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State v. Johnson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

March 2, 2015


Session October 21, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 89210 Mary Beth Leibowitz, Judge

D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.

Mark E. Stephens, District Public Defender; John R. Halstead (at trial and on appeal) and Robert C. Edwards (on appeal), Assistant Public Defenders, for the appellant, Micah Johnson, alias.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Counsel; Randall E. Nichols, District Attorney General; and TaKisha M. Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.




This case arises from the brutal beating, slashing, and strangulation of twenty-four-year-old Carrie Daughtery ("the victim"), which occurred during the early morning hours of March 19, 2008, in the front yard of her North Knoxville residence-a residence which she shared with the Defendant's girlfriend, Amanda Corts.[1] Thereafter, a Knox County grand jury returned a six-count indictment against the Defendant, charging him with one count of first-degree premeditated murder; two counts of first degree felony murder (during the perpetration of a robbery or a kidnapping, alternatively); two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping (resulting in serious bodily injury or being accomplished with a deadly weapon, alternatively); and one count of especially aggravated robbery. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-202, -305, & -403. A ten-day trial took place in November 2011.

The evidence presented at trial revealed the following facts. The Defendant and Ms. Corts met sometime in February or March of 2007, and they began dating in the months that followed. At that time, the Defendant was twenty years old and was attending the University of Tennessee ("UT"), where he studied aerospace engineering. The Defendant was described as very bright, and later testing revealed that he had an IQ of 133. According to Ms. Corts, in September of that year, the Defendant began acting "bizarrely"; he was not eating or sleeping well; and he was saying strange and unusual things. This odd behavior culminated in an assault on another UT student that same month. After the assault, the Defendant was expelled from the university and arrested.

In the days that followed, the Defendant began complaining of symptoms he believed to be the result of a heart attack, and "it kind of got progressively worse every day[, ]" according to Ms. Corts. Ms. Corts then contacted the Defendant's father to come pick him up due to the Defendant's high level of anxiety and paranoia, including his belief that the police were watching him. Ultimately, the Defendant was taken to Baptist Hospital ("Baptist") for mental health treatment, and he remained there for over a week. The couple then separated due to the Defendant's mental health issues.

In October 2007, while the couple was separated, the victim moved in with Ms. Corts at her Columbia Avenue home in North Knoxville. Ms. Corts was open-minded to having a roommate due to the fact that she had broken up with her live-in boyfriend, Mitch Folk, in March 2007 and that he had moved from the residence when the relationship ended. Ms. Corts was asked about whether the victim and her ex-boyfriend had any similar physical characteristics, and Ms. Corts stated that they had "a much different physical presence" because the victim was at least a foot shorter than Ms. Corts's ex-boyfriend and had a much lighter complexion.

The victim and Ms. Corts frequently spoke about the Defendant and his mental health issues. The victim even told Ms. Corts about a family member she had with some psychiatric problems and about her belief that the Defendant exhibited some of the same symptoms. According to Ms. Corts, the Defendant had regained control of his life and was "much more like his normal self" by December 2007, and the victim agreed with Ms. Corts's assessment. Ms. Corts and the Defendant reunited and again began dating, and from that time on, Ms. Corts, the victim, and the Defendant began to spend a lot of time together.

Over the next few months, the Defendant did not exhibit any bizarre behavior, returning to "his old self again[, ]" in Ms. Corts's opinion. The Defendant did most of the yard work at the residence for Ms. Corts, like mowing the lawn and raking leaves, because Ms. Corts had fibromyalgia and a type of arthritis known as Reiter's Syndrome and was, therefore, unable to do it on her own. Ms. Corts further stated that the Defendant was actively looking for a job and trying to find another school to go to; she believed he was compliant with taking his mental-health related medications. The Defendant ultimately got a job at Knoxville News Sentinel newspaper as a warehouse worker and lived with his father and step-mother, about a mile away from Ms. Corts's home. However, he began staying over some nights with Ms. Corts. Later, in February 2008, the Defendant got another job at a Coca-Cola warehouse, which was about fifteen minutes away from where Ms. Corts and the victim lived. He worked "second shift, " going in sometime around 2:30 or 3:30 p.m. and getting off between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. Ms. Corts never noticed any bizarre behavior or sleep disturbances in the Defendant during this time.

