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State v. Coleman

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 9, 2014


Assigned on Briefs May 21, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 86216D Jon Kerry Blackwood, Judge

Theodore H. Lavit; Joseph R. Stewart; Cameron Griffith, Lebanon, Kentucky; and Russell T. Greene, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Vanessa Coleman.

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; John H. Bledsoe, Senior Counsel; Randall Eugene Nichols, District Attorney General; Leland Price and Ta Kisha Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, the State of Tennessee.

THOMAS T. WOODALL, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which ROGER A. PAGE, J. joined. D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., J., wrote a separate concurring opinion.




In portions of this opinion we refer to persons only by their last names. We mean no disrespect in doing so. As noted above, Defendant was ultimately convicted of offenses involving the death, kidnapping, and rape of C.C. and acquitted of all offenses alleging the death, kidnapping, and rape of C.N. On Saturday, January 6, 2007, both C.C. and C.N. left C.C.'s friend's apartment in C.C.'s silver Toyota 4Runner sometime after 9:00 p.m., C.C.'s mother testified that C.C. called at 12:35 a.m. on Sunday and told her father that she had decided to return to her parent's house instead of staying at her friend's apartment that night. C.C. told her parents that she was going to finish watching a movie with C.N. and then go home around 3:00 a.m. C.C.'s mother testified that she tried to call her daughter when she did not return home, but she was unable to contact her. C.C.'s father and brother called the police after they located C.C.'s 4Runner near Cherry Street on Sunday afternoon.

At approximately 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, January 7, 2007, Xavier Jenkins, a driver for Waste Connections, was on Chipman Street in Knoxville waiting for his co-workers to arrive when he saw a house that "seemed a little busy." He testified that the lights were on in the house, and he saw a silver 4Runner parked outside with its lights on. He then saw the 4Runner drive by with four black males inside. The driver gave him a "mean mug" look as he drove past him, which made Jenkins nervous. Jenkins testified that he could not see the four men's faces, but he saw their silhouettes. When Jenkins returned from his work route between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., he observed the 4Runner in the parking lot for Waste Connections, facing toward some railroad tracks.

Jerome Arnold lived at 2124 Chipman Street in January 2007. He testified that he was watching television at 1:45 a.m. on January 7 when he heard "three distinct pops a short distance away." Arnold testified "[t]here [were] three fairly evenly spaced pops, and that was it." The sound came from the northeast, and it "wasn't terribly far away." His house was 200 feet from a train track. At 7:45 a.m., Roy Thurman, a sandblaster, arrived for work and saw "some smoke come up back there, " around a set of train tracks near his job site. J.D. Ford, a locomotive engineer for Norfolk Southern Railway, testified that he arrived at work around 8:00 a.m. on January 7, 2007. Ford testified that he saw something burning beside the tracks near Cherry Street. He testified that it appeared to be "the silhouette of a body." As the train got closer, Ford could tell that it was a body, and the legs were not burned. Ford called his dispatcher. The body was subsequently identified as victim C.N.

Lieutenant Keith Debow from the Knoxville Police Department testified that on Tuesday, January 9, 2007, he assisted in the execution of a search warrant of the residence at 2316 Chipman Street. Inside the kitchen there was a trash can that was "oddly shaped." He believed that a person might be inside the trash can. Lieutenant Debow and another officer removed the lid from the trash can and found the body of victim C.C. inside. C.C.'s body was transported by ambulance to the forensic center while still inside the trash can. Chief Medical Examiner Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan was present at the Chipman Street address when C.C.'s body was transported.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan conducted autopsies of both victims in this case. She testified that both victims were bound with strips of fabric from some floral bedding. Linda Littlejohn, of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Crime Lab, testified that the fabric removed from both victims' bodies was consistent in color and pattern. C.C. was tied up in a fetal position, which is the position in which she died. Her body had been placed inside five layers of trash bags inside the trash can. Her face was covered with a white trash bag. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan concluded that C.C.'s cause of death was positional and mechanical asphyxiation, meaning that her breathing had been obstructed by both the position of her body and the plastic trash bag. She testified that there was no indication that C.C. suffered strangulation (including petechia or injuries to C.C.'s neck). There was also no evidence of defensive injuries. The manner of C.C.'s death was homicide.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan observed "tremendous trauma" to C.C.'s anogenital area, including bruising around her anus and vagina. The most significant injury was to the area around the vaginal opening, where there was deep bruising hematoma formation and blood collecting deep in the tissue. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan determined that the injury occurred between one and two hours prior to C.C.'s death. She testified that there could have been other injuries, but "the big trauma on top of possibly old trauma was so overwhelming" that it was difficult to determine. There was also injury to C.C.'s cervix, and she had bruising and carpet burns on her lower back and upper buttocks. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified that there was evidence of injuries to C.C.'s head that could have caused unconsciousness, but she could not conclude whether C.C. actually suffered unconsciousness. She testified that the injury to the head was not sufficient to disable the victim long-term or cause the victim's death. Seventeen photographs taken of C.C.'s body, showing her injuries, were admitted at trial. Latent fingerprints were collected from the garbage bags in which C.C.'s body was found, and the prints matched the right palm of co-defendant Lemaricus Davidson.

