Supreme Court affirms ruling in Cotton District sexual battery case

Terry Hill

SDN Editor

The state’s highest court on Thursday affirmed the trial court ruling regarding the legal counsel for a West Point man convicted of sexually assaulting a Mississippi State student in the city’s Cotton District in 2016.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the trial court in the case of 45-year-old Terry Hill did not err when it denied his attorney’s motion to withdraw, along with his request for a new counsel.

Hill and another suspect, Jerry Talley, Jr. of McCool, were both arrested in May 2016 after investigators said they entered a college student’s home, where they robbed one student and raped a woman before forcing them both into the bathroom of the home.

The decision from the high court came due to “(Hill’s) actions prior to and at trial, and because of the substantial evidence against Hill.”

Stephanie Mallette was appointed as the public defender to represent Hill, who was indicted on six charges: robbery, two counts of kidnapping, aggravated assault, sexual battery and rape.

In July 2016, Mallette filed a motion to withdraw as Hill’s legal counsel, saying he had informed her he was not indigent and that he no longer desired her representation.

A hearing was held in January 2017, at which Hill requested a new public defender be appointed to his case.

Hill claimed that he and Mallette could not agree on anything and that he had filed several letters, but never received a response.

The court ultimately denied Hill’s request, but instructed Mallette to respond to any letters she received from Hill. However, Mallette claimed that she had responded to every letter Hill had written her with the exception of the most recent one, because she received it “during the Christmas break.”

Later that month, Hill then filed a motion for appointment of new counsel, stating that Mallette had failed to investigate “numerous” avenues of evidence and mitigating facts. This claim by Hill include a lack of investigating into street video surveillance; police body camera footage; cellphone data from the victim’s phone; illegal drug and alcohol usage by the victims, and evidence that law enforcement knew of high drug usage around the Bin 612.

After additional back-and-forth in trial court, Hill’s case came up for trial on July 31, 2017.

Mallette requested a continuance, saying Hill had identified Hill’s accused accomplice Jerry Talley, in change for the state’s consideration of his cooperation. She then argued that the state did not give Hill’s cooperation any consideration and changed its agreement to try Talley before Hill.

Court documents say there was no formal agreement put in writing regarding Hill’s cooperation.

Prosecutors ultimately chose to not proceed on the rape and aggravated assault counts, and the indictment was amended to proceed on one count of robbery, two counts of kidnapping and one count of sexual battery.

Ahead of jury selection in the case, Hill told Mallette that he would prefer to represent himself, to which she advised it would be better if she conducted jury selection and he represent himself after the fact.

Hill then expressed a conflict of interest to the court, saying “We can’t agree on anything and all we do is fuss.”

As the process moved forward, Hill then requested a continuance to appoint a new attorney, which was denied.

Mallette then requesting a closed hearing in the Judge Lee Howard’s chambers and said she would not sit by Hill, and that “I am scared to death he’s going to jump on me.”

The same day, Hill became belligerent in the courthouse and had to be tackled by bailiffs. During the recess, a “number of deputies” had to put Hill in a jail cell.

It was ultimately decided that a plain-clothes police officer would sit between Mallette and Hill and that two bailiffs would be close by.

Mallette argued that the increased police presence gave the impression that Hill was dangerous and assured the court of his future good behavior. While the court noted her objection, it was overruled.

Hill was found guilty on all counts and sentenced as a habitual offender to serve 15 years for robbery, 30 years for each count of kidnapping and 30 years of sexual battery.

On appeal, Hill argued that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the court refused to grant Mallette’s motion for withdrawal.

The Supreme Court then affirmed that the trial court acted within its discretion to deny Hill’s motion for continuance and a new attorney, along with Mallette’s motion for withdrawal, because four days before the trial began, he had twice stated in court that he wanted Mallette to represent him.

The affirmation then states that Mallette provided adequate representation for Hill and pursued every avenue at her disposal to provide the best representation possible.