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State v. Halliburton

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 6, 2016


          Assigned on Briefs at Knoxville July 26, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-04181 J. Robert Carter, Jr., Judge

         A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant, Michael Halliburton, as charged of one count of attempted first degree premeditated murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of domestic assault. After imposing a sentence, the trial court granted the defendant's motion for a new trial and entered an order recusing itself from presiding over the new trial. Thereafter, the State filed an application for an extraordinary appeal pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, which this court granted. On remand, the defendant was given a new sentencing hearing and a hearing on his motion for new trial. The successor trial court, serving as thirteenth juror, approved the jury's verdict and merged the defendant's convictions for aggravated assault and domestic assault with his attempted first degree murder conviction before imposing a sentence of twenty-one years. The successor court then denied the defendant's motion for new trial. On appeal, the defendant argues: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions because he was insane at the time he committed the offenses or, alternatively, was incapable of forming the requisite culpable mental states for the offenses; (2) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting several items of evidence; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in granting the State's motion in limine and excluding the testimony of two defense witnesses; and (4) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial on the basis that the rule of sequestration was violated. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Blake D. Ballin and Richard S. Townley, Memphis, Tennessee (on appeal) and Blake D. Ballin (at trial) for the Defendant-Appellant, Michael Halliburton.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; Karen Cook and Samuel D. Winnig, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., joined.



         This case concerns the defendant's brutal beating of his wife with a metal knife sharpener. At trial, the defendant asserted that he was insane at the time of the attack or, alternatively, was incapable of forming the requisite culpable mental states for the offenses.


Virginia Halliburton, the victim, testified that on September 6, 2012, her husband, the defendant, tried to beat her to death with a knife sharpener after she told him she was filing for divorce. The night before this attack, the victim had slept in her son's room, which was empty because her son was away at college. The defendant entered this room and raised his fist as if to hit her. When the victim screamed, the defendant said, "[M]aybe if I just hit you you'll call the police and it will all be over." The defendant then asked the victim if she had cheated on him, and she said, "[N]o, I do not do that. I would never do that to anybody."

         The following morning, the victim met with her attorney about obtaining a divorce. When the victim picked up her daughter, E.H., [1] from school, she informed her about the divorce. The victim later took E.H. to voice class. When they arrived at home, the victim told the defendant she was filing for divorce. The victim said the defendant was "not happy" about the news and blamed her for her own unhappiness. Despite this, the victim said she "never argued" with the defendant at the time of the attack because she was "not an arguing woman."

         Later that day, the victim took E.H. to dance class and while she was out, she called her attorney to say that she "was a little afraid" to go home. She then corrected, stating that she was "more than a little" afraid of going home. When the victim and E.H. returned home at 7:45 p.m., they got some food in the kitchen before sitting down in the den. The defendant, who was walking around the kitchen, was "somewhat agitated" but not "out of control." When E.H. went upstairs, the defendant stood over the victim, and in a "very calm, rational[] voice, " said, "[W]hen I start to hit you, you're not going to get up, and I'm going to kill you." The defendant took three steps into the kitchen and pulled out a knife sharpener from a canister on the counter. The victim realized the defendant was going to hit her, and she got on the floor with her arms over her head. When the defendant hit her with the knife sharpener, the victim said, "[Y]ou need to stop [be]cause you're going to kill me, " and the defendant replied, "[Y]es, I am."

         E.H., who heard her mother's screams, came downstairs and tried to protect her. With E.H.'s help, the victim crawled into the kitchen where she tried to stand but fell because she was bleeding profusely. The defendant pushed E.H. away and continued to beat the victim on the head with the knife sharpener. The victim "knew [she] had to get out of the house [be]cause . . . he would kill [her]" and was worried about what the defendant would do to their daughter. E.H. was able to open the back door, and she helped the victim stand. As the victim pressed the button to open the garage door, the defendant threw her down the steps into the garage. The victim crawled toward the mouth of the garage, and the defendant kicked and beat her, choked her at one point, and continued to hit her with the knife sharpener.

