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Muhammad v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 22, 2016


          Session July 12, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 10-02631 James C. Beasley, Jr., Judge

         The Petitioner, Daniel Muhammad, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief in which he challenged his conviction of facilitation of aggravated arson and his sentence of twelve years in prison. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he was denied his right to the effective assistance of counsel. We affirm the post-conviction court's denial of relief.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Anna R. Smith, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Daniel Muhammad.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Karen Cook-Twele, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which ALAN E. GLENN and ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, JJ., joined.




         The Petitioner was indicted for aggravated arson, along with his co-defendant, Michael Taylor. The Petitioner was convicted of the lesser-included offense of facilitation to commit aggravated arson, and Mr. Taylor's trial resulted in a hung jury. The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to twelve years imprisonment as a Range II, multiple offender.


         The relevant facts underlying the Petitioner's conviction, as recited by this court from the Petitioner's direct appeal, are as follows:

On August 28, 2009, at around 3:00 p.m., Martha Gray and her family were visiting on the front porch of her house at 1523 Pillow Street. Ms. Gray's niece had gotten into an argument with Defendant and two others, and Ms. Gray heard Defendant say, "don't worry about it because we going to burn the mother f* * *er down."
At around 4:00 a.m. on the following day, Ms. Gray's son, Rickey Gray, awoke to the smell of smoke. He discovered a fire burning near the back door in the kitchen, and he woke up the rest of his family. Michael Robison, Ms. Gray's live-in boyfriend, testified that after Mr. Gray woke him and they went outside, he saw that the grass around the house was burning and the fire was coming through the walls around the front door. After the family escaped the fire, they saw three African American males running down the street away from the house. Ms. Gray yelled to the men, "I know y'all did this, " and the men laughed. She saw them enter a duplex. She identified the men as Defendant, his co-defendant Michael Taylor, and "Mayne." A few minutes after the men went inside the duplex, they left and got into a white truck parked outside. Michael Taylor was driving the truck. On cross-examination, Ms. Gray testified that on the afternoon before the fire, Defendant and Mayne were talking to each other, and "Mayne" made the threat about burning down her house. On re-direct examination, Ms. Gray testified, "[t]here's no doubt in my mind. [Defendant] was out there with [Mayne] when they made the [threat]-it was him and the girl and Mayne."
Officer Michael Thomas arrived at the scene to conduct traffic control around the residence while the fire department was extinguishing the fire. While at the scene, Officer Thomas spoke to the victims, who gave a description of the individuals they saw running from the house and of the vehicle they were seen driving. Officer Thomas then saw Michael Taylor sitting in a white vehicle matching the description about one block from the fire. Officer Thomas detained Taylor. Taylor told Officer Thomas that he had not been to the residence where the fire occurred. Taylor's statement to Officer Thomas was unprompted.

         Detective Ronald Weddle was called to investigate the fire at the victim's home. After speaking with Ms. Gray, Detective Weddle interviewed Defendant. Defendant gave contradictory statements about his whereabouts on the night of the fire. Defendant initially told Detective Weddle that he was not anywhere near the area of the fire, and Defendant denied any involvement in the fire. Defendant later told Detective Weddle that he was at a house down the street on the evening prior to the fire, and then left and went to his grandmother's house, where he stayed for the night. Defendant also told Detective Weddle that he learned from his sister that he was a suspect in the arson and that he drove by the location of the fire, but Defendant later stated that he did not drive by the house after the fire. On cross-examination, Detective Weddle testified that he did not check Defendant's alibi, nor did he take a written statement from Defendant because Defendant gave conflicting statements.

Detective Stephen Roach arrived at the scene after the fire was extinguished and after Defendant was taken into custody. Detective Roach interviewed Defendant's co-defendant, Michael Taylor, at the police station. Detective Roach testified that when he entered the interview room, he smelled "a strong odor" of fruit scented hand sanitizer and then discovered an empty bottle of hand sanitizer in Mr. Taylor's pocket. During the interview, Mr. Taylor denied any involvement in the fire. Detective Roach also took a statement from Ms. Gray. In her statement, Ms. Gray did not tell detectives that Defendant had made a threat the previous day about burning her house.
Anthony Arnold, a fire investigator with Memphis Fire Services, was called to the scene to investigate the fire. Investigators determined that two fires were set at the front and back doors, and a third fire was set in the middle of the house in the kitchen. The fires were started by an ignitable liquid that was used to accelerate the fire. The location of the fires at the doors indicated that they were "designed to hold occupants inside" the house, and the third fire was intended "to hasten the fire." Mr. Arnold testified that he had "[n]o doubt" that the fires were set intentionally.

State v. Daniel Muhammad, No. W2013-01395-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 2902273, at *1-2 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 25, 2014), perm. app. denied ...

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