Session Date June 3, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 09-07393 W. Mark Ward, Judge
Stephen C. Bush, District Public Defender; Barry W. Kuhn (on appeal); Lawrence R. White, Mary Katherine Kent, and Alicia Kutch (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Joseph Caronna.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Karen Cook, Thomas Henderson, and Danielle McCollum, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn, J., joined. Jeffrey S. Bivins, J., Not Participating.
CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE
This case concerns the death of the Defendant's wife, Tina Caronna, who disappeared on October 25, 2008. Two days later, on October 27, 2008, her body was discovered in the back of her Chevy Avalanche in Bartlett, Tennessee. The victim's cause of death was asphyxia or strangulation. Part of the police investigation revealed that when an inmate asked the Defendant how to kill someone and avoid detection "with all the 'CSI'" technology, the Defendant replied, "Suffocate them." The Defendant also told the inmate several details about the victim's death that were unknown to the public. A few months after the victim's death, a Shelby County grand jury returned a single-count indictment charging the Defendant with first degree premeditated murder of the victim. At trial, the State built its case against the Defendant based largely on circumstantial evidence, which included over 40 witnesses. The bulk of the witness testimony described the events leading up to the victim's disappearance, her marital relationship, the Defendant's extramarital affair, and the Defendant's financial misdeeds. In order to address the issues presented in this appeal, a full recitation of the proof adduced at trial, which began on October 22, 2012, is necessary.
Clara Murphy, the victim's mother, testified that her daughter and the Defendant had been married for fifteen years. The victim met the Defendant when he was a manager at a shoe store. After the couple's marriage, the victim's father trained the Defendant in insurance sales. Ms. Murphy said that she was very close with her daughter but that their relationship changed after the victim was married. When Ms. Murphy's husband passed away in June 2007, she and the victim stopped communicating because the victim took the Defendant's side in a family disagreement. In September 2008, a month before the victim died, Ms. Murphy and her daughter began to exchange e-mails.
At around 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 25, 2008, Ms. Murphy learned from the victim's son that he was unable to reach the victim or the Defendant. Later that night, Ms. Murphy discovered that people were searching for her daughter. Ms. Murphy said that the Defendant did not call her until the victim's truck had already been found.
Pat Hathaway testified that she and her husband, Gary, had known the victim and the Defendant for ten years. They met through the Corvette Club of Memphis and frequently traveled together. According to Ms. Hathaway, the victim and the Defendant appeared to have a loving relationship. She said that she rarely saw the Caronnas argue and that the couple was always together. Ms. Hathaway stated that the victim wished that she could have some time alone to go shopping and to nail appointments without the Defendant. She said that the victim was aware of the Defendant's affair with Becky Black but that the victim thought the relationship had ended.
Ms. Hathaway stated that the victim was very upset that her mother and the Defendant "had a falling out." She said that the Defendant frequently referred to the victim's mother as "the devil or a bch[.]" The weekend before the victim's death, the Hathaways and the Caronnas had taken a trip together to a car show in Knoxville. According to Ms. Hathaway, the victim "seemed very distracted" and "[s]he was not herself." The victim, who usually enjoyed shopping, did not want to shop, explaining that she had "a lot on [her] mind."
Ms. Hathaway called the victim at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 25, 2008. When she told the victim about running into the victim's mother at dinner the night before, the victim began to cry and asked if her mother had inquired about her. Ms. Hathaway thought she heard the Defendant become angry in the background, but the sound was muffled as though the victim had covered the phone with her hand. When the victim returned to the phone, she was no longer crying, and she talked about how the Defendant had planned to surprise her the night before with the closing on their new house. The victim told Ms. Hathaway that she did not need help before the Corvette Club dinner that evening and that the Defendant would help her prepare for the party.
When Ms. Hathaway returned home at around 2:00 p.m. that day, she saw the Defendant in her driveway playing with her granddaughter. She thought it was odd because the Defendant usually did not pay attention to her grandchildren. The Defendant and Mr. Hathaway had been working on cars in the Hathaways' large garage. She said that the Defendant would usually leave his car at the Hathaway house and that "he wouldn't hang around" unless the victim was also there. When Ms. Hathaway asked where the victim was, the Defendant said that she was getting items for the party. Ms. Hathaway then asked the Defendant why he was not helping the victim, and he responded that the victim "'wanted to go on her own.'" After returning inside her house, Ms. Hathaway called the victim but was unable to reach her. She recalled that the Defendant left around 4:00 p.m. and had repeatedly asked what time he should pick up the Hathaways to go to the Corvette Club. After leaving, the Defendant called the Hathaways wondering whether they had heard from the victim. The Hathaways then decided to attend the party on their own.