The Defendant turned twenty-one on March 6, 2008, and on the weekend just prior to the attack on the victim, Ms. Corts and the Defendant celebrated on a Saturday evening[2]with the victim at Barley's Tap Room ("Barley's"), where the victim worked as a server and a bartendar. According to Ms. Corts, they enjoyed themselves on this evening and nothing unusual happened.

On March 18, 2008, the Defendant woke up at Ms. Corts's home after spending the night there. The victim was also at home that day, sleeping most of the day because she was not feeling well. The three of them spent some time together until the Defendant had to leave to get ready for work at the Coca-Cola warehouse. The victim left later that day, also having to go to work, working the "closing shift."

That evening Ms. Corts took her regular sleeping medication, likely between 11:00 or 11:30 p.m. As Ms. Corts was getting ready for bed, the Defendant called her at approximately 12:00 or 12:30 a.m. The Defendant told her about his day at work and his plans to test-drive a car someone had for sale, so due to the late hour, Ms. Corts made plans with the Defendant for the following day. Later that evening, she heard a noise outside her home that evening, which she believed came from the side of her house, but she was unable to see anything suspicious from the side window of the residence, which faced the carport and driveway. She returned to bed assuming the wind had blown over some trash cans or something of that nature.

Also about 12:30 a.m. on March19, 2008, the victim got off work, making about $80 dollars in tips that evening according to her Barley's boss. Her regular work attire included a Barley's t-shirt and a server apron, if she was serving but not bartending. According to the victim's boss, there would usually be loose money from tips in the victim's apron. Her boss also confirmed that the victim was carrying a pink Motorola Razr cellular telephone that evening.

A 911 call was made on March 19, 2008, at 1:46 a.m. A Columbia Avenue neighbor of Ms. Corts's and the victim's was outside that morning and saw a woman pull up in front of their residence in a "gray white" sport utility vehicle ("SUV"). As the woman exited the vehicle, a man hit her in the head with a rock and dragged her across the yard while continuing to strike the woman in the head. The caller could no longer see either of the individuals by the time she placed the phone call but described that the male was wearing dark clothing. The only other car the neighbor saw at the home belonged to Ms. Corts. The first officer arrived at the victim's and Ms. Corts's residence at 1:57 p.m. and discovered the victim's bloody body partially lying under the victim's silver Ford Explorer, which was parked on the street in front of the house.

After questioning Ms. Corts, the Defendant was quickly determined to be a suspect in the victim's murder, and officers began looking for his vehicle, a "red early '90s, late '80s, Ford F-150" with a different-colored passenger's side door. Officer Scott Coffey of the Knoxville Police Department ("KPD") went to the Defendant's father's house, who gave him permission to search the residence although the Defendant was not there. The screen to the Defendant's bedroom had been removed, and the blinds had been "partially tore off the window."

After speaking with officers at the police station, Ms. Corts went to stay at her parents' house in Loudon County because she was distraught. Ms. Corts gave her cellular phone to her father, Norman Close, so he could help her deal with any matters that arose and required attention. Later that day, Mr. Close received a call from the Defendant. Mr. Close answered and informed the Defendant that he was answering Ms. Corts's phone. After a brief silence, the Defendant asked to speak with Ms. Corts, but Mr. Close refused this request. Mr. Close asked the Defendant where he was and suggested to him that he turn himself in to the authorities; Mr. Close repeated these statements several times during the approximately five-minute phone call. The Defendant only responded with "little snippets of words that amounted to remorse": for example, "Well, I've screwed up. I've messed up." Although the Defendant was rambling during the conversation, he was not totally incoherent, according to Mr. Close.

When Ms. Corts prepared to return to Knoxville later that day, she went to her car, which was parked in the driveway. She noticed some gravel in the shape of a heart and the words, "I'm dead." According to Ms. Corts, "it was obvious someone had looked through [her] car" and had left an unfinished beer can and cigarette butts inside. The Defendant had been to Ms. Corts's parents' house on several prior occasions.

