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Fair v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 31, 2014


Assigned on Briefs September 16, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Unicoi County No. 6385 Stacy L. Street, Judge

Jeffery C. Kelly, District Public Defender; Wesley Taylor (at post-conviction hearing & on appeal), Assistant District Public Defender; and David Hall Crichton (at post-conviction hearing), Assistant District Public Defender, for the appellant, Conley R. Fair.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Senior Counsel; Anthony Wade Clark, District Attorney General; and Ryan Curtis, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.



This case arises from the Petitioner's killing Bruce Stukey and attempting to kill James Brown. The Petitioner appealed his convictions, and this court affirmed the convictions and summarized the facts of the case as follows:

By the time of trial, Mr. Brown had died of causes not related to this case. However, the jury heard an audiotape of his testimony from the defendant's preliminary hearing, and a transcript was admitted into evidence. At the preliminary hearing, Mr. Brown testified that around 6:30 p.m. on August 14, he drove Mr. Stukey to the defendant's house. He said Mr. Stukey wanted to buy a gun from the defendant, but the defendant said the gun was hidden on Fire Tower Road. He said the defendant stated that Mr. Brown's car could not make the drive and asked Mr. Stukey to come back in an hour, and the two would go to Fire Tower Road to get the gun. Mr. Brown testified that Mr. Stukey did not want to wait an hour, and they drove to Mr. Stukey's house to get Mr. Stukey's truck. He said they then picked up the defendant, and the three of them went to Fire Tower Road around 7:30 p.m.
Mr. Brown testified that Mr. Stukey had no gun or other weapon and that he would have been able to tell if Mr. Stukey had a weapon underneath his clothing. He said the defendant directed Mr. Stukey to Fire Tower Road and had Mr. Stukey pull off the main road near a trail. He said they all got out of the truck and started walking down the trail. He said the defendant led the way, followed by Mr. Stukey, then himself. He said they walked through heavy woods, then veered off the trail on to a walking path. He stated that the path had lots of stickers and brush and that he stopped and told the defendant and Mr. Stukey that he would wait for them because the area was too wooded. He testified that the defendant told him to continue because they were already there.
Mr. Brown testified that he was about twenty feet from the defendant and Mr. Stukey and that as he tried to make his way down the trail toward them, he heard a loud popping noise. He said he looked up and saw the defendant coming toward him pointing a gun toward his head. He said the defendant shot the gun in his direction, then turned and shot Mr. Stukey twice in the back. He said Mr. Stukey had no weapons and had not threatened the defendant. He said Mr. Stukey fell face down, and the defendant came toward Mr. Brown again. Mr. Brown testified that the defendant looked like he had snapped, and he said he started running through the woods, away from the defendant. He said the defendant chased him through the woods and fired four or five more shots at him. He said the defendant stated, "Come here, boy."
Mr. Brown testified that he continued running but that the incline of the mountain was so steep, he fell and slid down part of the mountain. He said he ran for a long time until he no longer heard the defendant chasing him. He said he continued walking and running through the woods but that he had hurt his leg, and it was getting dark. He said that when it became too dark to continue, he sat down and waited for morning. He testified that when it became light again, he continued walking through the woods until he found a trail that led him to a house. He said he found a man who drove him to a convenience store where he called the police. He said that a bullet had grazed his finger.
Mr. Brown testified that all three men had smoked marijuana on the way to Fire Tower Road. He said that several weeks before the shooting, Mr. Stukey had suspected the defendant of stealing money from him. Mr. Brown stated that he had been in a detoxification program for heroin three weeks before the shooting.
Troy Lewis, an officer with the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department, testified that on August 15, 1995, he was dispatched to Jerry's Market. He said that when he arrived, medical personnel were treating Mr. Brown. Officer Lewis stated that Mr. Brown had numerous scratches and a burn on his right middle finger. He said he learned that Mr. Stukey had been shot on Fire Tower Road and that Mr. Brown had spent the night getting out of the woods. Officer Lewis testified that he and Sergeant Harris went to Fire Tower Road on Buffalo Mountain and searched the area. He said they found Mr. Stukey's red truck, and they secured the scene for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