         E.H. was eventually able to get the knife sharpener away from the defendant, although the defendant continued to kick and beat the victim. E.H. hit the victim's van with the knife sharpener to attract attention and screamed for help. Eventually, neighbors Charles Penland and Lynn Brotchner, who had heard the victim's and E.H.'s screams, came to their rescue. The victim said that when Penland asked the defendant what was wrong with him, the defendant said, "[S]he's my wife. I can beat her if I want."

         As a result of this incident, the victim sustained several serious cuts to her head, which required one to two hours to close with stitches. In addition, the top of the victim's left ring finger was severed, her lip was badly split, and her right pinky finger was badly broken. The victim said that the pain from her head trauma "never goes away." She underwent two surgeries on her severed left finger and the joint of her right pinky finger. Because of the severity of the victim's injuries, her physicians did not release her to return to work for six months.

         The victim stated that the defendant "ha[d] always been angry" but that she was "very good at calming him down because [she] never argued with him." She said that while the defendant was "out of control" at some points during the attack, "it was pretty clear he knew exactly what he was doing" and "meant to kill [her]." The victim admitted she never told the police that the defendant said, "She's my wife, I can beat her if I want to, " but insisted that the defendant made this statement during the incident.

         The victim asserted that she and the defendant shared a bed until two weeks prior to the attack. While she acknowledged incurring a $50, 000 credit card debt, she said she paid off this debt with her inheritance. The victim denied playing psychological games with the defendant, such as calling him names in front of his family. Although she admitted telling Detective Clark after the attack that she was going to file a civil suit and believed she could get everything, she claimed she was only repeating what her attorney had told her.

         David Compton, who lived next door to the Halliburtons, testified that around 8:00 p.m. on September 6, 2012, he and his wife heard someone screaming. Although Mr. Compton initially believed the noise was coming from a television show, he soon discovered that the screaming was coming from outside. His wife, Peggie Compton, went outside, and he followed her after grabbing his cell phone. Mr. Compton called 9-1-1, and as he approached the Halliburtons' home, he saw the victim kneeling on the floor of the garage and the defendant entering his home. He later realized the victim was "totally covered in blood."

         Peggie Compton testified that when she ran outside, she saw the defendant in his garage striking the victim four or five times with a long object. The victim had her hands on her head and was in a fetal position on the floor of the garage, and "[t]here was blood everywhere." Mrs. Compton heard E.H. yelling, "[N]o, dad, stop, stop, " and saw E.H. clawing at the defendant's face in an attempt to protect her mother. When Charles Penland, another neighbor, yelled for the defendant to stop, Mrs. Compton heard the defendant say, "[T]his is my wife. I'll beat her if I want to."

         Charles Penland, another neighbor, testified that he saw E.H. wrestling with the defendant in an attempt to protect her mother. E.H. jumped on the defendant, the defendant pushed her off, and then E.H. ran at him again and put her hands in his face. At the time, the defendant was beating the victim on the head with a heavy knife sharpener that measured approximately eighteen inches long. Although the defendant had this weapon in one of his hands, he was using his other hand to push his daughter away. Penland tried to get E.H. away from her father and then saw the victim sitting with her head down at the opening to the garage. E.H. screamed that the defendant was going to kill her and her mother. At one point, he heard E.H. yell, "Are you insane?, " and heard the defendant reply, in a "contrived" way, "[Y]es, I am insane." Penland then heard the defendant say, "[S]he's ruined my life."

         Penland screamed at the defendant to drop the weapon, and the defendant eventually complied. E.H. grabbed the weapon and ran toward Penland, who took it from her. Lynn Brotchner, another neighbor on the scene, helped the victim stand, and Penland told the defendant not to move. The defendant "paced a couple of times" before heading to the garage. Penland said that although there was shovel and an axe in the garage, the defendant never tried to attack him. When the police arrived, Penland and some other individuals helped the victim, who was covered in blood, walk to the ambulance.

         Lynn Brotchner said she saw the defendant beating the victim with a long metal object and saw E.H. coming between the defendant and the victim. Brotchner told the defendant to stop beating his wife, and he eventually stopped after he struck her a few more times. As Brotchner was on her cell phone with 9-1-1, she heard the defendant say, "That's my wife. I can beat her all I want."

