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State v. Morris

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 12, 2014


Assigned on Briefs May 14, 2014

Direct Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2013-1-145 James C. Beasley, Judge

Ross Alderman, District Public Defender; Emma Rae Tennent, Assistant Public Defender (on appeal); Melissa Harrison and Sarah King, Assistant Public Defenders (at trial), for the appellant, Stephen Rene Morris.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Tracy L. Alcock, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Ben Ford, 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.



Procedural History

The defendant was convicted in this case of assaulting his ninety-one-year-old grandfather. The victim suffered from advanced-stage Alzheimers and sometimes did not know or recognize those around him. Following the death of the victim's wife, the defendant's grandmother, approximately three weeks before this incident, the defendant and his girlfriend, Ms. Tina Flippo, had moved in to help care for the victim. The pair tended to the victim's daily needs and provided the care necessary to allow him to remain in the home.

Mr. Michael Hudson lived behind the victim, and their backyards bordered each other, with only a chain-link fence separating them. On July 26, 2010, Mr. Hudson and his girlfriend, Ms. Debbie Whitney, were outside working in their yard. Ms. Whitney heard some arguing and a commotion in the victim's backyard and got Mr. Hudson from inside the barn. Mr. Hudson heard "a lot of commotion" and "cussing, " and then he heard someone call out "help me." Mr. Hudson saw the defendant hit the victim in the back of the neck, and he yelled at the defendant to stop. The victim fell to the sidewalk. Mr. Hudson told Ms. Whitney to call 911, and he got in his car and drove to the victim's next-door-neighbor's, Mr. Brandon Proctor's, house to get assistance. Ms. Whitney made the call and remained on the line with police relaying the events as they unfolded. Mr. Hudson and Mr. Proctor then proceeded to the victim's backyard. When they arrived moments later, they found the victim still lying on the sidewalk, and the defendant was inside the house or garage with the door open. The victim was bleeding and had a bruise to his facial/head area. There appeared to be a cut on the left side of his neck.

Mr. Hudson confronted the defendant and asked him if he had hurt the victim. The defendant responded, "[Y]eah . . . I did it and he started it." At the same time, the defendant began aggressively walking toward Mr. Hudson, and Mr. Hudson hit him in the face, busting his eyes, because he had just seen the defendant "knock a ninety-one -year-old man down." Mr. Hudson turned to offer the victim aid, and Mr. Procter stood guard over the defendant. The victim did not say anything to the men.

The police and an ambulance soon arrived. They observed that the victim, still lying in the driveway, had a fresh cut on his left ear, a swollen left eye, discoloration on his cheeks, and bruising on his hands and arms. Officers indicated that the victim was "really kind of out of it." He was transported to the hospital. The defendant had cuts on both of his eyebrows, and he smelled of and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. The responding officers spoke to the witnesses gathered at the scene. Mr. Hudson told the police about hearing the victim crying for help and that he had witnessed the defendant knock the victim to the ground. Based upon the information they obtained, the police developed the defendant as the primary aggressor in the assault of the victim and took him into custody. The officers also noticed that the defendant smelled of and appeared to have been drinking alcohol. The defendant told police that the victim had fallen and that he was attempting to help him up. The defendant was first taken to a local hospital for treatment prior to being taken to the Criminal Justice Center. There he told officers that he and the victim had argued and that the victim had attacked him.

Mr. Proctor also related an event that had occurred earlier in the day. According to him, when he came home for lunch, he saw the defendant and the victim both lying on the ground in the backyard. He approached them, and he helped the defendant get the victim into a chair. He further related that he believed that he smelled alcohol on the defendant at the time.

Based upon the above, the defendant was charged by information for adult abuse.[1]A jury trial was held at which multiple witnesses testified to the above facts, with some slight variations in the details. The defendant testified on his own behalf as well. He testified that he and Ms. Flippo had moved in with the victim after the death of his grandmother to care for the victim's daily needs. The defendant stated that on the day of the incident, he and the victim had been working outside in the backyard. The defendant testified that the victim loved to be outside, although he could no longer remain outdoors alone. The defendant related that just earlier in the day, the victim had fallen and was unable to get up unassisted. At the victim's request, the defendant laid down on the grass with the victim. Afterwards, Mr. Proctor came over and assisted the defendant with getting the victim into a chair. The defendant acknowledged that he had drank two rum and cokes over the course of the day, but he denied that he was intoxicated.

According to the defendant, later that same afternoon, the defendant and the victim were again in the yard. The victim began to get too hot, and the defendant persuaded him to go back inside. However, before they reached the house, the victim started to fall, calling out, "[H]elp me." The defendant said that he attempted to stop or cushion the victim's fall, but he was unable to catch him before he hit the ground. The defendant ...

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