Assigned on Briefs October 21, 2014 at Knoxville
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 12-01056 Lee V. Coffee, Judge
James E. Thomas, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Darius Jones.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Jeff Jones and Marques Young, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.
D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE
The Defendant's convictions arose from the April 11, 2011 murder of the victim, Cortessa Chambers, at her home in Memphis. The victim died from a single gunshot wound to the head. At trial, the Defendant conceded that he shot the victim but insisted that the killing was accidental and was the result of a struggle between the victim, the Defendant, and the victim's mother, Berthine Chambers.
At trial, Ms. Chambers testified that the victim was the eldest of her four children and that on April 11, 2011, Ms. Chambers was living on Lagena Street with her four children and four grandchildren. Two of the grandchildren living with her were the victim's children, a girl, who was twenty-two months old, and a boy, who was three years old at the time. She additionally testified that the victim was dating the Defendant at the time, that he was not the father of either of the victim's children, and that the Defendant had been staying at the Lagena Street house for the past three or four months. Ms. Chambers stated that the Defendant was also known by the nicknames "Day-Day" and "Bear."
Ms. Chambers testified regarding an incident that occurred sometime before April 11, 2011, although she could not remember the exact date and time. Ms. Chambers was asleep in her bed on a Sunday night when the victim came into her room. Ms. Chambers described the victim's demeanor as "terrified and nervous and shaking." The victim told Ms. Chambers that the Defendant had taken her out to a park, hit her on the head with a gun, and shot at her. Ms. Chambers testified that she got out of bed and searched the house for a gun but did not find anything and subsequently went back to bed. On cross-examination, Ms. Chambers testified that, although she believed the victim's story that the Defendant had assaulted her in the park and threatened her, she did not call the police.
Andrea Nichols testified that she and the victim were childhood friends. She testified that in April 2011, the victim had been dating the Defendant, whom she knew by the nickname "Bear." When asked to describe generally the relationship between the Defendant and the victim, she stated that she could only judge the relationship based on what the victim had told her, which was that "[the Defendant] was going to kill [the victim] and that [they] had been fighting." According to Ms. Nichols, the victim was upset when she related this information to Ms. Nichols, and the victim had been telling her about problems with the Defendant "during the whole month of April."
Ms. Nichols testified that about a week before April 11, the victim told her of an incident that happened at "the Castle, " located a couple blocks from the victim's home. According to Ms. Nichols, the victim told her that the Defendant was shooting at her behind the Castle and that "[the Defendant] dropped [the victim] on her head" at a park located across the street from the Castle. Ms. Nichols said that she saw "some scratches and stuff on [the victim's] head" after the incident but that she never personally saw the Defendant abuse the victim because she "wasn't around him like that." Ms. Nichols testified that she told the victim, "If you really feel like a person is going to kill you then why stay . . . with him?" Ms. Nichols said the victim responded by saying, "'Cause if I leave him, he going to kill me and get away with it."
Ms. Chambers testified that prior to April 11, 2011, the police had been called to her house after the victim claimed that the Defendant had taken money from her. According to Ms. Chambers, she was outside the house the entire time the police were there, and both the victim and the Defendant were present as well. The police got the money from the Defendant and gave it to the victim, and then the police left. Ms. Chambers went back inside the house, and shortly thereafter the victim and the Defendant also came back in the house. Ms. Chambers testified that the victim was upset and angry when she came back in the house, like something else had happened outside, but Ms. Chambers did not actually witness any physical altercation between the victim and the Defendant. Ms. Chambers admitted that she had never personally witnessed the Defendant harm the victim but said that she had heard the Defendant make verbal threats to the victim.
Felecia Swift testified that she lived on Lagena Street, across from Ms. Chambers's house and that three to four weeks before the shooting, she saw an altercation between "Bear" and the victim. She said that at the time of that incident, she was on the porch of her house and that she saw the police arrive at Ms. Chambers's house. Ms. Swift testified that the Defendant and the victim talked to the police for several minutes, and then the police left the house. After the police left, Ms. Swift watched as the Defendant "slapped the s--t out of her" and called the victim a "[b]---h." Ms. Swift testified that Ms. Chambers was present when the Defendant slapped the victim.
