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State v. Washington

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 31, 2015


Session Date: July 15, 2014

Direct Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2009-C-2638 Monte Watkins, Judge

Richard C. Strong (on appeal) and Newton Holiday and Ashley Preston (at trial), Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, James Murray Washington.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter, Michelle L. Consiglio-Young, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Hugh Ammerman and Rob McGuire, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn, J., joined.



I. Factual Background

In 2009, the appellant was charged with first degree murder for the 1995 death of the victim, Joyce Dean Goodner, after he made a statement implicating himself in the killing.

Prior to trial, he filed a motion to suppress, alleging that the incriminating statement was not knowing and voluntary because it was made without the benefit of Miranda warnings while he was hospitalized, in state custody, and under the influence of medication.

DeWayne Steven McKinney, a Walgreens' pharmacist, was the sole witness at the suppression hearing. He was called to testify as an expert regarding the side effects of the medication the appellant was taking. The trial court did not allow McKinney to testify as an expert witness but did allow him to testify as a lay witness. McKinney testified that defense counsel asked him to review the appellant's medical records, which were admitted by stipulation. McKinney stated that according to the records, the appellant had been prescribed diltiazem and lisinopril for blood pressure and Haldol, an anti-psychotic medication for treating schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. He said that the Physician's Desk Reference (PDR) listed hallucinations as one of the least common side effects of diltiazem and Haldol.

After McKinney's testimony, both parties presented arguments to the court. Defense counsel, citing the appellant's medical records, stated that in 2009, the appellant was taken from Turney Center State Penitentiary to Nashville General Hospital for treatment of his seizures On the return trip, the appellant had "a full psychotic episode. He start[ed] seeing things, start[ed] talking to people that are not there, and things of that nature." Afterward, the appellant was transported to DeBerry Special Needs Facility, where he remained for forty-five days and was diagnosed as psychotic. Defense counsel argued that the appellant "was not in his right state of mind where he could give a voluntary, knowingly confession to anyone."

The State argued that the evidence at the hearing did not show that the medications administered to the appellant did anything other than "help him be in an appropriate state of mind and lower his blood pressure." The State contended that the appellant was asking the court "to make a pre-trial determination as to the credibility of the [appellant's] admission, or statement, at the time it was heard by the witnesses, " which, according to the State, was an issue for the jury to determine. The trial court held that the appellant's statement was voluntary and that no evidence was presented to show that the statements "were made with any State involvement." Accordingly, the court denied the motion.

Thereafter, the case proceeded to trial. The proof adduced during the State's case-in-chief revealed that around 11:10 or 11:15 a.m. on July 5, 1995, James Roy Smothers, III, and his sixteen-year-old stepson were driving toward Nashville when they noticed smoke coming from an abandoned house at 4522 Ashland City Highway. Smothers parked near the highway, and they approached the house on foot. No vehicles were parked around the house. They entered the house through a window that had no glass. Smothers said that the amount of smoke in the house made it difficult to see; however, they found some rugs that appeared to be burning. They lifted a mattress, intending to place it on top of the rugs to extinguish the fire. They stopped, however, when they saw the legs and hand of the victim's body protruding from the rugs. Smothers and his stepson left the house and called 911. The call was placed at 11:33 a.m.

Around noon, Metro-Nashville Police Department ("Metro") crime scene investigator Wayne Hughes and Officers Charles Anglin and William Merrell were dispatched to process the crime scene. The victim's body was inside the house and was rolled up in a rug. The victim's arm was sticking out of the rug, and a bloodstained cinder block was lying on her head. The victim's body and the rug appeared to have been doused with an accelerant. Blood was splattered along the wall beside the body, and the room had suffered extensive damage from the fire. Testing of the blood on the cinder block revealed a partial DNA profile consistent with the victim's DNA.

The same day the victim's body was discovered, Investigator Grady Eleam and his partner, Sergeant Anna Marie Williams, were assigned to investigate the case. They spoke with the victim's boyfriend, Luther Winn. He stated that he had last seen the victim at 2:00 a.m., before he went to work. Winn told the officers that the appellant may have been with the victim on the day of her death. The officers confirmed that Winn had an alibi for the crime because he was at work from 3:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. They learned later that the appellant was scheduled to work on July 3, 4, and 5, but he did not show up.

On July 6, 1995, Lisa Cowell contacted the police after hearing about the murder. She said that she had driven past the abandoned house at approximately 10:30 a.m. the day before and had noticed a dirty, black Camaro in the driveway. She could not see the vehicle's license plate number, but she saw the silhouette of a person inside the house. She assumed the person was male because of the person's height and build. When she drove by at 11:00 a.m., the car was gone.

On July 24, 1995, Investigator Eleam showed Cowell photographs of the appellant's brother's Camaro. She stated that the vehicle in the photograph was consistent with the vehicle she saw at the abandoned house. Although the police searched the abandoned house and the Camaro, they found no evidence that connected the appellant to the victim's murder.

Investigator Eleam spoke with the appellant's girlfriend, Roslen Beard Butler, on July 10. Butler said that the appellant had lived with her for two and one-half years. Butler said that on July 5, the appellant left for work at 6:30 a.m. When Butler came home from work, he told her he had left work around noon. Butler said that she asked the appellant on July 8, 1995, to leave her house because of his involvement with drugs, and he went to live with his mother. Butler said that the appellant drove a black and gray Chevrolet Camaro that he had borrowed from his brother with the intention of buying it. However, the appellant's brother repossesed the car shortly after July 10, 1995.

