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State v. Taliaferro

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 24, 2014


Assigned on Briefs September 3, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Haywood County No. 6740 Clayburn Peeples, Judge

Samuel J. Muldavin, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Shawn O'Neal Taliaferro.

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Garry G. Brown, District Attorney General; and Jerald M. Campbell, Assistant District Attorney General for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Alan E. Glenn and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.



I. Background and Facts

This case arises from the shooting death of David Lee Capers ("the victim"), on September 3, 2010. A Haywood County grand jury indicted the Defendant for first degree murder and possession of a weapon by a felon. At a trial on the charges, the parties presented the following evidence: Dr. James Caruso, a Shelby County medical examiner, testified as an expert witness in the field of pathology. Dr. Caruso confirmed that he performed the autopsy on the victim. Referencing photographs taken at the time of the autopsy, Dr. Caruso identified two contact gunshot wounds, one to the victim's temple and one to the victim's forehead. Dr. Caruso explained that a contact wound occurs when a weapon is held up against the skin when fired. Dr. Caruso stated that, in his opinion, the victim was shot six times total. He observed seven gunshot wounds on the victim, but concluded that one of the wounds was the result of the re-entry of a bullet. Dr. Caruso stated that he also found what he believed to be "an old bullet" in the victim's right arm.

Dr. Caruso testified that the victim's cause of death was gunshot wounds to his head. He stated that, based on the area of the brain in which the victim sustained injury, the victim could have had some ability to move after being shot prior to his death. Dr. Caruso testified that the manner of death was homicide.

Dr. Caruso testified that his examination revealed abrasions on the victim's upper extremities, back, and hip. Dr. Caruso said that toxicology testing revealed an elevated blood alcohol "too high to be legally driving a vehicle" and the presence of cannabinoid, an active ingredient in marijuana.

William Whitson, a Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department deputy, testified that he was dispatched to the Ripley Police Department on September 3, 2010, to speak with a subject who had witnessed a crime in Lauderdale County. When he arrived, he met with the subject, Kendell Turner, who was "extremely upset and frightened." Mr. Turner advised Deputy Whitson that he had been in a van with the Defendant, the victim, and "a Vaughn subject." Mr. Turner recounted to the officer that, while driving down a road, the Defendant shot the victim twice in the head. Deputy Whitson said that he instructed Mr. Turner to write out his statement and requested that deputies be sent to the area where Mr. Turner alleged the victim had exited the van. After writing his statement, Mr. Turner advised Deputy Whitson that he also knew the residence where the Defendant might be found. After driving by the residence, Deputy Whitson began searching the area where Mr. Turner last saw the victim. After crossing over into Haywood County, Deputy Whitson observed blood on the roadway where it appeared "something had been dragged."

Deputy Whitson testified that, at this point, he stopped the car, and Mr. Turner became "very upset" and began crying. Deputy Whitson said that he waited for another deputy to arrive and then walked approximately fifty yards down the road before finding the victim's body in an eight to ten foot ditch off the side of Highway 19. He described the area as "very grown up, " concealing the victim's body. He estimated that the victim would have been there for "quite awhile" before being discovered had authorities not been actively looking for his body.

Kendell Turner testified that the victim was his "best friend." He stated that he was also friends with the Defendant and Joseph Vaughn. Mr. Turner recalled Labor Day weekend 2010. He said that the victim had come into town, and a group gathered at Paul Haynes's house. He said that the Defendant, the victim, and Joseph Vaughn were all present. At some point, these four men decided to leave Mr. Haynes's house to go see the victim's sister. Mr. Turner explained that he drove the men in his mother's van to Northcrest where the victim's sister, "Ashley, " lived. They remained there for twenty to thirty minutes before going to a liquor store. Next, the men decided to go and get money from the victim's mother.

Mr. Turner testified about the seating arrangement in the van as they drove to see the victim's mother. He said that he was in the driver seat, the victim was seated in the front passenger seat, the Defendant was seated in the back passenger seat directly behind the victim, and Joseph Vaughn was seated in the passenger seat directly behind the driver. As he drove down Highway 19 toward Brownsville, the victim was talking about his life in Decatur, Illinois, and showing pictures of his baby when Mr. Turner heard a "pow" like someone had "slapped [the victim] in the head." Mr. Turner stated that upon hearing the "loud clap noise" he reflexively applied the car brakes. He looked over at the victim, who was slumped over, and saw blood coming from the right side of the victim's head. He said that he saw the Defendant pulling "[a] little chrome gun" away from the victim's head.

Mr. Turner testified that he continued driving and then heard a gun fired multiple times. He applied the brakes again slowing the van, and the victim jumped out of the van. Mr. Turner recalled that the Defendant stated "y'all know what this mother f**ker did to me." He said that he believed the Defendant was referencing "bad blood" between the victim and Defendant. In response to the victim's flight, the Defendant said "f**k that mother f**ker ain't dead, " and he ordered Mr. Turner to stop. Mr. Turner said that he turned the van around and headed back toward Ripley telling the Defendant that the victim was dead. The Defendant continued to tell Mr. Turner to stop the van. Mr. Turner did not stop and continued driving back toward Ripley while the Defendant searched for bullets or shells in the van. The Defendant told Mr. Turner to explain the blood in the van to his mother by saying that the victim had borrowed the car.