During the late evening hours of March 19, 2008, Officer Coffey had returned to work and continued to look for the Defendant. Officer Coffey, while stopped at an intersection approximately a mile and a half away from Columbia Avenue, observed a pickup truck matching the description of the Defendant's vehicle. Officer Coffey followed the vehicle and determined that it belonged to the Defendant; he observed a white male as the driver. After another cruiser arrived to assist, the officers activated their blue lights and pursued the pickup truck. A short chase ensued, and although the Defendant ran traffic lights, he was not traveling at a high rate of speed. Once on the Henley Street Bridge, the Defendant "slammed on his brakes[, ]" exited the car, ran to the side rail, and jumped up "like he had intended to jump." Another officer "pulled [the Defendant] back as he was attempting to go over, " but Officer Coffey opined that the Defendant had "kind of [started] coming back on his own." The Defendant was thereafter taken into custody.

Immediately following the attack on the victim, officers began to process the crime scene. They found the victim's blood on the driveway and steps in front of the side entrance to the residence, which was near the carport where Ms. Corts's car was parked. Loose coins were also observed on the driveway and steps. There was a blood trail from this area across the yard to the victim's vehicle. Along this trail, and strewn about the yard in front of the hedges, were the victim's purse, a bloody jacket, and a single shoe. A bloody gray t-shirt, a bloody white t-shirt, a set of keys, and the other shoe were found in the grass close to the victim's SUV. Officers also observed a bloody shovel next to the victim's body and two blood-stained pieces of brick in the yard, one lay in the grass towards the front of the vehicle and the other lay next to the victim's body. A rope was tied around the victim's neck.

The victim's blood was found on the right, passenger's side rear tire of the SUV, on the right passenger's side door, and on the passenger's side door frame. The vast majority of the blood was found near the bottom of the vehicle. Blood was also found on the inside of the SUV, again on the passenger's side.

Experts analyzed the blood patterns observed on the scene, concluding that swipe, transfer, and impact stains were present in the driveway and yard, and further, that all of these three, plus a flow pattern, were present on the passenger's side of the vehicle. These patterns were explained for the jury: a transfer is "when blood is moved from an object to another object"; a swipe occurs when something already has blood on it and "another object comes in contact with that transfer and . . . moves the blood again in . . . another direction"; an impact stain is when blood "that's in motion strikes another object"; and a flow pattern is when "there's so much [blood] that gravity takes effect, and it makes [the blood] flow down to the bottom." Timothy Schade, with the KPD Forensic Unit, testified that there were "more impact, kind of medium velocity impact stains" on the passenger's side door frame. Additionally, a bloody fingerprint was lifted from the handle of the right passenger's side door, and later testing identified the fingerprint as the Defendant's and the blood as the victim's.

The Defendant's pickup truck was also processed following his arrest. There was a bag of clothing and other items found in the bed of the pickup truck. Inside this bag was a pair of blue jeans, a green t-shirt, two white socks, a blue washcloth, and a pair of men's white tennis shoes. Many of these items were blood-stained. Officers looked inside the tennis shoes and came across the victim's pink Motorola Razr cellular telephone and bloodstained money in the amount of $87. Loose change was also found in the pocket of the blue jeans. A piece of rope was discovered in "the bend of the front seat of the truck"; however, this rope was later determined to be of a different type of rope than that used to strangle the victim. Also in the cab of the truck, officers came across an automated teller machine ("ATM") receipt, reflecting that the Defendant had withdrawn $500 in cash on March 19, 2008, at 2:52 a.m. Blood was seen on the steering wheel, the driver's side door, the steering column, the driver's side door handle, and the light switch area. Blood was also observed on the truck's exterior and on the keys to the truck. Much of this blood was determined to be the victim's after subsequent testing.

Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the Chief Medical Examiner for Knox and Anderson counties, conducted the victim's autopsy. According to Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan, the victim suffered two "basal skull fractures" to her head, which required a "tremendous force[.]" The victim also suffered multiple blows and "chopping injuries" mostly to her head and neck. According to Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan, the "overall view" of the victim's body reflected "the combination of blunt trauma with the rectangular object versus chopping injury with the kind of blunt-edge blade." Finally, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan saw a woven pattern imprinted on the victim's neck from the nylon rope; she was able to determine that this was "one of the last things" that happened to the victim. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan also observed defensive injuries to "the hands and wrists or forearm[.]" Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan opined that the victim's death was not immediate, taking "several minutes[.]" The victim's "main cause of death was blunt force injuries to the head[, ]" with the chopping injuries to the neck and the strangulation being contributing factors. The manner of death was homicide. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said her opinion was consistent with the rope, shovel, and pieces of brick found at the crime scene.

It was later determined that the Defendant parked his truck about a block away from the residence before the attack. He also went home and showered immediately following the murder, put his bloody clothes in a bag, and then left for Georgia. However, he later returned to Tennessee. The Defendant's phone records were entered into evidence. Those records indicated that the Defendant placed multiple phone calls while in Atlanta, Georgia on March 19, 2008.

Ms. Corts was asked about the yard work the Defendant did at her residence. She stated that she had a lawnmower and tools at the home, including a rake and a shovel, all of which were kept under the carport in front of where she parked her car. According to Ms. Corts, one would be unable to see any of these items from the road. Ms. Corts described the location of the loose bricks on the property: "There was [sic] bricks . . . that lined from the patio up to the yard. There was a little bit of a terrace. And then the bricks were along the side of the carport closest to the grass[.]" Ms. Corts believed that all of the loose bricks "were in the back"; she also did not recall any of the front porch bricks being loose. She did not remember having any rope at her house.

The Defendant wrote Ms. Corts while he was incarcerated. The letter, in part, stated, "I know you've lost two. But you will learn much and more about than that [sic]. . . . Please acknowledge my life is still worth something."

The Defendant presented many witnesses on his behalf to defend on the ground that he was insane at the time he committed the murder.[3] First, his father, Gary Johnson, testified about the Defendant's deteriorating mental condition. He described the Defendant's childhood and educational experiences-including the Defendant's mother's battle with cancer, and how that affected the Defendant; the Defendant's parents' separation; the Defendant's "sensitive and shy" nature; the Defendant's expulsion from high school due to marijuana and drugs, although he was later readmitted; and the Defendant's good grades and high academic performance until his sophomore year at UT. In the fall of 2006, the Defendant's sophomore year, his grades started to fall, even failing a couple of courses, and he began to "lose a lot of focus, constantly had to be reminded of chores to do, [and] would misplace things[.]" This decline continued in the spring of 2007, according to Mr. Johnson. The Defendant became obsessed with "political things" that were on television, even asking his father if he was president of the United States. The Defendant lost the ability to do simple math calculations and flunked all of his college courses, losing his scholarship. By summer, the Defendant "became more disorganized[, ]" constantly forgetting his keys and became unable to do simple chores.

The Defendant again enrolled in classes at UT in the fall of 2007. This was the semester during which the Defendant was arrested for assaulting another UT student. The Defendant told his father that "there was [sic] a group of guys behind him that had been calling him names like 'pretty boy' and 'fag boy' and [a] bunch of derogatory names." During a break in class, the Defendant saw this individual and his friends in the hallway. The Defendant told his father that the individual "clinch[ed] his fist[, ]" and the Defendant believed that the student was armed with a knife, so the Defendant hit him. The Defendant then picked up his backpack and fled. When Mr. Johnson bailed the Defendant out of jail, the Defendant "was acting very upset" and "didn't remember hitting the guy." The Defendant was expelled from UT after the assault, and he "became more and more distress[ed] and distraught[, ]" according to Mr. Johnson.

The Defendant started to believe there was "a camera in the cable box and he was being recorded." So, according to his father, the Defendant would sit in the hallway around the corner from where the televison was" and would not watch television "directly." On several occasions, Mr. Johnson heard the Defendant's "talking out loud when no one was there" and "peek out of his room through the blinds thinking someone was outside his window or someone was in the next room."

