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Johnson v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 29, 2014


Session October 7, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County Nos. 03-00441, 03-00442 Glenn Ivy Wright, Judge

Lance R. Chism, Memphis, Tennessee, for the petitioner, Thaddeus Johnson.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Tracy L. Alcock, Assistant Attorney General; Amy Weirich, District Attorney General; David Zak and Rachel Russell, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the respondent, State of Tennessee.

Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.



Factual and Procedural Background

On April 7, 2005, a Shelby County jury found Petitioner guilty of the first degree murder of Montreal Graham during the attempted murder of Maurice Wooten, of which the jury also found Petitioner guilty. The trial court sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment for the murder and to a consecutive twenty-five year prison term for the attempted murder. This Court affirmed Petitioner's convictions and consecutive sentences on direct appeal. State v. Thaddeus Johnson, No. W2005-01600-CCA-R3-CD, 2006 WL 1816392, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 30, 2006), perm. app. denied, (Tenn. Nov. 20, 2006).

On February 14, 2005, [1] the trial court held a hearing on trial counsel's motion to withdraw. As grounds for the withdrawal, trial counsel explained:

I've been seeing [Petitioner] curse me out and then he threaten[ed] me, your Honor. I don't think I can represent with any kind of zeal, your Honor. After that I just don't think I can give him what he deserves in a first degree murder case.

In response to questioning from the trial court, trial counsel clarified that the cursing was not "that big of a deal" but insisted that the threat was concerning.[2] Trial counsel again opined that he did not "have the zeal to represent [Petitioner]."

Petitioner admitted to cursing at trial counsel but denied ever threatening him. Petitioner told the trial court that trial counsel would not file the motion(s) that Petitioner requested and expressed his belief that, if Petitioner "asked [trial counsel] to file a motion . . . it shouldn't be no argument." Additionally, Petitioner declared that he "had to write the Board of Professional Responsibility to get [trial counsel] to come see [him] . . . ." When the trial court expressed concern that the allegations were merely a stall tactic by Petitioner, Petitioner told the trial court that he would not cooperate with his attorney. Petitioner further explained, "I don't feel like he's trying to help me. He's been on my case for awhile and the things he [has], I don't have." Trial counsel stated that he had reviewed all of their material and shown everything to Petitioner.

The trial court acknowledged that trial counsel was a "well-respected attorney [who knew] how to handle [that] situation" and also expressed its concern that no problems had previously arisen during the two years prior to trial. Ultimately, the trial court instructed Petitioner to cooperate with his trial counsel and denied the motion to withdraw. The trial was later reset.

On July 7, 2005, during the hearing on Petitioner's motion for a new trial, Petitioner's trial counsel argued that the trial court's denial of the motion to withdraw adversely affected his performance at trial. Trial counsel stated that "it was a communication problem between [us], as well as . . . [Petitioner] threatened me, " which in turn prevented trial counsel from providing zealous representation. Although trial counsel affirmed that he "fe[lt] that [he] did what was necessary to represent [Petitioner], " trial counsel also expressed doubt about whether he had actually represented Petitioner zealously. The trial court rejected this argument by Petitioner as a justification for a new trial, explaining:

[T]he Court's of the opinion, without hesitation, that [trial counsel] represented [Petitioner] the way he would if he had not a single problem with [Petitioner] because [trial counsel]'s a good lawyer and he put that aside as he said he would and he represented [Petitioner] in this case, and the Court got a commitment from [Petitioner] that he'd work with [trial counsel] at the trial.

However, the trial court relieved trial counsel from further representation on appeal in response to trial counsel's assertion that he was still having "problems" with Petitioner. Petitioner responded to the trial court that trial counsel "[had]n't been doing a good job."

After the direct appeal, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief on July 9, 2007. An order appointing private counsel to represent Petitioner was entered on October 11, 2007. Petitioner filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief on April 8, 2011, alleging ineffective assistance of appellate and trial ...

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