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Melissa Nicole NORRIS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (15)
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 20, 1995
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1980
Victim profile: Charles Barry Norris, 39 (her father)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Thomson, McDuffie County, Georgia, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison plus five years on August 7, 1997
 
 
 
 
 
 

Supreme Court denies appeal in 1995 murder

Augusta.com

September 27, 2007

The Georgia Supreme Court recently affirmed the malice murder conviction of Melissa Nicole Norris, who was found guilty in McDuffie County of shooting and killing her father when she was 15 years old and in the ninth grade, according to a court press release.

Ms. Norris was convicted of killing her father, 39-year-old Charles Barry Norris, whose body was found Dec. 20, 1995, slumped on the living room couch with a single gunshot to his head, according to reports from The Augusta Chronicle. The family lived on Johns Road in Thomson. She was sentenced to life in prison plus five years.

According to the press release, at issue was whether, given her age, Ms. Norris understood what she was doing in waiving her constitutional rights prior to giving a statement to police. She confessed to her brother and police that following an argument with her father, she got a pistol and shot him at close range in the back of the head. Her mother, who was with her at all times she was being interviewed, encouraged police to continue with the questioning.

In writing the unanimous decision, Justice George Carley wrote, "Considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that the trial court did not err in finding that (Ms. Norris) knowingly and voluntarily waived her rights."

 
 

Norris found guilty of murdering father

By Columbia County Bureau

August 8, 1997

THOMSON - It took a jury just over 30 minutes Thursday to return a guilty verdict against Thomson teen-ager Melissa Nicole Norris, leaving her with the grim prospect of a life behind bars.

Ms. Norris sank into her seat sobbing silently following the jury's verdict, while faces in the courtroom - many of them her family and friends - reacted with a mixture of shock and sorrow.

Jurors apparently gave no credence to Ms. Norris' story that it was her brother Clifton who really pulled the trigger, inflicting a fatal gunshot to the back of the head of their father, Charles Barry Norris, 39, as he sat watching television at home on Dec. 20, 1995.

After dismissing the jury, Superior Court Judge Purnell Davis II sentenced Ms. Norris to life plus five years in prison for her convictions of murder, aggravated assault and possession of a weapon while in the commission of a felony.

Ms. Norris may be eligible for parole in 2010, District Attorney Dennis Sanders said.

Ms. Norris confessed to the crime in the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 1995, not long after her brother told police she did it.

In closing arguments, defense lawyer Michael Garrett told jurors Clifton Norris had used his influence over his 15-year-old sister to persuade her to take the rap.

"Clifton had cleverly put his sister between himself and harm's way - between him and the law," Mr. Garrett said.

Mr. Norris was the more likely killer, said Mr. Garrett, because he had the motive and the means - alluding to the stormy relationship between the younger Mr. Norris and his father.

During questioning the evening after the murder, Mr. Norris told police where to find the murder weapon - his own .38-caliber revolver - disposed of in a trash bin behind a Thomson Pizza Hut.

"His story just doesn't add up. Are you really going to base a murder conviction on this young man's statements?" Mr. Garrett asked jurors.

But Mr. Sanders dismissed Ms. Norris' revelations about her brother as a cynical attempt to escape justice.

"This is a secret ambush tactic," Mr. Sanders said. "There's no reason for this concocted story."

Mr. Sanders accused Mr. Garrett of trying to confuse the jury. "There's only one side of the truth. The other side is a lie," Mr. Sanders said.

Ms. Norris' new story was phony, Mr. Sanders said, and so were her tearful courtroom displays of emotion. "It was an act," the prosecutor said.

"You have an absolute duty to find the truth in this case," he told the jury. In the end, jurors believed the brother.

Meanwhile, defense lawyers looked ahead to possible appeal of the verdict.

"We have a number of issues we want to address and appeal in this case," Mr. Garrett said.

 
 

Girl testifies her brother shot father

By Columbia County Bureau

August 7, 1997

THOMSON - Melissa Norris took the witness stand Wednesday, and recanted her signed confession taken by police the day after her father, Charles Barry Norris was found murdered in his Thomson home.

Ms. Norris claimed the statement - which she and her mother Sharon Norris signed - was a fabrication resulting from long hours of police questioning and a desire to protect her older brother Clifton.

"I didn't know what Clifton told them, so I told (police) I did it and it was an accident," she said, under cross-examination by District Attorney Dennis Sanders.

Her version of events in court testimony differed radically from the statement, which said she took a .38 caliber revolver from her brother's room and shot her father in the back of the head while he sat on the living room couch, watching television, just five days before Christmas 1995.

She tearfully told jurors she heard her father and brother arguing from her bedroom the afternoon the murder occurred.

"I just turned my TV up like I always did, so I wouldn't hear it," she said.

Minutes later, the next sound to rock the house was the fatal gunshot, which she said brought her out of her room. "I saw Clifton standing there with a gun and daddy was dead," she said.

