The Mississippi Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and life sentence of a Lowndes County man tried for murder in 2016, reversing a decision by a lower court to have the defendant stand trial again.
Derrick Nelson, 25, was sentenced to life in prison for the 2013 murder of his mother’s boyfriend, Willie Hood Jr., 29. However, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled in October that Nelson’s case should go back to Lowndes County Circuit Court for a new trial, arguing the jury in the first trial should have been instructed on imperfect defense, a legal theory reducing murder charges to manslaughter in cases where a defendant had the right to defend himself and believed he was in a life-threatening situation but actually wasn’t. After that decision, the Attorney General’s Office petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to reverse the decision, which the court grants in cases when it “appears that the Court of Appeals has rendered a decision which is in conflict with a prior decision of the Court of Appeals or published Supreme Court decision,” according to court documents.
Now the Supreme Court is arguing the record of evidence presented at Nelson’s trial doesn’t support the grant of an imperfect self-defense jury instruction.
“We’re very disappointed, of course, and will be filing a motion for a re-hearing to perhaps change their minds,” Nelson’s attorney, Matthew Eichelberger of Pearl, told The Dispatch in a voicemail message.
According to court documents, on May 4, 2013, Nelson, Hood and members of Nelson’s family were holding a graduation party at Nelson’s mother’s house. During the party, attendees had been drinking heavily and Hood was intoxicated. After an argument with Nelson over Hood’s car keys, Hood began “jumping around and talking loud,” according to witnesses, damaging his car and throwing a beer bottle at Nelson.
Nelson then apparently reached into another vehicle where a gun was sitting on the passenger’s seat and fired two shots into the air to make Hood calm down. Hood and Nelson then began to wrestle over the gun, and Hood was shot in the struggle. Nelson fled but later turned himself in to law enforcement custody.
According to the opinion the Supreme Court issued, none of the evidence presented could have told a jury Nelson “killed Hood without malice, under a bona fide, but unfounded belief that it was necessary … to prevent … Hood …. from inflicting death or great bodily harm upon Nelson,” the definition of imperfect self-defense. The opinion added no witness at trial testified Nelson shot Hood to protect himself or that he felt threatened by the argument he had with Hood, which witnesses said was similar to arguments the two had before.
Nelson is currently in custody of Mississippi Department of Corrections.
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