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State v. Thomas

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

July 28, 2015

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
LEDERRIUS THOMAS

Assigned May 5, 2015

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 12-02647 Chris B. Craft, Judge

Stephen C. Bush, District Public Defender; and Phyllis Aluko (on appeal) and Jim N. Hale, Jr., (at trial), Assistant District Public Defenders, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lederrius Thomas.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin Smith, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Alanda Horne Dwyer and Ann Levora Schiller, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.

OPINION

ROGER A. PAGE, JUDGE

This case concerns a shooting that occurred after a verbal altercation at a party. Appellant was indicted for the first degree murder of Rickey Mayes and the attempted first degree murder of Tarin Harris. Appellant's trial began on March 25, 2014.

I. Facts

Sheila Mayes, Rickey Mayes' mother, testified that her son was sixteen years old when he died and that he was in the eleventh grade at Frayser High School.

Memphis Police Department Officer Jerome Johnson testified that on the night of October 1, 2011, he and his partner responded to a shooting and were the first officers to arrive at the scene. When he arrived, Tarin Harris was standing beside a blue Chevrolet Malibu with multiple bullet holes in it frantically yelling for someone to help his brother who had been shot. At the time, Mr. Harris did not realize that he had also been shot, but Officer Johnson observed the injury and noticed that the back of Mr. Harris's shirt was "completely red." Officer Johnson saw that Rickey Mayes, Mr. Harris's brother, was "lifeless" and was bleeding from the top of his head. Officer Johnson did not see any weapons at the scene.

Demario Watson, a high school teacher, testified that on the night of October 1, 2011, he was hosting a party for his wife, Shontay, and his sister-in-law, Contoyeria.[1] During the party, Mr. Watson learned that a fight was about to occur outside. When Mr. Watson went outside, he saw eight individuals standing close together, and two of the males were arguing. Mr. Watson told the group that they needed to leave, and two of the males got into a blue car. Mr. Watson saw two cars stop in front of the house ― one car was burgundy and the other was silver. Mr. Watson and his wife walked to the cars and told the occupants that the party was over and that they needed to leave. While Mr. Watson was standing beside the burgundy car, the blue car drove by him. Moments later, Mr. Watson heard six to eight shots fired and saw the shooter running behind the blue car. The blue car continued on its course and left the area.

During cross-examination, Mr. Watson explained that after he stopped the argument, one of the young men who had been involved in the argument began talking to the people in the silver car. Mr. Watson clarified that after he finished talking to the males in the burgundy car, the blue car drove past him, and then he heard the first shots fired.

Tarin Harris testified that on the night of October 1, 2011, he, Contrel, Rickey, and "Marco, " went to a talent show that ended at approximately 10:30 p.m. After the talent show, Mr. Harris drove the group to Contrel's sister and brother-in-law's home because they were hosting a party. Mr. Harris explained that at the time, Contoyeria was his girlfriend and that he was two years older than she. During the party, Mr. Harris and Contoyeria went outside, and Legarius Hodges, whom Mr. Harris did not know, exited the house "ranting and raving" while talking on the telephone. Mr. Harris informed other party-goers about Mr. Hodges' actions, and several individuals went outside. Mr. Hodges was overheard saying, "'[E]verybody[, ] I got[sic] a surprise for you[.] I've got a surprise for everybody else.'" Mr. Harris explained that he did not have any ill will towards Mr. Hodges at that point and that Mr. Hodges appeared visibly upset. However, shortly thereafter, Mr. Harris learned that Contoyeria and Mr. Hodges had developed a relationship, and he and Rickey left the party.

