Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs May 14, 2014
Direct Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2012-D-3088 J. Randall Wyatt, Jr., Judge
David A. Collins, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jose Lemanuel Hall, Jr.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Nicholas W. Spangler, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Katrin Miller, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr. and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.
JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
The convictions against the defendant arose from the robbery and murder of the victim, Jeremy Green. The defendant and co-defendant Victor Johnson were indicted for one count of felony murder, one count of premeditated murder, and one count of especially aggravated robbery. Additionally, co-defendant Maurice Hegman was indicted on the charge of especially aggravated robbery in the same indictment.
On January 29, 2011, the victim, after working his shift at Wal-mart, returned to his apartment via the bus. The victim enjoyed music and had even converted the closet in his apartment to a small music studio. He wrote and sold "beats, " the musical tracks to which rap lyrics were set. During the evening of January 29th, the victim spoke to several people on the telephone. Bianca Parker had a lengthy conversation with the victim, which ended around 10:00 p.m. when she received another call. Ms. Parker attempted to call the victim back after she was finished, but he did not answer the telephone. She attempted to make contact with the victim several more times during the evening and the following day; however, she did not actually speak to the victim again.
Jalisha Gleaves, who was dating the victim at the time, had spoken with the victim earlier in the evening, and they had plans for her to come to the victim's apartment to watch movies. She communicated to the victim that she was on her way when she left her home. She proceeded towars the victim's apartment, but she stopped at a Mapco gas station located very near the victim's apartment to purchase drinks. She attempted to call the victim while there, but she received no answer.
Ms. Gleaves then drove to the apartment complex and parked her car. She knocked on the victim's door, and the door pushed open. Upon entering the apartment, Ms. Gleaves witnessed the victim lying on the floor. She tried to roll the victim over, but when she observed blood, she stopped her attempts to aid the victim and called 911. However, she did not recall the actual address of the victim's apartment to give to police. While still on the phone with 911, she returned to the Mapco for assistance. No one there was aware of the address, but, upon exiting the store, a police officer on patrol arrived. Ms. Gleaves approached him, and the two returned to the apartment.
Upon re-entering the apartment, Ms. Gleaves noted that several of the victim's belongings, including an Xbox, a computer, audio equipment used in recording, and several plastic totes were missing. Demarco Keeler, a childhood friend of the victim, also verified that the Xbox 360, laptop computer, a microphone, and a music conversion box were missing from the apartment. Keeler informed the police that the victim's laptop user name was "Jay Dot."
Officer Gerry Hutcheson, the officer flagged down by Ms. Gleaves, entered the apartment and saw the victim lying on the floor. At the time, the victim was not breathing and had no pulse. A crime scene investigator, Rhonda Evans, also responded to the scene that evening. During her search of the apartment, she found an empty Xbox box, an empty printer box, and an empty audio mixer box. However, none of the actual items were found in the apartment, only the boxes. Additionally, Investigator Evans found a laptop cord but found no laptop computer. She observed several pieces of black plastic near and under the victim's body. Outside in the dumpster area, she found a blue tote which contained items specifically connected to the victim, such as his high school diploma. She also found a damaged frying pan with a broken black plastic handle. Investigator Evans believed that the black pieces of plastic found near the victim were the remnants of the handle of the frying pan. The only usable prints found inside the apartment belonged to the victim and Demarco Keeler.
Additionally, the victim's cell phone was not found in his apartment. However, Ms. Parker, who had spoken with the victim earlier, was still trying to call the phone later that evening and into the next day. During one of those calls, the phone was answered by an unidentified male who stated that the victim had gone to a club the previous evening and would return her call later. The same male answered a second call from Ms. Parker and informed her that he was the victim's cousin from Atlanta. She also received a text message from the victim's phone, following his death, which read "5H2." Janae Grigsby, the victim's cousin, also began receiving telephone calls and coded text messages from the victim's phone at the same time. She reported this information to the police.
Police canvassed the area but could not find any witnesses who had seen or heard any disturbance in the victim's apartment. There was also no evidence of forced entry into the apartment.
Following the autopsy of the victim, it was determined that he died from "asphyxia by strangulation, " which occurs within a matter of minutes rather than seconds. The examination also revealed hemorrhages in the victim's eyes which were consistent with asphyxiation. The victim's body had several abrasions and bruises on the forehead, neck, chest, and arms. Additionally, the victim's scalp had two large bruises, which the medical examiner opined could have been caused by a blow from the "bent up frying pan" found in the dumpster.
Detective Chad High was the lead detective in the victim's murder investigation. He responded to the murder scene and discovered that "it was obvious things were missing." He entered the serial numbers from the empty boxes found in the apartment into a system which allowed him to monitor if the items were ever pawned. The system would flag the item with the pawn shop when the transaction was made, and police would be alerted.
In the "early part of 2011, " Lachrisha Poynter drove the defendant and co-defendant Hegman to a pawn shop. Ms. Poynter did not go inside the pawn shop with the two men. Victoria Holt, an employee of a shop then named "Household Pawn, " identified a pawn ticket where the defendant had come in and pawned an Xbox at the store on February 21, 2011. His driver's license was recorded before the transaction was completed. Another employee of a different pawn shop also reported that the defendant pawned a laptop computer in that store on the same day. Videos were made of the transaction.