Ms. Hathaway said that she realized something was wrong when the victim did not show up for the party. She told another attendee who was a police detective about her concerns, and he issued a bulletin for the victim's Chevy Avalanche. The Hathaways then left the party to meet the Defendant at his home. They waited for the Defendant, who returned shortly, stating that he had been searching for the victim. Ms. Hathaway testified that the house was dark and that the Defendant shouted, "'Tina, are you home, are you home.'" According to Ms. Hathaway, the victim would have had the lights on and music playing if she were there. Inside the home, Ms. Hathaway detected a strong odor of bleach and could see bleach and other cleansers next to the kitchen sink.
The Hathaways and the Defendant then left the house and looked for the victim at various stores, hospitals, and other places where she may have been. Ms. Hathaway testified that despite her repeated suggestions, the Defendant was reluctant to file a police report that night. Finally, at around midnight, they went to the police station on Whitten Road. She said that the Defendant told the police officer that the victim was missing and then remarked, "'[W]ell, if it were you, wouldn't you think that your wife just got mad and left[?]'" On Sunday morning, thirty or forty members of the Corvette Club convened at the Defendant's house and then distributed flyers at various businesses.
On cross-examination, Ms. Hathaway testified that the Caronnas had planned on driving to the party with the Hathaways in the Defendant's Chevrolet Chevelle. She said that it was not unusual for Corvette Club members to work on their cars with Mr. Hathaway. She stated that the Defendant appeared concerned and tired on Sunday. Ms. Hathaway was outside the Defendant's house on Monday morning when she received news that the victim's Chevy Avalanche had been found. Once inside, she said that the Defendant shoved a glass bowl full of marbles onto the floor after he learned that the police had found the victim's truck. Ms. Hathaway testified that the Defendant "was very mad and upset." She acknowledged that the victim was a very intelligent and successful vice president at a financial services firm.
Douglas Turner testified that he had been the previous Corvette Club president and that the victim was the newly elected president in October 2008. On Friday afternoon, October 24, Mr. Turner met with the victim to prepare for the club's progressive dinner party on Saturday night. He stated that the victim had volunteered to buy the food and drinks for the dinner. Mr. Turner and the victim loaded two tables and two ice chests into the victim's black pick-up truck. After that, he never saw the victim again. Mr. Turner helped search for the victim on Saturday night and on Sunday.
On cross-examination, Mr. Turner recalled that a roll of duct tape fell out of the truck while he was loading things into the Avalanche. He could not remember the color of the tape, but it was not gray. He said that the ice chests had not been cleaned since the previous event and still had drinks inside.
Patti Locke testified that she and her husband, Gray, had known the Caronnas for about ten years through the Corvette Club. She said that they were close friends with the Hathaways and the Caronnas and that the couples often traveled and dined together. On Friday, October 24, 2008, Ms. Locke called the victim to explain that she could not attend the dinner party on Saturday. During their thirty minute conversation, the victim discussed all the changes that she planned to make in the new house that she was purchasing.
While Ms. Locke was at her daughter's band competition on Saturday night, she received missed calls from Corvette Club members inquiring about the victim. The Lockes then dropped off their daughter and drove around searching for the victim. Ms. Locke stated that it was around midnight when she met the Defendant and the Hathaways at the Defendant's home. In considering whether the victim may have voluntarily left, Ms. Locke discovered that the victim's suitcases, jewelry, money, and medications were still at the house.
On Sunday morning, Ms. Locke and other Corvette Club members met at the Caronnas' house to coordinate a plan to find the victim. She said that the goal was to "saturate the city" with a flyer of the victim and her truck. Ms. Locke went with the Defendant and the victim's son, Todd Gray, to the Appling Farms precinct to attach the victim's vehicle to the missing person report. She said that she wanted to call Billy Garrett of the Appling Farms precinct, but the Defendant responded that he and the victim had a pact that they would not make each other look bad in public. The Defendant did not want to call the police in the event that the victim had "run off with somebody[.]" Ms. Locke told the Defendant that she would "take the heat, " and then she called Billy Garrett.
After learning that the Avalanche had been found on Monday morning, Ms. Locke went to the Defendant's house to comfort the victim's son. She said that after the police told the Defendant about the truck, the Defendant "swatted" a glass vase off a table and it shattered on the floor. She stated that the Defendant did not like the victim's family and that the victim felt very sad about her estrangement from her mother. To her knowledge, the Defendant never called the victim's mother about the victim's disappearance.
On cross-examination, Ms. Locke recalled telling the police that the victim had a "rocky relationship" with her mother and that their tension "wasn't anything new." She also told the police that she "wouldn't be surprised if Tina used bleach to clean the coolers out because they were nasty." Ms. Locke agreed that the victim generally used cash to pay for items and that she may have had a lot of cash on the day of her disappearance. She said that the victim liked to shop and owned three hundred pairs of shoes. She stated that the Defendant seemed sincerely worried about the victim. Ms. Locke testified that the victim had mentioned finding a different mortgage company with a lower rate for the new house, which contributed to the delay in the closing. She was not aware of a definite closing date.