Mr. Turner testified that he assured the Defendant he would not "tell on [him]" and told the Defendant he "just want[ed] to get out." Mr. Turner stopped the car, he and Joseph Vaughn exited the van, and the Defendant drove away. Mr. Turner stated that he never saw the van again but that he was told that "it got burnt up." Mr. Turner said that one of Mr. Vaughn's relatives came and picked up him and Mr. Vaughn, and that he later went to the police about the shooting.

On cross-examination, Mr. Turner testified that earlier on the day of the shooting he had been at Mary Nabers's house playing Xbox, drinking, and smoking marijuana. He said that he had not been employed for four or five years. Mr. Turner agreed that he had felony convictions for possession of cocaine and aggravated assault.

Joseph Vaughn testified that he was friends with the Defendant, the victim, and Mr. Turner. Mr. Vaughn recalled that he and the Defendant were at Paul Haynes's home on September 3, 2010, when the victim and Mr. Turner arrived in a van. At some point, he, the Defendant, the victim, and Mr. Turner drove to Northcrest to see the victim's sister. Mr. Vaughn said that Mr. Turner drove the van, the victim sat in the front passenger seat with the Defendant seated directly behind him, and he sat behind Mr. Turner. After visiting with the victim's sister, the men left Northcrest to go see the victim's mother. Mr. Vaughn said that the men were seated in the same positions in the vehicle as he had earlier described. He recalled that as they drove down Highway 19, they talked and listened to the radio, "normal stuff, " when the Defendant shot the victim. He said the Defendant fired one or two shots at first, followed by five or six more gun shots. Mr. Vaughn stated that he observed the Defendant firing the gun and that he threw up his hands because he "didn't know what was going on."

Mr. Vaughn testified that he asked the Defendant what he was doing, and the Defendant replied that the victim had "crossed him." Mr. Vaughn said that he believed the Defendant was referring to an incident that occurred in Illinois in 2008. He confirmed that he observed the victim bleeding from his head. After the first round of gunfire, the victim was "slumped over on the window." Mr. Vaughn said that the victim turned around and asked the Defendant why the Defendant shot him and that the Defendant then fired the gun for the second time at the victim. The victim and the Defendant wrestled over the gun and then the victim opened the van door and "fell out." Mr. Vaughn said that the van was moving at the time the victim exited but not "very fast." He said that Mr. Turner was crying and driving at the time. He described Mr. Turner as "in shock." Mr. Turner turned the van around at his next opportunity and began to drive back to Ripley. Mr. Vaughn said that the Defendant wanted Mr. Turner to stop the van to find the victim but that Mr. Turner did not stop.

Mr. Vaughn testified that, once they arrived in Flippin, Mr. Vaughn and Mr. Turner "jumped out and ran." Approximately twenty minutes after he and Mr. Turner fled from the van, the Defendant called Mr. Vaughn's cellular telephone to ask where Mr. Turner was. He said that he and Mr. Turner waited on the side of the road until his cousin, Lester, came to get them.

Mr. Vaughn testified that he observed the Defendant shooting "toward the [victim's] face area." He said that the Defendant fired the gun until he ran out of bullets.

Ashley Allen, the victim's sister, testified that she had known the Defendant, Mr. Vaughn, and Mr. Turner "all [her] life." Ms. Allen stated that her brother called her on the morning of September 3, 2010, when he arrived in Memphis. She said that she saw the Defendant that morning on Walker Street and informed him that her brother was on his way to Ripley. Ms. Allen denied any knowledge of "bad blood" between the victim and the Defendant. Later in the day on September 3, 2010, the victim came to her home for fifteen to twenty minutes. Ms. Allen identified a photograph the victim had taken of her during this visit. She pointed out where the Defendant was located in the photograph behind her. She recalled that the men arrived in a white van with Mr. Turner driving, the victim in the front passenger seat, and the Defendant and Mr. Vaughn in the back seat. Ms. Allen stated that this was the last time she saw the victim.

Cathy Ferguson, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") special agent, testified that she responded to the area of Haywood and Lauderdale County line on Highway 19 to assist in a homicide investigation. She said that the victim's body was found a half mile across the county line into Haywood County. Agent Ferguson identified photographs taken at the crime scene. She said that there was an "intermittent" blood trail, seventy-two feet in length, along the roadway leading up to where the victim's body was found. She testified that she measured the distance between the road and the top of the victim's head and that it was thirty feet. Agent Ferguson agreed that had Mr. Turner not provided information on where to search, it would have taken "some time" to ...

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