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State v. Hall

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Nashville

March 20, 2015


Session October 9, 2014

Petition for certiorari filed at, 06/16/2015

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Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-206(a)(1) (2014); Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed. Automatic Appeal from the Court of Criminal Appeals Circuit Court for Humphreys County. Nos. 10526, 10527, 10556, 10557, 10558, 10559. Jon Kerry Blackwood, Sr. Judge.

Patrick T. McNally and Paul J. Bruno, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, William Eugene Hall.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Joseph F. Whalen, Acting Solicitor General; James E. Gaylord, Assistant Attorney General; Dan M. Alsobrooks, District Attorney General; and Robert Wilson, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

GARY R. WADE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which CORNELIA A. CLARK and HOLLY KIRBY, JJ., joined. SHARON G. LEE, C.J., filed a concurring opinion. JEFFREY S. BIVINS, J., not participating.


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The defendant was convicted on two counts of felony murder in the perpetration of a first degree burglary, three counts of grand larceny, one count of petit larceny, and three counts of first degree burglary. The jury imposed a sentence of death for the murder of one victim and a life sentence for the murder of the second victim. The trial court ordered an aggregate sentence of eighty years for the remaining crimes, to be served consecutively to the life sentence. The direct appeal was decided adversely to the defendant. On post-conviction review, this Court granted the defendant a delayed appeal and remanded to the trial court based upon the lack of meaningful representation during the original direct appeal. The trial court denied relief, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.


I. Summary of Procedural Status

The current proceeding in this capital case is a delayed appeal on behalf of William Eugene Hall (the " Defendant" ). At a joint trial that extended over a period of six weeks and two days in 1991 and 1992, the Defendant and his co-defendant, Derrick Quintero, were each convicted by a jury of two counts of first degree felony murder, three counts of grand larceny, one count of petit larceny, and three counts of first degree burglary. The Defendant and Quintero were sentenced to death for the murder of Myrtle Vester and to life imprisonment for the murder of Buford Vester. James Blanton, who was indicted in the same criminal episode, was tried separately and convicted of two counts of first degree premeditated murder, four counts of grand larceny, and three counts of first degree burglary. He was also sentenced to death, State v. Blanton, 975 S.W.2d 269 (Tenn. 1998), but died in prison in 1999.

On the direct appeal by the Defendant and Quintero, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the murder convictions, the imposition of the death penalty, and all other sentences except that each of the petit larceny convictions was merged with one of the grand larceny convictions. State v. Hall, No. 01C01-9311-CC-00409, 1997 WL 92080 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 20, 1997) (corrected opinion). This Court affirmed.

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State v. Hall, 976 S.W.2d 121 (Tenn. 1998). Afterward, the Defendant and Quintero filed separate petitions for post-conviction relief, each primarily alleging a violation of his right to the effective assistance of counsel. During a joint evidentiary hearing, each also filed petitions for writs of error coram nobis, alleging newly discovered evidence. The post-conviction court denied relief as to all claims, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Quintero v. State, No. M2005-02959-CCA-R3-PD, 2008 WL 2649637 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 7, 2008). Thereafter, the Defendant and Quintero each filed in this Court an application for permission to appeal the denial of post-conviction relief.

This Court denied Quintero permission to appeal, thereby ending his participation in these proceedings, but we granted the Defendant relief in the form of a delayed appeal based upon the lack of meaningful representation in the original direct appeal. Specifically, we determined that by copying and pasting the appellate brief filed by Quintero, counsel for the Defendant had performed so deficiently that the Defendant was entitled to newly appointed counsel and an opportunity to amend his original motion for new trial. By " Corrected Order" dated October 30, 2009, this Court directed the Defendant to file a motion for new trial in the trial court and, in the event the convictions and sentences were upheld, to proceed with a delayed direct appeal. Meanwhile, we held in abeyance the appeal of the denial of post-conviction relief pending resolution of the issues in the delayed appeal. See Tenn. S.Ct. R. 28, § 9(D).