Matthew Struna met the Caronnas in early 2000 through the Memphis Corvette Club. He explained that the club consisted of a group of car enthusiasts who frequently socialized together. He and his wife were the first hosts of the progressive dinner party on Saturday, October 25, 2008. He testified that he called the victim at around 10:14 a.m. on Saturday to ask if she needed help before the party. They spoke for a few minutes, and the victim told Mr. Struna that she could take care of the preparations. He said that the Caronnas owned three Corvettes at the time and that he had suggested that the victim take an antique Corvette to the party instead of the Chevelle. Mr. Struna stated that it was unusual for the victim to fail to appear at the party because she "was never late for anything." He said that the Hathaways left shortly after they arrived to search for the victim.
Mr. Struna was familiar with the Caronnas' Corvettes and their other vehicles. He said that the Defendant took "immaculate" care of his collector cars and that the Chevy Avalanche was the Defendant's "every day vehicle." He stated that it was common for Corvette Club members to keep their valuable cars covered and in storage to protect them from the weather. According to Mr. Struna, the Defendant kept his cars in a storage unit several miles away in Bartlett. He said that the Defendant "rotated" which collector car was at his house based on whether there was a social function or if the car needed maintenance.
When Mr. Struna arrived at the Defendant's home on Sunday morning, he thought it was strange that there was a red Corvette in the driveway and the Chevelle was in the garage. He testified that "there was one too many cars, " and he never knew the Defendant to have left a collector car outside overnight. He observed that it would be unusual for the Defendant to drive both vehicles at the same time. He knew that the Defendant had worked on the Chevelle at Mr. Hathaway's house the day before, but he saw no reason for the red Corvette to be outside the house rather than in storage.
Approximately four months after the victim's death, Mr. Struna and the Defendant visited her grave site. He had agreed to accompany the Defendant and the Defendant picked him up in a new Hummer. The experience was very emotional for both men. After the visit, Mr. Struna suggested that they test drive the new Dodge Challenger to lighten the mood. He said that the Defendant purchased one of the vehicles a few days later. Mr. Struna stated that the Defendant accompanied the Strunas to their church sometimes and brought a date on one occasion. He also testified that about three or four months after the victim's death, the Defendant asked Mrs. Struna a few times if she could "fix him up" with someone.
Mr. Struna said that he trusted the Defendant and invested money with him. At one point, he wrote a $15, 000 check payable to Caronna Investments to purchase an Allianz annuity. Of the four different products that the Strunas bought, the Allianz policy was the only one that was delayed. Mr. Struna said that the Defendant always had a convincing reason for the delay such as a paperwork error or that Allianz was very slow. After the victim's death, Mr. Struna did not give much thought to the Allianz annuity until the postal inspector contacted him in June 2009. He then reviewed his documents and investigated the matter with Allianz. The company confirmed that it never received a $15, 000 check from Caronna Investments on his behalf. Allianz then provided the Strunas with $15, 000 plus interest.
Cindy Cox testified that she and her husband, Jeffrey, lived across the street from the Caronnas. She said that when she went to dinner and a movie with the victim on October 2, 2008, the victim had been sad because she missed her mother. On Sunday, October 26, 2008, she was returning home from lunch when the Defendant approached her and asked if she had seen or heard from the victim. She described the Defendant as very upset and distraught. He said that he did not know when his wife had left on Saturday because he was in the backyard doing yard work. Ms. Cox had a security camera above the garage so she suggested that they review the surveillance video to see what time the victim left. She stated that the camera recorded an aerial view of about two-thirds of the Caronnas' driveway but not the garage itself. She recalled that in the beginning of the video, the Defendant moved two cars out of the garage before moving the Avalanche into the garage. The Defendant told Ms. Cox that he needed the truck in the garage to load the tables for the dinner party. The Defendant also told her that he had to close the garage door. Ms. Cox stated that the time stamp on the video indicated that the Avalanche backed out of the driveway and left at two seconds past 11:00 a.m. She said that the camera time had not been changed for daylight savings and that the correct time would have been noon.
Ms. Cox explained that her street was shaped like a "U" with two ways to access the main road. She testified that once the truck backed out of the driveway, it went "the long way around." After viewing the video, she could not tell who was driving the vehicle. Ms. Cox stated that whenever she observed the victim leave the driveway, the victim would usually drive toward the stop sign to access the main road. She could not recall the victim ever taking the long way. She said that the Defendant told her that the victim's murder was either a robbery or gang-related.
Jeffrey Cox testified that his wife, Cindy, and the Defendant approached him in the early afternoon on Sunday, October 26, 2008 to review the video from his surveillance camera. He said that the driveway camera had a small hard drive and recorded over itself every two weeks. Mr. Cox stated that the Defendant was aware of the cameras because they had discussed installing similar ones in the Defendant's home. His testimony was consistent, in large part, with the testimony of his wife. Mr. Cox said that the Defendant moved a Porsche and a red car to the street in order to park the Avalanche in the garage. He could not recall if the Porsche was blue or black or whether the red car was the Chevelle or the Corvette. He could not tell if the garage door was open or closed because the camera did not record the garage itself. He stated that ten to thirty minutes passed before the Avalanche left the driveway that Saturday.