Daphne Sutton began dating co-defendant Lemaricus Davidson in October, 2006. Around the end of October or early November, they moved in together in the residence at 2316 Chipman Street. Sutton testified that Davidson's brother, Letalvis Cobbins (another co-defendant), and others including George Thomas (another co-defendant), Defendant, and Stacy Lawson traveled from Kentucky to Knoxville to visit several times in late 2006, and they stayed at the Chipman Street residence. Sutton testified that she and Davidson slept in the front bedroom. Cobbins and Defendant slept in the back bedroom, which was connected to the front bedroom by a bathroom. George Thomas slept in the living room. There were blankets hanging in the doorways between the bedrooms and living room.

On Friday, January 5, 2007, Sutton left the residence after she and Davidson got into an argument and Davidson slammed her against a wall. She walked to a gas station on Cherry Street and called Cassie Suttles to pick her up. On Sunday, January 7, Sutton returned to the Chipman Street residence because Davidson called her and told her to come over and get some new clothes he had for her. She testified that she tried to go through the front bedroom to the bathroom to get some of her belongings, but Davidson grabbed her and prevented her from going through the bedroom. She testified that Cobbins was sitting in a chair with his head down in the living room beside the kitchen door, and George Thomas was sitting in another chair rolling a marijuana cigarette. Sutton observed a kitchen chair in the front bedroom beside the bathroom door, which was unusual. The bathroom door was closed, and Sutton did not see Defendant. She could hear someone inside the bathroom. Davidson gave Sutton a bag of clothes. When she returned to Suttles' apartment, Sutton looked through the clothes and realized that they were not new, and she called Davidson. Davidson later drove to Suttles' apartment in an SUV, and took back some of the clothes. The following day, January 8, 2007, Davidson returned to Suttles' apartment and stayed there overnight. On Tuesday, January 9, 2007, Sutton learned that a body had been found inside the Chipman Street residence. She drove Davidson to a park and dropped him off. Davidson had a handgun in his jacket pocket.

Jody Long testified that in January 2007, Vince Wernimont asked her "to give some friends a ride that were in fear of [sic] their life." Wernimont gave Long morphine pills and asked her to drive Defendant, Cobbins, and Thomas to Kentucky. Defendant rode in the front passenger seat and she was "very quiet." Long dropped them off at Defendant's grandmother's house.

Stacy Lawson testified that in January 2007, she lived in Lebanon, Kentucky. She was friends with Defendant, whom she met through Cobbins. Lawson was dating Thomas. Lawson traveled to Knoxville with Defendant, Cobbins, and Thomas on December 28, 2006. She testified that on January 1, 2007, she had an altercation with Davidson. She testified that "there was a lot of tension in the house." Davidson threatened her with a rifle. Lawson decided to leave Knoxville. She asked Defendant if she wanted to return to Kentucky with her, and Defendant stated that she wanted to stay with Cobbins. Lawson left the following day.

Lawson saw Defendant, Cobbins, and Thomas again at Natosha Hays's house after the three returned to Kentucky. Lawson testified that they "looked scared." Later, when Lawson was alone with Defendant, she asked Defendant how she got back to Kentucky, and Defendant responded, "I don't know what you're talking about, I came back with you." Lawson testified that Defendant "wasn't her normal self" and that "everybody was kind of on edge and nervous."

Natosha Hays testified that Defendant called her in January 2007, and told her that she, Cobbins, and Thomas were returning to Kentucky from Tennessee. Sometime later, the three arrived unannounced. Hays was asleep on her couch when she heard someone banging on the windows and door. Hays testified that Defendant "didn't appear any different than any other time." The following day, the three were arrested at Hays's house.

Detective Nevil Norman, of the Knox County Sheriff's Department, testified that on Thursday, January 11, 2007, he assisted in the arrest of Defendant, Cobbins, and Thomas in Lebanon, Kentucky. Detective Norman interviewed Defendant at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon at the Lebanon Police Department. The statement was audio recorded, but the quality was bad. During the interview, Defendant "was just normal, nothing unusual about her." The audio recording and a transcript of the interview were admitted at trial. Defendant stated that she and Cobbins had not been to Knoxville since returning to Kentucky on January 2, 2007. Defendant was confronted with officers' knowledge that her statement was untrue, and Defendant denied any involvement in the offenses.