After leaving, Mr. Harris found that he had left his jacket at the party. Before returning to the party, Mr. Harris picked up Cordarious because he believed that Cordarious and Rickey would "have [his] back." He also called Contrel to determine if Mr. Hodges and his friends had left the party. Mr. Harris asserted that he, Cordarious, and Rickey did not have weapons. After arriving at the party, Mr. Harris went inside, retrieved his jacket, and exited the home. As he was going back down the driveway, Mr. Hodges, Contoyeria, and a group of people were walking up the driveway, and Mr. Hodges acted as if he wanted to fight. Prior to any physical altercation, Mr. Watson intervened and asked what was causing the quarrel. When Mr. Harris asked if Mr. Hodges was dating Contoyeria, Mr. Hodges responded, "'I don't fight over a bh.'" During this confrontation, Rickey was standing beside Mr. Harris and Cordarious was attempting to calm the situation. After Mr. Hodges' statement, appellant intervened and asked if Mr. Harris wanted to fight Mr. Hodges, to which Mr. Harris responded that it did not matter and that he did not know Mr. Hodges. Contoyeria's mother intervened and told Mr. Harris to either come inside the house or leave the party. Rickey requested that they just leave the party. Accordingly, Mr. Harris and Rickey got in their blue Malibu and began driving down the street, leaving Cordarious at the party. Mr. Harris was driving the car, and Rickey was in the passenger seat. As Mr. Harris drove down the street, appellant began shooting at the car before the car had passed appellant and continued shooting as the car passed him. Mr. Harris explained that when the shooting began, he accelerated, hitting a curb in his attempt to flee the area. Mr. Harris noticed that Rickey was not moving and that Rickey was bleeding. Mr. Harris called 9-1-1, and when the police arrived, one of the officers indicated that Mr. Harris was also injured. Mr. Harris stated that he was shot in the back and "grazed" on the side and that Rickey died as a result of his injuries. Mr. Harris testified that he did not know why appellant shot at them and that other than the argument with Mr. Hodges, he did not have any "other words" with appellant.

During cross-examination, Mr. Harris stated that when Mr. Hodges was on the telephone, he was under the impression that Mr. Hodges was asking someone to come to the party and that the conversation was related to him. Mr. Harris clarified that he was asked to leave the party the first time but that he returned for his jacket. Mr. Harris denied telling Cordarious that someone had just tried to "jump" him or that he was going back to "see what he was going to do." Mr. Harris explained that Cordarious, Rickey, and "Leon" rode to the party with him and that "Bam, " Cordarious' friend, drove to the party in a burgundy car. Mr. Harris stated that when he exited the house with his jacket, Mr. Hodges approached, cursing, but that he did not curse at or act threateningly toward Mr. Hodges in response. Mr. Harris agreed that prior to the shooting, appellant did not yell or threaten anyone. Mr. Harris explained that "Leon" and "Bam" stayed by the car during the altercation.

During redirect examination, Mr. Harris explained that Cordarious, "Bam, " and "Leon" all worked at McDonald's and that they had all just gotten off of work and were together when he called Cordarious. Mr. Harris stated that neither "Bam" nor "Leon" were involved in any way and that Cordarious only tried to calm the situation. Mr. Harris explained that he called Cordarious because Cordarious was a "fighter" but that he had no intention of starting an altercation at the party.

Contrel testified that he was seventeen at the time of trial and that he was fifteen at the time of the shooting. On the night of the shooting, Contrel, Mr. Harris, Rickey, and "Marco" went to a talent show in Mr. Harris's blue Malibu and then went to a party at his sister's house. Contrel recalled that Mr. Harris left the party at some point after "a little conflict" with Mr. Hodges and that shortly thereafter, Mr. Harris called Contrel to tell him that he was returning to the party to retrieve his jacket. Contrel explained that when Mr. Harris arrived, he went outside and gave Mr. Harris his jacket. Contrel agreed that both Mr. Harris and Rickey seemed to be in an "okay mood" when they returned. Contrel turned around to walk back inside, but before Contrel could enter the house, he heard gunshots. During cross-examination, Contrel denied that Mr. Harris asked him if Mr. Hodges was still at the party when he called prior to returning to the party.

Doris, Contrel's mother, testified that on the night of the shooting, she was at Shontay's house attending a party for her daughters Shontay, who was turning thirty, and Contoyeria, who was turning eighteen. Doris explained that during the party, Contoyeria's friends left the backyard, where the party was located, and went into the front yard. When Doris went to check on them, she saw a group of people walking back toward the house. Doris told the group to stay in front of the house or to go into the backyard. Doris then noticed that Contrel had arrived at the party with Mr. Harris after having attended a talent show. Later, while the party was still in progress, Doris went back to the front yard after learning that Mr. Harris was arguing with someone. However, when she arrived, no one was arguing, but there were between fifteen to twenty people standing outside. She asked Mr. Harris what was upsetting him, but he responded that nothing was wrong. Doris explained that the only other person who looked upset was a male she knew as "Smiley" but that he also said that nothing was wrong. Soon thereafter, Mr. Harris retrieved his jacket from Contrel and told her that he was leaving. Mr. Harris and Rickey got into a car and began to leave. However, before the car reached the end of the street, Doris heard gunfire and shepherded the party-goers into the house. Doris stated that she did not see the shooter but that she heard "a lot" of gunshots fired. Doris testified that the person she knew as "Smiley" was not appellant. During cross-examination, Doris testified that she was forty to fifty feet from the car when she heard the gunfire and that she did not see the shooting, only heard it.