Later, the Defendant's mother called saying that she had met with the Defendant at Ijams Nature Park and "that there was something definitely wrong with him[.]" About an hour after that phone call, the Defendant called his father saying that he had not slept in several days, so Mr. Johnson went to pick him up at Ms. Corts's house. Although the Defendant was in the front yard and should have been able to see his father when he arrived, Mr. Johnson had to honk the car's horn to get the Defendant's attention. Through the night, the Defendant was not making any sense and started hyperventilating, believing he was having a heart attack. The next morning Mr. Johnson took him to Baptist for an evaluation.

When the Defendant arrived at Baptist, he told the nurse he had being doing "all these drugs"; however, Mr. Johnson denied that allegation because he had stayed up with the Defendant all night long and had not witnessed any such behavior. The drug screen came back positive for marijuana and benzodiazepines. The Defendant was described by the emergency room physician as paranoid, agitated, and hallucinating. His ideas were disorganized, being "all over the place[.]" He relayed that he was hearing voices. It was also noted that the examination was limited by "questionabl[e] intoxicat[ion]." The Defendant was transferred to the Baptist psychiatric unit where he was treated by psychiatrist Dr. Sharon R. Burnside. He was admitted with a diagnosis of "psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified." Dr. Burnside started the Defendant on anti-psychotic medications, which were changed in the days that followed as the Defendant continued to exhibit mental health symptoms and Dr. Burnside no longer believed this to be "a drug-induced psychosis." Approximately a week later, the Defendant signed himself out against medical advice. Dr. Burnside's diagnosis of the Defendant at discharge was still psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified, "rule out bipolar mania with psychosis versus first onset of schizophrenia." The Defendant was discharged with instructions to take his prescribed medications and was released to his father's care.

According to Mr. Johnson, the Defendant continued to maintain delusions that he was president, and his thinking "was still very disorganized" after he returned home from Baptist. They sought treatment for the Defendant at several places, eventually utilizing Better Brain Technology to assist the Defendant with his mental health problems. Mr. Johnson described the Defendant as "not himself" in the months that followed, being "very withdrawn" and having "kind of a flat [a]ffect." On one occasion, the Defendant attempted to place a battery in his truck but "crossed the wires, " and "the wiring started to burn up"; according to Mr. Johnson, this upset the Defendant because he had done this many times before successfully. Mr. Johnson also believed that the Defendant was still delusional and hearing voices, and he further suspected that the Defendant was not taking his medication. Mr. Johnson thought the Defendant "was obsessed" with Ms. Corts. In Mr. Johnson's opinion, his son suffered from schizophrenia.

On March 19, 2008, after officers searched Mr. Johnson's home and informed Mr. Johnson about the victim's death, Mr. Johnson attempted to call the Defendant. At first the Defendant did not answer, but eventually, Mr. Johnson was able to speak with the Defendant and urged him to come home because the police were looking for him. Mr. Johnson told one of the detectives about this call, informing the detective that the Defendant told him on this call that "he was going to see the water one last time, . . .[that] he did not know where he was, . . . that he was sorry, and [that] he was insane."

The Defendant's mother, Francis Johnson, also testified about the Defendant's mental state, providing similar testimony as the Defendant's father. Ms. Johnson said the Defendant began smoking marijuana while living in her home, prior to his going to live with his father, and she was aware that the Defendant had used alcohol in the past. She also provided details about her meeting with the Defendant at Ijams Nature Park following the UT assault. She was afraid for the Defendant's safety following this meeting because he was hearing and seeing things. She also said that the Defendant again acted "[i]nappropriate[ly]" around the holidays in 2007.

The parties agreed to stipulate to a journal entry written by the victim. The date of the entry was unknown. The entry reads,

Dear Amanda,
In regard to [the Defendant], I don't feel comfortable with him around. My brother Steve is schizophrenic. Sometimes he became convinced we (me, Will, & Pat) are the devil. He especially hated Will. One day mom found Steve sitting on Will's chest. Will was 3 and unconscious.
I haven't seen him since he put a plastic bag on my head 15 years ago.
Anyways, [the Defendant] is schizo as well and frankly, he terrifies me. Flashbacks - scary - not ready to die.