Mr. Cox was devastated when he learned on Monday that the victim's truck was found on Brannick Drive. He was familiar with the area, and he searched the surroundings for evidence before Bartlett police officers stopped him. At the time, he did not notify the police about his surveillance video because he did not realize it was relevant. Mr. Cox and his wife were eventually interviewed by the Bartlett police in March 2009. At that point, the surveillance video from October 2008 "had been recorded over quite a few times" and the police were unsuccessful in recovering images from the hard drive.
On March 6, 2009, Mr. Cox reviewed his security cameras and observed people confiscating vehicles and other things from inside the Defendant's house. After he left a message on the Defendant's phone, the Defendant called back and said his cell phone was "'messed up'" and so the Defendant had to call from a payphone. The Defendant told Mr. Cox that he had car trouble and was attempting to return to Memphis after a family visit in Illinois. Regarding the removal of property from his home, the Defendant explained that the victim "'was into something in the Caymans or something about some insurance fraud[.]'"
On cross-examination, Mr. Cox acknowledged that he reported in his March 2009 police statement that the Defendant left in the red Chevelle after the truck had left the house. However, he could not recall this conversation or the events because it had been four years. He denied that the police suggested that the time stamp on the camera was off by one hour due to daylight savings time. Mr. Cox stated that his camera "was off every year" and that he had brought up the issue to the police.
Amanda Panis testified that in October 2008, she lived at the end of Brannick Drive in Bartlett. She explained that Brannick Drive was a dead-end street off of Elmore Road. On Saturday, October 25, Ms. Panis noticed a black Avalanche parked on her street while she was leaving for work at around 12:40 p.m. She stated that her initial reaction was that the truck would be towed because no parking signs had recently been posted on the street. Ms. Panis then realized that it was a Saturday and that the rules did not apply. On cross-examination, Ms. Panis acknowledged that in her initial police statement, she mistakenly reported observing the Avalanche at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday.
Retired Officer Teresa Birgnole of the Bartlett Police Department testified that on Monday, October 27, 2008, she responded to a call regarding a suspicious vehicle on Brannick Drive. At the scene, she verified that the vehicle was registered to the victim. In the backseat of the Avalanche, Ms. Birgnole observed a body covered by a blanket. She then contacted her supervisor and sealed off the crime scene.
Sergeant Connie Justice of the Memphis Police Department (MPD) Homicide Bureau testified that on Monday, October 27, 2008, she called the Defendant to follow up on the victim's missing person report. The MPD then learned that the victim's vehicle had been found in Bartlett, and Sergeant Justice interviewed the Defendant at his home. She did not notify the Defendant about the vehicle at this point. She said that the Defendant "was obviously very distraught" and would sporadically tear up. She noticed "ten to fifteen faint bruises" on both of the Defendant's forearms. The bruises were round, one-half to one inch in diameter, and "blueish, purplish in color[.]"
During the interview, the Defendant told the investigators that he last saw the victim on Saturday. The Defendant said that he did not know what time the victim left because he did not wear a watch and he had been working on a Corvette and cleaning the backyard pool. The Defendant estimated that the victim left between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Sergeant Justice said that the Defendant did not mention the Hathaways or his neighbors' surveillance video. The Defendant expressed confusion in the reporting procedure because he believed that it was enough to notify Norm Jones, a fellow Corvette Club member and a police officer, about the victim's disappearance. The Defendant later told Sergeant Justice that he did file an actual missing person report at the Appling Farms precinct. He explained that he delayed in reporting his wife's disappearance because other people had suggested that there should be a "cooling off period." The Defendant denied that there had been an argument or disturbance before the victim's disappearance. He further stated that he thought the victim would be embarrassed if he had prematurely called the police. Sergeant Justice said that during the interview, the Defendant would intermittently cry, go get a drink, and speak on his cell phone.
Sergeant Justice stated that after about twenty-five minutes, the Defendant learned that his wife's vehicle had been found with a body inside. The Defendant then "immediately became angry[.]" As Sergeant Justice was leaving the house, she heard the sound of shattering glass but left without determining the source. After arriving at the scene on Brannick Drive, Sergeant Justice shared her observations with the Bartlett Police Department, who proceeded to investigate the victim's homicide.
Gary Hathaway testified that he and his wife, Patricia, were close friends with the Caronnas through the Corvette Club. Mr. Hathaway had known the Defendant and the victim for nearly a decade and was familiar with their vehicles. He advised the Defendant on a few of his auto purchases and they worked on the Defendant's cars together. Through visiting the Defendant's home about two times a week over the past few years, Mr. Hathaway developed familiarity with which of the Defendant's vehicles were typically kept at the house and which were stored in a rental locker several miles away. He said that both he and the Defendant used the same storage facility to keep their classic cars clean, safe, and out of the elements.
