Session Date: March 3, 2015
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 12-03161 J. Robert Carter, Jr., Judge
M. Haden Lawyer (on appeal and at trial) and Andrew Plunk (at trial), Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Angela Ayers.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Patience Branham and Kenya Smith, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
ROBERT H. MONTGOMERY, JR., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER and TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JJ., joined.
ROBERT H. MONTGOMERY, JR., JUDGE
This case relates to a domestic disturbance in which the victim, Tario Graham, died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Angelica Mitchell, the victim's sister, testified that the Defendant was the mother of the victim's younger son, who was five years old at the time of the trial. She said the Defendant and the victim's relationship spanned about ten years. She never saw the Defendant and the victim argue and thought they had a good relationship. She said the victim was tall, slim, and had stomach problems, although she did not know any details.
Earl Jones, the victim's cousin, testified that on February 23, 2012, he picked up the victim at home early that morning. The men went to the lumberyard to buy materials for the victim's house. The men returned to the victim's house around 10:00 a.m., and Mr. Jones said the Defendant, her and the victim's son, and her sister were there. The Defendant and the victim began arguing. Mr. Jones walked outside, and the Defendant's sister left. Mr. Jones said the argument was about women. He heard the Defendant say she wanted the victim out of the house and the victim say that he did not want to argue. Mr. Jones sat on the hood of a car parked in the driveway and waited for the victim. The argument lasted about three minutes, and Mr. Jones saw the victim leave the house and run toward the back of the house. The victim returned to the front of the house about fifteen to twenty minutes later.
Mr. Jones testified that after the victim ran toward the back of the house, he heard a gunshot from inside the house. He told the victim that the Defendant had fired a gun, and the victim told Mr. Jones that the Defendant was not going to do anything. The victim began walking down the sidewalk toward a convenience store and told Mr. Jones to join him. Mr. Jones said the victim was walking in front of him when the Defendant came out of the house, walked behind them, yelled, cursed the victim, and accused the victim of knocking out her tooth. Mr. Jones said the Defendant yelled, "You, B----, you knocked my teeth out of my mouth, " "You want to fight now, " "Why you running now, " and "Come on back and fight." Mr. Jones saw the Defendant holding a gun. The Defendant told Mr. Jones to move, and the Defendant attempted to fire the gun, but it misfired. Mr. Jones said the Defendant fired the gun again, and the victim fell to the ground. Although he did not know where the victim had been shot, he assumed the Defendant shot the victim in the back of the head because the victim had not been facing the Defendant.
Mr. Jones testified that when the victim fell, the Defendant ran to the victim, talked about what she had done, returned home, changed her clothes, and returned to the scene. While the Defendant was gone, someone driving a truck stopped next to the victim, who was lying in the street, to prevent drivers from running over him. The Defendant talked to the first responders at the scene, and Mr. Jones heard the Defendant tell them that the victim had been hit by a car. The Defendant did not have the gun at that time.
Mr. Jones identified the clothing the Defendant wore at the time of the shooting and testified that the Defendant did not have any visible blood on her clothes before the shooting. Mr. Jones did not see the victim hit the Defendant. He said the victim was short, weighed about 120 pounds, and suffered from stomach ulcers. Mr. Jones said the victim did not have a gun that day and denied ever seeing the victim carry a gun. He said that the day of the shooting was the first time he had seen the Defendant carry a gun.
On cross-examination, Mr. Jones testified that although he left the house when the victim and the Defendant began to argue, he heard the argument from outside the house. He heard what he thought was a physical altercation, but he denied hearing them argue about anything other than the victim's cheating. He heard tussling and wrestling from inside the house. He said the Defendant did not have any injuries when he and the victim returned from the lumberyard. He said that the Defendant "was talking crazy" and screaming when she left the house with the gun. On redirect examination, he clarified that he looked at the Defendant when he saw the gun, that he saw the Defendant pull the trigger twice, and that after the gun fired, he looked at the victim, who fell.
Terrell Randle testified that on February 23, 2012, he lived across the street from the Defendant and the victim. He knew the victim but was never introduced to the Defendant. He said that before the shooting, he was working on his car. He said he saw Mr. Jones and the victim walking down the street, and the Defendant was following them. He heard the Defendant yell, "M.F. it's your last time hitting me. You ain't going to do it no more[.]" He said the victim and Mr. Jones did nothing in response to the Defendant's yelling and continued walking down the street. He said the Defendant was a couple feet behind them, and she did not appear to have any injuries.
