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State v. Brown

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 7, 2016

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
MAURICE BROWN, SR.

          Session: August 2, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 1300525 Chris Craft, Judge

          John Keith Perry, Jr., Southaven, Mississippi, for the appellant, Maurice Brown, Sr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Jennifer Nichols and Reginald Henderson, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The evidence presented at trial established that the Defendant severely beat his three-year-old son, causing injuries that resulted in his death. The Defendant then disposed of the victim's body in a dumpster.

         The State's Proof

         Mrs. Latoya Kanneh, the victim's mother and the Defendant's former girlfriend, testified that she and the Defendant had a volatile relationship and that they communicated primarily through her sister. During the rare occasions in which they spoke over the telephone, the conversations were not pleasant, and Mrs. Kanneh stated that the Defendant was always angry. She denied preventing the Defendant from seeing the victim and their daughter.

         In May 2012, Mrs. Kanneh, who was living in Arkansas, decided to allow the victim to live with the Defendant for a few months. She explained that the victim was misbehaving in daycare and that she believed that the Defendant would be able to calm the victim. She planned to return to Memphis to retrieve the victim before his birthday in late July.

         Ms. Kanneh testified that on Saturday, June 30, 2012, she and the Defendant argued over the telephone because the Defendant wanted her to drive to Memphis and retrieve the victim. Mrs. Kanneh told the Defendant that she could not drive to Memphis but offered to meet him halfway. The Defendant became angry and began cursing her and calling her names. Mrs. Kanneh told the Defendant that she would return for the victim before the victim's birthday and that the Defendant was to communicate with her through her mother or her sister. Mrs. Kanneh also spoke to the victim, who stated that he was ready to come home. She heard the Defendant in the background telling the victim what to say.

         On Sunday, July 1, at approximately 11:00 p.m., police officers contacted Mrs. Kanneh and informed her that the victim was missing. She and her husband traveled to Memphis where she and her relatives began searching for the victim. Mrs. Kanneh later learned that the Defendant had been arrested and went to the jail to speak to him. Mrs. Kanneh stated that when she asked the Defendant what had happened to the victim, he told her that he had awaken to find the victim gone. The Defendant was crying and told her that he loved his children and that he would never harm them.

         On July 3, after the victim's body had been found, Mrs. Kanneh went to the police department to make a statement and identify a photograph of the deceased victim. She said that the Defendant called her from jail while she was making funeral arrangements for the victim. When she informed him that she was making the funeral arrangements, the Defendant told her that she and his girlfriend needed to try to find an attorney to represent him. Mrs. Kanneh said she hung up on him because he failed to show any concern about the fact that she had to make funeral arrangements for the victim.

         Ms. Teaira Duncan, the Defendant's former girlfriend, testified that in July 2012, she was living with the Defendant, their one-year-old son, and the victim and that both she and the Defendant were working at Wendy's. On July 1, 2012, the Defendant, along with the victim and their son, dropped her off at work for her 3:00 p.m. to midnight shift. At that time, Ms. Duncan did not notice any marks or bruising on the victim.

         Ms. Duncan said that during a telephone conversation with the Defendant at 8:30 p.m., the Defendant told her that the victim had urinated on himself. Ms. Duncan did not recall the Defendant stating his plan for disciplining the victim. She said that around 10:00 p.m., the Defendant called her and said that the victim had run away. Ms. Duncan instructed the Defendant to call the police. When Ms. Duncan later returned to their apartment, police officers were present, and the Defendant was holding their son.

         Ms. Duncan told the police that the victim was not spanked often but that when he was spanked, the Defendant did it. After the Defendant spanked the victim one and one-half weeks prior to the victim's disappearance, Ms. Duncan noticed a bruise on the victim's right cheekbone. The Defendant told her that the bruise occurred when the victim ran away as the Defendant was spanking him.

         Ms. Duncan said that while she did not have an opportunity to look around their apartment on July 1, she did so on July 3, the day before the victim's body was discovered. She observed a hole in the closet door in the bedroom with blood, a hole in the wall of the front bedroom, and blood on a pipe that ran to the bathroom wall. She stated that she had not previously noticed the holes and blood.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Duncan testified that she never saw the Defendant display any anger or aggression toward their son or the victim and that the Defendant seemed like a loving father. Ms. Duncan did not notice that the Defendant's attitude toward the victim changed following the Defendant's conversation with Mrs. Kanneh. Ms. Duncan did not recall the Defendant's being angry when he told her that the victim had urinated on himself.

         Ms. Duncan said the victim typically ran away when he was going to be spanked. She never saw the Defendant become angry or abusive when the victim fled. She did not believe that the victim needed medical care where he sustained the injury to his cheekbone while fleeing from a spanking by the Defendant one and one-half weeks prior to his disappearance. Ms. Duncan recalled that on a day prior to the victim's death, he hit his head, resulting in a small knot.

         Ms. Duncan clarified that her testimony was not that the hole in the wall in the front room occurred while she was at work on July 1 but that she had not noticed it before that date. She said that the hole was in an area where the playpen had been. She told the police officers that the hole in the bedroom closet door could have been made with a fist and that she was fairly certain that the hole was not there before she left for work on July 1. On redirect examination, Ms. Duncan stated that she informed the officers that the hole in the closet door could have been caused by a fist or a head but that she believed it was made with a fist.

