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Stanley Pace a/k/a Stanley Joe Pace v. State of Mississippi
Case Number: 2018-KA-01622-COA
Judge: Cory T. Wilson
Court: IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Plaintiff's Attorney: BILLY L. GORE
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On January 15, 2016, Harold Williams spent the day with his friend Ronnie Duke.
That afternoon, the pair picked up Pace (Williams’s cousin) so Pace could work on the
brakes of Williams’s truck. The trio decided to take a quick road trip to Pace’s home in
Birmingham, Alabama, so Pace could get the necessary tools and check on his house before
returning to Williams’s trailer that evening.
¶3. After returning from Alabama, the trio spent the evening drinking excessively and
playing video games, rather than repairing Williams’s truck brakes. During the course of the
evening, while Williams and Pace were playing a video game, Pace and Duke got into a
fight. (According to Pace and Williams, Duke was angry because they excluded him from
playing the video game.) Duke approached Pace from behind, grabbed Pace in a chokehold,
and pulled Pace off his chair. The fight continued outside Williams’s trailer with Pace
“busting” Duke’s lip. Thereafter, Pace and Duke re-entered the home and appeared to make
amends. At some point later, Duke pulled out a small pocketknife, which prompted Williams
to remove his replica Civil War sword off the wall and say, “[T]hat’s not a knife . . . this is
a knife.” Pace testified that after Duke pulled his pocketknife out, he told Duke that he was
“scared of a knife” and “whatever you do, please do not pull another knife on me because I
am [deathly] scared of it.” After this exchange, the trio resumed drinking, playing video
games, and watching movies.
¶4. Later in the night, Pace and Duke fought again. Heavily intoxicated, Pace ran outside
to vomit off the porch. Duke followed Pace and pushed Pace off the porch. Williams ran
outside and found Pace face down in the grass. Duke announced that he was leaving and
began walking down the road. Pace stood up, re-entered Williams’s trailer, grabbed
Williams’s Civil War sword, and proceeded to tell Williams, “I am going to kill [Duke].”
Pace took off after Duke, armed with the sword. Williams went back inside. Williams
testified that Pace returned to the trailer in the early hours of January 16, 2016, and told
Williams, “I killed your friend.”
¶5. On January 17, 2016, Williams called the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to report
that Pace had killed Duke. Williams told deputies that Pace had used Williams’s truck to
move Duke’s body. Officers found blood spots inside and outside Williams’s truck and
found a pool of blood in the grass about 250 to 300 feet away from Williams’s trailer.
Officers also noticed drag marks from the pool of blood to a wooded area across the street.
While the officers found more blood on the leaves in the woods, they did not find Duke’s
body or the murder weapon there. The deputies eventually found a large blade under
Williams’s trailer; however, the handle was missing. The officers returned to the crime scene
and found a handle near the pool of blood, but the officers could not match the handle and
the blade because the blade was missing the tang to hold the handle in place. Duke’s body
was also still missing.
¶6. Pace was arrested on January 17, 2016. Pace was read his Miranda rights2
was interviewed at the sheriff’s office. At first, Pace denied any knowledge of what
happened to Duke. But during the interview, Pace eventually admitted that he and Duke
were involved in a fight and that he “busted [Duke’s] lip.” According to Pace, Duke walked
away after their second fight and then came back inside the trailer and sat down in the living
room. Duke then announced that he was leaving and left the trailer. Pace stated that he did
not know if someone came to pick up Duke or if Duke walked away.
¶7. Personnel with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office interviewed Pace again the
following day. This time, Pace admitted to taking Williams’s sword and following Duke
when Duke left the trailer after their second fight. Pace also described the deadly altercation
between Duke and himself that occurred on the side of the road. Pace stated that Duke
brandished the pocketknife he had displayed earlier and that Pace tried to knock it out of his
hand with the sword. Pace told the investigator that there was a struggle, and he admitted
to stabbing Duke “three or four times” with the pocketknife. Pace told the investigator that
Duke’s “last words [were] ‘I am going to kill you[,]’ [and] I said, ‘No you are not,’ and I
think I cut his throat.” Pace stated that he then went back to the trailer, took Williams’s
truck, loaded Duke’s body, and dumped Duke’s body in a gully a few miles from the crime
scene. After the conclusion of the second interview, Pace willingly accompanied the officers
2 Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The record reflects that Pace waived his
Miranda rights prior to the interrogation.
to the location of Duke’s discarded body.
