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Cranmer v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 23, 2015

JAMES R. CRANMER
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

Session Date January 14, 2015

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. 41100425 Michael R. Jones, Judge

Margaret Garner, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, James R. Cranmer.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Senior Counsel; John W. Carney, Jr., District Attorney General; and C. Daniel Brollier, Jr., Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Robert L. Holloway, Jr. and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.

OPINION

ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE

I. Facts

A. Background and Guilty Plea

This case arises from a shooting that occurred at Flavors After Hours Club in Clarksville, Tennessee, on February 6, 2011. Based on the Petitioner's involvement in this event, a Montgomery County grand jury indicted the Petitioner for one count of second degree murder, one count of attempted second degree murder, one count of unlawful employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and four counts of aggravated assault. The Petitioner entered guilty pleas to one count of second degree murder, one count of attempted second degree murder, and two counts of reckless aggravated assault. The remaining charges were dismissed.

During the guilty plea hearing, the State announced the factual basis underlying the guilty pleas as follows:

[T]he facts of this case are that on the morning of February 6, 2011, the [Petitioner] and a number of individuals were at the Flavors (phonetic) After Hours Club in Clarksville, Montgomery County. The [Petitioner] and a Mr. Lionel Watkins, who is the victim in Count two, got into an argument. The [Petitioner] challenged Mr. Watkins and Mr. Watkins struck the [Petitioner]. After being struck, the [Petitioner] pulled a gun and started shooting and shot and killed Detwain Bell (phonetic), struck Mr. [Bell] right in the chest and he died extremely quickly from those injuries. The [Petitioner] continued to fire, struck Mr. Watkins twice, once in the hand and once in the back. Mr. Watkins suffered some very serious injuries, life-threatening injuries and still has ongoing problems from those. He also struck Ms. Jaquita Murray (phonetic) in the leg and Ms. Jamaine Thompson (phonetic) in the leg. There were numerous witnesses at the club, [there] was over a hundred people in there. Several [witnesses] have identified the [Petitioner] as the individual that was shooting and that fled from the scene and . . . later we found him, actually using ping tracing to locate him and found him up in Kentucky hiding from the police three days after the shooting occurred.

Based upon this evidence, the trial court accepted the Petitioner's guilty pleas. The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to fifteen years for his second degree murder conviction, twelve years for his attempted second degree murder conviction, and four years for each of his reckless aggravated assault convictions. The trial court ordered that all the sentences run concurrently, for a total effective sentence of fifteen years in the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

B. Post-Conviction Hearing

The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged multiple grounds for relief, particularly that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney, ("Counsel"), provided him "grossly" inaccurate advice regarding his plea agreement offer from the State, failed to adequately investigate the case or prepare for trial, and failed to take actions necessary to allow the Petitioner to withdraw his guilty plea when given the option by the State. The Petitioner also contended that Counsel had failed to interview witnesses, including the victims, and that Counsel provided him incorrect information regarding his plea offer and failed to communicate that the State had offered the Petitioner the option to withdraw his plea. The Petitioner further argued that Counsel failed to review discovery with him, failed to adequately prepare for trial, and failed to file any pre-trial motions.

On January 10, 2013, the post-conviction court held a hearing on the petition for post-conviction relief, during which the following evidence was presented: Jaquita Murray testified that she was present at "the club known as Flavors" on February 6, 2011. She agreed that she was inside the club when Detwain Bell was shot. She testified that she was also shot. Ms. Murray agreed that she gave a statement to Detective Tim Anderson about the shooting and told him that there had been two shooters. Ms. Murray stated that she described the two shooters to Detective Anderson and said that one was wearing a black hoodie and one was wearing a light blue hoodie. She said that the Petitioner was wearing the black hoodie.

Ms. Murray stated that she wrote a statement for the Petitioner's initial lawyer on February 15, 2011. She agreed that in that statement she said that it was not the Petitioner who shot her. She agreed that she was subpoenaed by both the State and the defense for the Petitioner's trial. Ms. Murray denied telling the Petitioner's mother that the Petitioner did not shoot her.

