A Little Rock man who unsuccessfully argued self-defense at his murder trial last year will get another chance to do so, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
A three-judge panel on the appeals court found that the trial judge, Barry Sims, had erred when he prevented attorneys for the defendant, Michael Mitchell, from calling to the stand a man who planned to testify about the victim's reputation for violence.
Mitchell was found guilty of second-degree murder last year for the 2014 shooting of Troy Lee Holmes at Holmes' southwest Little Rock home. The jury declined to convict Mitchell of a more serious charge, first-degree murder, in which they would have had to find that Mitchell purposely killed Holmes.
A teenager at Holmes' house, Asia Lacy, was shot in her legs, for which Mitchell was found guilty of first-degree battery. Both charges were enhanced because they were committed with a firearm and in the presence of child. He was sentenced to 34 years in prison.
According to court documents and newspaper accounts of the shooting, then 18-year-old Mitchell went to Holmes' house with several friends, including one whose baby was at the house. The group intended to take the baby from the house, where the baby's father was staying.
Holmes, 37, was not at his house when the group arrived, but after Mitchell began banging on the front door, one of Holmes' stepdaughters called Holmes and asked him to return home.
What happened next was the subject of differing accounts told to the jury.
Mitchell's friends said Holmes appeared ready to fight Mitchell, and one said Holmes "charged" Mitchell before the teen shot him.
Holmes' family members, as well as a friend, said Holmes was not the aggressor, and had been asking why Mitchell was in his yard.
After Holmes was shot, he went inside the home where another brawl occurred and another shot was fired, according to court records.
To aid their client's self-defense argument, Mitchell's attorneys attempted to call a neighborhood resident, David Dumas, to testify about Holmes' reputation for violence in the neighborhood. Holmes had been convicted of terroristic threatening against Dumas in 2010, and had been married to Dumas' daughter.
Sims, the trial judge, said Dumas' testimony was inadmissible.
The appellate judges' disagreed, noting that while precedent would have barred Dumas from talking about specific instances of violence of which Mitchell was unaware, the man could talk in general about Holmes' reputation.
That error was enough to overturn Mitchell's conviction and send the case back to circuit court, the court said.
"Because the trial court's ruling, which excluded evidence of [Holmes'] reputation for violence in the community, prevented Mitchell from offering additional proof from a disinterested witness that the victim was the aggressor, we cannot say that this error was harmless," Appeals Court Judge Bart Virden wrote for the majority.
On another point of appeal, the court found that Sims had not erred in excluding a statement that one of Mitchell's friends made to police after the shooting, regarding Mitchell's explanation of the shooting after the fact. The friend was otherwise allowed to testify in court.
Mitchell's attorney, Bill Luppen, did not respond to a request for comment left at his office Wednesday. The attorney general's office said through a spokesman that officials were disappointed with the opinion and would review the order to determine the next step. Mitchell is incarcerated at the East Arkansas Unit in Brickeys.
Metro on 04/19/2018
Print Headline: Witness's exclusion voids murder verdict