¶8. A Monroe County grand jury indicted Pace for first-degree murder on November 23,
2016. Pace’s three-day trial began on October 8, 2018. At trial, Dr. John Brentley Davis,
who was qualified as an expert in the field of forensic pathology, testified that Duke “had
been stabbed at least nineteen times in the chest” and suffered “a broken arm[,] . . . fractures
to his skull[,] . . . bleeding around his brain, [and] injuries from the stab wounds to his left
lung, heart and diaphragm . . . .” Dr. Davis described stab wounds and chop wounds, as well
as defensive wounds to Duke’s palm and right hand and arm. Dr. Davis opined that based
on the severity of the wounds, the depth of the stab wounds, the skull fractures, and Duke’s
broken arm, these wounds were caused by a larger blade than a small pocketknife. Dr. Davis
concluded that “[t]he cause of [Duke’s] death [was] sharp and blunt force injuries.”
¶9. Williamstestified to the events of that night and confirmed that when Pace came back
in the trailer, Pace told him, “Harold, I killed your friend.” Williams stated that he thought
Pace was joking and questioned Pace’s sincerity, to which Pace responded, “No, I’m serious.
I killed him.”
¶10. Pace testified in his own defense. Pace said that he killed Duke in self-defense,
stating that during their roadside fight, Duke told him, “I am [going] to kill you,” while he
was holding Pace in a chokehold with the pocketknife in his hand. Pace testified that he
could feel Duke’s pocketknife against his wrist. Pace also testified that he had “lost” the
sword during the fight but that he was able to pry Duke’s pocketknife out of his hand. Pace
admitted to stabbing Duke “two or three times” with the pocketknife. Pace said that after the
stabbing, he “felt [Duke’s] spirit come out of his body.” Pace confirmed that the sword’s
blade and handle somehow broke during this incident. Pace never denied killing Duke. In
fact, Pace largely corroborated Williams’s testimony, testifying that after the killing, he
returned to Williams’s trailer covered in blood and told Williams that he had killed Duke.
¶11. The circuit court gave Pace’s self-defense jury instructions, which instructed the jury
(1) to find Pace not guilty if Pace “had reasonable cause to believe . . . that he was in
imminent danger of being killed or receiving serious bodily harm at the hands of [Duke], and
that it was necessary for [Pace] to stab [Duke] to save his own life”; (2) that “all that is
necessary . . . to establish self-defense is that at the time of the killing, the [d]efendant had
reasonable grounds to apprehend danger of his life or good reason to believe that his life was
in danger on account of the actions of the deceased”; and (3) that Pace was “not required to
retreat or to consider whether he could safely retreat” and could stand his ground and use
reasonable force “[i]f he honestly and reasonably [was] in fear of death or serious bodily
harm.” The circuit court also gave the State’s jury instructions on the lesser-included
offenses of second-degree murder, heat-of-passion manslaughter, and culpable-negligence
manslaughter.3 The jury found Pace guilty of first-degree murder, and the circuit court
sentenced Pace to serve life imprisonment in the custody of the MDOC.
¶12. On October 19, 2018, Pace filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict
Pace’s trial counsel did not object to any of these instructions.
or, alternatively, a new trial, which was denied by operation of Mississippi Rule of Criminal
Procedure 25.3. Pace appeals, contending that he received ineffective assistance from his
trial counsel due to counsel’s failure to request another jury instruction for “imperfect” selfdefense. We find no merit in Pace’s assignment of error and therefore affirm.
