Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs October 29, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2010D3439 Cheryl A. Blackburn, Judge
John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roger A. Page, and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.
Jennifer J. Hall, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Adrian Lamont Henry.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Katrin Miller, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
The petitioner was indicted for first degree, premeditated murder and arson after police officers discovered his girlfriend's body burning in a field and her vehicle burning nearby. On January 11, 2012, the petitioner pled guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to forty years in confinement to be served at 100% and consecutively to his prior convictions. The arson charge was dismissed.
A. Facts from Guilty Plea Submission Hearing
At the guilty plea submission hearing, the petitioner agreed that the following recitation of facts was "generally true":
[O]n Thursday, August the 12th, 2010, Metro police officers responded to a report of what appeared to be a human body on fire near the intersection of Brick Church Lane and Knight Drive here in Davidson County. Upon the officers' arrival[, ] they discovered the charred, burning remains of what appeared to be an adult female. Detectives responded to the scene along with I.D. and the medical examiner's office. Also while investigating this death[, ] detectives were advised that a van had been discovered burned approximately two miles from the scene where the body was discovered. The van was registered to a Mr. Rat, R-A-T, Vit, V-I-T. And it was determined that his daughter Saret Vit[, ] who is age twenty-two[, ] was the last person known to be driving the van.
An autopsy was conducted and performed, and through dental records[, ] it was determined that the body found burn[ed] was that of Saret Vit. Through speaking with her employer and family[, ] the last person to have been seen with Ms. Vit was her boyfriend, Adrian Henry. Evidence from the autopsy showed that Ms. Vit suffered trauma to her head. The cause of death was strangulation, and it was determined that she was deceased at the time her body was set on fire.
Based on information from the fire marshal's office[, ] an accelerant gasoline was used to start the fire, and it was believed that the suspect may have suffered some burns when the fire was started.
On August the 13th[, ] Adrian Henry was interviewed by detectives. The detectives observed burnt skin on his face and right arm. He also had several deep scratches on his chest and back that appeared that he had been in some type of a physical confrontation. Mr. Henry was asked what he was wearing when he went to see the victim at her place of employment on August the 12th. He stated he was wearing a gray tank top with some type of shorts. On August the 14th[, a] video surveillance tape was retrieved from the business Bob Evans Restaurant, and it showed Mr. Henry with Ms. Vit wearing the same white shirt and black pants she was wearing when her body was discovered. It also showed that Mr. Henry was wearing a gray tank top and white shorts.
On August the 14th[, ] Mr. Henry was interviewed again. During both of the interviews with detectives[, ] Mr. Henry was inconsistent in his statements regarding his burns and scratches. He stated that the place on his nose was from a sunburn. He stated that his ear was also sunburned. It did not appear to detectives that these were sunburns. He also stated that he burned his arm in a grease fire. When questioned about the fresh scratches on his chest and back, he stated it was from playing basketball several days earlier. The detectives observed the scratches appeared to be fresh and that some of the scratches were still clotting. He also stated that's how he got his nose scratched when he previously stated that it had been sunburned.
His statements about where he went after he met with Ms. Vit on August the 12th are also inconsistent with other witnesses Roderick (phonetic) and Robert Left.
Detectives also interviewed Darren Ricks (phonetic). He is the person who was driving by the field where the body was found and saw a black man leaving the field and get into a white van and drive away with the lights off. DNA was recovered under Ms. Vit's fingernails. This DNA was sent to Orchid Cellmark Lab. Barbara Leal[, ] who tested the DNA[, ] would testify that the DNA belonged to either Mr. Henry or someone in his paternal lineage.
The petitioner affirmed that he understood the plea agreement; that he understood the crimes with which he was charged and their potential punishment; that he and trial counsel had thoroughly discussed his case, including the discovery and potential witnesses; that he could not think of anything he had asked trial counsel to do that they had not done; that he was not under medication or having difficulty understanding what he was doing; and that he wished to waive his right to continue to trial and wanted instead to plead guilty.
B. Facts from Post-Conviction Hearing
At the post-conviction hearing, Detective Lawrence Brown testified that he responded to the report of a body burning in a field at about 11:00 p.m. on August 12, 2010. The victim's identity was traced through the discovery of her father's burned van in the vicinity and confirmed through dental records. Detective Brown testified mainly to the circumstances under which the petitioner gave police a statement and permission to take a sample of his DNA.
Detective Brown testified that police discovered the petitioner was the victim's boyfriend after speaking with the victim's family and the manager of the restaurant where she worked. Detective Brown spoke to the petitioner either two or three times. Two video recorded interviews were admitted as late-filed exhibits to the post-conviction hearing. According to Detective Brown, the first interview took place on the morning of August 13, when he returned to the station after obtaining the victim's dental records and found the petitioner waiting in the lobby. Detective Brown testified that the petitioner "voluntarily came to the station on his own" and that he told police he had heard the victim's van was found and he wanted to help. The petitioner was interviewed about his relationship to the victim. Detective Brown testified that the petitioner was free to leave during this interview and that he did, in fact, leave the station on his own at the interview's conclusion.
A video of the August 13, 2010 interview was introduced into evidence at some time after the conclusion of the hearing. The petitioner told the detectives about his relationship with the victim and stated he had just given her $943 for her parents' rent, money he had obtained from selling his personal possessions. He accounted for his whereabouts at the time of the crime by telling detectives that he was playing poker with Roderick Left's father and a neighbor and that he later went to Wal-Mart with Mr. Left and his wife. The petitioner told police that he had last heard from the victim a little before 10:00 p.m. the night before and that she had lost her telephone charger.
The petitioner had free use of his phone during the first part of the interview, sending and receiving messages. When detectives informed him that the burned body was his girlfriend, he began to cry for some minutes. Detectives allowed him to leave the interview room to go outside to "get some air." The petitioner had offered his phone to the detectives during the first part of the interview. As they were leaving the interview room, the petitioner asked to make a call, and a detective asked him to "wait on phone calls for a minute, " requesting to take the phone. When detectives and the petitioner returned to the room, the detectives asked him to turn off the phone to avoid interruptions. However, the petitioner nevertheless spoke to his brother during a later break. The petitioner made some equivocal references to obtaining counsel, including, "Do I need somebody here with me, or am I OK?" The petitioner executed a waiver of his rights. The petitioner interrupted to ask, "Can I stop right here? Anytime I want to stop, can I?" The detective answered, "Yeah, I'm going to get to ...