On cross-examination, Ms. Murray reiterated that she was subpoenaed to the Petitioner's trial and was prepared to testify. She agreed that in her interview with police about the shooting she described one shooter as "dark skinned" and the second shooter as "light skinned[.]" Ms. Murray stated that she had seen the Petitioner earlier in the evening wearing a black hoodie with the word "Loyalty" written on it, and then she saw him again later at the Flavors club wearing the same clothing. Ms. Murray stated that she did not actually see who shot her.

Ms. Murray testified that when she was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, she received a telephone call on her cell phone threatening her not to say anything about what had occurred inside the club. She said that was why she later told the detective that she was unsure about who shot her. Ms. Murray stated that her statement that the Petitioner did not shoot her was false and that, in fact, the Petitioner was the man who shot her. She gave the false statement to the Petitioner's lawyer "because of the threats." Ms. Murray stated that she spoke with Counsel one time about the Petitioner's case and told Counsel that she "didn't feel like talking to [Counsel] . . . ."

Counsel testified that she represented the Petitioner on multiple criminal charges and was appointed to represent him in June of 2011. Counsel stated that she had been licensed for thirteen years and was also licensed to practice in Florida and Alabama. She testified that her practice consisted of criminal matters, divorce cases, and personal injury cases. Counsel stated that she had participated in two jury trials.

Counsel testified that she was appointed to represent the Petitioner at a bond hearing, and she represented him at his subsequent arraignment. Counsel recalled that the State provided her with discovery and that she reviewed it shortly after the Petitioner's arraignment. Counsel stated that the Petitioner was charged with six counts related to five victims, one of whom was deceased. After reviewing the discovery, Counsel's initial impression of the Petitioner's case was that he "had a shot" at being acquitted because of the number of conflicting witness statements. Counsel told the Petitioner right away that she thought he had a chance at being acquitted but that he might still be convicted.

Counsel testified that she discussed the discovery materials with the Petitioner and met with him and his mother and grandmother. She stated that she went over the lesser-included offenses with the Petitioner and the range of punishment for each charge. Counsel recalled that the Petitioner "wanted [the State] to offer him [a plea deal for] manslaughter, " but the State was not agreeable. Counsel stated that she put a lot of time into the Petitioner's case and was "one hundred percent" comfortable with her representation of him. She stated that witnesses were reluctant to talk with her and that she had a hard time making contact with some of the witnesses, as well as some of the victims. Counsel stated that she attempted to contact Mr. Watkins and Ms. Murray, whom she considered a "vital" witness to the Petitioner's claim that he was not the shooter. Counsel testified that she tried to contact Ms. Murray on multiple occasions and had her served with a subpoena. Ms. Murray sent a message through the server that she would not talk to Counsel. Counsel stated that Ms. Murray's story about the shooting had changed over time.

Counsel testified that she filed a motion to have the Petitioner's preliminary hearing transcribed. She stated that the discovery materials contained many inconsistent and contradictory statements about the shooting. She agreed that the discovery materials contained a photographic lineup that indicated that Ms. Murray had been unable to identify the shooter. Counsel stated that Ms. Murray was "a good witness" for the Petitioner. Counsel stated that Ms. Murray's statement to the Petitioner's initial lawyer was not contained in discovery. Counsel stated that the photographic lineup shown to the other victims, Jermaine Thompson and Michael Taylor, was also in discovery. She recalled that neither of the men could identify the shooter from the lineup.

Counsel agreed that based on the discovery materials she received, "not one victim" could identify the Petitioner as the shooter. Counsel reiterated that the State provided discovery to her consistent with its "open file policy, " and, thus, she did not file a motion for discovery. Counsel testified that she did not receive all the discovery materials at first, including medical records and ballistics reports, but those documents were later made available to her.

Counsel agreed that one witness statement indicated that the Petitioner and one of the victims were arguing inside the club. Counsel stated that, in her opinion, that was not helpful for a potential manslaughter or a self-defense theory because the Petitioner's position was that he was not ...


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