Upon remand to the Circuit Court for Humphreys County, the Defendant filed a motion for new trial in November of 2009 and an amended motion for new trial in January of 2011. These motions re-asserted the Defendant's original motion for new trial that had been filed in 1992, as well as his post-conviction claims and his petition for writ of error coram nobis. After an evidentiary hearing on the motions for new trial and accompanying petition for writ of error coram nobis, the Defendant was denied relief as to all claims in this delayed appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. State v. Hall, No. M2012-00336-CCA-R3-DD, 2013 WL 5761311 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 22, 2013). The case is now before this Court for automatic review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(a)(1) (2014).

II. Facts

A. Evidence at Trial

On June 16, 1988, the Defendant and seven other inmates escaped from the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Kentucky, which is located on the Cumberland River in the Southwest region of that state. While three of the escapees, Bobby Sherman, Leo Spurling, and Floyd Cook, were captured in the vicinity of the prison within two days of their escape, five others, identified as the Defendant, Quintero, Blanton, Joseph Montgomery, and Ronnie Hudson, were able to steal a pickup truck and drive across the state line into Stewart County, Tennessee, which borders Kentucky Lake. In the few days following the prison escape, there were reports of several burglaries in the Leatherwood area of Stewart County, a community largely made up of seasonal and retirement residences. On June 22, the bodies of Myrtle and Buford Vester were discovered inside their home. The Vesters were last seen alive during the late afternoon of June 19.

Shortly after the prison escape, Zachary Pallay, who lived within a quarter mile of the Vester residence, notified the Stewart County Sheriff's Department that Quintero was familiar with the Leatherwood community

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and might seek refuge there. Pallay, who had committed an armed robbery with Quintero several years earlier, had been friends with Quintero since childhood, when they had often played together in the lake resort area. In addition to Pallay, there were other reports to the Sheriff's Department of suspicious individuals in the area.

Not counting the Vester residence, there were six break-ins in or near the Leatherwood community in the days immediately following the Defendant's escape: the residences of Jim McMinn, Essie Settles, Alfred Cherry, Thomas Harris, Neal Foster, and John and Virginia Crawford.[1] The investigation by law enforcement established that most of the burglaries took place before 1:00 p.m. on June 19. The McMinn burglary, apparently the first, occurred on June 18. McMinn returned from a fishing trip to find that his telephone had been removed from the wall, his telephone line had been cut, and the ignition to his truck had been destroyed. Several shotgun shells were lying on the floor and McMinn's .22 caliber pistol was missing from his bedroom.

Suspicious that the prison escapees were in the area, the Stewart County Sheriff's Department used helicopters, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and tracking dogs to conduct their search. Officers found and chased on foot some unidentified men they saw in the woods but were unable to overtake them.

At some point, Hudson and Montgomery became separated from the Defendant, Quintero, and Blanton. Hudson and Montgomery were able to steal a 1982 Ford Fairmont from Essie Settles, who lived some six miles away from the Leatherwood community. The two men then drove to Lebanon, Kentucky, which is located near Louisville, to meet with members of Hudson's family. Afterward, they hid Settles' vehicle. On June 22, four days after the McMinn burglary, Hudson and Montgomery were apprehended by Kentucky law enforcement officers after an exchange of gunfire. One of two .22 caliber pistols found in their possession belonged to McMinn. The other pistol was eventually determined to have been stolen from the residence of Neal Foster. Montgomery's fingerprints were found on the door of Settles' garage.

On June 19, the day after the McMinn burglary, Alfred Cherry discovered that his residence had also been burglarized. Several items were missing, including six knives and two paperweights bearing the Cumberland Electric logo. Two of the knives Cherry owned were found at the Foster residence, indicating that the Cherry burglary had occurred before the Foster burglary. Some seventeen months after the burglaries, the stolen pickup truck used in the escape from Kentucky was discovered hidden under tree branches in a remote area of Stewart County. Cumberland Electric paperweights identical to those missing from the Cherry residence were found inside.

