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State v. Cobbins

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

September 12, 2014


Assigned on Briefs March 26, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 86216A Walter C. Kurtz, Senior Judge

For his involvement in the January 2007 murders of the victims C.N. and C.C., [1] appellant, Letalvis Darnell Cobbins, was found guilty of multiple counts of first degree murder, facilitation of first degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, facilitation of especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated rape, for which he received an effective sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole plus one hundred years. He appeals his convictions and sentences on the following grounds: (1) whether misconduct of the trial judge constituted structural constitutional error; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying appellant's motion for change of venue; (3) whether the trial court erred in admitting certain photographs; (4) whether the trial court erred in denying appellant's motion to continue; (5) whether the trial court erred in allowing testimony concerning a firearm that appellant had possessed prior to the offense date; (6) whether the trial court erred in allowing family members to wear buttons with the victims' likenesses; and (7) whether the trial court erred in imposing an effective sentence of one hundred years to be served consecutively to his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. We have thoroughly reviewed the record in this case and discern no error. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed

Kimberly Ann Parton (at trial and on appeal) and G. Scott Green (at trial), Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Letalvis Darnell Cobbins

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; John H. Bledsoe, Senior Counsel; Randall E. Nichols, District Attorney General; and Leland L. Price and Ta Kisha Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen, J., and Jeffrey S. Bivins, Sp. J., joined.



This appeal stems from the Knoxville murders of victims C.N. and C.C. and other criminal offenses against them committed by appellant, co-defendant Lemaricus Davidson, co-defendant George Thomas, and co-defendant Vanessa Coleman in January 2007.

A. Facts from Trial

Appellant's trial began on Wednesday, August 12, 2009, with jury selection in Davidson County. The parties presented evidence in Knox County from Monday, August 17 through Saturday, August 22, 2009.[2] Based on the collective testimony of M.N., the mother of victim C.N.; Josh Anderson, a friend of C.N.; Kara Sowards, a friend of C.C.; and G.C., C.C.'s father, the State established that in January 2007, C.N. had been dating C.C. for approximately three months. On January 6, 2007, C.N. played golf with Josh Anderson for most of the day. C.N. and C.C. had plans to go out to dinner and later attend a party being held at the home of Jamie Hampton's parents, where they would meet Mr. Anderson and other friends. M.N. did not expect C.N. to return home until Sunday, January 7, 2007.

C.C. was waiting at Kara Sowards's Washington Ridge apartment around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, 2007, when Ms. Sowards arrived home. As they were getting ready to leave for Jamie Hampton's party, C.N. telephoned C.C. and proposed that they have dinner together and meet Ms. Sowards at the party later. Ms. Sowards drove to the party alone, and C.C. remained at her apartment to wait for C.N.

Around 9:30 p.m., Mr. Anderson became concerned that C.N. and C.C. had not yet arrived at the party. He placed several telephone calls to C.N. Saturday night that went unanswered. Ms. Sowards began calling C.C. around 10:00 p.m. to find out when they expected to arrive. Later, Mr. Anderson and Justin Russell drove to the apartment of Kara Sowards to see if C.N. was there. Mr. Anderson noticed that C.N.'s truck was in the parking lot but that C.C.'s vehicle, a Toyota 4-Runner, was not. He observed that it was out of the ordinary because C.N. always drove when he and C.C. went out together. He and Mr. Russell returned to the party between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. Other party attendees attempted to reach C.N. via telephone, but he did not answer their calls, either.

C.C. called G.C. around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, January 7, 2007, and told him that she and C.N. had eaten dinner and were finishing a movie and that she would be home within a couple of hours. He clarified that C.C. "sounded as normal as she could possibly be" and that she could not have sounded so calm if she had been under duress.

Ms. Sowards arrived home around 3:30 a.m. on Sunday. C.N.'s truck was parked in the parking lot. Ms. Sowards awakened between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday and again telephoned C.C., to no avail. During this time, Mr. Anderson continued to call C.N. and still received no answer. Mr. Anderson telephoned C.N.'s parents.