Mr. Hathaway stated that around the time of the victim's death in October 2008, the Defendant kept a red '80 Corvette, a motorcycle, and the victim's dark blue Porsche Carrera in the garage at the house. Outside of the garage, the Defendant also had a powder blue '83 Porsche that required maintenance and the black Avalanche truck which was his "daily driver." At the storage unit six or seven miles away from his house, the Defendant kept a yellow '69 Corvette convertible, a black Z06 Corvette, a black '85 Porsche, and a red '71 Chevelle. Mr. Hathaway said that the Defendant would alternate between which of his collector cars were kept in his garage or at the storage unit depending on whether the vehicle was being used or serviced.
Mr. Hathaway said that on the day of the victim's disappearance, the Defendant called him at around 11:30 a.m. to ask about working on the red Chevelle at his garage. He said that they had previously serviced the Chevelle a few weeks earlier but that the Saturday meeting was spontaneous and not specifically planned. He thought that the Defendant "seemed to be excited and in a hurry" on the phone. The Defendant told Mr. Hathaway that the victim was out shopping and that he had just finished draining the hot tub. The Defendant stated that it would take him a while to get to the Hathaways' home because he had to "go get the car." Before hanging up the phone, Mr. Hathaway said that he heard three pants. The Defendant then arrived at Mr. Hathaway's house at around 1:00 p.m., and they worked on the Chevelle for about an hour and a half. At one point, the Defendant "drifted out" and played with Mr. Hathaway's granddaughter while Mr. Hathaway and his son worked on the Chevelle. Mr. Hathaway thought that this behavior was "very surprising" because the Defendant was not fond of children. He said that it seemed as though the Defendant "was just kind of hanging around."
Mr. Hathaway testified that the Defendant had mentioned that he tried to call the victim's cell phone on two occasions that Saturday afternoon. The Defendant left the Hathaways' home at 4:00 p.m. to get ready for the dinner party. Mr. Hathaway said that the Defendant then called him at 4:45 p.m. inquiring about the victim. The Hathaways had planned on attending the party with the Caronnas in the Defendant's Chevelle, but they decided to go on their own. While at the party, Mr. Hathaway received another call from the Defendant at 5:15 p.m. asking whether the victim was there. Mr. Hathaway testified that he became very concerned because no one had seen or heard from the victim. He said that the victim was responsible for setting up the event and that she was "never late for anything." All the Corvette Club members then began to search for the victim and the Hathaways drove to the Defendant's home to meet him. The couple arrived at the Defendant's house at 6:00 p.m. and waited fifteen to twenty minutes for the Defendant to arrive. Mr. Hathaway said that when he saw the Defendant drive the red Corvette to the house, he assumed that the Defendant had "swapped out" the Chevelle for the Corvette from the storage unit. After entering the house, the Defendant told him to "'go check the shed.'" Mr. Hathaway did not understand the reasoning, but he did what the Defendant told him and looked in the shed in the backyard.
For the next six hours, the Hathaways drove with the Defendant to various locations in search of the victim. They went to the police station at 11:30 p.m. Mr. Hathaway testified that the Defendant's demeanor at the police station was atypical and that the Defendant appeared "kind of meek" rather than the usual "big burly kind of a guy[.]" According to Mr. Hathaway, the Defendant asked the police whether it was true that a missing person usually returns after a few days. The Defendant then inquired about the bulletin that a police officer friend had previously issued for the victim. Mr. Hathaway said that they left the police station without filling out any papers or filing a report.
Mr. Hathaway stated that the entire Corvette Club assembled at the Defendant's house on Sunday morning to help with the search. As the members were coordinating a plan, Mr. Hathaway recalled that someone had offered to look in Bartlett. He then heard the Defendant state, "'[D]on't go to Bartlett, Tina never goes to Bartlett.'" Mr. Hathaway then drove with the Defendant and their friend Gray Locke in his car to look for the victim. He recalled commenting that if something had happened to the victim, the Defendant would be the first suspect because he was the husband. Mr. Hathaway said that the Defendant responded, "'[W]ell, you're my alibi.'" He stated that throughout the day, the Defendant was resistant to involving the media in the victim's search. The Defendant explained that he was concerned because the police officer told him that most missing persons returned shortly, and he did not want to embarrass his wife with the media attention.
On Monday morning, Mr. Hathaway learned that the victim's body had been found in her vehicle on Brannick Drive. Although he was not familiar with the street at first, he immediately recognized the area once someone mentioned Summer Avenue and Elmore Road. Mr. Hathaway said that the storage locker where he and the Defendant kept their cars was located at the intersection of Summer and Elmore Road in Bartlett. He stated that the victim's body was found on Brannick Drive "about two blocks away[.]" Mr. Hathaway recalled that the Defendant had to retrieve his Chevelle from the storage unit on Saturday.