         Lieutenant Kevin Simpson testified that when he arrived at the scene, he saw that the victim had a partially severed finger and that her face and hands were covered in blood. Although the defendant initially refused to leave the home, he eventually left and was arrested after talking to a police negotiator. When Officer Simpson went to the jail a few hours later to inform the defendant of his bond, the defendant said, "[S]he f[ ----- ] everything up and I put the icing on the cake."

         E.H., the daughter of the defendant and the victim, testified that when her father took her to school the morning of the attack, he informed her that he and her mother "were going to get a divorce." At the time, her father "seemed indifferent" and "[j]ust a little upset." Later that day, her mother picked her up from school and took her to voice class. On the way home, her mother told her about the divorce. Before leaving for dance class, she heard her mother and father arguing about the impending divorce, although her father was doing most of the yelling.

         When E.H. arrived home after dance class, she sat in the den while her parents argued. Her father was yelling the loudest, and her mother was "just kind of sitting there silently." After going up the stairs, E.H. overheard her father complaining about her mother's family and saying things about why their relationship was so terrible. She specifically remembered her father talking about how her mother's deceased father was an alcoholic and heard him complaining about credit card debt.

         E.H. went upstairs, and a few minutes later, heard her mother screaming for help. When E.H. came downstairs, she saw her father in the den beating her mother with the knife sharpener. As her mother tried to crawl away, her father hit her repeatedly, and her mother's blood was "[e]verywhere." E.H. tried to stop her father by screaming at him, trying to get the knife sharpener away from him, and clawing at his eyes, but he continued to beat her mother. Despite these efforts, her father never struck her with the knife sharpener or hurt her, although he continued to beat the victim. When asked if her father even knew she was present during the attack, E.H. replied, "[It s]eemed like I was just something in the way of stopping him from getting to my mom." As the victim tried to crawl away, the attack moved to the kitchen and the back door of the house. When E.H. finally got the knife sharpener away from her father, he began kicking her mother in the head before getting the weapon back. When the defendant pushed the victim down the steps at the back door, the defendant, the victim, and E.H. ended up in the garage. Although the garage door was initially closed, someone pushed the button to open the garage door. Once in the garage, the defendant struggled to get to the victim, and E.H. tried to stop him by screaming for help. Her mother crawled to the opening of the garage, and when E.H. took the knife sharpener to hit her father's car to alert the neighbors, her father started kicking and hitting her mother, and she returned to her mother's side. Eventually some neighbors, including Charles Penland, arrived to help them. The neighbors walked her mother down the driveway, and E.H. stayed near her father to ensure that he would not go after her mother again. While she and her father were standing at the open garage door, E.H. asked her father if he was crazy, and he "said that he was crazy." Following this attack, E.H. and her mother were covered in blood, although her father had less blood on him. E.H. said she had never seen her father put his hands on her mother prior to that night.

         Sciara Childress testified that she was the 9-1-1 dispatcher who answered the defendant's call after police officers surrounded his home. When the defendant said he wanted to surrender, Childress connected the defendant to a police negotiator, Captain Marc Molina, who was just outside the defendant's house. The recorded conversation between the defendant, Childress, and Captain Molina was played for the jury. During a portion of the lengthy 9-1-1 call, the defendant made the following statements:

Well my wife ran up huge credit card debts and then we paid them off and then she tells me she wants a divorce and that we don't make enough money to-for her. That she will never care about me and I will never, she will never make me happy and I will never make her happy. And I begged and pleaded with her to please let's go to marriage counseling and she just basically said, "Screw you" and I just lost it.
. . . .
. . . I mean I f[-----] up here, I mean I lost it, I just, I just lost it, I was just standing there and then I was mad and I was yelling and then she just looked at me like I was a piece of shit and I just lost it.
. . . .
I messed it up so bad I didn't care what happened to me afterwards, I don't care, now I'm like looking at okay it's really real now, I f[-----] up, I'm there.
. . . .
Well I keep having anger problems. I've never raised a hand at her. She likes to beat me down to nothing and when I-I'm getting mad, I'm getting angry, now she's telling me that our house is too small, our, you know, you know, [I'm] messed up because of my dad and my mother-denigrates my family all of the time. Here she's got her family, they're all millionaires but they're all like-her dad exposing himself to girls in the neighborhood-and you know her sister like had multiple affairs, screws people and gets their money and then the brother like sleeps with men on the internet, I mean it's just bizarre, you know, and I'm talked about like I'm a piece of trash.
. . . .
. . . [T]here's two resolutions, either I kill myself or I walk outside and I go to jail.
. . . .
I just snapped, I just lost it, I totally lost it, I couldn't, I just can't believe that this person did this to me after all the time I put into this relationship, [she] throws it all up in [my] face.
. . . .
Yeah, I mean they just burn people down and they walk from it. They don't even bat an eye. Her brother like stole $400, 000 from her dad and they all like just walk away. Nobody batted an eye, unbelievable. Her sister did the same thing to some other guy and then there's her other two brothers and they just walk away. And after 22 years she's just like, "Okay, well, all right, I'm walking away." Nice to know ya.