Ron Arnold, a criminal investigator with the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department, testified that he was dispatched to Buffalo Mountain around 7:30 a.m. on August 15. He said that fifteen to twenty people were searching for Mr. Stukey's body, but they could not find it. He said they learned that Mr. Stukey was wearing a pager, and they decided to call it. He said they located the pager but not Mr. Stukey's body. He testified that he found a trail consisting of Mr. Brown's receipts, cigarettes, and car keys that led to a bloodstained area deep in the woods. Agent Arnold testified that he determined that this was the location of the shooting. He said he assembled a search party to search the immediate area, and Mr. Stukey's body was found about thirty minutes later, about one-quarter to one-half mile from the crime scene. He testified that the body had numerous scratches. Agent Arnold testified that the next day, he returned to the crime scene with a metal detector and found a spent bullet on the ground.
Agent Arnold testified that he learned that the defendant had gone to his sister's house in Dothan, Alabama, but was on his way back to Tennessee. He said that on August 17, he learned that the Johnson City Police Department had the defendant in custody. He said he went to Johnson City to bring the defendant to Unicoi County. Agent Arnold said the defendant was then arraigned and booked and that during the booking process, the defendant removed a piece of paper from his pocket and began to tear it up. Agent Arnold said that another Agent got the letter from the defendant, and they pieced it together. He said the letter was written and signed by the defendant. The letter was admitted into evidence, and in the letter, the defendant admitted killing Mr. Stukey and trying to kill Mr. Brown. He claimed that Mr. Stukey and Mr. Brown took him into the woods to show him a pot plant. He wrote that Mr. Brown struck him from behind, causing him to fall into Mr. Stukey and knock a gun out of Mr. Stukey's pants. The defendant wrote that he fired the gun because he feared for his life.
Agent Arnold testified that after reading the letter, they took the defendant to the emergency room to have him examined. Agent Arnold said he did not notice any injuries on the defendant nor did the defendant complain of any. He said the defendant was not treated for any injuries at the hospital. Agent Arnold testified that after interviewing the defendant's family, he went to 700 E. Maple Street in Johnson City where the defendant had been living with family members. He said he and other officers looked for a gun in the wooded area behind the street. He said they found a gun containing one bullet and a box of ammunition between 632 and 634 E. Maple Street.
Agent Arnold testified that he processed Mr. Stukey's truck for fingerprints but that none were identifiable. He said he found a marijuana pipe containing what appeared to be marijuana residue in Mr. Stukey's truck. He testified that when Mr. Stukey's body was found, it was clothed in a tank top and cotton sweat pants with an elastic stretch band. He admitted that the defendant voluntarily went to the authorities in Johnson City.
Dr. Cleland Blake, the Assistant State Chief Medical Examiner, testified that he performed an autopsy on Mr. Stukey's body on August 16. He testified that the victim died from three gunshot wounds and that he retrieved two bullets from the victim's body. He said one bullet penetrated the front of the victim's left chest, traveling in a downward trajectory and lodging above the rib bone. He said another bullet entered the back through the lower chest area, lodging in a vertebra. He said he found a third wound that entered the back and exited in the front, just under the collarbone. He said this wound caused bleeding in the left chest cavity and penetrated the top of the lung. Dr. Blake testified that the victim lived for as much as one hour after his injuries were inflicted. He said the victim had numerous scratches and bruises. He testified that the first two wounds received were those to the back of Mr. Stukey, with the final wound inflicted at the front of the chest as Mr. Stukey was falling. He testified that the shots were fired from at least three feet away and from a steep angle.
Robert Royse, a firearms identification specialist with the TBI, testified that he examined the revolver found in the bushes, the ammunition in the adjacent box, and the bullets that were retrieved from Mr. Stukey's body and from the crime scene. He testified that the bullets from Mr. Stukey's body were fired from the revolver and were the same as the bullet found at the scene. He said the bullets in the ammunition box were also consistent with the bullets from Mr. Stukey's body and the scene.
TBI Agent Shannon Morton testified regarding the extensive search for the defendant's body. He testified that the search was treacherous because of the wooded, rugged terrain on the mountain and the steep incline. Agent Morton also testified regarding the defendant pulling out a letter and ripping it up during booking. His testimony was substantially the same as that of Agent Arnold. ...

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