Thomas Harris, who lived next door to Cherry, also learned on June 19 that his residence had been burglarized. The sink was full of dirty dishes, and wet towels and sheets were strewn about the residence. Quilts, silverware, knives, and other items were missing. Harris later discovered that three long-distance telephone calls

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had been placed from his residence to Springtown, Texas during the early morning hours of June 19. Two other calls had been placed to Hopewell, Pennsylvania during that time. The Texas telephone number was registered in the name of Bryan Quintero, a brother to Derrick Quintero. The Pennsylvania number was registered in the name of Barbara Vasser, the Defendant's girlfriend at the time of the prison escape.

Neal Foster, who had been away from his residence since June 16, did not discover the burglary until he returned on June 21, some three days after the report of the McMinn burglary. A .30-30 rifle, ammunition for various weapons, a 20-gauge shotgun, and silver dollars, among many other items, were missing. A portion of the barrel of the shotgun had been sawed off and left at the residence. Quintero's thumbprint and fingerprint were later found on shotgun shell boxes, and his palm print was found on a gun barrel. Blanton's print appeared on a shotgun shell box. The Defendant's fingerprint was found on a soft drink can.

On June 23, John and Virginia Crawford, who had last been at their residence at 2:00 p.m. on June 19, learned that they had also been burglarized. Several items of food had been taken. The thumbprint of the Defendant was found on a can of ham inside the residence, and a fingerprint of Blanton was taken from a candy wrapper. A glove taken from the Crawford residence was a match for a glove found outside the front bedroom window of the Vester residence, which was located only one quarter mile away.

During the course of their investigation, officers learned that John Corlew and Arthur Jenkins, who had been fishing, had heard five gunshots on June 20, 1988, between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, all from the direction of the residence owned by the Vesters. Corlew concluded that the first two shots had been fired from a different weapon than the third and fourth shots. Jenkins believed that the first two shots were from a pistol.

Wayne Vester, the son of Myrtle and Buford Vester, had visited his parents over the weekend and, before leaving at 6:00 p.m. on June 19, had bought packages of Pepsi for them. After he was unable to reach them by telephone on June 21 and again on June 22, he called Howard Allor, a neighbor, and asked him to check on them. When Allor found the bodies, he contacted the authorities. Officers with the Sheriff's Department, working in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, discovered that the 1985 Pontiac owned by the Vesters was missing and that their telephone line was dead. The officers determined that the perpetrators had gained access through a window of the back bedroom, where Mr. Vester slept, and that he had been shot at least once from the outside of the residence. A spent 20-gauge shotgun shell was found near Mr. Vester's bedroom window. A 20-gauge shot was found near his head and several pellets were recovered from his body. Mrs. Vester, who slept in a separate bedroom, had been shot three times by two different weapons--a 20-gauge shotgun and a high-powered rifle. She had also been stabbed thirteen times. A hole in the screen over her bedroom window indicated that at least one shot had been fired from outside. Shot pellets and shards of glass were found throughout the interior of the residence. An edition of the Tennessean newspaper dated and scheduled for delivery on June 20 was found on a sofa. Although an unopened Pepsi was found outside the residence, the packages of Pepsi left by Wayne Vester were missing.

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At approximately 8:00 a.m. on June 21, employees of the Memphis Funeral Home observed three men leave a 1985 Pontiac in the parking lot. They described all as white, bearded men weighing about 180 pounds, one of whom had long hair; however, the employees were otherwise unable to make positive identifications. Two days later, the funeral home employees contacted the police, who then confirmed that the Pontiac was owned by the Vesters. The Memphis Police Crime Scene Squad discovered a sawed off 20-gauge shotgun containing one live round inside the vehicle. The gun, which bore Foster's name, was later identified as that taken from the Foster residence. A shell found outside of the Vester residence was determined to have been fired from the same shotgun. The police also discovered a .30-30 caliber cartridge matching ammunition taken from the Foster residence. Three of Blanton's fingerprints appeared on a beer can inside the vehicle. The ...

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