On Sunday afternoon, D.C., C.C.'s mother, telephoned M.N. because C.C. did not report to work as scheduled and had not been seen since the following night. M.N. telephoned the police and hospitals while her husband and friends of the victims searched for them. As the day progressed, D.C. received information from their cellular provider regarding the location of the tower from where C.C.'s last telephone call had "pinged, " which was Cherry Street located in East Knoxville.

Mr. Anderson, Mr. Russell, G.C., and C.C.'s brother met at Ms. Sowards's apartment and embarked on a search of the Cherry Street area. After searching for approximately one and a half hours, a member of the party located C.C.'s vehicle between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning. It was parked in high grass on Chipman Street in East Knoxville. The decals had been removed. The inside of the front cabin was very muddy, and there was a crushed pack of cigarettes that did not belong to either victim. A cellular charger had been destroyed, and the seats were reclined to their maximum angle. C.C. had been carrying a large amount of clothing to donate to Goodwill, and she had not yet dropped off the donation. The value of C.C.'s 4-Runner was between $25, 000 and $26, 000. Neither C.N. nor C.C. were located at that time.

At trial, D.C. identified several items of evidence, including specific items of clothing that were to be donated to charity and some of C.C.'s personal possessions that she carried in her vehicle and/or in her purse.

Xavier Jenkins, an employee with Waste Connections on Chipman Street, reported to work around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, January 7, 2007. He noticed that a nearby house, 2316 Chipman Street, "seemed a little busy." He saw a late model silver Toyota 4-Runner in front of the house and an older model white car. As he was waiting for his supervisor to arrive and unlock the gates to the business, Mr. Jenkins observed the Toyota, occupied by four black males, drive past him and turn right. When Mr. Jenkins completed his shift between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., he noticed the Toyota parked in the area in which Mr. Jenkins himself had been parked as he waited for his supervisor. At that time, the vehicle still had decals and a license plate trim on it.

James Bradley Pressley, also an employee of Waste Connections, arrived at work between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and almost collided with a silver SUV in the parking lot as he drove toward the gate to open it. The vehicle drove away as he exited his vehicle to open the gates, but the occupants, two in the front and at least one in the back, "look[ed] real hard at [him]." When Mr. Pressley completed his shift between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., he again saw the same SUV sitting in the parking lot. He looked briefly in its direction, then began to walk away. At that time, he heard two or three loud popping sounds that seemed to have originated in the vicinity of the nearby railroad tracks. Mr. Pressley thought little about the sounds and proceeded to lock the gate and leave. He then saw smoke coming from the area of the tracks but ignored it.

Roy L. Thurman, who worked nearby at R&T Coatings on Boone Street, arrived at work at 7:45 a.m. on Sunday, January 7, 2007. While waiting for his supervisor to open the gate, Mr. Thurman observed smoke emanating from the area of the railroad tracks.

Jerome Arnold, a resident of Chipman Street, heard sounds that resembled "three fire crackers going off" around 1:45 a.m. on Sunday morning. He believed the sounds had come from a vacant industrial area where railroad tracks ran.

J.D. Ford, a locomotive engineer with Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation, left the John Sevier Yard off of Rutledge Pike in a train at 12:05 p.m. on January 7, 2007. After crossing over Cherry Street, he discovered along the track the naked body of a deceased male whose head had been severely burned. Fred Duffey, an assistant track supervisor with Norfolk Southern, had inspected the area at 9:00 a.m. that day and had not seen the body at that time.

