Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs October 29, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2007-C-2675 Seth W. Norman, Judge
Dawn Deaner, District Public Defender; and Joan Lawson and Michael Engle (at hearing), and Jeffrey A. DeVasher and Emma Rae Tennent (on appeal), Assistant District Public Defenders, for the appellant, William Darelle Smith.
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, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roger A. Page, and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.
JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On June 4, 2007, a passing motorist discovered the body of the defendant's wife, Zurisaday Villanueva, lying by the side of the road; she had been shot twice. State v. Smith, 418 S.W.3d 38, 42 (Tenn. 2013). At trial, the State introduced testimony and DNA evidence implicating the defendant.
The defendant's father testified that he had loaned his car to the defendant and that the defendant was driving it in June 2007. On the day after the discovery of the victim's body, the defendant and his father drove the car to Chicago and left it with a family member. State v. William Darelle Smith, No. M2010-01384-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 8502564, at *2 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 2, 2012). The car was impounded by Chicago police, and the victim's DNA was recovered from blood spots found on the passenger door control panel and the passenger headrest. Id. at *4-5. When the defendant's father discovered that the victim had been shot he "tried to get [the defendant] to turn himself in." Id. at *2.
The defendant's cousin, Nakeda Kirby, testified that the defendant told her about the homicide. Id. The defendant told Ms. Kirby that he and the victim were fighting, that the victim brandished a gun, and that the gun went off during a struggle. Id. He told her that he tried to move the victim, but she grabbed his hand and the gun went off again. Id. At the time he told Ms. Kirby about the homicide, it was not publicly known that the victim had been shot twice. Id.
Julia Crawford, the defendant's girlfriend, testified that she had been out with the defendant on the Friday before the crime. Id. at *3. As they were leaving the defendant's apartment, the defendant saw the victim, told Ms. Crawford that the victim was armed, and then laid a gun in Ms. Crawford's lap, telling her to kill the victim. Id. She believed he was serious. Id. After the defendant drove Ms. Crawford home and pulled into her driveway, he held a gun to Ms. Crawford's head, instructed her not to cry, and asked, "Are you gonna be with me, you gonna stand by my side[?]" Ms. Crawford was scared and said she would. Id. On a Sunday night after the homicide, the defendant confessed to Ms. Crawford that he had killed the victim. Id.
As part of the State's case, the prosecution presented the testimony of Dr. Adele Lewis:
Dr. Lewis, the assistant medical examiner who performed [the victim's] autopsy, testified that [the victim] had been shot twice, once in the chest and once in the back of the head. While Dr. Lewis could not ascertain which shot had been fired first, she stated that [the victim] could have survived the chest wound with proper medical attention but that she would not have survived the head wound. She also testified that the shots had been fired from an "indeterminate range" and that she found no evidence that the muzzle of the pistol had been held against [the victim's] skin. Dr. Lewis concluded that [the victim's] death was a homicide.
Smith, 418 S.W.3d at 43.
During voir dire, the jurors were never asked if they were acquainted with Dr. Lewis, despite the fact that three of the jurors were employed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where Dr. Lewis had completed a residency. Id. at 42. The trial court instructed the jury at the beginning of trial that it would be "highly improper" to do anything such as "taking [a] cell phone and texting and trying to find out about a trial or things like that, " admonishing the jury that it must decide ...