Assigned on Briefs July 8, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 11-05705 Honorable Chris Craft, Judge
Stephen C. Bush, District Public Defender; Phyllis Aluko (on appeal); Sanjeev Memula, Jane Sturdivant, and Adrienne Moore (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, J.W. Causey.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin E.D. Smith, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; Theresa McCusker and Alycia Carter, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams, J., joined. Jerry L. Smith, J., Not Participating.
Camille R. McMullen, Judge
This case concerns the senseless killing of seventeen-year-old William "Peanut" Bibb on December 17, 2010, at a hotel in Memphis. The Defendant-Appellant, J.W. Causey, provided a statement to police admitting that he fatally shot the victim and was subsequently indicted by the Shelby County Grand Jury for first degree murder. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-202 (2010). The following proof was adduced at trial.
Trial. Leslie Martin, the mother of the victim, testified that she last saw her son at around 7:00 p.m. on December 17, 2010. She said that he was in good health at the time.
Officer Gregory Howard of the Memphis Police Department (MPD) testified that on December 17, 2010, he responded to a shooting call at the Extended Stay Hotel on Mount Moriah Road in Memphis. He did not recall the time of the call. He arrived at the scene within three to five minutes after receiving the call and observed a black male lying on the floor of the lobby with an apparent gunshot wound to the chest. Officer Howard said that the area was full of people who appeared to be teenagers. After clearing the lobby and calling an ambulance, he questioned bystanders about what they had witnessed. He was then posted at the front door and maintained a crime scene log. The police conducted a sweep of the hotel, but did not find the shooter on the premises. Officer Howard then went outside and recorded every license plate in the parking lot.
Officer Marcus Mosby, a MPD crime scene investigator, testified that when he arrived at the hotel at 3:47 a.m., numerous officers had secured the scene. Once inside, he observed the victim's body and began to assess the crime scene. Officer Mosby took photographs outside and inside the hotel and collected various items of evidence. He photographed the victim's body on the floor of the lobby, a .45 caliber shell casing, a bullet fragment recovered from the front desk area, and a possible bullet hole in the door. Officer Mosby drew a diagram of the crime scene depicting the location of the evidence that he collected. He did not recover any guns.
Dr. Miguel Laboy testified as an expert in the field of forensic pathology and as the keeper of records for the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office. He said that Dr. James L. Caruso performed the autopsy on the victim on December 18, 2010, and that he agreed with the findings in Dr. Caruso's report. An external examination of the body revealed that the victim had a gunshot wound to the chest with the entry in the front left side of the chest and an exit wound on the back. The bullet traveled from left to right, and from front to back, in a slightly downward direction. There was no gun powder soot or stippling on the wound, which indicated that the gun was discharged from an indeterminate or distant range. Dr. Laboy declined to define close, intermediate, or distant shooting range because he was not a firearms expert. He stated that the presence or absence of gunpowder stippling or soot would vary depending on the gun type and the ammunition used. He agreed that a .45 revolver would typically cause soot or stippling if fired from close range. During the internal examination, Dr. Caruso documented that the bullet pierced both of the victim's lungs, the aorta, and the pericardial sac around the heart. Dr. Laboy explained that the perforation of a major vessel such as the aorta would result in an accumulation of blood from the heart and difficulty in breathing. The victim's toxicology analysis indicated that he tested positive for marijuana. After the autopsy, Dr. Caruso determined the cause of death to be a gunshot wound to the chest and the manner of death to be homicide.
Erick Jefferson testified that he was the manager at the Extended Stay Hotel at the time of the victim's death. After receiving a call about a shooting in the lobby, he arrived at the hotel between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. on December 18, 2010. At the scene, he observed the victim's body to the right, one or two police officers, and a gathering of people. He said that the hotel's surveillance system continuously recorded at all times. Upon viewing the video from the main lobby camera, he observed a young man exit the elevator with a gun in his hand. The man did not raise the gun from his side or point the weapon. There were also a few teenagers standing in the lobby area near the chairs. Mr. Jefferson could not see anything else in the video.
Terriyuan Davis, the victim's friend, testified that he was sixteen years old at the time of the shooting. On the evening of December 17, 2010, he was with his brother, Terrance Rossell, and the victim. They drove in separate cars to the Extended Stay Hotel, with the brothers in one vehicle and the victim in another. Mr. Davis and the victim planned on dropping Mr. Rossell off at the hotel and then going to IHOP. He did not know what was occurring at the hotel at the time but said that Mr. Rossell was going to visit his girlfriend, Laterrica Mims. Upon arriving at the hotel, Mr. Davis said that three people he did not know entered ahead of his group. One of the individuals was later identified as the Defendant. While Mr. Davis and his group were standing in the lobby and talking, the Defendant got on the elevator. No words were ever exchanged between the Defendant and Mr. Davis's group.
Mr. Davis said that he was in the lobby for two or three minutes talking with Mr. Rossell, the victim, Ms. Mims, Dedrek McVay, and Amber Matthews. No one in his group ever went upstairs. He and the victim were about to leave when the Defendant exited the elevator with a gun. According to Mr. Davis, the Defendant said something, but he could not recall what was said. He also could not recall whether anyone responded to the Defendant. Upon seeing the gun, Mr. Davis and his brother ran through the right hallway and exited to their car. He got into the passenger seat and tried to see whether the victim was running behind him. Mr. Davis heard one gunshot and saw the Defendant run out the same exit door that he and his brother had used. He returned to the lobby and observed the victim lying on the floor. He could not remember what happened next because he was panicking. Mr. Davis testified that ...