Bogue Chitto attempted murder convict’s appeals denied

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, June 7, 2023

On Tuesday, June 6, the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed the Lincoln County Circuit Court’s denial of motions for post-conviction relief for Christopher Leigh Hamilton.

Hamilton, of Bogue Chitto, pleaded guilty in March 2017 to the attempted murder of two Lincoln County deputies in a 2015 shootout. He was sentenced to 65 years in prison in Circuit Court by Judge Michael Taylor. The maximum allowed was up to life on each count.

Evidence presented at the trial showed three Lincoln County deputies were attempting to serve a felony warrant on Hamilton when he became agitated, and threatened to kill more than one of them. Hamilton fired first with a handgun then a rifle at then-deputy Ian Smith, Deputy Wade Hinshaw and Lt. Stewart Thornton.

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During a 14-minute exchange of gunfire, Hamilton was wounded twice — in the arm and side — before being taken into custody.

On the first count of attempted murder, Hamilton was sentenced to 40 years with 5 suspended for post-release supervision, to serve 35 years in custody. On the second count, the sentence was 30 years to serve. The sentences were ordered to run consecutively, for a total of 65 years in prison.

In March 2020, Hamilton filed a motion requesting the court order his sentences to run concurrently, rather than one after the other. That motion was denied.

In December 2020, Hamilton filed a motion arguing his guilty pleas were involuntary because he had not been advised of the minimum and maximum sentences for attempted murder. The court denied the motion as time-barred and without merit, because the plea hearing transcript contradicted the assertion that Hamilton was not advised. He did not appeal either of these denials.

In July 2021 and December 2021, he filed his third and fourth motions, which were the subject of his most recent appeals. He asserted that his due process rights were violated and his guilty pleas involuntary because he had not been informed his sentences carried “mandatory time”; and that his count 1 sentence was illegal because the court impermissibly suspended a portion of the sentence.

On Jan. 31, 2022, the circuit court denied each motion as time-barred, successive, barred by res judicata, and without merit. Hamilton appealed these denials to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Hamilton’s motions are barred. By law, a post-conviction relief (PCR) motion must be filed within three years of the conviction following a guilty plea. Hamilton filed his third and fourth motions more than four years after his conviction.

His motions are also barred as successive because the previous two PCR motions were denied.

Hamilton failed to assert a valid exception to the statutory bars. He provided no newly discovered evidence, or any other information that “would have adversely affected the outcome of his conviction or sentence.”

The Court noted in its findings that “although barred, Hamilton’s arguments have no merit.” His claim he was not informed of his parole eligibility is without merit because parole does not need to be understood prior to a voluntary plea. In arguing that the circuit court improperly suspended a portion of his sentence, Hamilton appealed to a ruling that a portion of the sentence cannot be suspended if the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. However, Hamilton’s maximum sentence was anything short of life in prison, due to being sentenced by a judge rather than a jury.

“Regardless, even if Hamilton’s assertion were correct, a defendant cannot complain of an ‘illegally lenient’ sentence,” the Court of Appeals concluded.

Justices Barnes, Carlton, Wilson, Greenlee, Westbrooks, McDonald, McCarty, Smith and Emfinger all concurred on the ruling.