Ms. Norris then said her brother persuaded her to take the blame, to protect him from a life sentence - a sentence she will face if found guilty as charged.

"Clifton told me that I wouldn't get in any trouble and I would probably go to juvenile hall for a little while and then come home and everything would be back to normal," said Ms. Norris, who was 15 years old at the time of the murder.

In an effort to establish a motive, defense attorney Michael Garrett questioned Clifton Norris about his troubled relationship with his father.

But before Mr. Norris took the stand, the proceedings were put temporarily on hold until attorney Thomson Jimmy Plunkett could consult with Judge Purnell Davis about any questioning.

Mr. Plunkett declined to comment when asked if he represented Mr. Norris.

Mr. Garrett then questioned Mr. Norris about an incident which ended in a violent confrontation with his father, with the younger Mr. Norris making a threat. "I told him I was going to shoot him," he said.

Mr. Norris stuck to the story he told police the night of the murder, however, that incriminated his sister and eventually led to her confession.

Mr. Norris said his sister told him what had happened

"Turn and look the jury in the eyes and tell them," said Mr. Sanders, pressing Mr. Norris on the point of his guilt or innocence.

"I didn't shoot my father," Mr. Norris said, obliging the request.

Today, attorneys will give their final arguments, and the case will be turned over to a jury of three men and nine women to decide.

 
 

Defense says son, not daughter, killed father as trial of teen begins

By Columbia County Bureau

August 6, 1997

THOMSON -- Melissa Norris' defense lawyer opened her murder trial Tuesday by pointing the finger at her 20-year-old brother, Clifton.

"It was he who had the motive and he who had the means," said defense attorney Michael Garrett in his opening statement before a McDuffie County jury of three men and nine women.

Ms. Norris stands accused of killing her father, 39-year-old Charles Barry Norris, whose body was found Dec. 20, 1995, slumped on the living room couch with a single gunshot to his head.

District Attorney Dennis Sanders told jurors it was her father's dislike of his daughter's friends and the threat of restriction that motivated Ms. Norris to commit murder. "He didn't want her out running the streets," he said.

Mr. Garrett had a different story to tell. "Every case is like a pancake - no matter how thin it is, there's always two sides," he said.

Mr. Garrett told jurors to expect evidence pointing to the son, not the daughter as the one responsible for the fatal bullet.

"Evidence will show that Melissa Norris did not pull the trigger," Mr. Garrett said.

The elder Mr. Norris had a rocky relationship with his son, which included physical altercations and threats of violence, Mr. Garrett said.

Mr. Garrett claimed Ms. Norris' brother had possession of the gun before the killing and it was he who told police where to find it afterward.

The reason he said the younger Mr. Norris laid the blame on his sister - a sophomore at Thomson High School at the time - was because he thought unlike himself, she would by tried as a juvenile.

After questioning her brother and getting a confession from Ms. Norris, however, prosecutors decided to charge the 15-year-old girl as an adult.

Prior to the opening statements, Judge E. Purnell Davis II, agreed to admit as evidence statements obtained by police, in which Ms. Norris admitted shooting her father.

Taken in the early morning hours of Dec. 21, Ms. Norris' statement relates her taking a .38-caliber revolver from her brother's room, approaching her father from behind and shooting him once at point-blank range in the back of the head.

"I didn't know the gun was loaded," said Ms. Norris, according to the statement taken by Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Tony Williamson.

Defense lawyer Kirk Gilliard argued the statement should be excluded because it was taken despite requests to speak with a lawyer by Ms. Norris' mother, Sharon Norris.

Testimony from Agent Williamson and McDuffie County sheriff's investigator Jerry Stanphill - who interviewed Ms. Norris that day - contradicted Mrs. Norris' claims. And as evidence of that, Mr. Sanders presented a waiver of rights form signed by Ms. Norris and her mother.

 
 

Supreme Court of Georgia

NORRIS v. The STATE.

No. S07A0978.

September 24, 2007

Michael E. Garner, Columbus, GA, for Appellant.Dennis C. Sanders, Dist. Atty., Durwood R. Davis, Asst. Dist. Atty., Thomson, GA, Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., Benjamin Henry Pierman, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, GA, for Appellee.

After a jury trial, Appellant Melissa Nicole Norris was found guilty of the malice murder of her father, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony.   Merging the aggravated assault into the murder count, the trial court entered judgments of conviction for malice murder and the weapons charge, and sentenced Appellant to life imprisonment and to a consecutive five-year term.   A motion for new trial was denied.   She appeals pursuant to the trial court's grant of a motion for out-of-time appeal.*

1. Construed most strongly in support of the verdict, the evidence shows that Barry Norris was found shot to death in his home. Appellant, who was 15 years old, confessed to her brother and to police that, after an argument with her father, she took a pistol and shot him in the back of the head at close range.   Expert medical testimony showed that the victim died as the result of a contact range gunshot to the back of his head.   The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to have found Norris guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which she was convicted.   Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979);  Murray v. State, 276 Ga. 396, 397(1), 578 S.E.2d 853 (2003);  James v. State, 275 Ga. 387(1), 565 S.E.2d 802 (2002).

