Death row inmate Bobby Batiste has left the Mississippi Supreme Court in a quandary over intent.
In Mississippi, capital murder is defined as murder combined with another crime, called an underlying felony. In this case, it is robbery.
Yet, Batiste’s attorney told the court this past week that Batiste didn’t intend to steal a wallet hours after he beat his roommate to death.
Prosecutors said intent was an issue for the jury. Batiste’s attorney said had the jury be instructed about intent, Steiner said Batiste might have been convicted of murder or manslaughter and avoided a death sentence.
Presiding Justice Jess Dickinson summed it up for the Supreme Court: “This case has brought forward an issue we haven’t addressed before.”
Dickinson said jurors were presented a “good circumstantial evidence case,” in that Batiste was caught with the victim’s property and they can infer the intent.
“Doesn’t the jury have the right to decide that at the time of the murder that he had intent to rob?” Dickinson said.
Mississippi law lists a variety of underlying felonies and circumstances by which prosecutors can seek a death sentence — murder during a robbery is one along with rape, burglary, kidnapping, arson, sexual battery and others.
Mississippi law does not specifically address intent — the state of mind accompanying an act especially a forbidden act, according to Black’s Law Dictionary.
What the court decides could prompt lawmakers to take a look at a capital punishment law unchanged for 35 years.
Batiste, of Preston, was sentenced to death in 2009 in Oktibbeha County for killing his roommate, Andreas Galanis of Biloxi. Both were students at Mississippi State University. Prosecutors say Galanis died from a blow to the head after the two got into a fight at their off-campus apartment.
There were different explanations what occurred in the apartment. Batiste had claimed self-defense — that Galanis attacked him first. Batiste also said Galanis called him a bad name and Batiste struck out in the heat of passion.
Alison Steiner with the Office of Capital Defense Counsel said robbery was not the intent of Batiste. Steiner said prosecutors during Batiste’s trial said they didn’t have to prove intent and the trial judge wouldn’t let the defense raise it.
Batiste claimed prosecutors presented no evidence to when and how he came into possession of the victim’s wallet.
Steiner said Batiste told authorities he panicked after hitting his roommate and left to do some personal business, see his girlfriend and other friends. He later returned to the apartment, saw the blood and decided to clean up. In cleaning up, Steiner said Batiste got Galanis’ wallet along with other bloody items.
Steiner said the murder and the robbery were not linked in what the courts have called a “continuous chain of events.”
“This jury was told intent was irrelevant. Intent must be proven and the jury must not have the impression that intent was irrelevant,” Steiner said.
Assistant Attorney General Jason Davis told the court that the issue was there for the jury to decide. He said the jury was fully instructed on the elements of robbery.
“That’s what the jury is to determine,” Davis said. “That’s what they did. There was no error at all. We are being asked to go along with the series of events as Mr. Batiste said. We cannot accept anything Mr. Batiste said as true.”
The alleged break in the series of events — or “continuous chain of events” — is what appeared to concern Dickinson and some other justices.
Davis said the Supreme Court should uphold the jury’s verdict because, as he said, the jury weighed all the facts and “clearly supported that the robbery occurred.”