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State v. Steed

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 14, 2015


Session January 6, 2015.

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Madison County No. 12-523 Donald H. Allen, Judge.

George Morton Googe, District Public Defender; and Gregory D. Gookin, Assistant Public Defender, for the Defendant-Appellant, Travis Lamonte Steed.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; James G. Woodall, District Attorney General; and Shaun A. Brown, Assistant District Attorney 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.




On the night of February 26, 2012, a party in a downtown Jackson nightclub ended in gunfire that left over a dozen people injured and one man dead. The defendant was subsequently indicted by the Madison County Grand Jury with the premeditated first degree murder of LeCarlos Todd, the first degree felony murder of Todd in the perpetration of the attempted first degree premeditated murder of Triveno Freeman, the attempted first degree premeditated murder of Freeman, the aggravated assault of Jarvis Rockamore, the aggravated assault of Solomon Robinson, and being a felon in possession of a handgun.

Jerry Gardner, who was the agent for Karma Ultra Lounge in February 2012, testified that on the night of February 26, 2012, the club was holding a homecoming party for Lane College, with a little over 200 in attendance. At approximately 2:00 a.m., he was standing outside the front door to the club when he heard gunfire and saw patrons running out of the club. He went around the side of the building, saw people coming out the back door, and then went back around to the front. The gunfire started up again as he was about to go inside the front door, so he went to the end of the building to raise the double garage doors. When the building finally cleared out, he saw the defendant crawl out the door and roll over onto his back.

Investigator Ron Pugh of the Jackson Police Department's Violent Crimes Unit identified the copy he had made of the club's surveillance footage of the incident, which was admitted as an exhibit and played for the jury.

Officer John Reese of the Jackson Police Department testified that at 2:00 a.m. on February 26, 2012, he responded to a shots-fired call at the Karma Lounge in downtown Jackson. The scene was chaotic, with "people running everywhere, " and by the time he had taken two steps from his patrol car, a man came up to him and said he had been shot. After calling for an ambulance, Officer Reese began making his way toward the building. En route, he encountered a second injured person lying on the sidewalk and a third, later identified as the defendant, lying in front of the garage doors. He stopped to assist the defendant, who had a fractured wrist, blood coming from his leg, and an entrance wound to his torso, while his partner, Officer Arnold, continued inside the building, where several people were performing CPR on a "totally unresponsive" victim.

When he went inside the club to help sweep for suspects, Officer Reese observed cell phones, IDs, blood and blood trails, several projectiles and .45 and .380 casings, and a semi-automatic .45 caliber Smith and Wesson, which was located near the bar. On cross-examination, he testified that he personally encountered twelve or thirteen different gunshot victims at the scene.

Officer Michael Arnold of the Jackson Police Department testified that when he arrived at the club a few minutes after 2:00 a.m. on February 26, 2012, he observed "hundreds of people trying to get out from inside the club, " as well as several people with gunshot wounds. He entered the club to secure the scene and found an unresponsive victim, later identified as LeCarlos Todd, lying on the floor behind the DJ booth with a gunshot wound to the upper left side of his chest. Several individuals were standing around him, and a young woman was beside him attempting CPR. He pulled away the young woman and the other individuals, checked Todd's vital signs, found that he had no pulse and was not breathing, and began performing CPR himself. He continued performing CPR after EMS arrived, stopping only after Todd had been loaded into the ambulance.

Officer Arnold testified that after EMS transported Todd from the scene, he went back inside the club, where he observed shell casings, a magazine lying in the middle of the floor on the lower level of the club, and a handgun by the bar. He started to clear the handgun to make it safe but then realized that it was "stove-piped, " or jammed, and therefore left it alone without touching it.

Officer Joseph King of the Jackson Police Department testified that he responded to the scene to find "massive chaos, " with gunshot victims exiting the club, other victims lying on the ground, and "vehicles . . . leaving in a hurry." As he got out of his patrol vehicle, he was approached by several gunshot victims asking for help. After directing them to either the hospital or EMS, he continued toward the nightclub, where he observed the defendant lying on the ground in front of the door with multiple gunshot wounds.

Sergeant Shane Beaver of the Jackson Police Department, who was down the street from the Karma Lounge at the time of the shooting, testified that he first noticed some people running from the club and then heard what sounded like gunshots. He drove to the club, pulling up close to the front door as a "stampede of people" came out of the building, with some rushing through the doors, others breaking windows to climb out, and still others trampling each other in their haste to escape. Sergeant Beaver testified that the first victim he came into contact with was the defendant, who was lying directly in front of the business. He said he went inside the club, where an officer was performing CPR on another gunshot victim who was "for the most part already deceased[, ]" and then went back outside, where "a bunch of other people just started coming back with gunshot wounds." He stated that the worst injuries were to the deceased victim and to the defendant. The other gunshot victims, who numbered "in the teens, " had "superficial wounds" to the bottoms of their feet, the backs of their legs, or to their ankles.

