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Photos of body admissible in Vega trial, judge rules

Published 11:46 am Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nine photos of Michelle Vega’s body will be admissible in her stepdaughter’s murder trial, Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick ruled Wednesday.

Trial of Tyla Vega, 15, 100 Jones Road, is expected to begin Monday.

Tyla Vega appeared Wednesday in Warren County Circuit Court, where her attorneys, Marshall Sanders and Alfred Rhodes, objected to the use of photos of Michelle Vega’s body.

“There’s nothing pertinent about those pictures,” Sanders said. “The state can easily establish that she died by shooting.”

Tyla Vega is accused of shooting her 32-year-old stepmother in the face May 10, 2011. Tyla Vega, then 14, was seen driving away from the family’s home minutes before Michelle Vega’s body was found. She was arrested in Greenville after a six-day, multicounty search.

Patrick ruled that photos of the shooting scene and Michelle Vega’s autopsy were admissible despite their grisly nature.

“Unfortunately the scene is a gory scene,” Patrick said.

Handcuffed, shackled and in an orange county jail jumpsuit, Tyla Vega fidgeted and appeared nervous throughout the hearing. She did not appear to look at the photos of Michelle Vega’s body as they were shown on courtroom monitors.

Photos of the shooting scene are needed to establish the distance of a high-powered rifle used in the shooting and Michelle Vega’s body, District Attorney Ricky Smith said.

“We don’t anticipate using any real close-up photographs,” Smith said.

On Friday, Patrick is expected to rule on the admissibility of Tyla Vega’s youth court records and statements she made to Warren County deputies.

Youth Court Judge Johnny Price has already signed an order opening the records, Smith said.

Rhodes, who is a youth court judge in Claiborne County, argued that the records, which are usually confidential, should not be admissible.

Mississippi law requires that juveniles 13 and older accused of crimes such as murder and those that include the use or attempted use of a deadly weapon be tried as adults.

Following her arrest, Tyla Vega was held without bail until Patrick set bail at $75,000. The teen was released to family members in Tallulah but her bail was revoked Dec. 5. Since then, she has been held without bail in the Warren County Jail.

If convicted, Tyla Vega will be granted an automatic appeal because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer. In a 5-4 ruling June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws in Mississippi and 28 other states that impose mandatory life-without-parole sentences on convicted juvenile murder defendants.

Defendants given illegal sentences automatically are granted appeal, Smith said after the court ruling.