Contoyeria testified that on the night of October 1 she was at a birthday party hosted in her and her sister's honor. She explained that both Mr. Hodges, whom her mother knew as "Smiley, " and Mr. Harris were her boyfriends and that the two young men did not know about each other. Contoyeria explained that she invited Mr. Hodges to the party but that she did not know that Mr. Harris was planning to attend. Contoyeria stated that when Mr. Harris arrived at the party, she was "close" to Mr. Hodges, so she walked away from him. Mr. Harris hugged her, and she and Mr. Harris walked inside to get Mr. Harris some food. Contoyeria testified that the conflict began when Mr. Hodges walked down the driveway and saw her and Mr. Harris talking alone. At the time, Mr. Hodges was on the telephone arguing with someone. Contoyeria thought that Mr. Hodges was talking to his child's mother. One of Contoyeria's friends went and spoke to Mr. Hodges and, upon her return, told Contoyeria that she believed Mr. Hodges was angry with Contoyeria, not his child's mother. Contoyeria went down the street to talk to her friend and Mr. Hodges, and when she arrived, Mr. Hodges was asking someone on the telephone to come pick him up. Contoyeria told Mr. Hodges that her sister would take him home, and the three walked back to the house. Contoyeria stated that during the walk back, Mr. Hodges did not appear to be angry. Contoyeria explained that Mr. Harris left the party while she was speaking to Mr. Hodges and that appellant arrived at the party after Mr. Harris's departure. Contoyeria stated that before Mr. Harris left, she did not see him and Mr. Hodges have an argument and that she was unsure if Mr. Harris knew she was dating both him and Mr. Hodges simultaneously. She stated that Mr. Harris drove a blue Malibu. Contoyeria testified that while Mr. Harris was gone, she walked outside with Mr. Hodges and appellant but that she stopped and began talking to a friend. She asserted that no one seemed upset during that time. She saw Mr. Harris return to the party. Mr. Harris walked up the driveway and retrieved his jacket from her brother. Mr. Harris and Mr. Hodges then got into an argument, which she presumed was about her. During the argument, Mr. Hodges took his shirt off. Contoyeria's brother-in-law intervened in the argument before it escalated to a physical altercation. Mr. Harris returned to his vehicle and left the party. Mr. Hodges remained on the sidewalk. Contoyeria testified that as Mr. Harris was driving away, she heard gunshots. Contoyeria stated that she did not see the shooter or where the shots originated. After Contoyeria had gotten back into the house, Mr. Harris called her and told her that Rickey, who was in the car with him, had been shot. She "hung up on him" because she was crying and panicking. Contoyeria explained that the police arrived a few minutes later and that she told the police that Cordarious had perpetrated the shooting, even though she knew that was untrue. She asserted that she implicated Cordarious because he was the last person she saw walking "down there" but that she knew he was not the shooter. Contoyeria explained that Mr. Hodges and appellant were "close" and that they referred to each other as brothers.

During cross-examination, Contoyeria agreed that she did not see the shooting, only heard the gunshots. She stated that she believed that Mr. Hodges was talking to his child's mother earlier in the night because that is to whom Mr. Hodges told her he was talking. Contoyeria testified that she was surprised when Mr. Harris returned to the party and that initially, she did not know why he had returned. Contoyeria agreed that she heard appellant tell Mr. Hodges "'[C]ome on[, ] let's go'" prior to the argument.

Legarius Hodges testified that on October 1, 2011, he was dating Contoyeria and had been friends with appellant for approximately three to four years. He explained that he did not know Mr. Harris or know that Mr. Harris was also dating Contoyeria but that he went to school with Rickey. Mr. Hodges testified that he had dated Contoyeria in the ninth grade and that about one month prior to the party, they had rekindled their relationship. Mr. Hodges stated that on October 1, he walked to Contoyeria's party with several other people around 9:00 p.m. Approximately thirty minutes after Mr. Harris's arrival, someone at the party told Mr. Hodges about Mr. Harris and Contoyeria's relationship. Mr. Hodges explained that he first saw Mr. Harris and Contoyeria together when he walked into the front yard to talk on the telephone to his child's mother and saw the two of them standing under a tree "hugged up." He said that he was arguing with his child's mother when he saw Mr. Harris and Contoyeria and that he walked down the street to continue his conversation.