¶13. Pace contends that his trial counsel was ineffective because counsel failed to request
a jury instruction on imperfect self-defense manslaughter. “This Court rarely reviews
ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims on direct review.” Boudreaux v. State, 189 So. 3d
1274, 1280 (¶19) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (citing Aguilar v. State, 847 So. 2d 871, 878 (¶17)
(Miss. Ct. App. 2002)). “However, we ‘will rule on the merits on the rare occasions where
(1) the record affirmatively shows ineffectiveness of constitutional dimensions, or (2) the
parties stipulate that the record is adequate to allow the appellate court to make the finding
without consideration of the findings of fact of the trial judge.’” Id. (quoting Aguilar, 847
So. 2d at 878 (¶17)). “Review on direct appeal . . . is confined strictly to the record.” Id. at
(¶20) (citing Colenburg v. State, 735 So. 2d 1099, 1101 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 1999)). Here,
Pace raises ineffective assistance as his only issue, and the parties stipulate that the record
is adequate for appellate review. We therefore reach the merits of Pace’s claim.
¶14. To prove ineffective assistance of counsel, Pace must show that (1) “his counsel’s
performance was deficient,” and (2) this deficiency “prejudiced his defense.” Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To overcome the strong presumption that counsel’s
performance falls within the range ofreasonable professional assistance, “the defendant must
show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the
result of the proceeding would have been different.” Boudreaux, 189 So. 3d at 1280 (¶21)
(citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). Further, “[f]or an ineffective-assistance claim, the
context of counsel’s actions are carefully reviewed, and ‘where reasonable under the
circumstances, we presume the decisions were sound trial strategy.’” Cooley v. State, 271 So.
3d. 765, 773 (¶26) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018) (other internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting
Sea v. State, 49 So. 3d 614, 617 (¶12) (Miss. 2010)).
¶15. At trial, the record indicates that Pace’s trial counsel requested—and the court
gave—a jury instruction on “perfect” self-defense.4 Pace’s instruction instructed the jury to
find Pace not guilty if they found that he “reasonably believed that [Duke] was attempting
to stab [him] . . . and that [Pace] had reasonable cause to believe . . . that he was in imminent
danger of being killed or receiving serious bodily harm . . . and that it was necessary for
[Pace] to stab [Duke] to save his own life.” On appeal, Pace contends that he received
ineffective assistance of counsel due to his trial counsel’s failure to request an additional
instruction on imperfect self-defense manslaughter. Pace argues that such an instruction was
warranted because the “facts of the case turn on the reasonableness of Pace’s actions,” and
the evidence at trial supported such an instruction. Pace asserts that the jury should have
In his briefing on appeal, Pace does not acknowledge that a self-defense instruction
was requested by his counsel and given by the court. Pace only acknowledges the
manslaughter instructions requested by the State.
been instructed to consider whether Pace killed Duke while under a bona fide, though
unreasonable, belief that he had to kill Duke to protect himself.
¶16. “When reviewing jury instructions, [this Court] read[s] the instructions ‘as a whole
to determine whether the jury was fully and fairly instructed according to the applicable
law.’” Jackson v. State, 68 So. 3d 709, 712-13 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Clark
v. State, 40 So. 3d 531, 544 (¶36) (Miss. 2010)). “A defendant is entitled to have jury
instructions given which present his theory of the case, however, this entitlement is limited
in that the court may refuse an instruction which incorrectly states the law . . . or is without
foundation in the evidence.” Howell v. State, 860 So. 2d 704, 745 (¶142) (Miss. 2003)
(quoting Humphrey v. State, 759 So. 2d 368, 380 (¶33) (Miss. 2000), abrogated on other
grounds by Miss. Transp. Comm’n v. McLemore, 863 So. 2d 31, 39 (¶¶22-23) (Miss. 2003)).
Nevertheless, “if all instructions taken as a whole fairly, but not necessarily perfectly,
announce the applicable rules of law, no error results.” David v. State, 130 So. 3d 1141,
1146 (¶13) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (quoting Clark, 40 So. 3d at 544 (¶36)).
¶17. Pace asserts that the following evidentiary foundation supported an imperfect selfdefense jury instruction: (1) Pace’s testimony that he killed Duke during the roadside
struggle; (2) his testimony that Duke told him that he would kill Pace; (3) his testimony that
Duke pulled a pocketknife on Pace before the roadside struggle; (4) Williams’s testimony
that Duke was the initial aggressor during the fights that took place at Williams’s home; and
(5) Williams’s testimony that Duke pulled the pocketknife on Pace after the initial fight.
