Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs June 23, 2015 at Knoxville
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Wayne County No. 15417 Robert L. Holloway, Jr., Judge.
M. Wallace Coleman, Jr., Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Christopher Allen Cummins.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Senior Counsel; T. Michel Bottoms, District Attorney General; and Beverly J. White, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert H. Montgomery, Jr. and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE.
The petitioner was convicted by a Wayne County Circuit Court jury of the first degree murder of his wife's ex-boyfriend and sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction was upheld by this court on direct appeal and our supreme court denied his application for permission to appeal. State v. Chris Cummins, No. M2011-02264-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 5193393, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 22, 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Mar. 5, 2013). The petitioner's wife was an eyewitness to the murder and provided key testimony against the petitioner at his trial, as revealed in our direct appeal opinion:
The victim, Buddy Griggs, was the ex-boyfriend of the [petitioner's] wife, Krystal Cummins. The victim and Ms. Cummins had two young children together. The victim disappeared from his mother's home on April 17, 2010, and his remains were found approximately one month later, after the historic flood of May 2010, in a wooded area. Although both the [petitioner] and Ms. Cummins initially denied any involvement with the victim's death, Ms. Cummins, after giving numerous contradictory statements to the police, implicated the [petitioner] and led police to the victim's remains.
Ms. Cummins testified at trial that the [petitioner] was jealous of her relationship with the victim. According to Ms. Cummins, she had decided to leave the [petitioner] because he manufactured methamphetamine. Ms. Cummins testified she brought the victim to the house where she and the [petitioner] lived because she needed to retrieve her diaper bag prior to leaving the [petitioner]. She unexpectedly found the [petitioner] at home. Ms. Cummins testified that there was no immediate hostility between the victim and the [petitioner] and that the three adults spent time playing with the children. According to Ms. Cummins, the victim had put his two-year-old daughter on the hood of a van and was engaged in making sure she did not fall off when the [petitioner] unexpectedly struck him from behind on the right side of the head with a sleeve cut from a thermal shirt, filled with rocks, and secured at either end. Ms. Cummins testified that the [petitioner] then choked the victim with a wire cut from an exercise machine and fitted with homemade handles which she had noticed in his pocket earlier. The [petitioner] wrapped the victim in plastic and placed him in the trunk of the car. The [petitioner] and Ms. Cummins then drove the car with the children inside to the victim's mother's house and left the children there. Ms. Cummins also testified that they stopped by a gas station. After driving various places in an attempt to hide the body and making a few more stops, the [petitioner] rolled the victim down a ridge. The [petitioner] then burned various items which might have had physical evidence on them.
The [petitioner] gave a statement in which he denied any knowledge of the victim's death. However, after he was informed that Ms. Cummins, in one of her statements, had told the police that he and the victim had been fighting and he killed the victim, the [petitioner] gave a second statement which blamed Ms. Cummins for the victim's death. In this statement, he asserted that Ms. Cummins had told him the victim attempted to rape her and she hit him with a rock and choked him with some wire, then put him in the trunk of the car. The [petitioner] stated that Ms. Cummins removed the body from the trunk at their home and wanted to burn the body, but he would not let her. He stated that she put the victim's body back in the trunk and left briefly and that he thought she had removed the body from the trunk. They then took the children to the victim's mother's house, went by the gas station, and drove various places. He stated that he did not realize the victim was still in the car until Ms. Cummins expressed a desire to go down a road to dump the body. When they got home, they burned some wood, but he would not let her burn the body at their home. He stated that he did not know when the body was removed from the trunk and that Ms. Cummins had burned several items.
On the Friday afternoon before the Monday start of trial, the prosecutor learned about an inmate, Brian Smith, who testified at trial that the petitioner confessed the murder to him during their time together at the jail:
The inmate testified at trial that the [petitioner] had told him and Steven Beersdorf--who was also incarcerated and who was trying to silence a prisoner who planned to testify against him--that the [petitioner] had killed before and was not scared to do it again. The inmate testified that the [petitioner] then privately told him that he had killed the victim with a sock full of rocks and strangled him with a wire, and that he did it so that the victim would not take the kids away because the kids "would get checks" until they turned eighteen. The [petitioner] later, according to the inmate, showed him the photographs of the victim's remains and pointed out a fracture that he said was caused by hitting the victim with the rocks. On cross-examination, the inmate testified that at one point the [petitioner] had animosity towards him because the inmate had called a guard to assist another prisoner who had a seizure while the [petitioner] and another man were "smacking" him for being a child molester. According to the inmate, the [petitioner] showed him the pictures of the victim's remains in order to frighten him. Jeremy Holt testified on behalf of the [petitioner] that he had been incarcerated with the inmate witness and that the inmate told him that someone wanted the inmate to testify against the [petitioner]. Mr. Holt testified that the inmate was trying to get information about the case ...