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State v. Wells

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

March 13, 2015


Assigned on Briefs December 2, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 11-02210 Chris Craft, Judge

Charles S. Mitchell, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anthony Wells.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Alanda Dwyer and Abby Wallace, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.



In November 2011, the Shelby County Criminal Court grand jury charged the defendant with one count of first degree murder arising out of the stabbing death of the victim, John Carter. The trial court conducted a jury trial in September 2013.

The State's proof at trial showed that on the afternoon of May 14, 2011, the defendant's former girlfriend, Toya Murphy, picked him up at a residence on Gainesville in Memphis. After a shopping expedition, Ms. Murphy and the defendant returned to Ms. Murphy's residence at the Kingsgate Apartments where they, along with Ms. Murphy's brothers, Tavarus and Coby, spent the evening drinking alcohol and socializing.

Just before 11:00 p.m., the victim arrived, and Ms. Murphy's older brother, Corey Ward, arrived shortly thereafter. At trial, Ms. Murphy explained that she had known the victim for many years and that he was "like a brother" to her. Later that evening or early the following morning, Tavarus and Coby left, and Ms. Murphy determined that she had consumed too much alcohol; she retired to her bedroom to go to sleep. Sometime later, Mr. Ward, the defendant, and the victim entered Ms. Murphy's bedroom, and the victim began jumping on Ms. Murphy's bed. Ms. Murphy instructed the men to leave, and they complied.

The men returned to the living room, and the defendant and the victim began to argue. According to Mr. Ward, the argument involved the color of a cast that one of Ms. Murphy's daughters once had. The argument escalated as the defendant and the victim raised their voices and cursed at each other. Mr. Ward attempted to intervene, but the argument continued. Ms. Murphy overheard the defendant and the victim arguing, and as she started out of her bedroom, she encountered the defendant in the hallway. He informed her that the victim was out of control and needed to leave; according to Mr. Ward, the defendant told Ms. Murphy to make the victim leave "before he do something to him." Ms. Murphy entered the living room and asked the victim what was the cause of the commotion. The victim then told the defendant, "[Y]ou make me leave." Mr. Ward testified that both the defendant and the victim began making calls on their cellular telephones and that, when they completed their calls, the argument continued.

Ms. Murphy testified that she did not know what the argument was about and that it lasted a "good twenty minutes." She reminded the men that her younger brother, Brandon, was asleep in his bedroom, which prompted the victim to walk outside with Mr. Ward. Mr. Ward recalled that the victim stated, "I'll get out of here, but I'm not leaving." Mr. Ward estimated that he and the victim stood outside of the apartment near the parking lot for four to five minutes. The defendant then walked outside, and the defendant and the victim resumed their argument. The defendant and the victim began pushing each other. Mr. Ward stepped between the two men, informing them that they were drunk and needed to stop fighting. Angered, the victim slapped a beer bottle out of Mr. Ward's hand, insisting that he was not intoxicated. The defendant began yelling at Mr. Ward that the victim was not his friend. Mr. Ward instructed the defendant to return to the apartment, and the defendant eventually complied.

Mr. Ward encouraged the victim to calm down and leave. Two to three minutes later, the defendant reappeared outside. Mr. Ward was seated on a landing by the sidewalk, and the victim was standing in front of him. According to Mr. Ward, the defendant walked straight to the victim. Mr. Ward believed that the two men were "swinging at each other, " but Mr. Ward then heard the victim cry out, "[H]ey, man. This man got a knife, he's sticking me." Mr. Ward grabbed the defendant by the shoulders, and the defendant attempted to throw off Mr. Ward. At that point, the knife the defendant was wielding broke, and the blade fell to the ground; the defendant was still holding the handle. The defendant stated, "I told him, I told him, he's going to send me back to jail, " and the defendant then returned to Ms. Murphy's apartment.

Meanwhile, Ms. Murphy was in the process of dressing herself and preparing to drive the defendant home. As she was leaving her bedroom, she encountered the defendant walking from the kitchen, and he demanded that Ms. Murphy drive him home immediately. Ms. Murphy noticed that one of the defendant's hands was by his side, and she saw "something black that was curved, looked like the handle of a knife." They left the apartment, and as they approached the parking lot, Ms. Murphy saw the victim lying on the sidewalk. She did not notice any blood, so she believed that the victim and the defendant had engaged in a fight. Startled, she stopped to look at the victim, and the defendant stated, "I said now, b****." Ms. Murphy and the defendant then got into her vehicle, and she drove out of the apartment complex.

As they were driving away, Ms. Murphy asked the defendant what had transpired. The defendant replied, "I told him, man, I told him, man." Ms. Murphy passed a police car and expressed that she should stop the officer, but the defendant demanded that she continue driving. The defendant accused Ms. Murphy of having a romantic relationship with the victim, and Ms. Murphy categorically denied the accusation. When she arrived at the Gainesville residence, she asked the defendant if she could come inside to use the restroom. While she was in the restroom, she overheard the defendant, who was using his cellular telephone, exclaim, "He ain't dead." When she exited the bathroom, the defendant told her, "They said he was dead." Ms. Murphy hurried out of the house and into her vehicle, quickly locking the doors. The defendant attempted to open the car door, but she refused to unlock it, and she drove away.

When she arrived at the Kingsgate Apartments, she informed Memphis Police Department ("MPD") Officer Jonathan Bond where he could find the defendant. MPD Officer Eddrick Williams responded to a call to proceed to a Gainesville address to locate a suspect in a recent stabbing. When Officer Williams and other officers arrived at the address, Officer Williams proceeded to the front door. Peeking through the blinds, he noticed a person, later identified as the defendant, reclining on a sofa. When Officer Williams knocked on the door, the defendant immediately walked to the rear of the house. A woman answered the door, and Officer Williams asked for the man he had just seen on the sofa. Just then, Officer Williams saw the defendant "tiptoeing by going toward the back . . . act[ing] like we didn't see him walking by." The defendant was arrested without incident. Officer Williams noticed nothing unusual about the defendant's gait as he was walking him to his squad car.

MPD Officer Christopher Sanders assisted in processing the crime scene at the Kingsgate Apartments. Officer Sanders photographed a knife blade and a knife handle near the victim's body; each item was a few feet from but on opposite sides of the victim's body. Officer Sanders also photographed a small knife which was located in the parking lot and a broken beer bottle near the body of the victim. Ms. Murphy confirmed that the small knife found in the parking lot resembled the steak knives that she owned and kept in a kitchen drawer inside her apartment.

Doctor Karen Chancellor, chief medical examiner for Shelby County, testified that Doctor Miguel Leboy had performed the victim's autopsy, but because Doctor Leboy was unable to attend the trial, Doctor Chancellor had reviewed the records and photographs related to the autopsy and was prepared to testify. Doctor Chancellor explained that the victim primarily sustained internal rather than external bleeding from his stab wounds, resulting in over two liters of blood collecting inside the left side of his chest. Doctor Chancellor opined that the fatal stab wound to the victim entered the left side of his chest, cutting his left lung, his heart, and his pulmonary artery, causing him to "ble[e]d to death inside." In addition, the victim sustained multiple sharp and blunt force injuries, ...

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