Gavel

Witness testimony presented to a Jones County jury this week in Laurel firmly established that there was a stabbing near Lee Street in Laurel on July 31, 2016, and the stabbing was harsh enough to send the victim to South Central Regional Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. However, no weapon was ever recovered in the incident, and the jurors determined that then 17-year-old Alicia Polk acted in self-defense on that Sunday summer day.

Although a weapon was not recovered in the case, Assistant District Attorney Dennis Bisnette did introduce photos taken on the day of the stabbing into evidence that showed blood drops at the scene. David Driskell, a Laurel Police Department officer who responded to the dispatch that day and went immediately afterwards to the hospital to speak with Latonya Sims, the injured party in the incident, told the jury that Sims’ condition that day “appeared to be a very grave medical condition.” Sims, who also testified in the trial, suffered artery damage, a stroke, lung damage, and the partial loss of sight in one eye as a result of the stabbing.

Bisnette asked the jury to consider that Polk didn’t leave the scene of the stabbing and voluntarily make any reports to the police, and he said she didn’t initially claim self-defense, both factors for the charge of aggravated assault.

“Paul Harvey use to say the rest of the story; I’m going to give you the rest of the story,” countered defense attorney John Piazza.

Piazza then presented a montage of Facebook posts and text messages that portrayed Sims as the aggressor, and there was a consensus among the witnesses that Sims and three other people in a silver car cut off Polk and three companions as they were walking down the street near Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church.

“Sims was bigger than her and attacked her with three other people in support,” said Piazza, who said they were acting like predators.

Several witnesses to the incident said no one but Sims stepped out of the car to confront Polk, and the confrontation and resulting physical conflict happened very quickly. Sims testified that her reason for stepping from the vehicle to confront Polk was to see “if I could address the situation” of the Facebook squabble that had been ongoing. The back and forth on Facebook was apparently between a friend of Sims, who was the driver of the car that day, and Polk’s sister.

Just after 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29, the first day of the trial, Piazza asked for a recess from Judge Dal Williamson. The jurors were sent to the jury room and Piazza told the judge that the defendant wanted to take the stand to testify in her own defense. Once the judge was satisfied that Polk desired of her own volition to take the stand, the jury was brought back in.

Polk’s statements from the stand pretty much matched what other defense witnesses said. She told the jury that Sims jumped out of the car, hit her first, knocked her to the ground and kept coming. Polk then picked up something off the ground and stabbed Sims.

“I was scared; I thought she would hurt me,” she testified, noting that she knew Sims had been in prison before.

Bisnette, in cross-examination, expressed some reservations to Polk about her good fortune of falling to the ground exactly in a place where some sharp object just happened to be available.

“Yes, sir, that’s what happened. That’s the truth,” she answered.

The other witnesses concurred that they did not see Polk with a knife or other weapon prior to her being knocked down.

After the State of Mississippi and the defense had rested on Wednesday, the jury was sent home late in the afternoon. Piazza then petitioned Judge Williamson for a direct verdict, but the judge kept the decision in the jury’s hands. The jury returned on Thursday morning at 9:00 and heard closing remarks from opposing counsel.

Bisnette outlined to the jurors how severe the stabbing was, mentioning that Polk had stabbed Sims so hard that it broke ribs and punctured a lung.

“This could have cost her her life,” he said.

He also attempted to influence the jury to consider that Polk very likely didn’t happen to fall on the ground near a sharp object that could be used as a self-defense weapon. “It’s more logical that she had a knife in her hand to begin with.”

Piazza painted a very different perspective of the incident scene in his closing remarks, saying that “Alicia Polk was forced to defend herself against a bigger, older, more experienced bully, a predator.”

Piazza told the jury that he was proud of Polk because she told the truth and was willing to testify in her own defense.

“She subjected herself to cross-examination by one of the most skilled prosecutors I know,” he stated. 

“We heard a lot of information about Facebook, a lot of blabber about Facebook,” continued Piazza. “There was motive; there was premeditation, and they were coming after Miss Polk. It happened in a split second; that’s what self-defense is. It’s consistent with adrenaline.”

The jury returned with their “not guilty” verdict before noon Thursday.

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