Dr. Andrew Demick, a clinical psychologist, testified that he was asked to evaluate the Defendant's mental state during the UT assault. The Defendant told Dr. Demick that he punched the other student four or five times in the face, before fleeing the campus. Dr. Demick determined that the other student "had never had any contact with [the Defendant]" and that there was "no indication that [the Defendant] was being verbally abused." In his report, Dr. Demick concluded,

Based upon the results of this evaluation, it is the opinion of this examiner that at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the alleged offense, severe mental disease or defect did prevent [the Defendant] from appreciating the nature or wrongfulness of such acts, pursuant to TCA 39-11-501. There is strong reason to believe that [the Defendant] only engaged in his violent behavior due primarily to psychosis he was experiencing in September of 2007.

Because the Defendant was incarcerated on the murder charges, Dr. Demick did not make any "recommendation as to judicial commitment[.]"

Dr. Demick was later asked to consult on the Defendant's competency to stand trial and mental state on the murder charges. According to Dr. Demick, the Defendant told him that, when the vehicle pulled up in front of the victim's and Ms. Corts's house, "a black and cold feeling of dread" came over him and that he did not believe the person was either Mr. Folk, Ms. Corts's ex-boyfriend, or the victim. He also could not recall why he parked his truck a block away from the home. The Defendant said he left when police arrived on the scene.

Dr. Demick concluded that there was not enough data to support a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, which did not mean that the Defendant "was not experiencing some psychotic symptoms." In Dr. Demick's opinion, the Defendant was competent to stand trial. However, Dr. Demick recommended that, "[d]ue to the fact that there appears to be conflictual evidence" about the events surrounding the murder, the Defendant needed to be evaluated in an inpatient facility to determine his mental state at the time he committed the instant offenses.

Dr. Keith Allen Caruso, qualified as an expert in forensic psychiatry, testified that he reviewed many of the discovery materials, including police reports and other information gathered by law enforcement about the murder and the prior UT assault, medical records, school records, and crime scene and autopsy photographs, and ultimately diagnosed the Defendant as suffering from a "schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type." In Dr. Caruso's opinion, the Defendant "was unable to appreciate the nature and wrongfulness of his actions" when he attacked and killed the victim. According to Dr. Caruso, the Defendant committed these offenses during a period of "paranoid psychosis[.]"

In making this diagnosis, Dr. Caruso had obtained from the Defendant several different versions of the events surrounding the murder. In the first version told, the Defendant said that the victim was supposed to repay him money for pot that he had previously paid her for but that she had never purchased. When she partially repaid him on that early morning, he propositioned her for sex for the remaining amount still owed. He stated to Dr. Caruso that he had sexual fantasies about the victim. According to the Defendant, when she slapped him after he propositioned her, he killed her. He left when the police arrived. Furthermore, the Defendant told Dr. Caruso that he took the victim's cellular telephone so she could not call the police because he was unsure if she was dead. He also said that he parked a block away from the house so Ms. Corts would not see him. Dr. Caruso did not find this first version truthful, despite the fact that the Defendant gave this version more than once, albeit with some conflicting facts.

In the months that followed, Dr. Caruso was contacted by the defense to interview the Defendant again. This time the Defendant provided a second story to Dr. Caruso. The Defendant told Dr. Caruso that he believed that Ms. Corts's ex-boyfriend had been lurking around the house and that he mistook the victim for Mitch Folk. The Defendant believed that either Mr. Folk would attack his girlfriend again-because Ms. Corts had said that Mr. Folk previously raped her, according to the Defendant[4]-or that they were sneaking around behind the Defendant's back. He told Dr. Caruso that he parked a block away from the house so that Mr. Folk would not see him. He again stated that he left when the police arrived. In this version, he said that he could not remember why he took the cellular telephone, that the money was likely inside the phone, and that he made no attempt to conceal the body. The Defendant also recounted this version to Dr. Caruso more than once.

In the third version, the Defendant was unsure of who the victim was when he attacked, stating that he just saw a "a scary black figure coming" towards him or, later, that it was just a "shape" coming towards him. It may have been Mr. Folk, but he was unsure and possibly made that assertion based upon the suggestions he had received from the others. According to Dr. Caruso, what was present in every version was a "pervasive sense of fear that someone was going to kill him." Dr. Caruso also thought the Defendant's mental state had deteriorated since their initial encounter.