Mr. Hathaway noticed that the red '80 Corvette was parked in the Defendant's driveway on Monday. He did not understand why the Defendant would have kept the Corvette outside because the Defendant "would never leave a Corvette out over night when he didn't have to." He then saw the Chevelle parked inside the garage. Mr. Hathaway recalled that when he and his wife met with the Defendant on Saturday evening, the Defendant was driving the red Corvette. He had previously assumed that the Defendant had "swapped out" the Chevelle for the Corvette at the storage unit. He wondered how the Defendant could have gotten to the storage unit because a person would need a ride to and from the facility or he could drive there and "swap" the vehicle for another one. When Mr. Hathaway saw the Chevelle, he realized that the only vehicle near the storage unit was the Avalanche, which had been found "a stone's throw away" from the facility. He identified a map depicting the Caronnas' residence on Eatonwick Drive, the Hathaways' residence on Bruton Parish Drive, the storage unit on Summer Avenue, and Brannick Drive where the victim's body was found.
Mr. Hathaway testified that he and his wife accompanied the Defendant to view the victim's body at the funeral home. He said that the Defendant stumbled back and seemed upset. On the ride back in the Hathaway's car, the Defendant spoke to someone on his cell phone and said, "'[Y]eah, it was Tina. Yeah, I've got closure now.'" Mr. Hathaway thought that this comment was odd because the victim had just been murdered.
On cross-examination, Mr. Hathaway acknowledged that he did not hear the entire conversation between the Defendant and the police officer on Saturday night. He agreed that if his wife was missing, he would be more concerned about finding her than about storing his collector cars. He conceded that the Defendant's statement about closure could be interpreted in different ways.
Sean Lester, the Director of Investigations and Technical Services at Forensic Medical, testified that on Monday, October 27, 2008, he went to the Bartlett Police Department to examine a black Chevy Avalanche that had been towed from the crime scene. He said that the truck bed contained two coolers and either picnic tables or chairs. He observed a pair of woman's shoes "placed side by side in order" under the steering wheel. On the passenger side, Investigator Lester found an open glove box and center console with various items strewn on the passenger seat and floor. He said that the victim was on the floor between the front and rear seats and that her body was partially covered with two towels. The victim's hands were loosely bound together with duct tape. Her head was tilted toward her chest and there was a piece of duct tape from her chin to her blouse. Because the space between the seats was very tight, the Bartlett police had to remove the center console to move the victim's body from the truck. Investigator Lester noted that the victim had two rings and one earring. He identified the photographs that he took during his investigation.
Detective Kevin Martin of the Bartlett Police Department testified that he was assigned to investigate the victim's homicide in October 2008. On Monday morning, October 27, he arrived at the crime scene on Brannick Drive and observed a parked black truck with an undamaged exterior. Upon closer inspection of the vehicle's interior, Detective Martin noticed a human leg protruding from underneath some towels. He banged on the truck's windows but the victim was unresponsive. All the doors of the vehicle were locked and the truck was towed to the Bartlett Police Department. Detective Martin was able to retrieve an extra set of truck keys from the Defendant that afternoon.
In the back of the truck, Detective Martin found coolers and tables. He opened the cooler and found stagnant water and some drinks. He could tell that the contents were old based on the smell inside the cooler. He observed a pair of ladies' shoes on the front driver side of the truck. On the passenger side floor, there were receipts, an owner's manual, and some other glove box items. The victim's body was confined to a small space in the backseat floorboard with her legs on the driver side and her head on the passenger side. Detective Martin said that he had to disassemble the center console to remove the victim's body from the truck. Bartlett police detectives and MPD officers processed the interior and the exterior of the vehicle for fingerprint and DNA evidence. He stated that the police did not find the victim's purse, phone, or other personal items in the truck.
Detective Martin interviewed the Defendant at the Bartlett police station on Tuesday, October 28 for about an hour and a half. The Defendant reported that on Friday night, he and the victim met at Lowe's to shop for appliances for a new house that they were purchasing. The Defendant said that he was driving his red Corvette and the victim drove the Avalanche. The Bartlett police later obtained the Lowe's surveillance video and confirmed that the two vehicles were in the parking lot from about 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. The Defendant explained that he and his wife were trying to purchase a new home and that he had planned on surprising the victim with the closing that night. He stated that the closing did not happen because there were difficulties with the financing and the paperwork. The Defendant said that he was in charge of the home purchase and that his wife was not involved.
The Defendant told Detective Martin that he last spoke to his wife early on Saturday morning while she was getting ready to go out. He observed that she was in bed talking on the phone, but he was mostly occupied with yard work and other chores outside. The Defendant said that he did laundry, purchased gas for his lawn equipment, worked on the battery of his motorcycle, and fixed a wire in the Avalanche. The Defendant could not specifically recall when he last saw his wife. He said that he never wore a watch and estimated that the victim left sometime between 10:50 a.m. and noon. Detective Martin testified that the Defendant did not ever advise the Bartlett detectives that his neighbors across the street had a surveillance video which showed when the Avalanche left the house. At the time that the victim left the house, the Defendant said that he was doing chores and working on either the pool or the hot tub.
