Crime

Former Pass Christian police officer’s sex-crime conviction upheld by state Supreme court

Tom Pustay was convicted in May 2007 on five of six counts of sex crimes against a child. The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday upheld his conviction.
Tom Pustay was convicted in May 2007 on five of six counts of sex crimes against a child. The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday upheld his conviction. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of former Pass Christian police officer Thomas Stephen Pustay on sex crimes against a child.

Harrison County Circuit Court convicted Pustay in May 2007 on two counts of touching a child for lustful purposes and three counts of sexual battery. He was found not guilty on a sixth count of the indictment.

He was sentenced to a total of 105 years on all the counts, but because some counts would run concurrently would have to serve only 40 years.

He filed motions in 2007 and 2008 for a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict, then a motion to dismiss. In 2013, the state high court required the Circuit Court to respond to those petitions. Pustay’s motions were denied, prompting him to file a notice of appeal.

In its order, the Supreme Court refused to review the Oct. 4, 2016 decision of the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

In his earlier appeal, Pustay raised 13 points as the basis for his claim that the convictions should be overturned. The appeals court found no merit in 12 of those claims.

On the question of whether he had ineffective counsel represent him, the appeals court said it recognized “the review on direct appeal of an ineffective assistance-of-counsel claim is confined strictly to the record.

“Our review of the record reflects no affirmative showing of ineffectiveness of constitutional dimensions. However, although the State does not stipulate that the record is complete for purposes of determining the competency of the defense counsel, Pustay stipulates that the record is complete.”

The court of appeals went on to deny Pustay’s claim of ineffective counsel without prejudice “so that Pustay can raise his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel issue through appropriate post-conviction proceedings, if he so chooses.”

In the questions of whether the evidence was sufficient or whether the verdicts were supported by the weight of evidence, the appeals court affirmed the conviction based on the evidence at trial.

Finally, whether cumulative error requires a reversal of the conviction, the appeals court said, “Because we have found that no error occurred at trial, there can be no cumulative error.”

The costs of the appeal are being assessed to Harrison County. Pustay used a public defender to file the appeal.

Kate Magandy: 228-896-2344, @kmagandy

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