Sergeant Beaver identified himself on the club's video of the scene, which was again played for the jury. He testified that he did not observe any weapon around the defendant but inside the club found numerous shell casings and projectiles, as well as the gun that was lying on the floor in the vicinity of the bar.

Dr. Thomas Deering, a forensic pathologist who was present during the autopsy of Todd's body, testified that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, with Todd having suffered a "through and through" gunshot wound to each thigh and a gunshot wound to the torso in which the bullet entered the left upper chest, traveled downward into the chest cavity, hit the left lung, the heart, and the aorta, and finally lodged in one of the vertebra of the backbone on the right side of the victim's back. On cross-examination, he acknowledged he could not determine in what position Todd had been when shot or whether the wounds to his legs came from the same weapon as the wound to his torso.

Memphis resident Triveno Freeman, nicknamed "Veno, " a former Lane College student, testified that he attended the February 26, 2012 homecoming party at the Karma Lounge with several Memphis friends, including Solomon Robinson, nicknamed "Solo, " two individuals nicknamed "Itchy, " and LeCarlos Todd. Sometime around 1:30 a.m., he was walking across the crowded dance floor with some of his Memphis friends when he grabbed a young woman's hand in an attempt to get her phone number. A man who was walking with the woman responded by knocking into him with his shoulder, and the two of them then got into a brief physical fight, exchanging several blows, until the man fell down. At that point, Freeman said, he continued to the DJ area of the club, where he told all his "Memphis people" what had just happened. A little later, the man he had fought came up to the DJ area, shook "Mitchell's" hand, apologized, and told him that everything was "cool." Freeman and his Memphis friends then began to relax. Approximately eight or nine minutes later, however, a man Freeman did not know, but whom he identified in the courtroom as the defendant, walked up to the Memphis group, pulled out a handgun, pointed it directly at Freeman, and fired two or three shots.

Freeman testified that he was struck by a bullet on his right elbow and that he initially froze in shock. He said the people who were standing with him, including LeCarlos Todd, fell back when the defendant started shooting and that Robinson, who was standing right behind Todd, responded by pulling out a .45 handgun and shooting at the defendant. The defendant ran toward the middle of the dance floor, returning fire as he ran, while Freeman ran toward the back door of the club, where he paused for a few seconds to see if his "partner, Solo, g[o]t out, " before exiting the club. Freeman testified that the door he exited led to a side street, where "some random car, " driven by a former Lane College student that he recognized as not being from Jackson, stopped, picked him up, and took him to the hospital.

Freeman testified that he did not initially tell the police what had happened because he was afraid that Robinson would get into trouble. He said that he did not have a gun and that he never saw anyone besides Robinson and the defendant with any weapon. On cross-examination, he acknowledged that he lied in statements he gave to police on February 26 and March 4, 2012, by, among other things, not telling the police that he was involved in a physical fight at the club, saying that the person he saw shooting a gun had a "low haircut" instead of dreads, telling the police that he saw two men shoot into the ground, and not saying anything in his second statement about having seen the defendant firing a gun at him.

Jarvis Rockamore, another former Lane College student who attended the 2012 homecoming party at the club, testified that he was talking with some friends at the DJ area when the defendant tapped him on the shoulder and said something along the lines of "Let me talk to V[e]no." The defendant walked up to Triveno Freeman in an aggressive manner and said something that Rockamore was unable to hear before taking a step back. One of Rockamore's friends yelled out that the defendant had a gun, and the defendant replied, "[Y]eah, I got a gun, " as he waved it toward Rockamore and his friends, who had all jumped back and were standing together in the corner against the wall. Next, the defendant fired the gun directly into the crowd of men. Rockamore testified that he fell back and LeCarlos Todd fell on top of him. He said he was not shot but was afraid for his life. Looking to the left, he saw "Little Itchy, " or "Jacq, " pull a gun out of his coat and cock it. Although he did not see him fire the weapon, he was "pretty sure" that he did. He did, however, see the defendant, who was "running low" down the stairs of the club, still shooting as he ran toward the front door.

Rockamore testified that after the initial shooting had stopped and he was about to get up, the gunfire started again and he looked up to see Solomon Robinson standing by the bathroom shooting a handgun. When the shooting was over, Rockamore picked Todd up, saw that he was dead, and then exited the club with his friends through the back door.

He said he did not know the defendant at the time of the shooting but later identified him as the shooter from a ...

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