         Mr. Terrance Pope, a friend of the Defendant, testified that on July 1, 2012, he went to the Defendant's apartment where he and the Defendant composed rap music while the children were playing in the living room. Mr. Pope said that the victim did not appear to have anything wrong with him. The Defendant was talking on the telephone while the children were playing. Mr. Pope did not notice any damage to the apartment. He left the Defendant's apartment at approximately 4:40 p.m. and learned that the victim was missing the following day when he saw the news report. The Defendant did not respond to Mr. Pope's calls or text messages. Mr. Pope acknowledged that in June 2011, he pled guilty to facilitation of aggravated robbery.

         On cross-examination, Mr. Pope testified that while he was at the Defendant's apartment, the Defendant did not appear to be angry and did not display any abusive behavior toward the victim. Mr. Pope did not see any markings or bruises on the victim.

         Ms. Sharon Toole lived in the apartment next to the Defendant's apartment, and they shared an interior wall. Ms. Toole testified that on Sunday, July 1, 2012, at approximately 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., she awoke from a nap when she heard a loud noise coming from the Defendant's apartment. She went into her living room where she heard the noise again. She described the noise as a "thumping" sound that continued for a few minutes and said it sounded as if someone was fighting. She then heard loud music coming from the Defendant's apartment and did not hear the "thumping" sound again. Ms. Toole returned to her nap.

         Ms. Toole stated that when she later awoke, she looked out of a window and saw the Defendant placing something into his car. She said the Defendant's face was sweaty and that he appeared to be nervous and in a hurry.

         Ms. Toole later exited her apartment when she saw police officers outside. The Defendant's apartment door was open, and Ms. Toole saw the Defendant sitting on a couch with his younger son. The Defendant appeared to be crying, and Ms. Toole asked him what was wrong. She said the Defendant told her that the victim was missing after he had left the apartment while the Defendant was sleeping. Ms. Toole had never seen the victim alone outside of the apartment but had always seen him with an adult. While Ms. Toole assisted in searching for the victim, she did not see the Defendant assist in the search. She stated that the Defendant "appeared like he was concerned but not concerned. He wasn't looking for the little boy…. [H]e was just standing around watching the police officers and watching everybody else look for him."

         Ms. Toole testified that later that night, the Defendant told a neighbor and her that while he was sleeping on the couch, the victim opened the door and left. When Ms. Toole asked him about the victim's ability to open a door by himself, the Defendant told her that the victim knew how to open doors.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Toole testified that she did not see anyone enter the Defendant's apartment that day and play music. She acknowledged that she did not know who was inside the Defendant's apartment when she heard the "thumping" noises. She also acknowledged that she told police officers that she last saw the Defendant at approximately 3:00 p.m. that day. On redirect examination, Ms. Toole stated that on prior occasions, she had heard the Defendant yelling at his children and his girlfriend.

         Mr. Christopher Sammons, who lived in the apartment above the Defendant's apartment, testified that on July 1, 2012, at approximately 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., he was on a balcony in front of his apartment smoking a cigarette when he saw the Defendant walk out of his apartment with one of his sons on his shoulder. Mr. Sammons said the Defendant appeared to have been holding the older of the two boys. The boy's head was lying on the Defendant's shoulder as the Defendant walked toward the parking lot. Mr. Sammons was unsure whether the Defendant saw him. Mr. Sammons stated that earlier that day, he heard a "bang" coming from his closet where the air conditioning unit was located, but the noise did not concern him at the time.

         Mr. Sammons said he assisted in searching for the victim later that night. He overheard the Defendant talking on his telephone and stating that the victim had walked out of the apartment while the Defendant was sleeping. Mr. Sammons recalled that the Defendant appeared distraught.

         When the Defendant called 911 at 10:22 p.m., he spoke to Cassandra Berry, and the recording of the call was played to the jury. The Defendant reported that he had fallen asleep around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. while the victim was watching television. He stated that when he awoke, the victim was gone.

         Officer Jodi Ledford of the Memphis Police Department testified that she and her partner responded to the missing child report. They met the Defendant at the front door of his apartment where he was pacing. The Defendant informed the officers that at some point after he returned home from work, he saw that the victim had urinated on himself. The Defendant stated that he changed the victim into a navy Batman t-shirt and jeans and laid him down on the couch with the Defendant's other son. The Defendant said he told the victim to take a nap and that he would receive a spanking when he awoke. The Defendant told the officers that he fell asleep on another couch at approximately 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. He maintained that when he awoke at approximately 10:00 p.m., the victim was missing, and both the wooden interior door and the outer storm door were open. The Defendant stated that when he was unable to locate the victim after walking around the apartment searching for him, he called the police.

         Officer Ledford and her partner assisted in the search for the victim by looking into vehicles. The Defendant identified his vehicle as a maroon Toyota Camry. Officer Ledford testified that when she and her partner approached the car, they noted that heat was coming from the engine and realized that the car had been driven recently. Officer Ledford stated that the Defendant had not told them that the car had been driven. When Officer Ledford questioned him about it, he said that he had driven around searching for the victim before calling the police. Officer Ledford noted that the Defendant had a scrape on his hand that appeared to be fresh and that his pants were torn down the inseam.

         On cross-examination, Officer Ledford testified that the Defendant told her that his pants were his "work pants." She noted that the Defendant was wearing a uniform that included ...


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