Dan Crenshaw, a senior evidence technician with the Knoxville Police Department's ("KPD") forensic unit crime lab, was working the third shift, 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., on January 7-8, 2007. He received a call about the discovery of C.C.'s Toyota around 1:00-2:00 a.m. on Monday, January 8. The officer on the scene briefed him with regard to a body found nearby that was related to the recovered vehicle and the owner of the vehicle who was still missing. Mr. Crenshaw photographed and inventoried the vehicle and processed the hard surfaces for latent fingerprints. He lifted several latent prints, but none could be identified. Based on his findings, Mr. Crenshaw opined that the vehicle had been wiped clean. He had the vehicle towed and stored at the police impound lot.

Later in the day, Mr. Crenshaw recalled that he had seen a bank envelope in the back seat of C.C.'s vehicle as he was photographing and inventorying the contents. As he drove to work that night, he stopped at the impound yard and retrieved the envelope. He successfully lifted a latent print that was matched to the right thumb of co-defendant Lemaricus Davidson (hereinafter referred to as "co-defendant Davidson"). While he waited for a second examiner to confirm the match at the start of the 7:00 a.m. shift, Mr. Crenshaw ascertained co-defendant Davidson's last known address, which was 2316 Chipman Street. Mr. Crenshaw also learned that co-defendant Davidson had outstanding warrants against him.

Mr. Crenshaw drove past 2316 Chipman Street when he left work around 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 9, 2007. He noticed very little activity. Based upon the information he provided, officers made entry into the residence that afternoon. During the search, officers recovered C.C.'s body in a garbage can in the kitchen. Officers reported no signs of life. They called for the criminal investigative division to process the scene, and the SWAT team left the area.

Joe Cox, a crime scene investigator with the KPD forensics unit, and his team recovered the following items from the scene: two trash bags from the laundry/utility room; one trash bag found alongside the garbage can in the kitchen; a comforter, a gray purse, and a burned driver's license from one of the bags in the utility room; cartridge cases and a gas can from the glassed-in porch; a prescription bottle for Stacy Lawson from the south bedroom; a gun case from the north bedroom; two .22 caliber bullets from the floor of the north bedroom; a box of .22 caliber ammunition from a shelf in the north bedroom; a .22 caliber casing on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen; a gas can beside the refrigerator; "All Purpose Cleaner with bleach" beside the sink in the kitchen; three pieces of a floral bedsheet from two different trash bags; a gas can beside the steps in the back yard; a .9 mm magazine from a shelf in the north bedroom; a .30 caliber magazine on top of silverware in a drawer in the kitchen; C.C.'s iPod from a basket in the north bedroom; and the garbage can in which C.C. was found.

Mr. Crenshaw processed several items for fingerprints that were seized during the initial entry. He lifted prints belonging to appellant from two photographs that were found in the north bedroom of the house, where it was later determined that C.C. was kept. He found co-defendant Davidson's prints on the box of garbage bags and five of his palm prints on the bags, but he did not find any other prints belonging to appellant. However, he opined that the lack of fingerprint evidence was not determinative because garbage bags are, by nature, poor surfaces from which to lift prints due to the wrinkles in the plastic.

Investigator Todd Childress of the KPD responded to the crime scene where C.N.'s body was discovered on January 7, 2007. When he arrived, the victim's face was wrapped in a sweatshirt-like material that had been burned. He was unable to make an identification at that time, but later in the evening, C.N.'s family filed a missing persons report. Another officer who was familiar with C.N. positively identified his body the following morning. After the medical examiner removed the sweatshirt material, Investigator Childress saw a blindfold over C.N.'s eyes and a gag stuffed into his mouth. They notified C.N.'s family then began the search for C.C. On Tuesday morning, Investigator Childress received information from Dan Crenshaw about a fingerprint he had identified. Based on that information, Investigator Childress began gathering background information on co-defendant Davidson while simultaneously preparing a search warrant for co-defendant Davidson's residence. Officers executed the search warrant on Tuesday and began the search for co-defendant Davidson and appellant thereafter. They were unable to locate either suspect on Wednesday, but on Thursday, Investigator Childress was advised that three people had been taken into custody in Kentucky and that co-defendant Davidson had been arrested in Knoxville.

