Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs August 20, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 276805 Rebecca J. Stern, Judge
Donna Miller and Lorrie Miller (at trial) and Donna Miller (on appeal), Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Quinisha Renee Brabson.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Senior Counsel; William H. Cox, III, District Attorney General; and Brian Finlay and Matthew Rogers, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Camille R. McMullen, J., and David A. Patterson, Sp.J., joined.
JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The homicide at issue occurred when the victim, Timmy Nichols, drove up to the defendant and her girlfriend at random on the street, intent on exchanging some pills in his possession for crack cocaine. The defendant, under disputed circumstances, ultimately shot the victim.
Lisa Greenlief, the victim's girlfriend and the only witness to the shooting to testify at trial, established that the victim was hoping to complete a drug transaction at the time of his death. Ms. Greenlief testified that she, the victim, and Jeff Young drove from Cleveland, Tennessee, into Chattanooga, hoping to exchange some prescription medication in the victim's possession for crack cocaine. Ms. Greenlief was in the passenger's seat, Mr. Young was in the back seat on the driver's side, and the victim was driving. Ms. Greenlief testified that it was around 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. on April 9, 2010, although other evidence established that the shooting occurred sometime after midnight on April 8, 2010. Ms. Greenlief testified that the victim pulled over onto a sidewalk where the defendant and several other people were standing. She stated she did not know how many people were there, but she also testified that there were five or six people and that "a bunch of young kids" were standing on the sidewalk. She testified that the victim spoke to the defendant to ask her to trade pills for crack but did not say anything threatening. The defendant and some girls were standing on the driver's side of the car. She testified that the victim was calm and merely held up the pill bottle.
Ms. Greenlief's testimony was that the defendant shot without provocation. She told the jury that the window was cracked and that the defendant walked up to it and fired, killing the victim. She was facing the victim head-on. Ms. Greenlief said that the defendant "pulled out a gun and she just rapidly shot him. I mean, head on, I mean just fired away without even thinking she shot him." She speculated the defendant knew the victim or thought he was an undercover police officer. Ms. Greenlief further testified, "She got like she was scared or something like that and he asked, you know, for the trade, the exchange[, ] and she pulled out a gun and shot him from the driver's side." After having been shot, the victim drove away at fifty or sixty miles per hour and crashed into a telephone pole. Ms. Greenlief broke her leg in the accident, and the backseat passenger rolled down the window and ran away to avoid police. Ms. Greenlief gave police a description of the shooter as five feet, seven inches tall, with a medium build and dark complexion, wearing a white shirt and black shorts.
Ms. Greenlief acknowledged a prior theft conviction and testified she was bipolar and on medication for her condition at the time. The defense impeached Ms. Greenlief with inconsistencies in her testimony and between her testimony and statements to the police as well as inconsistencies with the physical evidence. Although Ms. Greenlief testified at trial that the driver's window was cracked, she recalled telling Investigator Wenger that the window would not roll down. She also recalled telling Investigator Wenger that the bullet went through the driver's window, which shattered and sent pieces of glass all over her face, but she testified she was not in her "right mind" when she told him that. Photographs of the car showed that the driver's window was intact and rolled up. Ms. Greenlief recalled telling Investigator Wenger that the defendant was on the passenger's side of the car but testified at trial that she had been wrong. She did not recall saying the defendant walked around the hood of the car to the driver's window or saying that the defendant leaned inside the car and put her hands on the passenger's side window. She also denied being shown a photographic lineup.
The defendant was picked up by police about twelve blocks from the scene of the shooting. Officer Lauren Wenger testified the defendant was walking with two other people and was sweating excessively. Officer Wenger had been looking for a heavy-set black woman wearing black shorts and a white T-shirt with her hair pulled back, and the defendant matched this description.
Investigator Michael Wenger was assigned to the case, and he interviewed the victim's two companions, the defendant's companions, and finally the defendant herself. The police were summoned at approximately 12:45 a.m. to the scene of the accident, and the defendant was detained at about 1:08 a.m. She signed a waiver of rights at 8:20 a.m., and her statement to Investigator Wenger was audio recorded and introduced into evidence at the trial.
The defendant's statement essentially asserts that she used the gun in an effort to protect herself and her girlfriend. She stated that she and her girlfriend were walking through a parking lot when a man drove up to them. The man turned the vehicle around to follow them and was trying to sell pills for a dollar. She described behavior she found threatening on the part of the victim, including the fact that he kept addressing her girlfriend on the passenger's side of the car instead of speaking with her on the driver's side and the fact that he kept asking how old her girlfriend was. The defendant told Investigator Wenger that the victim was cursing at her, saying, "I'm not talking to you, b*tch." She described the occupants of the car as drinking and "geeked up." She told Investigator Wenger that she thought the victim, whose eyes were red, was going to "get" them and specifically was afraid he was going to try to rape her girlfriend. The defendant described the victim as "flipping out, " and she stated that before she shot, he opened his car door and made a motion as though to get out of the car. The ...