Mr. Randle testified that the Defendant had a small object in her hand when she left the house. He said that the victim and Mr. Jones walked out of his sight and that he heard a gunshot. Mr. Randle walked to the victim's location, and he said the Defendant ran past him and toward her house. He noticed the Defendant wore sweat pants and a shirt. When Mr. Randle arrived at the victim's location, he saw the victim lying in the street and said the victim did not respond when he called out the victim's name. He said the Defendant returned, was frantic and shocked, and said someone hit the victim with a car. He noticed the Defendant had changed her clothes and was wearing camouflage shorts. The Defendant did not have a gun when she returned, but he noticed the Defendant had "a bloodstain on her lip."
On cross-examination, Mr. Randle testified that he did not know what occurred after the victim and Mr. Jones walked out of his sight but before he heard the gunshot. He and the Defendant did not speak. He said that when the Defendant returned to where the victim was lying in the street, she seemed disturbed and emotional.
Edwin Boswell testified that on the day of the shooting, he was at "the candy lady's house" located across the street from the Defendant and the victim's house. Mr. Boswell and the victim were good friends, and he met the Defendant through the victim. He did not witness the shooting. On cross-examination, Mr. Boswell testified that he had spent considerable time at the Defendant and the victim's house and that he never saw them fight. He did not recall providing a statement to the police or telling the police he saw the Defendant and the victim running down the street.
Darren Turner testified that he was working outside at the time of the shooting. He saw the victim walk down the street and the Defendant walk behind the victim. He heard a gunshot and ran to the victim's location. He said the Defendant told him to call the police and ran to her house. The Defendant returned to the scene, and Mr. Turner said she had a "receiver" in her hand and said, "Come on, Tario. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Baby." He said that when he first saw the Defendant, she was wearing camouflage shorts but was wearing jogging pants when she returned. On cross-examination, Mr. Turner testified that the Defendant was upset and yelling when she returned to the scene.
Josea Franklin, Sr., testified that on the day of the shooting, he was across the street from the Defendant and the victim's house visiting his cousin, Sherry Talbert. He arrived at Ms. Talbert's house between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. and said he saw the victim and another man walking down the street about five minutes later. Mr. Franklin saw a woman, whom he did not know, follow the men. He said the woman yelled and cursed that "she was tired of B.S. and that's the last time you put your hands on me." He said the victim and the other man continued walking down the street as the woman yelled. He recalled the men did not turn and look at the woman. He did not witness the shooting, but he saw the woman run toward and enter the victim's house and return to the scene. He said that when the woman returned to the scene, she had changed clothes and that she said the victim was hit by a car and asked those present which car hit the victim. He recalled the woman wore jogging pants before the shooting and shorts afterward. He was unable to identify the woman because he had never seen her at close range before that day.
On cross-examination, Mr. Franklin testified that the woman was upset and agitated when he saw her following the men down the street. He recalled the woman said, "I'm tired of you hitting me. This is the last time hitting me." He did not witness the shooting or hear the gunshot. He saw people running down the street and followed them.
Memphis Police Communications Supervisor Pamela Rowlett identified two recorded 9-1-1 calls that the police received relative to the shooting. In the first recording, a woman requested the police and an ambulance respond to the scene. The caller reported that a woman had shot a man, who was lying in the street. The woman said the shooter was African-American, was wearing black pants and a yellow shirt, and ran into a house nearby. In the second recording, a male caller reported that someone had been shot and that the victim looked deceased. The caller did not witness the shooting.
Memphis Fireman and Paramedic Steve Pecaitis, Jr., testified that he responded to the scene of the shooting after being flagged down by a passerby. He and his partner were only told that the victim was lying in the street. He initially thought the victim had been hit by a car because no obvious signs of injury were visible. After the victim was placed inside the ambulance, Mr. Pecaitis found a large laceration on the forehead. Upon cleaning the wound, he found signs of possible entrance and exit gunshot wounds to the right and left brow areas, which were connected by the laceration. The victim was breathing at that time but was non-responsive. Mr. Pecaitis saw a skull fragment and brain matter and slightly compressed the wound to control the bleeding. The victim's condition worsened en route to the hospital, and he stopped breathing before arriving at the hospital. Mr. Pecaitis said, though, the victim was alive when they arrived.