The Defendant further stated that while his wife was running errands, he was at the Hathaways' house working on his Chevelle until about 4:00 p.m. He said that Ms. Hathaway came out of the house to the garage area to ask whether the Defendant should go get ready in order to pick up the Hathaways at 5:00 p.m. for the party. The Defendant said that he did not realize anything was wrong until people at the party called him inquiring about the victim's whereabouts. He started calling his wife at around 4:20 or 4:30 p.m. but she did not answer. The Defendant said that he became worried and called some individuals to see if they had been in touch with the victim. He also went to some locations where she was supposed to have gone to that day. The Defendant told Detective Martin that his wife was "[n]otoriously late[.]"
The Defendant explained the search process in detail. He said that he finally made a police report late Saturday night. He stated that Corvette Club members "basically set up shop at his house" and monitored the victim's credit card and phone accounts but they did not detect any activity. The club members and the Defendant broke into groups and searched different areas and went to all the various police departments. The Defendant said that he had to go to the Appling Farms police station three times regarding his missing person report. Detective Martin testified that he and the Defendant explored various scenarios about what may have occurred, including road rage, disputes with neighbors, financial motives related to the victim's profession, and family members. He said that the Bartlett police investigated all the potential situations and followed-up on the information provided by the Defendant. The police obtained the surveillance videos from various businesses but did not observe the Avalanche or the victim in the videos. Detective Martin said that they also investigated all of the information provided from calls to the police department.
Detective Martin recalled that the victim was found with two rings and earrings. One of the rings had a very large square cut diamond and the other was a gold ring with diamonds. During the interview, the Defendant had described his wife as "flashy, " and he was very specific about the expensive jewelry that she owned. The two rings matched the description provided by the Defendant in his interview. The Defendant had stated that the rings were valued at roughly $30, 000. Based on his twenty-three years in law enforcement, Detective Martin ruled out robbery as the cause of the victim's death because the valuable rings were still on her fingers. He explained that the Avalanche had been parked at the side of the road whereas vehicles involved in robberies are frequently taken to commit other crimes and are usually "trashed" or "stripped" of anything useful.
After exhausting every lead, Detective Martin said that the police began to investigate the Defendant and the Caronnas' finances. Based on surveillance of the Defendant, the police learned that he had cashed a $30, 000 annuity check. After further investigation, Detective Martin suspected the Defendant of fraudulent business practices, and he contacted the federal authorities. The police also learned of a potentially ongoing relationship between the Defendant and Becky Black. Detective Martin said that "everybody was a suspect" and that Ms. Black was cooperative. Ms. Black later contacted the police department and agreed to record her conversations with the Defendant. Detective Martin stated that Ms. Black eventually became too scared to cooperate. In one of her meetings with the Defendant, Detective Martin observed the Defendant hand Ms. Black several notebook. Ms. Black then provided these pages to the police.
Detective Martin said that a warrant was issued for the Defendant's arrest on Sunday, March 8, 2009. After the initial interview on October 28, 2008, Detective Martin met with the Defendant at least three times. Once the arrest warrant was issued, the Defendant ceased all contact with the Bartlett Police Department. Detective Martin stated that he was unable to locate the Defendant until a Crime Stoppers tip led the police to a motel in Jackson, Tennessee about two weeks later. Detective Martin took the Defendant into custody and drove with him to Bartlett.
During the lengthy interview at the Bartlett Police Department, the Defendant denied any involvement in his wife's murder. Detective Martin testified that he knew the Defendant did not view appliances at Lowe's on Friday night based on the surveillance. The police had contacted the realtor and learned that the Defendant could not have had a surprise closing that night. When confronted about Saturday morning, the Defendant admitted to shuffling his cars but said that he brought the Avalanche into the garage to fix a wire in the seat heater. The Defendant never mentioned the security camera at the home of Jeffrey and Cindy Cox. Detective Martin said that the Defendant "would never answer" when asked about how the Chevelle got to his house from the storage unit. When asked again, the Defendant said he did not remember. Then he said that the Chevelle was already at the house. Regarding the house purchase, the Defendant stated that he was trying to find a lower rate and that he had endorsed and cashed the annuity check as a down payment on the home. He denied pursuing a long-term relationship with Becky Black, and he did not want to discuss the notebook pages that he had given her.