         Captain Marc Molina testified that he convinced the defendant to exit the front door of his home after they had a lengthy conversation. He said the defendant was "relatively calm and quiet" as he was placed in the back of the police car. Although the defendant talked about committing suicide during the negotiation process, Captain Molina believed that the defendant was "rationalizing what his options were at the time" and did not appear to be "suicidal or homicidal" as he was being placed in the back of a police car. He added that although the defendant was in a state of distress and panic during the 9-1-1 call, he was calm by the time he was taken into custody. Captain Molina said the defendant asked about his wife's condition during their phone call.

         Officer Ginny Tibbels, the officer who transported the defendant to jail, testified that the defendant appeared calm, though "[a] little disheveled, " when he was brought to her patrol car. During the ride to the jail, the defendant told her that his handcuffs were so loose that they were slipping off his hands. Officer Tibbels said the defendant was not so bloody that she had to clean the back of her patrol car after transporting him to the jail.

         Detective Kim Clark, who photographed the crime scene and took the victim's statement, testified that her photographs depicted a trail of blood from the den into the kitchen and the garage. Upon arriving at the hospital, Detective Clark saw that the victim had a lip that was split up to her nose, had numerous lacerations to the top of her head, and had blood running down her face. She also saw that the tip of the victim's left ring finger had been severed and was bandaged and that her pinky finger on her right hand had been broken. Detective Clark took additional photographs of the victim's injuries when she came to the police department to give a statement five days after the incident. The injuries to the victim's head were more visible at that point because her head had been shaved to stitch up her lacerations and her black eye and the bruises on her body were more visible. Several photographs of the crime scene and the victim's injuries were published to the jury. Detective Clark said she had collected E.H.'s bloody clothes from the attack, and these were also published to the jury.

         Taylor Halliburton, the defendant's and victim's son who was away at college at the time of the incident, testified that his parents "did on occasion have disagreements." On the day of the incident, Taylor[2] said his father called him at 5:30 p.m. to let him know that he and the victim were getting a divorce. During this conversation, his father sounded "very calm, collected[.]" Around 8:00 p.m., the defendant told Taylor "that he had just tried to murder [his] mother, and that he was expecting the police swat team to come in and get him from the house any minute." He said his father sounded calm, just as he did during the first call, but also a little "agitated." Taylor was surprised to learn about the attack because it was out of character for his father. He said he had never seen his father become violent with anyone when angered.

         The defendant called three individuals, Maureen Bagwell, Katyusha Pehlivanlva, and Susan Ferkin, as character witnesses. All three women were teachers at the high school where the defendant taught, and they testified as to the defendant's character and reputation for truthfulness. Bagwell stated that she "never doubted anything that [the defendant] told [her]." She said that the defendant was a "[v]ery peaceful person" and "[a] very gentle person" and that it would surprise her if the defendant had a mental disorder. Pehlivanlva testified that she once saw the defendant with his daughter at an opera concert and that he appeared to be a "calm and tender" father. She said the defendant told her it was "[v]ery tough" to leave his son at college. Pehlivanlva said she believed that the defendant was a truthful and peaceful person and that he had never acted like he was mentally ill. Ferkin testified that the defendant never looked like he was suffering from a mental disorder. She said the defendant ...

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