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State v. Frazier

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 11, 2015

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
ADAM DANSBY FRAZIER

Session March 11, 2015.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hickman County No. 125132CRA Timothy L. Easter, Judge.

Douglas Thompson Bates, IV (on appeal and at trial), and Douglas T. Bates, III (at trial), Centerville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Adam Dansby Frazier.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; Kim R. Helper, District Attorney General; and Michael J. Fahey II, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.

OPINION

JAMES CURWOOD WITT, JR., JUDGE.

The convictions in this case relate to the May 2012 prison riot at Turney Center Industrial Complex, in which the defendant, along with fellow prison inmates, Javoris Sparkman and Jarus Smith, attacked and injured prison guards Cody Hellam and Paula Miller. In August 2012, the Hickman County Circuit Court grand jury charged the defendant[1] with four counts of attempted first degree premeditated murder and one count of possession of contraband in a penal institution. In February 2013, the grand jury issued a superseding indictment, which included the original charges and the additional charges of six counts of aggravated assault.[2] Just prior to trial, the State dismissed some of the charges. In October 2013, the trial court conducted a jury trial, and as relevant to the case against the defendant in this appeal, it proceeded to trial on the attempted first degree premeditated murder of Cody Hellam; the attempted first degree premeditated murder of Paula Miller; possession of contraband in a penal institution; the aggravated assault of Paula Miller; and the aggravated assault of Cody Hellam. Prior to opening statements, defense counsel announced a plea of guilty to the aggravated assault of Ms. Miller in response to the reading of the indictment. The trial court did not then accept the plea, and the aggravated assault charge was submitted to the jury.

The State's proof at trial showed that Turney Center is a medium/close security prison which houses approximately 1250 inmates. The guards at Turney Center do not carry weapons because of the high inmate-to-guard ratio. On May 4, 2012, both Mr. Hellam and Ms. Miller responded from their stations to a "code" that required the prison guards to move all inmates into their respective prison cells. When Mr. Hellam arrived at Unit 1, Pod B, he heard "a lot of yelling and screaming going on, " and he attempted to "hurry up and get everybody locked down, try to contain the situation, get control of it." While he was attempting to move prisoners into their cells, he found himself in the midst of a group of inmates, "and the next thing I remember is me fighting my way through." Mr. Hellam was stabbed on the right side of his head, causing vision loss to his right eye and hearing loss to his right ear. Mr. Hellam testified that he also suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the assault.

When Ms. Miller arrived on the second floor walkway of Unit 1, Pod B, she was "stabbed in the face, . . . stabbed six times across the back and the shoulders, " and she was beaten. Ms. Miller testified that the "weapon went inside . . . my face, it cut my jaw open, it cut my tongue partial way out." Photographs of the injuries to both Mr. Hellam and Ms. Miller were admitted into evidence.

Video surveillance footage from Turney Center on May 4, 2012, showed the defendant, Mr. Sparkman, and Mr. Smith loitering on a second-floor walkway outside a group of prison cells in Unit 1, Pod B while other inmates milled about; other Turney Center correctional officers testified at trial and identified each of the three men on the surveillance video. The defendant could be seen holding a knife, and Mr. Smith appeared to be holding a sock within which an object of some sort was concealed. A short time later, a prison guard appeared on the walkway; the guard walked from one side of the walkway to the other, eventually disappearing from view. The guard then reappeared on the walkway, followed by the defendant and Mr. Sparkman and Mr. Smith. Although he was almost out of view of the camera, the guard could be seen in the midst of several inmates, including the defendant. Suddenly, the guard ducked, and Mr. Smith swung the weighted sock at him. That guard disappeared from view as the defendant appeared to be lunging at him. A second guard appeared on camera, and she was immediately attacked by all three inmates. The defendant then could be seen stabbing the second guard three times before the guard managed to escape. The defendant, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Sparkman then retreated to a cell. Just before he entered the cell, the defendant could be seen tossing something along the walkway. The attack on the guards lasted approximately five seconds.

With this evidence, the State rested. Following the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for judgments of acquittal and a Momon colloquy, the defendant elected not to testify and chose not to present any proof.

Based on this evidence, the jury acquitted the defendant of the attempted first degree murder of Mr. Hellam and convicted the defendant of the lesser included offense of the attempted second degree murder of Ms. Miller. In addition, the jury convicted the defendant as charged of possession of contraband in a penal institution and the aggravated assault of Ms. Miller. On the charge of the aggravated assault of Mr. Hellam, the jury convicted the defendant of the lesser included offense of facilitation of felony reckless endangerment. As mentioned above, in this appeal, the defendant challenges only the conviction of attempted second degree murder.

Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the aggravated assault conviction of Ms. Miller with the attempted second degree murder conviction and sentenced the defendant as a standard offender to a term of 12 years' incarceration. In addition, the trial court imposed a sentence of 6 years' incarceration for the conviction of possession of contraband and a sentence of 11 months and 29 days for the conviction of faciliation of felony reckless endangerment, both to be served consecutively to the 12-year sentence, for an effective incarcerative sentence of 18 years, 11 months, and 29 days.

Following the denial of his timely motion for new trial, the defendant filed a timely notice of appeal. In this appeal, the defendant contends only that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction of attempted second degree murder and that the trial court erred by impermissibly ...


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