State appeals court upholds life sentence for Jackson man convicted of murder at 15

State appeals court upholds life sentence for Jackson man convicted of murder at 15
Dunta Dotson was attempting to have his life sentence overturned. (Source: MDOC)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Jackson man sentenced to life in prison without parole when he was 15 has lost a battle to have his sentence overturned.

In 2006, Dunta Dotson was sentenced to life without parole for the shooting death of Robert Jeanes.

Dotson appealed the sentence based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision and his initial sentence was vacated.

He was granted an evidentiary hearing in 2019 in Madison County Circuit Court, where he was again sentenced to life without parole.

Dotson appealed again and that decision was upheld by the Mississippi Court of Appeals. Dotson had asked the appellate court to stay the case until another Supreme Court decision is decided, but the appeals panel denied the request.

The appellate, though, said the circuit court acted properly “and did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Dunta to life without parole.”

Dotson, now 30, is currently being held at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

Eugene Ealy mugshot.
Eugene Ealy mugshot. (Source: MDOC)

The panel ruled against Dotson, in part, due to the nature of the crime. In October 2004, Dotson, his younger brother Robert and their friend, Eugene Ealy, were indicted for the capital murder of Robert Jeanes.

Ealy, 31, also was sentenced to life in prison without parole and is currently being held at the Marshall County Correctional Facility.

Court records show that the trio went to Madison County that morning with the intent of stealing a four-wheeler. Dunta and Ealy had stolen vehicles prior to the October incident, and Ealy had noticed a home with a four-wheeler in the back of a truck there.

“Dunta and Ealy went back to Dunta’s home and his younger brother, Robert, to be a third driver, and then the three of them went back to the home.”

That home turned out to be the residence of Robert Jeanes. Leaving his younger brother in their vehicle, Dunta and Ealy went up to the home, knocked on the door, and asked if they could use the phone. The soon-to-be victim obliged.

“While Ealy was using the phone ... Dunta shot Jeanes in the head,” court records say. “Dunta admitted the shooting was unprovoked.”

After shooting the victim, the Dunta and Ealy entered the home and stole firearms, a television and a chainsaw. The three left the scene, taking Jeanes’ vehicles.

“The record reflects that Dunta admitted that earlier that day Ealy said they would need to kill Jeanes after robbing him, ‘because a dead man don’t talk,’” records say.

After being indicted on a capital murder charge by a Madison County grand jury, Dunta pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of murder. At the time, the charge carried a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

In 2013, Dunta filed a motion for post-conviction relief following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama.

According to the Columbia Law Review, the court “banned mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles and declared that only the ‘rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption’ should be made to spend the rest of their lives in prison.”

According to testimony from Lt. Don Hicks, Dunta “didn’t seem upset” after he turned himself in. Hicks also told the court that Dunta “told him Ealy had killed Jeanes and that Dunta changed his story and admitted responsibility for the killing when he was interviewed by another officer.”

The ruling was handed down by Judges Virginia Carlton, Jim Greenlee, and David Neal McCarty.

A copy of the ruling is below.

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