Given this evidence, Pace contends that his trial counsel was deficient in failing to request
such an instruction, giving rise to “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Boudreaux,
189 So. 3d at 1280 (¶21) (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694). We disagree.
¶18. First, Pace fails to show that his trial counsel’s performance was deficient. “We are
reminded here that ‘there is no single, particular way to defend a client or to provide effective
assistance.’” Cooley, 271 So. 3d at 773 (¶29) (quoting Reynolds v. State, 736 So. 2d 500,
511 (¶41) (Miss. Ct. App. 1999)). The record reflects that Pace’s trial counsel requested
three instructions pertaining to self-defense and that the State requested jury instructions on
second-degreemurder, heat-of-passion manslaughter, and culpable-negligencemanslaughter.
Trial counsel’s failure to request an additional imperfect self-defense instruction may well
have been driven by trial strategy, which, based on the record, was centered around theories
of self-defense and heat-of-passion manslaughter. While Pace has the right to present his
theory of the case, that “right is not absolute,” Jackson, 68 So. 3d at 713 (¶12), and here,
Pace fails to overcome the strong presumption that his counsel’s performance fell within the
wide range of reasonable professional assistance.
¶19. Regardless, we also find the second prong of Strickland is not met. In other words,
even if trial counsel was deficient for failing to offer an imperfect self-defense manslaughter
instruction, Pace fails to show how this omission prejudiced his case. In Cooley v. State, this
Court found no ineffective assistance of counsel for counsel’s failure to offer a defense-of10
others instruction. Cooley, 271 So. 3d. at 773 (¶29). This Court concluded that Cooley
“fail[ed] to show that there was a reasonable probability the instruction would have changed
the outcome of the trial.” Id. This was because “[Cooley] [did] not overcome the strong
presumption that, under the circumstances, his defense counsel not offering this instruction
was part of his trial strategy.” Id. This Court noted that “[o]ffering such an instruction may
have detracted from his theory of self-defense, which appeared to be his primary theory” and
that “[a] defense-of-others theory was not strongly elicited during witness testimony by
defense counsel, and it was only mentioned briefly during closing argument.” Id.
¶20. Likewise, Pace “fails to show that there was a reasonable probability” that the
imperfect self-defense manslaughter instruction “would have changed the outcome of the
trial.” Id. During his closing argument, Pace’s trial counsel stated that Pace was “asking [the
jury] to determine whether or not [they] [thought] he acted out of self-defense or in the heat
of passion.” Counsel also told the jury that after reviewing the evidence and instructions,
“that if you don’t believe this was entirely self-defense, in fact if you don’t believe [that]
there was any self-defense in this at all, you will see clearly that it is in fact a heat of passion
case, and that it is manslaughter and not deliberate determined murder.”
¶21. In addition to counsel’s jury argument, as stated supra, Pace’s trial counsel requested
jury instructions pertaining to self-defense, and the State requested jury instructions on
second-degreemurder, heat-of-passionmanslaughter, and culpable-negligencemanslaughter.
When taken as a whole, these instructions “fully and fairly” instructed the jury on the
applicable law. Jackson, 68 So. 3d at 713 (¶12). Not onlywas the jury adequately instructed
on the charged offense (first-degree murder), the jury was also instructed on lesser-included
crimes (second-degree murder, heat-of-passion manslaughter, and culpable-negligence
manslaughter), as well as Pace’s theory ofself-defense. “It is easy [for Pace] to be a Monday
morning quarterback” and retrospectively pick out and analyze “the defects and flaws” in
trial counsel’s “tactics and strateg[ies]” pertaining to jury instructions. Berry v. State, 345
So. 2d 613, 615 (Miss. 1977) (citing Rogers v. State, 307 So. 2d 551, 552 (Miss. 1976)). But
Pace fails to establish a reasonable probability that had his attorney requested an imperfect
self-defense instruction, the jury verdict would have been different.
¶22. Pace had “no constitutional right to errorless counsel” but was entitled to “competent
counsel.” Parker v. State, 30 So. 3d 1222, 1233 (¶38) (Miss. 2010). On the record in this
case, we cannot find that Pace’s trial counsel was constitutionally deficient. Accordingly,
Pace’s assignment of error on appeal is without merit.