Neuropsychologist Dr. Daniel Spica administered several psychological tests to the Defendant. He relayed his findings from those tests to the jury, most importantly that the Defendant was not aggressive or assertive and would likely only be violent during a state of psychosis.

The State then presented several witnesses in rebuttal. The Defendant's disciplinary records while in prison awaiting trial were entered into evidence and reflected several violations of prison rules. There was also evidence introduced that the Defendant went to the prison's law library nineteen times during his detention. The Defendant's bank records were also entered into evidence, showing his activity around the time of the murder, including the $500 cash withdrawal.

The Defendant's warehouse supervisor at Coca-Cola testified that the Defendant was a good worker and that he noticed no signs of mental illness in the Defendant. On March 19, 2008, when the Defendant's shift ended early that morning, the Defendant asked if he could test drive another employee's car, but that employee told the Defendant "maybe tomorrow night or the next night[, ]" according to the supervisor. He also stated that the Defendant did not appear upset or agitated at that time. Ms. Corts was recalled and reiterated that the Defendant sounded normal when she spoke with him on the morning of March 19, 2008.

The State presented a rebuttal mental health expert, Dr. Rokeya Srutana Farooque, who was also declared an expert in forensic psychiatry. Dr. Farooque testified that she performed a forensic evaluation of the Defendant while he was receiving inpatient care at her facility, Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute ("MTMHI"), a maximum security psychiatric facility. In Dr. Farooque's opinion, the Defendant was able to appreciate the nature and the wrongfulness of his acts. Dr. Farooque further stated that "[m]ental illness is one part" of the equation in making insanity determinations, it does not by itself make someone unable to appreciate the wrongfulness or nature of their conduct.

The Defendant provided "many different accounts" to Dr. Farooque before telling her that "[h]e didn't know where he was, and he felt like something came after him, and he was just striking back." He did not provide any of the same accounts he gave to Dr. Caruso. The Defendant confirmed for Dr. Farooque that he knew where the bricks and shovel were kept at the residence because he did most of the yardwork. Dr. Farooque did not find "any connection between [the Defendant's] mental illness and the crime." Dr. Farooque further stated that the Defendant had an extensive drug and alcohol history and that drugs and alcohol can mimic this kind of psychotic symptomology.

Based upon the foregoing, the jury found the Defendant guilty as charged and rejected his insanity defense. The three murder convictions were merged into a single count, and the two especially aggravated kidnapping convictions were likewise merged into a single count. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to life with the possibility of parole for the murder convictions and to twenty-five years each for the kidnapping and robbery convictions, which resulted in an effective sentence of life plus fifty years. This appeal followed.


On appeal, the Defendant presents the following issues for our review[5]: (1) whether the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction for premeditated murder; (2) whether the Defendant is entitled to relief from his kidnapping convictions as a result of the holding in State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012); (3) whether the trial court erred by allowing the State to introduce evidence of the Defendant's post-incarceration behavior in rebuttal to a Dr. Spica's testimony; (4) whether the trial court properly allowed the State to cross-examine Dr. Caruso about a twenty-two-year-old act of academic dishonesty; (5) whether the trial court erred by admitting photographs of the victim's gruesome injuries, taken both at the scene and during the autopsy, and showing a video of the crime scene as well; (6) whether plain error occurred when the State elicited testimony from Dr. Farooque that, if the Defendant was found not guilty by reason of insanity, he was not committable to mental health facility, in her opinion; and (7) whether the trial court erred in imposing consecutive sentencing. We will address each in turn.

I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

First, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for first degree premeditated murder, [6] arguing that "the evidence was insufficient to show that at the time of the homicide [he] was sufficiently free from excitement and passion as to be capable of premeditation[.]" The State responds that the evidence presented at trial sufficiently established the element of premeditation.

