May 13, 2020 10:15:37 AM
The Mississippi Court of Appeals has reversed a two-year-old decision by an Oktibbeha County circuit court judge to grant a new trial to a woman convicted in 2011 of killing her husband.
In February 2018, Judge Lee Howard overruled the conviction of Verina Childs, 47, after Childs' attorney, Matt Kitchens of Crystal Springs, argued she was entitled to a new trial because in her first, the instructions the court gave to the jury did not list Oktibbeha County as the venue in which the crime took place. However, on Tuesday the court of appeals reversed Howard's decision, saying Childs should have received permission from the supreme court to make the venue-instruction claim.
Childs was sentenced to life in prison for the 2009 murder of her husband, Doug Childs.
Following her conviction, Childs filed an application for post-conviction relief (PCR) with the Mississippi Supreme Court, which defendants can file to argue that an aspect of their trial was unfair. In Childs' case, she filed the PCR on the grounds of newly discovered evidence and ineffective assistance of trial counsel, among other issues. Her application did not raise the issue of venue.
It wasn't until after the supreme court granted her PCR that Childs amended her application to claim the jury instructions in her initial trial should have included venue.
"The trial court allowed that to happen without getting permission from the supreme court first, without Verina Childs requesting permission from the supreme court," said District Attorney Scott Colom, whose office appealed Howard's decision in 2018.
Venue is defined as "the time and place charged in ... the indictment and testified about" in a criminal case, according to court documents. In a separate case in 2017, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled the failure of jury instructions to list venue as one of the elements of the offense is a reversible error, meaning a defendant can receive a new trial if the instructions to the jury do not include it. However, in that case, the defendant had specifically alleged venue-instruction in the post-conviction relief application, whereas Childs amended her application after the fact.
"Because Verina Childs did not originally include that issue when she asked for the supreme court to give her permission for a PCR, that meant that she couldn't get it through the trial court," Colom said.
He added that Childs can still take the issue all the way to the state supreme court, but that he thinks the conviction will likely be upheld.
"There was no doubt that the murder took place in Oktibbeha County," he said. "Nobody challenged that. Verina Childs, in the trial, didn't challenge that."
Childs' attorney, Matt Kitchens, who lives in North Carolina and has an office in Crystal Springs, did not respond to a message from The Dispatch by press time.
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