2. Appellant contends that the trial court erred in ruling that she made a knowing and intelligent waiver of her federal and state constitutional rights prior to giving a statement to police.

Even where, as here, a juvenile is involved, the question of whether there was a knowing and intelligent waiver of constitutional rights depends on the totality of the circumstances surrounding a police interrogation.  Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707, 725(III), 99 S.Ct. 2560, 61 L.Ed.2d 197 (1979);  Riley v. State, 237 Ga. 124, 128, 226 S.E.2d 922 (1976).

Among the factors to be considered are the accused's age and education;  his knowledge of the charge and his constitutional rights;  his ability to consult with family, friends, or an attorney;  the length, method, and time of the interrogation;  and whether he previously had refused to give a statement or repudiated the statement later.  [Cits.] On appeal, we accept the trial court's findings on disputed facts and credibility of witnesses unless clearly erroneous, but independently apply the law to the facts.  [Cits.]

State v. Rodriguez, 274 Ga. 728, 559 S.E.2d 435 (2002).

At the time of the interrogation, Appellant was in the ninth grade and could read and understand English.   She had not yet been charged, but her mother, Mrs. Sharon Norris, had just been told that Appellant was a suspect.   A juvenile waiver-of-rights form was read in its entirety to, and signed by, Appellant and Mrs. Norris.   Appellant had the opportunity to consult with her mother, who was present for the entire interview.  Hanifa v. State, 269 Ga. 797, 805(3), 505 S.E.2d 731 (1998).   A parent's presence, although not required, is a significant factor in support of a finding of waiver.   Sanford v. State, 331 Ark. 334, 962 S.W.2d 335, 342(II)(B) (1998).

When Mrs. Norris twice asked whether an attorney was necessary, the detective who conducted the interview specifically told her that the decision of whether to speak to an attorney belonged to both her and Appellant, and, each time, Mrs. Norris indicated that the interview could continue.   Thus, contrary to Appellant's argument, the trial court was not required to find that the police incorrectly stated that her mother was the only person who could exercise Appellant's constitutional rights.   Compare State v. Rodriguez, supra at 729, 559 S.E.2d 435.   Furthermore, Appellant did not give any indication of such a misunderstanding.   Compare State v. Rodriguez, supra.   Nor did either of them ever invoke Appellant's right to remain silent or ask that the questioning cease.   Mrs. Norris cooperated with the police in their investigation of Appellant's involvement in the crimes and wanted the interview to continue, but that does not constitute a failure to act on behalf of her daughter or require a finding that the statement was not voluntarily made.   Chapman v. State, 273 Ga. 865, 870(4)(a), 548 S.E.2d 278 (2001);  Burnham v. State, 265 Ga. 129, 133(4), 453 S.E.2d 449 (1995), disapproved on other grounds, Stinski v. State, 281 Ga. 783, 785(2)(b), fn. 2, 642 S.E.2d 1 (2007).

Although the testimony of Appellant's mother conflicted with that of the investigating officers, the trial court recognized the existence of a contradiction in the testimony and resolved it in favor of the admissibility of Appellant's confession.  “The trial court was entitled to determine the credibility of the witnesses and to believe the officers, and its findings were not clearly erroneous. [Cit.]”  Murphy v. State, 267 Ga. 100, 102(7), 475 S.E.2d 590 (1996).

The interview was conducted at 3:30 a.m. and, when Appellant was confronted with the accusations, she became upset and began crying.   However, there is not any evidence that the interrogation was “abusive or overly long.”  Chapman v. State, supra.   Appellant was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, she had access to food, drink, and a restroom, she did not ever refuse to give a statement, and she did not recant her confession until trial.

Considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that the trial court did not err in finding that Appellant knowingly and voluntarily waived her rights.   Therefore, there was no error in admitting her custodial statement into evidence.  Murray v. State, supra at 398(2), 578 S.E.2d 853;  Chapman v. State, supra;  Hanifa v. State, supra.

Judgments affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

FOOTNOTE.   The crimes occurred on December 20, 1995, and the grand jury returned an indictment on February 28, 1996.   The jury found Norris guilty on August 7, 1997 and, on the same day, the trial court entered the judgments of conviction and sentences.   The motion for new trial was filed on August 13, 1997 and denied on March 12, 2001.   The motion for out-of-time appeal was filed on March 1, 2006, amended on January 11, 2007, and granted on January 30, 2007.   Norris filed a notice of appeal on February 19, 2007.   The case was docketed in this Court on March 20, 2007, and submitted for decision on May 14, 2007.

CARLEY, Justice.

All the Justices concur.

 
 


Melissa Nicole Norris

 

Melissa Nicole Norris

 

Melissa Nicole Norris
(Georgia Department of Corrections)

 

 

 
 
 
 
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