Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs March 11, 2015.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Putnam County No. 12-0692A Leon C. Burns, Jr., Judge.
Michael J. Rocco, Sparta, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Donald Ray Williams.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; Randall A. York, District Attorney General; and Anthony Craighead, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr. and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.
CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE.
This case arises from the robbery and severe beating of the victim, Bruce Stewart, on the night of July 1, 2012, at an apartment in Cookeville. The Putnam County Grand Jury subsequently indicted the Defendant-Appellant, Donald Ray Williams, for attempted second degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, and especially aggravated kidnapping.
After a trial on November 6, 2013, the jury found the Defendant guilty as charged on all three counts. In this appeal, the Defendant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions. He contends only that the trial court erred in sentencing him. The following is a brief summary of the proof presented at trial.
The victim testified that he had known the Defendant's sister, Christina Douglas, since seventh grade. On the evening of July 1, 2012, Douglas contacted the victim asking for help to pay her rent. Although Douglas was married, she and the victim had engaged in consensual sex before. On this particular occasion, the victim went to Douglas's apartment at around 10:30 p.m. with $360 in exchange for sex.
When the victim arrived, the apartment was dark. He set his iPhone down and within thirty seconds of his arrival, the Defendant and another man struck him from behind with bats. The victim was first hit in the head. He attempted to fend off the attack but was intermittently beaten for an hour and a half. He said that Douglas complained about the blood on her apartment floor, so the men moved the victim to the bathroom.
During the first hour of the beating, the men did not say anything, but then they repeatedly demanded the victim's wallet. They took $360 from the victim's wallet as well as the victim's iPhone. The victim did not leave because he was locked in the apartment. When he tried to unlock the door, the assailants broke his hand. He said he was kept in the bathroom for about forty-five minutes to an hour. He estimated that he was at the apartment for a total of two hours and forty-five minutes.
The victim stated that the Defendant appeared to be the leader and repeatedly ordered the other man to hit the victim. The victim never lost consciousness, and he described his level of pain as "pretty extreme." He said that the men "just kept swinging[.]" He heard Douglas say that the neighbors were complaining about the noise, and his assailants then opened the door and left the apartment without a word. The victim also left and drove home. He did not realize how critical his condition was until he arrived at the hospital the following day.
The victim was hospitalized for four days. He had multiple skull fractures, massive bleeding in the brain, a torn lip, and two black eyes. He had a broken finger on his left hand, a bruised heart, bleeding in the lungs, two broken ribs, and hemorrhaging from the waist up. His injuries required a metal plate and screws to be placed in his head. The victim identified photographs taken about a week after the beating which depicted the extensive bruising on his torso. These photographs were shown to the jury and admitted into evidence without objection.
Officer Brian Long of the Cookeville Police Department responded to the assault call and interviewed the victim at the emergency room. He testified that the victim's injuries were "very severe." He said that the victim had cuts and bruises all over his head and back and "probably needed stitches in some areas." Officer Long identified photographs taken at the emergency room depicting the victim's various head and back injuries. These photographs were published to the jury and were admitted into evidence without objection.
Christina Douglas testified that she pled guilty to facilitation of robbery in exchange for three years' probation and for her testimony in this case. She said that her brother, the Defendant, began living with her in June 2012 because he had nowhere else to go. On July 1, 2012, she told the Defendant that the victim was coming to the apartment to lend her money. The Defendant responded that he wanted to rob the victim. Specifically, the Defendant wanted to render the victim unconscious, steal his money, and then let the victim leave once he regained consciousness. Douglas said that she "was afraid to tell [the Defendant] no." She stated that neighbor Josh Graves also participated in robbing the victim.
Once the victim arrived, Douglas led him to the bedroom as instructed. The Defendant and Graves then emerged from the adjoining bathroom armed with a bat and a wrench and repeatedly struck the victim for about forty-five minutes. According to Douglas, the two men would sometimes pause and laugh before continuing to hit the victim. She said that both the apartment and the victim's face were bloody. Douglas described the victim's injuries as follows, "His eye was almost hanging out of the socket. He had cuts everywhere. They had somehow managed to get his shirt off, and he had welts and marks from the ribs up."
Both the Defendant and Graves told Douglas that "they might as well kill [the victim], to finish him off." However, the Defendant eventually allowed the victim to leave. Douglas estimated that the victim was at the apartment for three to four hours. In the event that the police became involved, the Defendant told Douglas to allege that the victim attempted to rape her and that the Defendant beat the victim in self-defense. The Defendant told Douglas "to just stick to the story . . . and everything would be okay."
Detective Chase Mathis of the Cookeville Police Department visited Douglas's apartment on July 2, 2012 to investigate the assault. He took several photographs of what he observed at the apartment that day, and he individually identified the photographs for the jury. The photographs depicted red droplets on the living room couch, on picture frames, on the walls, on a piece of paper, and on the floor. Detective Mathis testified that there was blood spatter on the ceiling and on all four walls of the bedroom. He said that the red droplets on the bedroom walls were "cast-off" blood stains. He also noted "a shot gun pattern" of red droplets on the wall above the bed. Detective Mathis explained that the size of the droplet stains indicate the type of impact and that "the harder the impact . . . [the] more the blow-up of the little droplets of blood[.]" He stated that "cast-off" stains on the wall were the result of "something being used when the blood gets on it, and then you sling it back and sling it forward, it makes the spotting worse." Detective Mathis agreed that there was high-impact spatter on every wall of the living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The apartment photographs were admitted into evidence without objection.
At the January 14, 2014 sentencing hearing, Sarah England of the Board of Probation and Parole testified that she prepared the Defendant's presentence report. She said that the Defendant's criminal history consisted of one prior conviction for second degree murder. He was convicted on December 20, 1991, and received a twenty-five-year sentence. The Defendant committed the offense on August 29, 1990, when he was seventeen, and he was released from custody on January 15, 2009. While he was incarcerated, the Defendant obtained his GED and took anger management courses. He was denied parole during the entirety of his sentence. The State introduced the presentence investigation report into evidence.
The report also included a victim impact statement from Bruce Stewart. The victim described receiving the following injuries: "Multiple skull fractures, bleeding in brain, 2 broken ribs, left hand broken, bruised heart. Lost 3 pints of blood. Lungs were filled with blood. Damage to teeth and jaw that caused problems eating for 8-10 weeks." The victim reported the following medical treatment: "ICU for 2 days, 2 more days in hospital. CAT scans, ...