An appellate court's standard of review when a defendant questions the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal is "whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). This court does not reweigh the evidence; rather, it presumes that the jury has resolved all conflicts in the testimony and drawn all reasonable inferences from the evidence in favor of the State. See State v. Sheffield, 676 S.W.2d 542, 547 (Tenn. 1984); State v. Cabbage, 571 S.W.2d 832, 835 (Tenn. 1978). Questions regarding witness credibility, conflicts in testimony, and the weight and value to be given to evidence were resolved by the jury. See State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 659 (Tenn. 1997).

A guilty verdict "removes the presumption of innocence and replaces it with a presumption of guilt, and [on appeal] the defendant has the burden of illustrating why the evidence is insufficient to support the jury's verdict." Id.; State v. Tuggle, 639 S.W.2d 913, 914 (Tenn. 1982). "This [standard] applies to findings of guilt based upon direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, or a combination of [both] direct and circumstantial evidence." State v. Pendergrass, 13 S.W.3d 389, 392-93 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1999). The standard of proof is the same, whether the evidence is direct or circumstantial. State v. Dorantes, 331 S.W.3d 370, 379 (Tenn. 2011). Likewise, appellate review of the convicting evidence "is the same whether the conviction is based upon direct or circumstantial evidence." Id. (quoting State v. Hanson, 279 S.W.3d 265, 275 (Tenn. 2009)). The duty of this court "on appeal of a conviction is not to contemplate all plausible inferences in the [d]efendant's favor, but to draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in favor of the State." State v. Sisk, 343 S.W.3d 60, 67 (Tenn. 2011).

First degree murder, in this instance, is defined as "[a] premeditated and intentional killing of another." Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202(a)(1). A person acts intentionally "when it is the person's conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result." Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-302(a).

"[P]remeditation" is an act done after the exercise of reflection and judgment. "Premeditation" means that the intent to kill must have been formed prior to the act itself. It is not necessary that the purpose to kill pre-exist in the mind of the accused for any definite period of time.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202(d).

The element of premeditation is a factual question to be decided by a jury from all the circumstances surrounding the killing. State v. Davidson, 121 S.W.3d 600, 614 (Tenn. 2003). Although a jury may not engage in speculation, it may infer premeditation from the manner and circumstances of the killing. Bland, 958 S.W.2d at 660. Our supreme court has held that the following circumstances are relevant to a finding of premeditation:

the use of a deadly weapon upon an unarmed victim; the particular cruelty of a killing; the defendant's threats or declarations of intent to kill; the defendant's procurement of a weapon; any preparations to conceal the crime undertaken before the crime is committed; destruction or secretion of evidence of the killing; and [the] defendant's calmness immediately after [the] killing.

Davidson, 121 S.W.3d at 615; see also Bland, 958 S.W.2d at 660. "These factors, however, are not exhaustive." Davidson, 121 S.W.3d at 615. "Establishment of a motive for the killing is a factor from which the jury may infer premeditation." State v. Leach, 148 S.W.3d 42, 54 (Tenn. 2004). Specifically, evidence of repeated blows is a relevant factor in determining premeditation, although this evidence alone would not be sufficient to establish premeditation. State v. Adams, 405 S.W.3d 641, 663 (Tenn. 2013) (citing State v. Sims, 45 S.W.3d 1, 8 (Tenn. 2001)). Moreover, methods of killing that require more effort, time, and intimate contact than does simply pulling the trigger of a gun are more consistent with a premeditated killing. Id. (citations omitted). Additional factors cited by this court from which a jury may infer premeditation include lack of provocation by the victim and the defendant's failure to render aid to the victim. See State v. Lewis, 36 S.W.3d 88, 96 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2000).

While there is no direct evidence that the Defendant intended to kill the victim when he arrived at the Columbia Avenue residence during the early morning hours of March 19, 2008, circumstantial evidence supports the jury's verdict. Around midnight or 12:30 a.m., the Defendant phoned his girlfriend, Ms. Corts, who routinely took sleeping medication, and told her about his day and his plans to look at a car for sale the following day. Ms. Corts described the Defendant as normal sounding and opined that he did not display any of his prior symptoms of mental illness during this call. The Defendant's supervisor at Coca-Cola also did not observe any odd behavior from the ...

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