Murder conviction, sentence upheld by appeals court

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The Mississippi Court of Appeals Tuesday upheld the murderconviction and life sentence of a Brookhaven man who was foundguilty in the March 2000 shooting of a woman at a mobile homepark.

Appeals court judges rejected claims by Roosevelt Maxwell, 40,that his conviction should be reversed because jurors were notgiven the option of a returning a manslaughter verdict. The judgesalso dismissed arguments that Maxwell’s counsel was ineffective andthe case should not have gone to the jury because of a lack ofevidence.

Maxwell was convicted in August 2001 of murder and shooting intoa dwelling in the March 3, 2000, death of Tonya Smith at Blades’Trailer Park. Maxwell was sentenced by Judge Keith Starrett to lifein prison on the murder charge, 10 years on the shooting charge,and ordered to pay $3,365 for funeral expenses.

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Assistant District Attorney Diane Jones said she was happy forformer Assistant District Attorney Jerry Rushing, who successfullytried the case in circuit court. Rushing is now an assistant

“I’m glad the conviction was affirmed,” Jones said.

In their ruling, appeals court judges said Maxwell voluntarilyand repeatedly refused to allow a lesser-included offensemanslaughter instruction to be given to the jury. Because of that,judges said Maxwell could not blame the trial judge for not givingthe instruction anyway.

“Maxwell’s decision was clearly indicative of a strategy toprevent the jury from returning what he feared may have been acompromised verdict on the murder charge. He gambled and lost,”said Judge Tyree Irving, who wrote the ruling for the appealscourt.

Appeals court judges said Maxwell, who was represented by thepublic defender’s office, had no basis to challenge his convictionbecause of ineffective counsel.

In seeking relief, Maxwell again raised manslaughter instructionquestions in his ineffective counsel argument and also an issue ofhis rights not being read before he spoke with Brookhaven PoliceChief Pap Henderson about the shooting. Judges said Maxwell askedto speak with Henderson, and his lawyer’s failure to make anobjection did not constitute a deficiency.

Maxwell also claimed the trial court erred in not granting hismotion for a directed verdict, a routine defense move asking thatthe jury not decide the case because the prosecution has notproduced enough evidence to support a guilty verdict. Appealsjudges said evidence of Maxwell’s guilt was “overwhelming” and thetrial judge was correct in not granting a directed verdict.