Based upon the investigation into the phone calls and texts officers learned were coming from the victim's phone following his death, police obtained the communication records for his cell phone. The decision was based in part on the following: (1) co-defendant Johnson's ex-girlfriend received a photo message from the victim's phone after his death which depicted co-defendant Johnson, the defendant, and others making gang hand signals; (2) the victim's phone received a call from the defendant's cell phone at 10:16 p.m. on the night of the murder; and (3) the victim's phone communicated with a cell phone tower in LaVergne at 2:09 a.m. on January 30, 2011. After learning more through his investigation, Detective High also obtained the communication records for co-defendant Hegman's and the defendant's cell phones. Mr. Hegman's phone made contact with a cell phone tower very near the victim's apartment three times just after 11:30 p.m. on the night of the murder. At 1:30 a.m., Mr. Hegman's phone communicated with a cell phone tower in LaVergne. The defendant's phone reflected no activity between 11:08 p.m. and 11:46 p.m. on the night of the murder. These "pings" were consistent with the path Mr. Hegman said the group traveled.
The investigation led police to speak with Mr. Hegman, who was eventually indicted along with co-defendant Johnson and the defendant, although only for especially aggravated robbery. The three were admitted members of the "5 Deuce Hoover Crips." Mr. Hegman noted that he had grown up with the victim in the "projects" and that he had even helped him move into his current apartment where the murder occurred. The two often played Xbox together, and Mr. Hegman related that the victim's user name was "Jay.Green." According to Mr. Hegman, he and his two co-defendants, along with two men named Antonio and Dominique, went to the victim's apartment around 11:00 p.m. or 12 a.m. on January 29-30, 2011, to "do music." According to Mr. Hegman, there was no discussion of a robbery occurring before they went to the apartment. He acknowledged a call was made to inform the victim that they were coming over.
When the group arrived, Antonio and Dominique elected to remain in the car, but the other three proceeded to the door of the victim's apartment. However, Mr. Hegman was not present at the door when it was actually opened, as he had returned to the car to find a CD for Antonio. When he did return to the doorway of the victim's apartment, it was open, and he saw co-defendant Johnson and the victim fighting. At the time, the defendant was just standing there. Co-defendant Johnson told Mr. Hegman to take a blue tote from the apartment, and Mr. Hegman complied. As he picked up the tote, Mr. Hegman observed the defendant "reaching" towards the victim. He opined that the fighting might have been because the victim was wearing red, the color worn by a rival gang, although he did not know for certain.
Mr. Hegman returned to the car with the tote and waited. He observed co-defendant Johnson exit the apartment and walk to a nearby dumpster before returning to the car. Mr. Hegman began to drive away without the defendant, but the defendant managed to exit the apartment and return to the car before they left. Mr. Hegman stated there was no discussion of the events that had occurred in the apartment while they were in the car. At that point, Mr. Hegman drove Antonio and Dominique to their home, and the remaining three then drove to a friend's home in LaVergne. Mr. Hegman left the blue tote he had taken at this address. Mr. Hegman also acknowledged that he had Ms. Poyner take him and the defendant to some pawn shops at a later date. He also acknowledged that, following his arrest, he did not initially tell police the entire story. He also stated that he was not aware that the victim had been killed until he was informed so by the detectives.
Detective Chad Gish was a digital forensics detective who worked in the Metro Nashville Police Department. He analyzed the laptop recovered by police which had been pawned by the defendant. He discovered that the laptop had an operating system which had been installed on January 31, 2011, just two days after the victim's murder. Further analysis revealed that the previous operating system had utilized a user name of "Jay dot." Additionlly, a user name of "JeremyGreen" appeared under the old operating systems installation folder.
Based upon the above information gathered, the defendant was arrested and charged with felony murder, first degree premeditated murder, and especially aggravated robbery. While the defendant was in jail, Detective High monitored the defendant's letters and phone calls that he received at the jail. Several of the communications were encoded in "gang" terminology and script, which made interpreting the messages difficult. Apparently, when the defendant was first incarcerated, he blamed co-defendant Johnson for speaking with the police and getting them caught. However, as time progressed, he realized it was co-defendant Hegman who had actually given the police a statement. One of the letters stated, "they ain't got shit on me or cuzz [Mr. Hegman] all they got is pictures of me cuzz and lady in pawn shops pawning shit . . . . Baby tell cuzz that I'm putting everything on lil deuce [co-defendant Johnson]." In a separate letter, the defendant wrote, "fuck lil deuce, if he wouldn't have use that phone none of this would have happened." However, after receiving discovery, the defendant became aware that it was Mr. Hegman talking and sent a letter of apology to co-defendant Johnson. In the letter, he noted that he had forwarded the information to other gang members that Mr. Hegman was a snitch, an extreme violation of gang code. He later wrote a letter to his girlfriend seemingly questioning why Mr. Hegman was still alive.
Following the severance of the defendants' cases the defendant proceeded to trial. All of the above information was testified to in the jury's presence. Additionally, Ronald Jones provided testimony. He was incarcerated with the defendant in March 2012. Mr. Jones testified that the defendant gave ...