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Brunner v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 15, 2014


Assigned on Briefs September 3, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 07-02047 Glenn Ivy Wright, Judge

Ruchee Patel, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, John Brunner.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Paul Goodman, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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



The Petitioner, John Brunner, was indicted on charges of first degree premeditated murder and domestic assault for the death of his mother ("the victim"). After a trial, a jury convicted the Petitioner of the lesser-included offense of second degree murder and domestic assault. This Court affirmed his conviction on direct appeal, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied the Petitioner's application for permission to appeal. See State v. John Brunner, No. W2008-01444-CCA-R3-CD, 2009 WL 2151822 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 17, 2009) perm. app. denied (Tenn. 2009).

The Petitioner filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief claiming trial counsel was ineffective. Post-conviction counsel was appointed, but no amended petition was filed. An evidentiary hearing was held on February 1, 2013, and the post-conviction court took the case under advisement at the conclusion of proof. Ultimately, the post-conviction court entered an order denying post-conviction relief, stating that the Petitioner failed to prove both that trial counsel was deficient and that he suffered any prejudice.[1] The Petitioner filed a timely appeal. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Factual and Procedural Background

A detailed summary of the evidence presented at trial can be found in this Court's opinion from the direct appeal in this case. See John Brunner, 2009 WL 2151822, at *1-5. We will restate the facts as they are pertinent to the Petitioner's appeal from the post-conviction court's ruling.

Trial Proceedings

The Petitioner lived in a small house on the victim's property. Id. at *1.[2] According to the Petitioner's testimony at trial, on the evening the victim died, she followed the Petitioner from her house into the backyard and began hitting him with her cane. Id. at *4. The Petitioner admitted he killed the victim and testified that he "just kind of lost it" and grabbed the victim's cane and hit her "more than a couple of times." Id. On cross-examination, the Petitioner testified that both he and the victim fell to the ground during the altercation. Id. at *5. He stated that he grabbed the victim's neck and squeezed it for one to two minutes until she was unconscious. Id. He left the victim's body in the yard overnight and did not call anyone for help. Id. The next morning, between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., he called the police. Id.

When police arrived on the scene, the Petitioner signed a consent form allowing the police to search of all buildings, cars, and premises at the victim's address. The police took statements from the victim's care giver and daughter at the scene and transported the Petitioner to the police station so that his statement could be recorded. At this time, the Petitioner was not a suspect and was free to leave whenever he wished. The police recorded the Petitioner's statement, collected his clothes as evidence because there was blood on his shorts, and called a relative to pick up the Petitioner from the police station.

Before the Petitioner's relative arrived, the medical examiner informed the police that the victim was killed by strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head. At this point, the Petitioner was brought back into the interview room, read Miranda warnings, and questioned as a possible suspect in the case. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The Petitioner waived his Miranda rights and admitted killing the victim after she attacked him with her cane.

While in custody awaiting trial, the Petitioner also told another inmate, Sam Rooker, that he had killed the victim. At trial, Mr. Rooker testified the Petitioner told him that he had killed the victim by choking her. Id. at *3. He stated the Petitioner detailed the technique he used to choke the victim and explained how he physically restrained the victim to prevent her from fighting back. Id. The Petitioner also told Mr. Rooker that he tried to make the scene look like an accident and did not call anyone about the victim's death until the next morning. Id.

Both the victim's daughter and care giver testified that the victim was legally blind. Id. at *1, *2. Both testified that the victim could not ...

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