JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - The Supreme Court of Mississippi has dismissed the appeal of a man convicted of raping and kidnapping a University of Southern Mississippi student in 2010.
A Lamar County jury found Howard Payton guilty in January 2016 of rape and kidnapping. According to court documents, prosecutors presented evidence that DNA collected from the victim’s rape kit was a definitive match to Howard’s DNA.
Payton was sentenced as a habitual offender to 30 years for kidnapping and three 40-year sentences for each count of rape to be served consecutively. Payton motioned for a new trial, though the motion was made past the 10-day window for filing the motion. The state did not raise an untimeliness motion.
The judge found no merit for the motion and denied it in February 2016. Payton filed a notice of appeal, but he died a few days before his appeal brief was due.
No personal representative of Payton motioned for a substitution for him. Payton’s newly-appointed legal counsel moved for abatement ab initio, which is a legal doctrine that says a criminal conviction should be vacated in the event of a defendant dying during an appeal of the conviction.
The Supreme Court overruled a 1994 ruling, Gollot v. State, arguing that the landscape has changed since that ruling because legislation guaranteeing victims’ rights was added to the Mississippi constitution. The Mississippi Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights ensures “the fair and compassionate treatment of victims of crime, to increase the effectiveness of the criminal justice system by affording rights and considerations to the victims of a crime, and to preserve and protect victims’ rights to justice and fairness in the criminal justice system.”
The court also cited other states that have recently rejected abatement ab initio, such as Alaska, Alabama and Massachusetts. The court agreed with the Alaska Supreme Court ruling, which said either the state or defendant’s estate may request substitution and the appeals proceed. Otherwise, the appeal will be dismissed and the conviction remains intact.
Under this approach, the court said consideration for both the defendant’s right to appeal and the victim’s rights under the constitution are balanced.
Because no motion for substitution was filed in Payton’s appeal, the appeal was dismissed as moot and his convictions remained intact.