Sixteenth Circuit District Court Judge Lee Howard on Friday set the ground rules for the January murder trial of a Starkville woman accused of pulling the trigger in a 2008 shooting death off Rockhill Road.
During a Friday morning motion hearing in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, Howard agreed to allow the defense to present information during the trial of murder suspect Leslie Sharp about prior criminal charges faced by 20-year-old victim Christopher Cole, who was shot and killed Nov. 10, 2008, at the corner of Rockhill Road and Kelly Road.
Sharp”s defense attorney, Jack Brown, said he wants to present information about two drug charges Cole was facing in Clay County at the time of the shooting. Cole had been charged with possession of cocaine and possession of MDMA, the active chemical in ecstasy, but a gun also was involved, Brown said.
Brown said he wanted to present to the jury information about the drugs and the gun, and whether or not the gun had been obtained illegally or modified, to show Cole”s “propensity” and “character.” The character of the victim is relevant in a self-defense case as it can be used to determine who was the aggressor, Brown contended, and Sharp claims the shooting was self-defense.
Assistant District Attorney Rhonda Hayes-Ellis objected to Brown”s requests, saying the drug charges were not violent crimes and Cole”s gun was found during a search of his vehicle.
Howard sided with the defense, however, and agreed to allow Cole”s criminal history into the trial since the behavior of the victim could come into question.
“The defendant (in a self-defense case) has the right to show the propensity of the deceased,” Howard said.
Cole also had suspected high-grade marijuana and a rifle in his truck when he was killed, along with a pistol on him which appears to have misfired four times, according to ballistic results.
Brown also believes Cole was working as a confidential informant for law enforcement, which would lend itself to his character, Brown said. Howard also agreed to allow information to be presented during trial on whether or not Cole was an informant.
During Sharp”s trial, Brown said he plans to call into question the credibility of Mississippi Highway Patrol Master Sgt. Freddie Pate, who investigated the shooting.
Howard denied a motion by Brown to have access to Pate”s personnel file, but did say the defense has the right to subpoena Pate”s resume. Brown wants to be able to verify Pate”s training, specifically how versed he is in the Castle Doctrine, which gives people the right to defend themselves with deadly force.
According to court documents, Cole was being followed along Rockhill Road by a car full of female acquaintances, including Sharp, when he pulled onto Kelly Road and stopped. The car full of females also stopped and a conflict ensued, during which Sharp allegedly shot Cole on the side of the road. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sharp initially was charged with manslaughter, but after the case went before the Oktibbeha County grand jury for a second time in January of this year, the count was changed to murder. It is unclear what new evidence was presented to the grand jury to warrant the change.
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