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State v. Williams

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 13, 2015


Assigned on Briefs January 6, 2015.

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 12-01319 W. Mark Ward, Judge

Jennifer J. Mitchell (on appeal) and A. Brook Stevenson (at trial), Memphis, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Rodney Williams.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jonathan H. Wardle, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Pamela Fleming-Stark and Omar Malik, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.




This case arises out of the robbery of the victim, Sondra Hankins, at gunpoint late the night of June 10, 2011. As a result of his involvement, the defendant was indicted for aggravated robbery.

The victim testified that she was living in an apartment complex in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 10, 2011. When she returned to her apartment around 1:00 a.m. that morning after going out with a friend, she was approached by a "tall, brown skinned man with a red Polo hat on; red shirt; blue shorts and he had a silver gun in his hand with a Black and Mild [cigar] in his mouth[.]" The victim later identified the man as the defendant in a photographic array, at the preliminary hearing, and at trial. The defendant was accompanied by another man, who stood in a position to block any escape. The defendant demanded that the victim "give [him] what you've got, " and she threw her purse at him. The defendant then demanded the victim's cell phone as well. The victim got a good look at the defendant's face when she relinquished her phone. The defendant told her to leave and not look back, so the victim "walked off crying and . . . went in the house" and called the police. The victim stated that she had no doubt the defendant was the man who robbed her at gunpoint.

The victim testified that, on October 28, 2011, she received a phone call from someone saying that she would be paid if she did not go to court and that she had identified the wrong person. The victim informed the caller that they had the wrong person and then called the detective handling the case to report the call. The victim said that, the next day, she received a call from a woman who asked for her by her nickname. The victim asked the caller who she was looking for, and the caller said, "I'm looking for the girl that said my brother robbed her." The victim denied knowing what the caller was talking about, but the caller continued, inquiring about the victim's cell phone. The victim told the caller not to call again, and then she called the police.

The victim testified that when she was in the courtroom for the preliminary hearing, she recognized a woman from her apartment complex who was there for the defendant. The victim speculated that the defendant must have walked to the woman's house after the robbery because she did not hear him leave in a car.

On cross-examination, the victim said that it was dark at the time of the robbery, but there were lights on poles and buildings nearby that "shin[ed] on [the defendant] so [she] could see him." She was close enough to throw her purse at him.

Steven Lovelace, a former investigator with the Germantown Police Department, testified that he developed a suspect in the case and showed the victim a photographic array, from which she identified the defendant. Lovelace recalled that the victim contacted him on two different occasions and, based on that contact, he pulled tapes of the defendant's jailhouse phone calls. Lovelace said that it was unusual to receive a call from a witness complaining of having been contacted, which made the case more memorable to him.

Officer Juaquatta Harris, with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, testified that she was responsible for gathering the recordings of inmate phone calls when requests were submitted to the office. She said that inmates used their assigned Record Identification Number ("RNI") when making phone calls in order to track their calls. However, when pulling records, she also looked for calls made when the particular inmate had access to the phone to numbers the inmate had previously called or was associated with because it was not unusual for inmates to use another inmate's RNI.

Over the defendant's objection, the State introduced into evidence portions of fourteen of the defendant's approximately 200 jailhouse phone calls.

Following the conclusion of the proof, the jury convicted the defendant, as charged, of aggravated robbery.


I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

The defendant first challenges the sufficiency of the convicting evidence. He acknowledges that he does not argue "that there is no evidence to support [his] conviction; he merely argues that this evidence is insufficient to justify a rational trier of fact in finding him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

In considering this issue, we apply the rule that where sufficiency of the convicting evidence is challenged, the relevant question of the reviewing court 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); see also Tenn. R. App. P. 13(e) ("Findings of guilt in criminal actions whether by the trial court or jury shall be set aside if the evidence is insufficient to support the findings by the trier of fact of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."); State v. Evans, 838 S.W.2d 185, 190-92 (Tenn. 1992); State v. Anderson, 835 S.W.2d 600, 604 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1992). All questions involving the credibility of witnesses, the weight and value to be given the evidence, and all factual issues are resolved by the trier of fact. See State v. Pappas, 754 S.W.2d 620, 623 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1987). "A guilty verdict by the jury, approved by the trial judge, accredits the testimony of the witnesses for the State and resolves all conflicts in favor of the theory of the State." State v. Grace, 493 S.W.2d 474, 476 (Tenn. 1973). Our supreme court stated the rationale for this rule:

This well-settled rule rests on a sound foundation. The trial judge and the jury see the witnesses face to face, hear their testimony and observe their demeanor on the stand. Thus the trial judge and jury are the primary instrumentality of justice to determine the weight and credibility to be given to the testimony of witnesses. In the trial forum alone is there human ...

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