GULFPORT -- The Mississippi Supreme Court has upheld the convictions of two Harrison County murderers.
The high court affirmed the convictions of Ira Donell Bowser and Correy James Dartez on Thursday. Both were sentenced to life in prison in June 2014.
A Harrison County jury in Gulfport convicted Bowser of killing his girlfriend, Shabree Page, at her Pass Christian apartment June 9, 2012. Page was stabbed 29 times and left dead on the floor with her 5-year-old daughter still in the residence.
Bowser admitted killing Page, but claimed the evidence supported a manslaughter conviction as a killing in the heat of passion, not one of murder by deliberate design.
The jury heard evidence that Bowser had been drinking, had taken five tablets of Lortab, a narcotic painkiller, and used cocaine before he went to Page's apartment. Bowser said he remembers cutting her only once with a knife during an argument.
Justice Josiah Coleman, writing for the court, said DNA and fingerprint evidence and crime-scene photos pointed to Bowser as the perpetrator, and a forensic pathologist testified the stab wounds were delivered in a deliberate manner.
A jury, not the court, determines if essential elements of a crime were proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Coleman wrote.
Bowser was sentenced as a habitual offender. His life sentence is without parole.
A Harrison County jury in Biloxi convicted Dartez in the killing of his wife, Victoria, Jan. 30, 2013. She was smothered with a pillow. The jury heard testimony that she had health problems and was worried she wouldn't live long; also that Dartez was worried he couldn't afford her medications.
On appeal, Dartez claimed ineffectual counsel. He said his attorney should have used the insanity defense and claimed statements he gave police were not knowingly or voluntarily given.
Justice Randy Pierce, writing for the court, said a psychiatrist testified about the evaluation of Dartez and his attorney told the court there were no problems regarding his mental status. The trial court found Dartez competent to stand trial.
A police investigator had advised Dartez of his rights and asked him several times if he wanted to stop talking and get an attorney, but Dartez refused.
The high court found his attorney's work appeared to be in the range of "reasonable professional assistance" and found insufficient evidence in trial court records to support the claim of ineffectual counsel.
Dartez can argue that claim in a post-conviction relief petition if he chooses, the ruling said.