Session October 4, 2016
from the Circuit Court for Madison County No. 14-461 Donald
H. Allen, Judge
Edythe Christie, appeals her conviction of tampering with
evidence. The trial court denied judicial diversion,
sentencing Defendant to four years and six months, with all
but 150 days of the sentence to be served on probation. On
appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence,
the jury instruction on tampering with the evidence, and the
denial of judicial diversion. Defendant also argues that
juror bias violated her right to a fair trial and impartial
jury. After a review of the issues, we determine that
Defendant is not entitled to relief. Consequently, the
judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
E. Dorsey, Alamo, Tennessee, for the appellant, Edythe
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy
Wilber, Assistant Attorney General; Jerry Woodall, District
Attorney General; and Brian Gilliam, Assistant District
Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Alan E. Glenn and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.
TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE.
a lawyer, was indicted by the Madison County Grand Jury in
September of 2014 for tampering with evidence. The case
against Defendant arose in conjunction with the investigation
into the death of Brittany Christie, who was found dead in a
motel room in Jackson, Tennessee, in early December of 2013
from an apparent overdose of heroin and Klonopin. John
Christie, Defendant's son, was the estranged husband of
the investigation into the death of the victim, the police
interviewed Mr. Christie, and learned that he was with the
victim at a hotel on December 5-6, 2013. Mr. Christie
provided the victim with heroin. Shortly after she ingested
the heroin, the victim got sick and passed out. Mr. Christie
left the hotel because he was afraid to be caught there
because he had outstanding arrest warrants against him. He
called 911 from his cell phone. Mr. Christie was arrested on
the outstanding warrants on December 6, 2013. He gave a
statement to police about the victim's death. In April,
after autopsy results confirmed that the victim died from
"too many drugs, too soon, " Mr. Christie was
eventually indicted for second degree murder.
Christie was held in jail on the outstanding warrants. While
in jail, he called Defendant nearly every day. The telephone
calls were recorded and eventually monitored and listened to
by Investigator Daniel Long beginning some time in January of
around December 19, 2013, Mr. Christie called Defendant and
told her that the police took his cell phone from his person
when he was arrested. Mr. Christie wanted Defendant to come
to "the property" at the jail and get his cell
phone. Defendant expressed concern over what Mr. Christie was
asking her to do, saying "something about [him] getting
her mixed up in a mess, " but indicated a willingness to
do what Mr. Christie instructed. Mr. Christie asked Defendant
to "delete everything" from the phone and destroy
the "SD" card. Defendant told Mr. Christie,
"Ok, I will, " but informed him that anyone could
retrieve the data from the phone even if it was erased. Mr.
Christie told Defendant it was a pre-paid phone so there
would "be no record." Defendant told Mr. Christie
she would get the phone the next day because visiting hours
were already over for the day. On December 20, 2013,
Defendant came to the jail and took possession of Mr.
Christie's cell phone. At the time, police had not
designated the phone as evidence.
a call from Mr. Christie to Defendant on December 20,
Defendant again cautioned Mr. Christie that the police
monitored and recorded the phone calls placed from the jail.
Mr. Christie became angry with Defendant and expressed
frustration over the fact that she had not yet hired an
attorney or contacted any of Mr. Christie's friends to
help with his defense. Defendant explained to Mr. Christie
that he had not been charged with anything. Mr. Christie
urged Defendant to delete items from his phone.
same day, Mr. Christie called his mother a second time.
Defendant again told Mr. Christie that all of the jail house
phone calls were recorded. Defendant told Mr. Christie that
she "got what [he] released to [her]." Mr. Christie
asked if Defendant "freed up any space, " and
Defendant told Mr. Christie that the battery to the phone was
dead when she picked it up from the jail. The next day, Mr.
Christie called Defendant to ask if she had done "it,
" and Defendant responded that she had deleted the
content on the phone.
attorney was appointed to represent Mr. Christie on the
probation violation charge. Defendant eventually retained the
same attorney to represent Mr. Christie with regard to
charges he might face in connection with the victim's
death. At the time, he had not been charged in connection
with the victim's death. In early May, Defendant gave Mr.