Special Agent Bernard Waggoner, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), testified that he assisted in the arrest of Defendant, Cobbins, and Thomas on January 11, 2007, in Lebanon, Kentucky. Agent Waggoner also assisted in a search of Natosha Hays' residence, where the defendants were arrested.

Agent Waggoner interviewed Defendant on January 17, 2007, when she appeared before a federal grand jury in Knoxville pursuant to a subpoena. Defendant's mother was present for the interview in the U.S. Attorney's Office prior to the grand jury testimony. The interview began just after 9:00 a.m. Agent Waggoner testified that the interview was not recorded, but that he took notes. He testified as follows about Defendant's statement:

She goes further on and says that on Saturday night, Lemaricus, George Thomas and Letalvis Cobbins left together. And she doesn't know why. And she references E. And E has been identified as Eric Boyd. And [Defendant] knows Eric Boyd.
And when Lemaricus Davidson and George Thomas and Letalvis Cobbins come back, Lemaricus Davidson had a white female blindfolded, and walked her into the house and took her into the front bedroom.
And then she said that George Thomas and Rome [Letalvis Cobbins] had walked in first to the house, and then the girl was taken into the bedroom. And she heard the girl say, stop, don't, quit. And then [Defendant] told me that she went to sleep. [Defendant] went to sleep.
She got up the next morning and cooked breakfast for Davidson, Thomas and Cobbins on Sunday morning. And she said that she never saw the girl again after she was brought in.
And on Sunday, [Defendant], Cobbins, Thomas and Davidson, rode around in a Toyota 4Runner. And then she tells me that Stacy Lawson came down on Tuesday a.m. to Knoxville, in the green Grand Am and took [Defendant], Thomas and Cobbins back to Natosha Hays's house in Kentucky.

Agent Waggoner testified that Defendant told him that Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas "never talked about the crimes in front of her, " and that Davidson gave Defendant "some clothes, a red purse, a red billfold and some Britney Spears perfume." These were items that had belonged to C.C. Defendant told Agent Waggoner that she saw Davidson tying C.C. up on the bed in the front bedroom. She stated that on Monday, January 8, 2007, she walked with Cobbins and Thomas to Vince Wernimont's house, and that Thomas told her to lie about when they returned to Kentucky, telling Defendant to say that they returned to Kentucky on January 2, 2007.

Agent Waggoner testified that he stepped outside the office and spoke to Defendant's mother. Defendant's mother then spoke privately to Defendant and then told Agent Waggoner that Defendant wished to speak to him again. When the interview resumed, Defendant told Agent Waggoner that she saw Davidson kill C.C. "by snapping her neck." Defendant then began to cry.

Agent Waggoner then spoke to his supervisor, the U.S. Attorney, and the Knox County homicide detective, and they began a second interview of Defendant at 11:40 a.m. Agent Waggoner testified that he took notes during the second interview while the U.S. Attorney and investigators questioned Defendant. During the second interview, Defendant stated that Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas left the Chipman Street residence at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday, January 7, 2007. Davidson was armed with a revolver. Thomas and Cobbins returned alone, and Davidson brought "the white female, [C.C.], into the house barefooted and blindfolded with a blue bandana." Davidson took C.C. into his bedroom. Agent Waggoner testified,

And [Defendant] now says that she saw Davidson tie her up with a wide strip of cloth in a chair. And then he – she saw the female victim laid down – was laid down by Davidson on an air mattress, and her hands were tied above her head. At this point, the – she tells me that the female victim still had her clothes on.
And Davidson comes into the living room with Cobbins and Thomas. And [Defendant] says that she asked about the girl and they refused to tell her anything about it, and told her – told [Defendant] to go into the back bedroom.
She said she also, at some point, saw Davidson pull some stickers off of the Toyota 4Runner. And this – at this point, she tells me that they would not let her – [Defendant] leave the house.

Defendant stated that Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas went into the front porch area of the house and talked. Davidson then went to his bedroom, and Defendant heard C.C. say, "don't, stop, quit." Cobbins and Thomas were in the living room. She then stated that Davidson and Thomas left in the 4Runner, and Cobbins stayed at the house with her. Defendant stated that Davidson took a large floral comforter with him, and Defendant never saw the comforter again. Defendant went into the bedroom and saw C.C. "still tied up and blindfolded." Davidson and Thomas returned to the residence about 30 minutes later. Thomas told Defendant that C.C. "was being quiet because if she went along with what they were doing to her, she would be set free." Davidson and Thomas put the clothes they were wearing into the washing machine. Defendant stated that Davidson and Thomas "were both acting nervous." She asked them what was going on, and they refused to tell her. Defendant heard Davidson tell Thomas, "well, that's taken ...

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