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Kuot v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 21, 2016


          Session October 19, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2010-B-1529 Monte Watkins, Judge

         A Davidson County jury convicted the Petitioner, Gai D. Kuot, of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, and especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, this Court affirmed his convictions and sentence. State v. Gai D. Kuot, No. M2012-01884-R3-CD, 2013 WL 4539020, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Nashville, Aug. 26, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 11, 2013). The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel had failed to obtain a translator to explain to him his rights. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition. We affirm the postconviction court's judgment.

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

          Jamaal L. Boykin, Nashville, Tennessee, and for the appellant, Gai D. Kuot.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Counsel; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Deborah M. Housel, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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



         I. Facts A. Trial

         This case arises from the killing of the victim, which occurred in April 2010. Because of the length of the facts presented by this Court in our opinion on the Petitioner's direct appeal and the issues in this post-conviction appeal, we will briefly summarize the facts supporting the Petitioner's conviction. Kout, 2013 WL 4539020, at *1-21.

         The victim was a "Lost Boy" refugee from Sudan and obtained employment at Montgomery Bell Academy ("MBA") as a custodial worker through a charity in 2004. He earned $23, 000 annually. The State charged one of his roommates, the Petitioner, with his murder. Trial testimony showed that the victim got along with his fellow employees and remained employed at MBA until his death in April 2010. The victim's shift at MBA on April 20, 2010, the day of his murder, started at 1:00 p.m. and ended at 10:00 p.m. The victim also had a side business in which he sold long distance phone cards to other members of the refugee community. For this business, he often carried a large roll of cash in his pocket. One of the victim's co-workers testified that he saw the at work the evening before his murder. The victim told his co-worker that he was going to Kroger after his shift and then going to pick up one of his roommates in Gallatin. The victim did not say which roommate.

         Police responded to a call on April 21, 2010, about an injured man. When Sergeant Mitch Kornberg arrived at the scene, he saw the victim sitting on the ground, leaning against a chain-link fence. The victim had been shot multiple times and was dead. The sergeant noted that the victim was wearing a maroon MBA shirt with tan pants and a name tag on a lanyard around his neck. Also, in his lap were calling cards or credit cards. An autopsy revealed that the victim died as a result of eight gunshot wounds.

         The police investigation revealed that the victim had immigrated to the United States in 2004 from Sudan. The victim's cousin, William Deng, who had himself immigrated to the United States in 1995, became roommates with the victim and the Petitioner sometime in 2009. The victim and the Petitioner each occupied their own bedroom, and Mr. Deng slept on the couch. Mr. Deng testified that he owned a PT 92 Beretta nine-millimeter because his employment required that he carry a gun. He owned two magazines for the weapon. He kept one inside the weapon and the other in the glove box of his Nissan Pathfinder. Mr. Deng kept the weapon hidden between the driver's and passenger's seats of his vehicle. On April 12 or 13, 2010, Mr. Deng discovered that his gun was missing, and he called the police. His car was locked and showed no signs of forced entry, and the person who stole the weapon did not take the extra magazine. Mr. Deng said that he routinely kept his keys on the kitchen table of the apartment that he shared with the victim and the Petitioner and that the Petitioner knew he kept a weapon in his car.

         Mr. Deng recalled that the victim would purchase telephone calling cards in bulk and then would sell them to members of the Sudanese community in Nashville. He often conducted these transactions in a coffee shop on Murfreesboro Road, which was a popular establishment among Sudanese men. Mr. Deng recounted that the victim often carried with him the money earned during the transactions.

         Mr. Deng testified that he fell asleep on the couch the night before the murder, and neither the Petitioner nor the victim was present. He was awoken the next morning by police officers. He said that the Petitioner exited his room wearing street clothing rather than clothing in which he normally slept, which surprised him. The Petitioner, who was unemployed, told the police officers that he had not spoken with the victim the previous evening. The Petitioner and Mr. Deng both went to the police station to speak with police.

         Kroger surveillance footage from April 20, 2010, showed a man, who appeared to be either the Petitioner or the victim entering the Kroger store at 11:31 p.m. and leaving alone at 11:35 p.m. The quality of the video was not clear. A witnesses near the scene of the shooting heard two or three gunshots at around 12:30 a.m. on April 21, 2010. The victim's car was found near where his body was found, and there were two bullet holes in the driver's side of the car that appeared to have been fired from the interior of the car. Police found the victim's wallet on the ground near the vehicle.

         Other officers searched Mr. Deng's and the Petitioner's vehicles. Evidence collected from the Petitioner's vehicle, a white Volvo, included four phone cards and two Western Union receipts. The Western Union receipts indicated that "Gai Deng, " which was the name the Petitioner gave to police, wired $100 to Uganda at 2:30 p.m. on April 20, 2010, the day ...

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