Mr. Hodges explained that he already knew about Mr. Harris and Contoyeria's relationship when he saw them and that although the situation made him angry, he did not say anything to them while he was on the telephone. Mr. Hodges continued to walk up the street, yelling and cursing at his child's mother, and at some point, other people joined him. Mr. Hodges then called appellant and asked appellant to come give him a ride home. He called appellant a second time to ask for appellant's location, and appellant asked if he was "running from something." Mr. Hodges assumed that appellant believed something was wrong due to the anger in his voice and because of the way he was speaking. Mr. Hodges denied asking appellant to bring a gun to the party and denied that he was seeking "backup for a fight." However, Mr. Hodges acknowledged that he had seen appellant with a gun in the past. Mr. Hodges testified that appellant arrived at his location but that he did not leave with appellant because Contoyeria told him about her relationship with Mr. Harris and repeatedly told him that her sister would drive him home. Mr. Hodges asserted that he did not tell appellant where the party was located and that after he told appellant that he was not leaving, he walked back to the party with the other party attendees. Mr. Hodges explained that appellant arrived in a "white kind of grayish" car and that appellant was not driving. Mr. Hodges stated that Desiree Ward was driving the car but that he had only learned that fact after the shooting because he never looked at the other people inside the car.

Mr. Hodges explained that he did not see Mr. Harris when they returned to the party and that he and Contoyeria went into the house and sat "in the back room." While there, someone told Mr. Hodges that appellant had arrived, and Mr. Hodges went out the front door. After denying that he went outside to get appellant to leave, Mr. Hodges read part of his statement to police, in which he said that he was concerned about appellant's presence at the party because appellant was a "hothead" and that Mr. Hodges "didn't want him starting anything." Mr. Hodges initially stated that he had lied to the police when he made that statement; however, later in his testimony, Mr. Hodges agreed that the statement was true. When Mr. Hodges went outside to see if appellant was in attendance, Mr. Hodges saw Mr. Harris, and the two young men had a verbal altercation, during which Mr. Hodges removed his shirt. Mr. Hodges stated that a man, the owner of the property, intervened in the argument and told them to "go to the street." When Mr. Hodges walked down to the street, he saw appellant standing in the street, and Cordarious was attempting to calm the situation. Contoyeria's mother told Mr. Hodges not to fight, and Mr. Harris got into his blue car. Mr. Hodges testified that he and Contoyeria walked towards the house and that appellant was behind him by the curb. Mr. Hodges stated that appellant did not appear upset and that he and appellant did not have a conversation about what had occurred. Mr. Hodges testified that after Mr. Harris got in his car, he drove by yelling things about the fight not being over and demanding that the fight continue in a different location. Mr. Hodges believed that Mr. Harris was speaking to him and to appellant because appellant was Mr. Hodges' friend, but he did not turn around to see to whom Mr. Harris was speaking. Mr. Hodges explained that he then heard gunshots and that he turned around and saw appellant standing in the street shooting at Mr. Harris's car. Afterward, Mr. Hodges walked home with two other people. Mr. Hodges explained that approximately five minutes after the shooting, appellant called him and asked if he thought anyone saw appellant's actions. According to Mr. Hodges, appellant asked him to "make sure [appellant's] name stay[ed] out of it." When Mr. Hodges spoke to the police, he told officers that a male in a McDonald's uniform had committed the shooting, referring to Cordarious. Mr. Hodges agreed that his statement to police that appellant had fired about ten shots was true. Mr. Hodges testified that when he was on the street about to fight Mr. Harris, he showed appellant who both Mr. Harris and Rickey were.

During cross-examination, Mr. Hodges denied saying anything about having a surprise for someone. Mr. Hodges denied telling appellant that he was "into it" with "some guys, " that the men were "strapped, " or that he asked appellant to bring a "strap." Mr. Hodges testified that he did not leave when appellant arrived because Contoyeria wanted to talk to him about her relationship with Mr. Harris. Mr. Hodges stated that when appellant arrived at the party, he did not try to start a fight with anyone and that appellant appeared calm. Mr. Hodges testified that when Mr. Harris began yelling out of his car while he was driving away, he did not hear ...


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