Memphis Police Officer Shane Evans testified that he responded to the shots-fired call and that he was told the responsible person was at a house nearby. When he arrived, the Defendant ran down the street and screamed, "He got hit by a car. He got hit by a car." He said the Defendant looked frantic but was not crying or upset. He recalled the Defendant wore a yellow shirt. Officer Evans drove his police car to the scene of the shooting and found the paramedics treating the victim.
Officer Evans testified that he spoke to several witnesses at the scene who provided statements that were inconsistent with the victim's being hit by a car. Officer Evans said he spoke to the Defendant again and asked her what occurred. He noted the Defendant's calm demeanor and said she admitted shooting the victim. The Defendant told the officer that her younger son and the gun she used to shoot the victim were inside her house. The Defendant told the officer that she and the victim argued and that the victim hit her. Although Officer Evans did not notice initially any injuries to the Defendant, he saw facial swelling where the Defendant said the victim struck her.
On cross-examination, Officer Evans testified that he told the paramedics that the victim had been hit by a car based on the Defendant's statement. On redirect examination, he said that the Defendant's statement caused confusion. He said that when he arrived at the victim's location, a car was parked a few feet away and that he thought a pedestrian might have been struck by the car. He said shootings were less common than a car striking a pedestrian.
Memphis Police Officer Sondra Wicks testified that she responded to the scene to assist other officers. Although Officer Wicks did not speak to the Defendant, she saw the Defendant from a distance. She recalled the Defendant wore extremely short shorts and a small t-shirt. While standing outside the Defendant and the victim's house, she saw a young boy crying and standing just inside the front door. When she learned the boy was inside the house alone, she unsuccessfully attempted to enter. Officer Wicks said the Defendant's mother came to the house and was able to instruct the boy how to unlock the door. Officer Wicks did not allow the boy and grandmother to enter the house, but she entered to obtain a coat for the boy and pants for the Defendant because it was cold that day. When Officer Wicks learned the Defendant had been wearing the pants earlier that day, she returned the pants to the living room where she found them. She said that when she grabbed the pants from the sofa, a pair of red underwear fell from them. Officer Wicks did not touch the underwear.
Memphis Police Officer Brandon Westrich testified that he detained the Defendant after he arrived at the scene. He identified the Defendant's cell phone and blue hooded sweatshirt. He transported the Defendant to the police station and said she appeared calm and quiet and did not speak to him.
On cross-examination, Officer Westrich testified that the Defendant was inside a police cruiser when he arrived at the scene. He identified photographs of the Defendant's forehead, elbow, left side of her body, mouth, and clothes she wore at the time of her arrest. The photographs showed a cut to her forehead, a possible injury to her elbow, dried blood on her mouth, and swollen lips.
Memphis Crime Scene Officer Tristan Brown testified that he processed the scene, the victim, and the victim and the Defendant's house. He found an empty gun holster in a bedroom and a .22-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver inside a toilet tank in a bathroom. He identified an envelope containing six live .22-caliber rounds and one fired .22-caliber cartridge casing found inside the house. He identified red underwear, white tennis shoes, and a black telephone recovered from the victim and the Defendant's house.
On cross-examination, Officer Brown clarified that the tennis shoes were recovered from a driveway next door to the Defendant and the victim's house. He did not know who owned the shoes but said a police officer at the scene thought the shoes might have belonged to the Defendant and might have had blood on them. Relative to the firearm found in the toilet tank, he said that the toilet tank lid was broken before he arrived and that the revolver was in plain view.
Dr. Miguel Laboy, Shelby County Assistant Medical Examiner and expert in forensic pathology, testified that Dr. Caruso performed the victim's autopsy before Dr. Caruso was hired as the Chief Medical Examiner in Denver, Colorado. Dr. Laboy reviewed the autopsy and toxicology reports and photographs taken during Dr. Caruso's autopsy of the victim, which were received as exhibits. After reviewing the reports and photographs, Dr. Laboy concluded that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. He agreed with Dr. Caruso's conclusion that the manner of death was homicide.
