Miss. Supreme Court upholds conviction in sexual assault case

Published 4:33 pm Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mississippi Supreme Court refused Thursday to overturn the sexual assault conviction of William Thomas Rollins, who had argued he deserved a new trial because he wasn’t able to confront his young accusers.

Rollins was appealing his 2006 conviction of sexually assaulting a girl while playing strip poker with minors.

Rollins, of Bogue Chitto, was sentenced to consecutive sentences of life in prison for sexual battery, 15 years for touching a child for lustful purposes and 364 days each on two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

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Prosecutors said in addition to the sexual assault, the jury found that Rollins would dare or instruct the children — an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy — to touch each other in sexually inappropriate ways.

At trial, Lincoln County Circuit Judge Michael Taylor allowed the two children to testify by way of closed-circuit television.

According to the court record, the children were questioned in the presence of the judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a court reporter. The testimony was transmitted to the jury in the courtroom although there were some technical problems with sound and video.

Rollins was held in an adjacent room and was able to communicate with his attorney by telephone.

Rollins moved for a mistrial, claiming he was denied his constitutional right to confront his accusers, because of the video monitor’s failure in the room where he was held.

The judge denied the motion.

Justice George C. Carlson, writing for the Supreme Court, said the courts have never held that a criminal defendant has an absolute right to a face-to-face meeting with the witnesses against him at trial.

Carlson said Rollins had to show that the denial of his right to view the demeanor of the minor witnesses damaged his case or rights. Carlson said Rollins couldn’t show any such prejudice and would not get a new trial.

In another case, the Supreme Court upheld the 2005 Leflore County conviction and 20-year sentence given Daniel Joe Martin for child abuse against a 3 year old.

Prosecutors claimed Martin punished a girl for a potty-training accident by holding her in scalding water until her feet were burned.

The child had been left in Martin’s care on Aug. 22, 2003, by her mother with whom he lived in Greenwood while she was at work.

According to the court record, Martin said he ran water in the tub for the child to clean up after the accident. He said when the child came out of the bathroom her feet were red. Martin said he tried to soothe her feet in a bowl of cold water but the redness worsened.

The child was taken to Greenwood-Leflore Hospital and then to the Greenville Burn Center where she remained for seven days.

Martin was arrested for felony child abuse.

A doctor testified for the prosecution that the child had “immersion burns” on both feet with no additional splash injuries. The doctor testified that he did not believe the child would “put one foot into water that was hot enough to cause a third-degree burn and then voluntarily swung the other foot into that water.”

The Supreme Court rejected Martin’s arguments on appeal.