Special Agent Donna Nelson, a forensic scientist with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), testified as an expert in the field of serology and DNA. In the instant case, she analyzed the victim's blood sample; the victim's fingernail clippings; swabs from the victim's shirt with duct tape attached; two sets of the victim's clothing; and the victim's car. Specifically, there were swabs taken from the seat control, steering wheel, gear shift, and exterior and interior door handles. Agent Nelson used the victim's blood sample and saliva samples from the Defendant and Becky Black to generate their DNA profiles. She said that tests confirmed the presence of the victim's blood in the Avalanche and on the victim's shirt with the duct tape attached. The Defendant and Becky Black were excluded as donors of the genetic material found on the victim's shirt. Agent Nelson said that the partial DNA profile found on the duct tape matched that of the victim. She stated that the swab from the seat control switch consisted of a mixture of genetic material and that there was insufficient information to determine the match, though the Defendant and Becky Black could not be excluded as donors. Testing indicated that the Defendant was the major contributor of genetic material found on the steering wheel. The results were inconclusive as to the minor contributor of material on the steering wheel, though Becky Black was excluded as a donor. Agent Nelson stated that the Defendant and Becky Black could not be excluded as contributors to the genetic material from the gear shift. She said that the victim was the major contributor of the DNA profile from the handle inside the left front door and that Becky Black was excluded as a donor.
On cross-examination, Agent Nelson stated that DNA may degrade due to exposure to the elements, heat, dirt, and sunlight. She agreed that she could not obtain DNA profiles from the exterior door handles on the left side of the vehicle. She said that through testing, she could determine whether genetic material was present but not when the material was left. She explained that "cannot exclude" means that there may have been information consistent with a certain genetic profile but that the information was not above the "calling threshold" to make a determination. Agent Nelson said that an individual is a "major contributor" when that person's DNA profile is more apparent than another person's DNA. She agreed that DNA analysis could not determine the identity of the person who had last touched an object. She said that it was possible to test the victim's earrings and two rings for genetic material but that she did not recognize the jewelry. She stated that only the victim's DNA was found beneath the victim's fingernail clippings.
Dr. Karen Chancellor, an expert in the area of forensic pathology, testified that she performed the victim's autopsy and determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation. She explained that asphyxiation can be caused by strangulation, where the blood vessels supplying oxygen to the brain are compressed; suffocation, where a person's nose and mouth are covered by another object; and positional asphyxia, where the chest or neck is positioned in a way such that breathing is inhibited. Dr. Chancellor said that in the instant case, each of these three mechanisms of asphyxiation was possible. Positional asphyxia may have caused the victim's death because her body was found wedged between the front and back seats of the truck. The victim could have been strangled because she "had some areas of darkening in the strap muscles of her neck[.]" Finally, suffocation involves compression of the nose and mouth, and "there may be no marks on the body at all." Dr. Chancellor stated that placing a plastic bag over a person's head may cause death by asphyxiation. She said that the person "could become unconscious in forty seconds to a minute" and that death would occur "after a few more minutes[.]" In the case of strangulation, she explained that compression of the neck arteries would result in unconsciousness "in just a few seconds" but that the hold must be maintained for about three minutes to cause death. She did not find any fingertip bruising or other external markings on the victim's neck.
During the autopsy, Dr. Chancellor noted that the victim's body was in "an early state of decomposition[.]" She was able to easily remove the pieces of duct tape found wrapped loosely around the victim's right wrist and attached to the right side of the victim's face. Dr. Chancellor found several bruises on the victim's body including three parallel bruises on the front of the victim's left forearm, several on the back of the left arm, one on the right buttock, several bruises on the front left hip, a small bruise on the right elbow, and several small bruises on the inner part of the right thigh. She said that bruises may occur after death, though such bruising would be unusual. There were also markings on the victim's left side which matched the pattern of the truck's floor mats and which were caused by blood settling in the body. The victim had a broken fingernail on the right index finger and a broken toenail on her right foot. Dr. Chancellor observed that the victim was wearing earrings as well as a ring with clear stones on each hand. She did not document any difficulty in the removal of the rings. Dr. Chancellor identified several photographs that were taken during the examination. She opined that the manner of death was homicide.
Stephanie Dodson testified that she processed closing documents at Edco Title. In the fall of 2008, she was involved with the closing on a new house for the Caronnas. She stated that the closing was tentatively scheduled for September 25, 2008, but it did not occur because she was unable to get in touch with the buyers or obtain their loan information. She contacted the victim at one point but was directed to speak to the Defendant because "he was handling everything." Ms. Dodson kept a record of her attempts to contact the Defendant. On September 19, 2008, she spoke with the Defendant and noted that he did not have a lender yet. On October 24, she left a message for the Defendant seeking his lender and homeowner's insurance information. She testified that the information was required for the closing to occur. Ms. Dodson never obtained the necessary information, and she denied that there was a closing scheduled on October 24, 2008.
Mary Ann Tapp testified that she was the real estate agent for the new house that the Defendant wanted to purchase. She said that the purchase price of the home was $440, 000 and that the contract was finalized on September 3, 2008. Ms. Tapp stated that apart from the signed contract, a mortgage and insurance were necessary for a closing to take place. She attempted to contact the Defendant on numerous occasions in September and October 2008 regarding the home purchase. She was motivated to close on the house because she worked on commission. She said that she returned ...