Dr. Laboy identified photographs of the entry wound and testified that the bullet entered above the right eye and traveled slightly from right to left. He said that the bullet perforated the brain and that the orbital bones around the eyes and the base of the skull were fractured. He noted the bullet was recovered from the left rear side of the head. He said the autopsy report noted that the victim had a laceration on the side of the eye and abrasions on the right arm, left elbow, and left leg. The victim's toxicology analysis showed the presence of marijuana and isopropyl alcohol.
On cross-examination, Dr. Laboy testified that he could not perform an autopsy without examining a body and that he was not present during the victim's autopsy. He became involved in this case days before the trial and said he reviewed Dr. Caruso's file the morning of his testimony. He said that before the victim arrived at the medical examiner's office, his heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, adrenal glands, pancreas, and a portion of his small intestines were removed for organ donation. He did not believe that an evaluation of those organs would have indicated a different cause of death because the organs had to be viable to be transplanted. He agreed, though, he did not review any documentation relative to the organs' conditions at the time of harvest.
Dr. Laboy testified that no exit wound was documented in the autopsy report or in the photographs. He concluded that the victim was not shot in the back of the head. He said that the report showed no soot or stippling, but he was not comfortable giving an opinion about the distance between the victim and the gun at the time of the shooting. He said the alcohol present in the victim's blood was consistent with his receiving medical treatment.
On redirect examination, Dr. Laboy testified that regardless of the condition of the organs harvested for transplant, the cause of death was the gunshot wound to the head. He said that it was unlikely someone would have survived such an injury and that if someone had survived, he or she would have been in a vegetative state.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Special Agent Cervinia Braswell, an expert in firearms identification, testified that she analyzed a .22-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, two fired cartridge casings, six unfired live bullets, and the fired bullet recovered during the victim's autopsy. She test-fired the revolver to make comparisons. She concluded that the bullet recovered during the autopsy had been fired from the revolver. She also concluded that the fired cartridge casings submitted for analysis had the same class characteristics and some of the same individual characteristics and that the casings could have been fired from the revolver, although she could not make a conclusive determination.
Arianne Stewart testified for the defense that she and the Defendant were coworkers and that she had purchased narcotics from the victim. On February 23, 2012, Ms. Stewart arrived at the Defendant and the victim's house between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. While Ms. Stewart was there, the Defendant and the victim argued about the garbage and something the Defendant found on the victim's cell phone. Ms. Stewart heard the Defendant ask the victim to take out the garbage before he left, and the victim refused. Ms. Stewart was in the kitchen when the argument began in the bedroom. She saw the victim leave the house and return immediately and said the victim began hitting the Defendant, called her "b----" and "w----, " and called her older son "slow." Ms. Stewart said the physical altercation began in the living room near the kitchen area. She saw the victim pull the Defendant's hair, put the Defendant on the floor, and kick and hit the Defendant while she was on the floor. Ms. Stewart said the Defendant was bleeding and had a "busted" lip after the altercation. The Defendant and the victim's son was also present during the altercation.
Ms. Stewart testified that she did not intervene during the altercation because she feared the victim, who was possessive and controlling. She stayed in the kitchen during the incident and said the Defendant did not hit the victim. After the incident, the victim left the house, and the Defendant went to the bathroom to clean her face. Ms. Stewart waited a few minutes and left without speaking to the Defendant. She returned to the area after the shooting. She stated that the Defendant did not own a firearm.
On cross-examination, Ms. Stewart testified that she left the house around 1:00 p.m., after waiting five to ten minutes. She was worried but said the Defendant did not call the police. She said the Defendant and the victim's son was on the couch when the Defendant went to the bathroom. Ms. Stewart saw the victim and his cousin standing beside a car when she left.
The Defendant testified that on February 23, 2012, she awoke and took her older child to school. After she returned, the victim and her younger son awoke. The victim smoked marijuana and told the Defendant he was going to his grandparents' house to stay with his grandmother while his grandfather ran an errand. While the victim was gone, he called the Defendant and told her that his cousin was coming to the house to purchase heroin. Although the Defendant told the victim that she would handle it, the Defendant told the cousin that the victim took the drugs with him. The ...