Investigator Childress recalled that when co-defendant Davidson was arrested, officers impounded a white Pontiac Sunbird from the nearby Ridgebrook apartment complex that was thought to be involved in the case. The Sunbird was identified as the white car that was parked outside of 2316 Chipman Street when the 4-Runner was parked there.

Linda Littlejohn, a TBI special agent/forensic scientist in the microanalysis section of the laboratory, testified as an expert witness in her field. She analyzed fourteen pieces of floral fabric taken from the victims' autopsies, two pieces of floral fabric removed from the Chipman Street residence, and several pieces of a pink fabric curtain. Agent Littlejohn's physical comparison of the floral fabric pieces taken from C.N.'s autopsy to the remaining pieces revealed them to be consistent in color and pattern, but she could not "fracture match, " i.e. piece them together to form a larger piece, the pieces. However, pieces of fabric recovered during C.C.'s autopsy matched along the fracture line with fabric found at the residence, which indicated that the pieces had been joined at one time.

Patricia Resig, a firearms examiner with the KPD, testified as an expert witness in her field. She examined a silver Clerke revolver that had been in appellant's possession and determined that it did not fire the bullets that were recovered during C.N.'s autopsy. She examined a second High Standard revolver and concluded that the six cartridge cases found at the residence were fired by that revolver, but she could not state with certainty whether the bullets found at the residence had been fired by that particular revolver. Moreover, two of the three bullets recovered from C.N.'s body during the autopsy were fired by a third weapon that had not been submitted to her for examination. The third bullet might have been fired by the same weapon as the two, but the bullet sustained too much damage for comparison. The unfired .22 caliber long cartridges found at the residence could have been fired by either revolver.

Stacy Lawson lived in Lebanon, Kentucky, in December 2006 and January 2007. She met appellant through her friend, co-defendant Vanessa Coleman, who was dating appellant at the time. During the aforementioned period, Ms. Lawson traveled to Knoxville with appellant and others three times, where they stayed at the residence of appellant's half-brother, co-defendant Davidson. On her second trip, which occurred around December 16, she saw appellant cleaning a silver handgun in the bathroom of the residence. Appellant explained to her that co-defendant Davidson had shown him two weapons and had allowed appellant to choose which one he wanted to keep. The third trip began on December 28, and Ms. Lawson traveled with her boyfriend, co-defendant George Thomas; appellant; and co-defendant Coleman. She did not recall seeing the handgun during the third trip, which spanned from December 28 through January 2, 2007. Ms. Lawson returned home early from that trip, alone, because co-defendant Davidson had pointed a gun at her and frightened her.

When the remainder of the party returned to Kentucky, Ms. Lawson visited with them at the home of Natosha Hays on January 10. They appeared as if something were wrong. Appellant told her that co-defendant Davidson had done "something crazy" and "had killed two people." Appellant believed that law enforcement would visit Ms. Lawson's home because she had left a prescription bottle at co-defendant Davidson's residence, and it bore her name and address. Thus, appellant asked Ms. Lawson to report that they had all returned with her on January 2, but she refused. While at Ms. Hays's home, Ms. Lawson observed everyone reading a news report about the murders on the computer. She asked appellant if he had been involved, and he left the room without answering.

Ethel Lynn Freeman was acquainted with co-defendant Davidson because he was her drug dealer. In December 2006, he, appellant, co-defendant Thomas, co-defendant Coleman, and Stacy Lawson helped her move from her home to an apartment at Washington Ridge. During the move, she gave co-defendant Davidson several unneeded items, and he agreed to purchase other items. On January 6, 2007, she expected him to bring a payment for the items to her apartment, but he did not show up. Ms. Freeman went to sleep and awoke at 3:51 a.m., when she called co-defendant Davidson. He answered but sounded breathless. She drove to his residence on Sunday morning, January 7. When she arrived around 11:30 a.m., she saw co-defendant Thomas walking toward the railroad tracks wearing a "hoodie." The following day, Monday, Ms. Freeman drove to co-defendant Davidson's house. She said it resembled a "ghost town, " and it was "vacated." She did not stop because she saw a police car down the street, so she left the area. Ms. Freeman confirmed that she had given co-defendant Davidson floral bedding and curtains.

