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State v. Dowlen

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 7, 2016


          Assigned on Briefs April 19, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Robertson County No. 74CC3-2012-CR-58 John H. Gasaway, III, Judge

          H. Garth Click, Springfield, Tennessee, for the appellant, Thomas Lamont Dowlen.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Leslie E. Price, Senior Counsel; John W. Carney, District Attorney General; and Jason White, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.




         The defendant shot the victim, Candice Owens, [1] in the course of a feud with the victim and her brother, David Owens. The defendant was charged with both the first degree (premeditated) murder of the victim and with the reckless endangerment of Christopher Williams, the victim's boyfriend.

         Prior to trial, the defense filed a motion in limine to prohibit the medical examiner from referring to the manner of death as homicide. The trial court ruled that the medical examiner could give an opinion on manner of death but that the court "would never allow the State to refer to it as murder." During opening statement, the prosecution, in outlining the anticipated proof, used the word "murder." The prosecutor stated:

[Witnesses] will tell you how this murder happened - excuse me, homicide. I shouldn't say murder. That is a mistake, that's my fault. How this homicide happened. It is yours to decide whether it is first degree or second degree. It's a homicide right now. We know that because the autopsy says that.

         No objection was lodged, and no further instructions were given.

         The proof at trial included a stipulation that the defendant had been in a long-term relationship with Lindsey Hankins, and the two had a child together in 2009. Ms. Hankins left the defendant in the weeks prior to the homicide, and she began a romantic relationship with Mr. Owens, the victim's brother. The victim, Mr. Owens, and the defendant exchanged text and voice messages regarding Ms. Hankins prior to the shooting. The messages were not introduced into evidence, but the stipulation established that the three were "squabbling" via text and voice message.

         At the time of the shooting, the victim was in a romantic relationship with Mr. Williams. The two were habitual users of crack cocaine. Mr. Williams and the victim would sometimes stay at a motel, but they also occasionally stayed at Kenny Link's residence, which was the site of the shooting. Mr. Link was deceased at the time of trial, but Mr. Williams testified that he and the victim would either pay Mr. Link or provide him with drugs in exchange for a place to stay. Mr. Link's home was located on Twelfth Avenue, and there was a path from the back of Mr. Link's house to a nearby market. Across the street from the residence was a vacant lot with some gravel in it, and beyond the lot was the home of Mr. Randall Holland.

         There was evidence introduced at trial that the defendant had recently been to Mr. Link's home and was aware that Ms. Hankins frequented the home. Talisha Harrison testified that she was living at Mr. Link's around the time of the shooting and that the defendant had stopped by Mr. Link's home the morning of the homicide around 10:00 a.m. The defendant, who testified in his own defense, stated that three days prior to the shooting, he had stopped by the home of Mr. Link looking for Ms. Hankins. The defendant had heard that Ms. Hankins was selling medication prescribed for the defendant which the defendant used to treat pain for a prior gunshot wound to the leg. He did not find Ms. Hankins at Mr. Link's home on that date.

         On June 30, 2011, the day of the shooting, Mr. Williams and the victim were awoken when the victim's brother, Mr. Owens, came to the motel room they had rented. After a discussion, Mr. Williams and the victim decided to use their remaining money not to pay for another night at the motel but to purchase crack cocaine and spend time with Mr. Owens. The three ate lunch and went to Mr. Link's home at around 10:00 or 10:30 a.m. All four consumed crack cocaine at Mr. Link's residence. Mr. Williams testified that there might have been other people who dropped by Mr. Link's house during the day, but he did not recall them. Mr. Williams testified that in the afternoon at around 2:50 p.m., Mr. Owens left to go to the market to get beer and cigarettes for himself.

         James Pennington spent June 30, 2011, with the defendant. Mr. Pennington called the defendant sometime after 9:00 a.m. and offered to pay for the defendant to get a haircut and to buy the defendant gas if the defendant would give him a ride to the house of his cousin, the barber. The defendant came to pick Mr. Pennington up in the defendant's mother's vehicle about thirty minutes later. Mr. Pennington called his cousin, but his cousin was not at home. The defendant and Mr. Pennington then went to the house of another of Mr. Pennington's cousins, where they smoked some marijuana.

         At some time in the afternoon, the defendant's mother called and asked the defendant to bring her some beer. Mr. Pennington offered to pay, and the defendant drove them to the store. Mr. Pennington testified that as he was going into the store, a white man came out and kept the door open for him. Mr. Pennington learned later that this man was Mr. Owens. As Mr. Owens left the store, he and the defendant immediately began to argue. Mr. Owens approached the defendant, who put out his hands to distance himself. Mr. Owens, who had a "built up" physique, then punched the defendant. The defendant grabbed Mr. Owens and Mr. Pennington separated them. Mr. Owens then took off running down a path behind the market. Mr. Pennington testified that the defendant also saw where Mr. Owens was headed. The defendant's face was swollen where he had been punched, and he kept saying, "[L]ook at my face." The defendant drove off quickly and ...

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