On July 10, the appellant, after hearing about the murder, went to police headquarters for an interview and gave the following written statement about the events of July 5, 1995:

[I] got up about 5:00 a.m.[, ] got ready to go to work, finished about 5:45 a.m. Left for work about 6:05. Noticed it might rain, went to Southern Hills where we were working[. I]t was spot raining along the way[.] I reached work about 6:28 a.m. and decided not to work that day []because[] it started raining harder[.] I s[a]t in the parking lot for about 10 min[utes] and left[.] I went to 10th [A]ve[nue N]orth[, ] it took me about 45 min[utes] to get there traveling down Nole[n]sville R[oa]d. When I got there[, ] a girl name[d] Lucy and I smoked some Ready Roc for about 35 min[utes]. I left and went over to Red[']s house[.] [A]long the way[, ] I ran out of gas, so I walked to La-La[']s[1] house and asked her did she have a gas can, and l[oan] me a few dollars[. S]he said she didn't have either, so I walked and found a can, and got 2.00 dollars worth of gas[.] I guess it was somewhere around 9:00 a.m. or so, I drove back to 10th Ave[nue] North []and[] then I saw []Joyce[] come out of Henry's house[. S]he said are you doing anything[?] I said yes[.] I had about a 20 cent p[ie]ce of Ready Roc[.] I gave her half for "sex" and I smoked the rest. We had sex in a[n] alley off of 10th [Avenue]. I drove back down to Henry[']s house[.] Joyce got out[] and said she would be back in about 30 min[ute]s[.] I waited at [H]enry's house[. S]he said someone was going to pay her for washing cloth[e]s[. S]he didn't come back [for] almost an[] hour[.] I waited for about 45 min[utes.] I left and went home. Lucy was on the wall when I le[ft.] I waved & went home. []I told Henry to tell Joyce I would see her later. Went home[, ] showered[, ] and looke[d] at T.V.[, ] ate[, ] and went to sleep.

Sergeant Williams said that during the interview, the appellant did not appear intoxicated and gave no indication that he suffered from any mental deficiency. She noted that it should not have taken the appellant forty-five minutes to travel from Southern Hills to North Nashville via Nolensville Road.

No new developments occurred in the case until March 3, 2009, when the appellant, who was incarcerated at Turney Center for another offense, was transported to Nashville General Hospital. Officer James Tomlinson and Corporal Homer Lee Carey supervised the transport. During the trip, the appellant never appeared to be in "medical distress, " and he did not yell or scream.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the appellant was assigned a room. Officer Tomlinson testified that around lunchtime, the appellant gestured for him to come into the room and said, "I've got something to tell you. . . . I've got something I need to get off my consc[ience]. I have killed somebody." Officer Tomlinson responded, "Well, okay, you did." The appellant said, "Yes, I beat her to death." Officer Tomlinson went into the hall and asked Corporal Carey to come into the room.

Corporal Carey testified that the appellant said, "Officer, . . . I want to confess something to you." Corporal Carey asked, "What do you want to confess? What you are in for now?" The appellant replied, "No, sir. . . . I want to confess about killing a girl." Corporal Carey asked, "You did?" The appellant responded, "Yes, sir. . . . I feel I need to confess." Corporal Carey said, "Well, . . . [y]ou're confessed – you're confessing to that. . . . Who was she?" The appellant answered, "'Joyce' somebody." Corporal Carey thought the appellant said the victim's last name was "Good something." Corporal Carey and Officer Tomlinson each made a note of the conversation, stating that the appellant had admitted murdering Joyce "Goodner" or "Goodman" near "Ashland City" around 1991. Although the officers did not know whether the appellant had taken any medication that day, they said that when he confessed, he "seemed pretty calm, " did not show any signs of agitation, and did not appear to be having hallucinations. Corporal Carey believed the appellant made the confession because "he thought he was really sick" and wanted to clear his conscience.

Dr. Thomas Deering, a forensic pathologist, testified that the victim's autopsy was performed by Dr. Bucholtz in 1995. Dr. Deering said that he had reviewed the autopsy report, and it was entered as an exhibit to his testimony. When asked if he agreed with Dr. Bucholtz's findings, Dr. Deering said, "I agree with the two major opinions that we do as forensic pathologists, and that is answering the questions what's the cause of death and what is the manner of death."

Dr. Deering noted that the report stated that when the victim's body arrived at the medical examiner's office, it was partially burned and rolled in a rug. One of the victim's hands was sticking out of the rug. According to the report, the victim had suffered a "series of blunt force injuries" to the head, which caused bleeding inside the brain. Dr. Deering opined that a brick or a block could have caused the blunt force injuries. He stated that the blows would have rendered the victim unconscious and, in time, would have been fatal. The report stated that the victim had two stab wounds on the left side of the neck, which would have bled significantly and would have eventually been fatal. Testing revealed no carbon monoxide in the victim's blood, which indicated that the burning occurred after she was dead. The toxicology report reflected that cocaine was found in the victim's blood. No semen was found on or inside the victim; however, Dr. Deering stated that the fire may have destroyed evidence.

On cross-examination, Dr. Deering said that he frequently had to "review some other doctor's work and to come in and testify about it." Dr. Deering said that based upon the findings in the report, he agreed with Dr. Bucholtz's conclusion that the cause of death was blunt force trauma with stab wounds and that the manner of death was homicide.

The appellant did not testify in his defense. A copy of his medical records was introduced by stipulation.

Dr. Otis Campbell, the medical director at Turney Center, testified as an expert in pharmacology and internal medicine. Dr. Campbell said that on March 3, 2009, the appellant reported having seizures. When Dr. Campbell saw the appellant, he appeared lethargic and drowsy but did not appear to be suffering from hallucinations. The appellant was not given any medication and was placed in an ambulance for transport to Nashville General Hospital. Dr. Campbell said that the appellant was taking aspirin; Cardizem, a brand name for diltiazem; hydrochlorothiazide; and lisinopril. ...

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