Daphne Sutton, co-defendant Davidson's girlfriend at the time, moved to the Chipman Street address with him in November 2006, together with her two children. Soon thereafter, Ms. Sutton and co-defendant Davidson began having problems; specifically, co-defendant Davidson "put[] his hands on" her. On Friday, January 5, they argued again, and co-defendant Davidson again physically assaulted her. She left the house, walked to a nearby gas station, and called her friend Kassie Suttles to pick her up. She stayed at the apartment Ms. Suttles shared with Brandy Pressley that weekend. On Sunday, January 7, Ms. Sutton heard on the news that a body had been found, and she called co-defendant Davidson because it had occurred "right in front of his house." He told Ms. Sutton to return because he had some clothes for her. Later that day, Ms. Suttles and Ms. Pressley drove Ms. Sutton to the residence to retrieve the clothes from co-defendant Davidson, as well as her make-up bag.

When she entered the house, the front door to the porch was open, and the blanket that covered the front door was pulled aside. Appellant was seated in a chair by the kitchen door, "twiddling his thumbs, " and George Thomas was seated in a chair beside the entertainment center in the living room, "rolling a blunt." Neither man spoke to her, which was unusual. Due to the floor plan of the residence, Ms. Sutton had to walk through the north bedroom to access the bathroom, where her make-up bag was located. The door was locked. She did not hear any voices, but she assumed a female was in there. She heard something fall into the sink and heard water running, but nothing else. In an attempt to gain entry to the bathroom through alternate means, Ms. Sutton retraced her steps and tried to walk through the kitchen and around to the bathroom through the other bedroom, but co-defendant Davidson grabbed her and would not let her pass through the kitchen. While there, Ms. Sutton saw a gas can and a trash can in the kitchen, which were out of place. She walked back to the porch, where he gave her the clothing in a Sears bag. He also tried to give her money, but she refused.

Once Ms. Sutton entered the vehicle, she looked through the bag of clothing and realized that the items were not new and were not her size. Ms. Sutton later called co-defendant Davidson to ask about the items he had given her. He visited the apartment, arriving in a Toyota 4-Runner with a Tennessee sticker and a North Face sticker on the rear window. She returned all of the items except for a pair of jeans that she gave Ms. Pressley.

Monday night, the three women granted co-defendant Davidson permission to spend the night at the apartment. He was wearing a pair of black and silver Nike tennis shoes, which were identified as having belonged to C.N. On Tuesday, Ms. Sutton's mother called her, which prompted Ms. Sutton to look through co-defendant Davidson's jacket. There, she found a small black revolver and subsequently demanded that he leave the apartment.

Vincent Wernimont met co-defendant Davidson in prison. After they were released, co-defendant Davidson stayed at Mr. Wernimont's residence until he moved into the house on Chipman Street. Appellant visited on occasion. Around January 8, 2007, appellant, co-defendant Thomas, and co-defendant Coleman visited him. Appellant stated that co-defendant Davidson was acting "crazy" and that he indicated he had committed sexual offenses against a young woman and had thrown her in a trash can. Mr. Wernimont did not believe appellant's account but rather thought that the two brothers were having an argument. Appellant said that he wanted to go home to Kentucky but that he needed a ride. Mr. Wernimont arranged a place for appellant to spend the night and a ride to Kentucky the next day. He subsequently saw on the news that the victims had been killed, and he called the police. During his interview with police, appellant called Mr. Wernimont's cellular telephone, which was how law enforcement tracked appellant to Kentucky.

