with her children.

The opinion then goes on to reveal something I didn't think I'd see: Steve Simpson refusing to instruct the jury that there is no duty to retreat in Mississippi. That's right, Simpson thumbed his nose at the Castle Doctrine. Not only did he refuse to allow the jury to consider the Castle Doctrine, Simpson allowed the prosecution to repeatedly Ms. Sanders about how she could have escaped the house rather than pursuing her husband as he went to get his gun. (Remember, the child he'd just been raping was still in the house.)

The opinion is remarkable reading for several reasons, not the least of which is that all nine Court of Appeals judges concurred in the reversal of a murder conviction. (Justice Leslie King had been called up to the Supreme Court, so there was a vacancy. Normally, our Court of Appeals has 10 judges.) The Court also invokes the plain error doctrine, which is rare. The plain error rule comes into play when the lower court's decisions were so egregious as to “seriously affect the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” (Page 13 of the opinion.)

I strongly recommend that folks read this opinion for several reasons. First, you need to know what types of decisions Steve Simpson made while on the bench. Second, it is a well-written primer on the Castle Doctrine, self-defense, and defense of others. Finally, it is an interesting insight into how things can go horribly wrong in trial and justice be perverted.

13 comments:

mississippi citizen said...

It seems this guy has a real problem with abused women...he has repeatedly picked the abuser over the battered wife. Didn't he bust his best friend out of jail in violation of a judge's order after the guy had beat the crap out of his wife when he was head of the Dept of Public Safety?

David Sancillo said...

liberal left wing nuts stretch anything to the imagination. What about Hood's friends that are crooks he refused to prosecute. He that's without sin, let him cast the first stone.

Cottonmouth said...

You mean like those 9 liberal left wing nuts on the Court of Appeals, David? Did you read the opinion?

James said...

no, CM, like that impartial federal judge that ruled that Jim Hood lied on the stand in the State Farm case. Or the Alabama federal judges that ruled collusion between AG Hood and mentor (Moore) over protecting documents required to be produced in federal court. Or of course, his unwillingness to prosecute his other pals in crime because they were "family". Those judges.

Or Hood's repeated attempts to prosecute the Highway Patrolman in Warren County, despite losing four times in trial court in front of four different juries. While at the same time killing a prosecution against Robbie Bell by conjuring up with Bell's lawyer some slimey defense crap so she could get off without being tried.

That set of selective prosecution, lying, and obstruction of justice.

Appeals courts often have different interpretations from trial judges. Don't know the whats and wheres of this case. You may be right on this case and the COA. But lets see you write anything about any of these other issues and headline it with a similar headline - Trouble for AG Hood and stuff he doesn't want to the public to see.

MelBrooks said...

For me there are two take away points here. 1.) Simpson must not be a very good judge of the law. All 9 Court of Appeals Judges concurred in the reversal of Ms. Sanders murder conviction. This shows how obviously wrong Simpson was in his ruling. He did not conduct himself or his courtroom the way an honorable/respectable judge should. 2.) Simpson must not view the protection of women or the prevention of domestic violence in Mississippi as a high priority. Why would he issue a ruling that sends such a discouraging message to women and a reassuring message to "wife beaters"? He must view the women of Mississippi as nothing more than a commodity for men's use and disposal.
Two Characteristics that I do not want a person serving as MS Attorney General to possess: Ignorance of the law and Indifference to Justice.

rebelbear said...

Unbelievable! I mean it's hard to say what Simpson hates more: abused children, women, or a defendant's right to a fair trial? Simpson must have missed that day in law school when they lectured on self-defense. With jurisprudence like this in his wake, it's hard to believe this clown even bothered to run for office.

James Parker said...

He must be a regular on poker nights with our governor, given his record on abusers. I'm sure his campaign will be well financed.

Still, it should be quite interesting to see how our fellow Mississippians will respond; will they choose to ignore the evidence and elect this candidate as a 'party favor'? Or will they indeed take his egregious record into consideration, maintaining the integrity of the AG's office by keeping this bum out?

I'm almost afraid to look.

MelBrooks said...

The facts of this case alone reveal Simpson's inability to responsibly exercise his legal authority. If he cannot stay within his legal bounds as a Circuit Judge, then I shudder to think about the amount of legal authority he would be granted as Attorney General. I would imagine this is not the only trial that reveals Simpson's inability to preserve and enforce the laws which protect the citizens of Mississippi. People like James can make as many outlandish claims about Attorney General Hood as they want….facts are facts (James might want to do a little more research before his next post). It ill behooves the educated voter to ignore certain facts of this case. We must remember that the decisions being examined in this case are the decisions of an Attorney General candidate! First, he denied Ms. Sanders the opportunity to tell the Jury how her husband had raped her daughter and threatened her life. Second, he overlooked or did not understand the Castle Doctrine. Third, he convicted a woman of murder, when in reality she was only protecting herself and her daughter. The actions of Ms. Sanders help to preserve her own life and prevent the further raping of her daughter. For her courageous actions of self-defense Steve Simpson convicted her of murder. If this man becomes AG we all better hide our kids, hide our wives.

Justin said...

I love that I have a choice between the taxes-challenged guy who can't get a ruling right to save his life and the incumbent who consistently supports an incompetent and disgraced former forensic pathologist.

I'm SUPER excited about his election season.

Dylan Watson said...

This scares the hell out of me. And like Mississippi Citizen said, Simpson's the guy who got his (alleged) wife-beater friend out of jail early against a judge's orders. So much for law and order.

P Lee said...

My man Sancillo quotes the Bible, which is interesting considering he led off his comments with the brotherly phrase: "liberal left wing nuts." Regarding the Simpson opinion, perhaps Mr. Sancillo should look back in the Bible to oh maybe Zechariah 7:10(NIV) which states: "Do not oppress the the widow or fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other." I have not been to Divinity school, but that seems to be a pretty common theme in Bible. So quote scripture and name call all you want, but Simpson clearly has some issues with women and children, issues that are absolutely protected under the Laws of MS and as quoted above, the Bible.

Anderson said...

I'm with Justin. Are these really my choices? Does the GOP not have a decent candidate for AG?

Because I really wasn't wanting to vote for the two-faced, Scruggs-coddling, Haynes-huggin' incumbent.

bobby said...

Dam! I didnt know all of this. I felt pretty good about Simpson from a political standpoint, now I just dont know. WOW!