Ms. Chambers testified that on April 11, 2011, the victim had plans to go to the store with Ms. Nichols. Sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon, the victim entered Ms. Chambers's bedroom and asked to borrow an ink pen. The victim went back into her own bedroom and five to ten minutes later, re-entered Ms. Chambers's bedroom with a note in her hand. According to Ms. Chambers, the victim "was nervous, . . . and shaking and stuff, " and the Defendant was standing in the doorway to the bedroom "demanding [the victim] . . . give [Ms. Chambers] the letter" and cussing the victim. Ms. Chambers "snatched the paper out of [the victim's] hand" and set it on the dresser. During trial, the State entered the letter into evidence. The letter read as follows:
To Whom This May Concern:
Everyone know it's nothing like understanding. Me and [the victim] have argued, fought and everything else since we been together. I have told her everything about me, [a]ll my deepest secret[s] and everything. When she gets high she forget who I am and what I am capable of. I told her several time[s] what this would lead to if she did not honor my wishes. As for her family, they all know her condition. I am very tired of every one calling my bluff. I always say what I mean and mean what I say[.] I have no other choice. She took $100, 000 from me and laughed[.]
Next, the victim said that she was going to the store and asked Ms. Chambers whether she needed anything. Ms. Chambers heard Ms. Nichols honk her horn outside the house, and the victim left.
Ms. Nichols testified that on April 11, 2011, she went to Ms. Chambers's house to take the victim and the Defendant to the store and that she drove a white Impala at the time. She testified that her cousin, Justin Montgomery, was in the car with her. When she arrived at the house, she exited her car and knocked on the front door. She testified that the Defendant answered the door and said, "We straight." When Ms. Nichols asked where the victim was, the Defendant answered, "She straight. We good." Ms. Nichols testified that at that point, the victim walked out from the back of the house, and the Defendant stepped outside the house.
Ms. Nichols stated that she and the victim got into the Impala but that the Defendant pulled the victim out of the car. She said that "[w]hen he pulled her out of the car, the victim got away again and [the Defendant] pointed the gun at the victim." Ms. Nichols exited the car and tried to calm the Defendant and the victim down. According to Ms. Nichols, the Defendant "pointed the gun[, ] [a]nd when he pointed the gun, [she] got back in the car, and click, click, [the gun] didn't go off." Ms. Nichols returned to her car and watched as the Defendant "dragg[ed] the victim in the house" through the back door.
On cross-examination, Ms. Nichols denied that a second man, Kevin Robinson was in the car when she went to Ms. Chambers's house on April 11. She testified that at one point the Defendant pointed the gun at her and that was when she heard the "click, click." She denied that the Defendant pulled a man with "dreads" out of the Impala. According to Ms. Nichols, after Ms. Chambers came running out of the house, Ms. Nichols backed out of the driveway and parked on the street beside the house. Ms. Nichols admitted that in her statement to police, made on April 11, 2011, she did not report that the Defendant had pointed a gun at her and attempted to shoot her. However, she insisted that it did happen and explained that she left it out of her statement at the time because she was upset that her friend had just been killed. Ms. Nichols also resisted the suggestion that the victim was in possession of a gun when she came out of the house.
Ms. Chambers testified that she heard the victim come back into the house and that she was calling, "Mom, mom." Ms. Chambers went into the victim's bedroom to see what was going on. She saw that the Defendant had the victim in the headlock and was holding a gun down by his leg. The Defendant was cussing the victim, calling her "b---hes" and "motherf--kers."
Ms. Chambers testified that she stepped in between the victim and the Defendant and that the Defendant released the victim from the headlock. The victim got behind Ms. Chambers, and the Defendant said, "B---h you think I won't kill you?" and "B---h give me my damn money." The victim raised her head up from behind Ms. Chambers's back, and the Defendant said, "B---h you think I won't kill you 'bout my motherf--king money?" The victim responded, "Why?, " and then the Defendant shot the victim "execution style, in her head."
The Defendant then looked at Ms. Chambers, "recocked" his gun, and pointed it at her. Ms. Chambers shoved the Defendant out of her way and ran out of her house and across the street to a neighbor's house. Ms. Chambers testified that neither she nor the victim ever touched the gun and that her grandchildren were standing in the doorway of the victim's bedroom when she was shot, that they saw what happened, and that they stayed in the house when she ran across the street. Ms. Nichols testified that she saw Ms. Chambers run out of the house saying, "Call the police. He killed my baby. He killed my baby."
On cross-examination, Ms. Chambers testified that she did not push or shove the Defendant before he shot the victim. She stated that she did not touch the Defendant but stood in between the victim and the Defendant, "face-to-face" with him, that she cussed the Defendant, and that she asked him "why he would keep messing with [her] baby." She admitted that there were several details that she left out of her statement to police but ...