Natosha Hays lived in Lebanon, Kentucky, at the time of these offenses and was friends with co-defendant Coleman and appellant. After returning from Knoxville, appellant, co-defendant Coleman, Ms. Lawson, and co-defendant Thomas visited her house, and co-defendant Coleman and appellant spent the night. The following day, she received a telephone call from law enforcement advising her to exit her residence quickly. Police then entered and took appellant into custody.

Law enforcement officers participating in apprehending appellant and other co-defendants drove to Kentucky on January 10, 2007, to make arrests on January 11. After appellant was arrested, officers searched Ms. Hays's residence. In the room where co-defendant Coleman and appellant had slept, they found co-defendant Coleman's purse, which contained paperwork with her own name and C.C.'s name. They also accessed Ms. Hays's computer and observed that Knoxville news websites had been accessed recently. During a search of the residence at Chipman Street, they found pink ladies' high heel shoes that belonged to C.C., together with bleach bottles in the kitchen cabinet.

Investigator Steve Still of the KPD testified about a statement given by appellant. According to appellant, he, co-defendant Davidson, and Eric Boyd drove to an apartment complex for someone to meet a girl. When they arrived at Washington Ridge, they saw an SUV and a male talking to the female who was seated in the driver's seat. Appellant said that co-defendant Davidson and Mr. Boyd "basically car-jacked them" and ordered appellant to drive the vehicle in which they had been riding back to Chipman Street. He stated that when they arrived at the residence, co-defendant Davidson took the female into a bedroom while Mr. Boyd drove away with the male. When Mr. Boyd returned sometime thereafter, the male was no longer with him. Investigator Still asked appellant if he had engaged in sexual intercourse with the female, and he denied doing so.

Randall Nelson, an analyst with the trace evidence unit of the TBI's crime laboratory, testified as an expert witness and stated that he found bleach residue on the white tank top that C.C. had been wearing on the night she disappeared.

Jennifer Millsaps, a special agent/forensic scientist with the TBI, was accepted as an expert by the court in the fields of forensic serology and DNA analysis. She examined a striped sweater and a white tank top from C.C. that each contained a mixture of DNA from C.C. and from appellant, in the form of spermatozoa. She also analyzed the pair of jeans that C.C. had been wearing and located five stains, two of which matched the DNA profile of co-defendant Davidson, one of which matched the DNA profile of appellant, and two of which were blood stains originating from C.C. Ms. Millsaps analyzed oral swabs taken from C.C. during the autopsy and found sperm cells that were "consistent with" appellant's DNA profile but not conclusive. Vaginal and rectal swabs taken from C.C. matched co-defendant Davidson's DNA profile. Agent Millsaps analyzed rectal swabs taken from C.N. during the autopsy and found the presence of semen, but no sperm cells; thus, she could not isolate DNA for comparison.

Agent Millsaps examined fourteen pieces of floral fabric that contained multiple stains, on which she located DNA from the following individuals: C.C., co-defendant Coleman, and appellant. She conceded that if appellant and co-defendant Coleman engaged in sexual intercourse on the floral fabric sheets, it would not be unusual to find a combination of their DNA thereon.

Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, who performed the autopsies of the victims, indicated that the evidence established that C.N.'s body was burned after he died. She confirmed that C.N. had a blindfold over his eyes and a sweatshirt covering much of his head, in addition to "bondage" and ties around his wrists and ankles. The sweatshirt appeared to have a string through the neck or hood that was cinched at the back of C.N.'s neck. A sock had been placed in his mouth as a gag.

When Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan performed an x-ray, she observed three projectiles in C.N.'s body, one in his head, one in his neck, and one close to his spine where it met his chest area. The gunshot wound to C.N.'s head was located on the right side of his head, above his ear, and Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan classified it as a contact wound. This gunshot, she opined, was the injury that killed C.N. The wound to C.N.'s neck was in the back, at the junction of the neck and upper back, but she could not discern whether the wound was contact, close range, or distant. The third bullet entered C.N.'s back, fractured his spine at the sixth and seventh vertebrae, and damaged the spinal cord; this wound would have disabled C.N.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan also noted "tremendous charring, blistering" on C.N.'s body, which indicated to her "almost like a flash, very hot and . . . fast fire that was engulfing the body and burned it." She reported that his anal/rectal area was bruised and swollen and that there was blood coming from inside the region. She opined that the damage was caused by "forceful penetration, . . . possibly an object, " due to the severity of the injury. Based on the presence of certain cell types, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan stated that C.N. died within a couple of hours after the injury was inflicted. From the extensiveness of the methods used to bind and gag C.N. and the severity of the injuries he sustained, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan found it "hard . . . to believe that just one person would do all of that." She did not locate any defensive wounds on C.N.'s body. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan concluded that the manner of death was homicide and the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.

With regard to C.C., Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan responded to the scene where the body was found. When she first arrived, she observed a large plastic garbage can with a lid. The can was distorted by the weight of C.C.'s body pressing against the sides. There were also bedsheets and pillow shams in the garbage can. They removed the can intact and transported it to the forensic center. Upon examination, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan ascertained that C.C.'s head had been covered with a garbage bag that was tied off behind her head. Moreover, her body had been placed in five layers of garbage bags before being placed in the can. A series of ligatures had been utilized to keep her body in "almost . . . a fetal position" with her anal/genital area exposed.

When Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan removed C.C.'s body, she noted that blood was emanating from an injury in that region. C.C.'s body exuded an "unusual kind of chemical smell mixed with early decomposition smell . . . [, ] kind of a chemical decomposition, so to speak, " which Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan acknowledged could have been caused by someone pouring bleach into C.C.'s mouth. C.C. also had an injury to the frenulum, the tissue that connects the lip to the gums, which could have been caused by inserting something, such as a penis, into her mouth. Examining lividity, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan could ascertain that C.C. actually died inside the garbage can and that she had been in the can for perhaps a day before being found. Observing the cyanotic coloring of C.C.'s face, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan opined that C.C. died from asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen, which would have been a "relatively slow death." There was no evidence of strangulation, and Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan found no signs of a struggle on C.C.'s body.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan observed bruising around C.C.'s anus and vagina, as well as such extensive bruising in the region that a hematoma had formed. She opined that the damage was "true blunt trauma, . . . beating, " and characterized the injury as being "much more" than what would result from "your usual intercourse or rape." By examining the areas of injury, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan surmised that C.C. survived only a couple of hours after the final injury hematoma occurred, which was sometime in the afternoon of Sunday, January 7. Comparison of the types of cells present in the injury to C.C.'s mouth and to her anal/genital area, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan stated that the oral rape occurred prior to the infliction of the other injuries. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan concluded that the manner of death was homicide and the cause of death was asphyxial death, or lack of oxygen. C.C. would have died between three and five minutes after being positioned in a cramped posture inside five layers of garbage bags, having the bag placed over her head, and being covered with other materials and the garbage can lid.

Appellant testified on his own behalf. He stated that he, co-defendant Coleman, co-defendant Thomas, and Ms. Lawson visited co-defendant Davidson for the New Year's holiday in January 2007. The weekend after New Year's Day, co-defendant Davidson "beat . . . up" his girlfriend, Ms. Sutton, and she left. Appellant and co-defendant Davidson were going to walk to the store, and they left the residence together. As they walked outside, they encountered Eric Boyd. Boyd drove co-defendant Davidson and appellant to an apartment complex to meet a female.

As they drove, the men shared a "wet blunt, " which is marijuana that had been soaked in embalming fluid and then dried before rolling it into a cigarette. When they arrived at the apartment complex, Mr. Boyd identified the apartment he wanted to visit, stopped the vehicle, and placed it in park; however, he did not turn off the ignition. Boyd looked at co-defendant Davidson, and they exited the vehicle. They approached an SUV where a female, C.C., was seated in the driver's seat with the door open, "hugging or kissing" a male, C.N., who was standing beside the SUV. According to appellant, ...

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