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Morrison v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

December 11, 2019

DERREN DEJUAN MORRISON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Cheryl Caracuzzo, Judge; L.T. Case No. 502015CF002452A.

          David J. Joffe of Joffe Law, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Deborah Koenig, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          Forst, J.

         Derren Morrison appeals his conviction and life sentence for second-degree murder. Morrison raises several issues on appeal, but we write only to address his arguments that the trial court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal and that statements made by the prosecution during closing argument were so egregious under the circumstances to necessitate a new trial. On those and all other arguments raised, we affirm the judgment and sentence rendered by the trial court.

         Background

         Morrison was found in the street covered in blood, flailing his arms and repeatedly yelling "I just want to be with you God." A trail of blood led from Morrison to a house down the street. Inside the house, officers found an eighty-one-year-old female on the floor covered in blood. The victim was barely conscious and had suffered extensive injuries. She was transported to the hospital, placed on life-support, and died approximately three months later from an infection that developed from her feeding tube. The State's medical expert characterized the beating as "the triggering event . . . that ultimately led to [the victim's] death."

         Morrison was also transported to the hospital where he gave a voluntary statement to the police. Morrison explained that he had taken flakka and drank "sweet liquor" prior to the incident and could not recall what had happened because of the flakka. Morrison did recall, however, that the flakka "was making me hallucinate like someone was trying to kill me." Upon the victim's death, the State charged Morrison with first-degree murder.

         The State's theory of the case was that Morrison beat the victim in her home while in a drug-induced psychotic state brought on by his voluntary consumption of flakka. The defense argued that Morrison suffered from schizophrenia and that this psychotic disorder caused him to beat the victim. The case went to the jury who found Morrison guilty as charged of first-degree murder.

         Morrison renewed his previous motion for a judgment of acquittal and maintained that there was no evidence of premeditation for first-degree murder. He also argued there was insufficient evidence of a "depraved mind" to sustain a conviction for second-degree murder. The trial court agreed that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of premeditation and granted the judgment of acquittal for Morrison's first-degree murder conviction. The court then adjudicated Morrison guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

         Analysis

         A. Morrison's motion for a judgment of acquittal

         Appellate courts will not reverse a conviction where it is supported by "competent substantial evidence." Hobart v. State, 175 So.3d 191, 199 (Fla. 2015). When determining the sufficiency of the evidence, "the question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, a rational trier of fact could have found the existence of the elements of the crime beyond ...


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