Christie's cell phone to the attorney. Defendant
mentioned that there could be "some exculpatory material
on there that would benefit [Mr. Christie's] case."
The attorney tried "once or twice" to access the
phone, eventually deciding she would "worry about that
later." The attorney recalled that the evidence
pertained to Facebook messages that might indicate the victim
contacted Mr. Christie to obtain the drugs which eventually
led to her death. Once the warrant was served, the attorney
withdrew from representation of Mr. Christie due to a
potential conflict of interest.
ten days after Defendant gave the phone to the attorney, law
enforcement officers issued a search warrant for the
attorney's office, specifically looking for a notebook
and the cell phone. The attorney turned over the phone and
informed officers that she did not access the phone while it
was in her possession. The attorney later testified at trial
that Defendant informed the attorney in an email that she
"[d]eleted some photos and video" from the phone
"when she first got it" from the jail "but she
did not consider it to be relevant to the investigation at
that time." Defendant deleted "pictures of and
video of [Mr. Christie and the victim] having intercourse in
what looked like a motel bathroom." Defendant wrote in
the email that she "had no idea that the phone would
ever be evidence."
Jay Stanfill processed the cell phone using Photorec recovery
software, a computer program designed to recover deleted
files, and discovered five photographs and a video that had
been deleted from the phone. The photographs depicted the
victim in what appeared to be a hotel bathroom while the
video recording depicted Mr. Christie and the victim having
intercourse in the same location. The original time and date
stamp placed Mr. Christie in the hotel room with the victim
on the day of her death. Officer Stanfill explained at trial
that photographs and video are usually stored on an S.D.
memory card inside a cell phone. Items that are deleted from
the phone by hitting the "delete" button can
usually be recovered from the S.D. card using recovery
Christie testified at trial. He admitted that he asked
Defendant to "clear everything" off his phone
because he was under investigation. Mr. Christie admitted
that the deleted video was "sexual in nature" and
claimed it was taken on December 5, the day before the victim
died. Mr. Christie claimed that he actually did not intend
for Defendant to erase the video and photographs of the
victim. Instead, he wanted Defendant to erase anything on the
phone dealing with drug usage. He thought that he asked
Defendant to "get rid of the S.D. card." Mr.
Christie testified that he was under the impression that
Defendant knew what he was asking her to do and that she
never gave any indication that she was unwilling to help him.
Phillip Gibson of the Union City Police Department testified
for Defendant at trial. He recalled that she attended three
days of a training seminar for the West Tennessee Criminal
Investigator's Association. One of the classes at the
seminar was about internet crimes against children.
Investigator Terry Buckley of the Jackson Police Department
taught the class, part of which was about deleting and
recovering items from cell phones. Investigator Buckley
taught that deleted data is "recoverable in most
instances" by using software that "makes an exact
copy of the device's memory." The software can
identify if the information has been deleted.
testified that, at the time of trial, she had been practicing
law for nineteen years. She recalled that her son was
"harassing" her daily from jail about getting a
lawyer and retrieving his phone from property because he was
scared that he might be charged with a crime in connection
with the death of the victim. Defendant told her son that she
would go get the phone "mainly just to get him to stop
harassing [her] about it." At the time she retrieved the
phone from the jail, the autopsy results were not complete,
and Mr. Christie had not been charged with anything other
than probation violations. Defendant claimed that she
"never had any intention of doing anything to that
cellphone" but eventually charged the phone and
"just looked at it." Defendant went on to explain
that in January or February she looked through the
photographs on the phone. When she saw photographs of the
victim, she had a "gut reaction" and "just
deleted them." Defendant testified that the pictures
"broke [her] heart" because the victim and Mr.
Christie had been separated for a long time and she thought
that they had "moved on." Defendant did not think
it would be good for Mr. Christie to "look at those
pictures" or "watch that video." At the time
she deleted the photos, she did not think about whether the
items she deleted were "evidence." She claimed she
deleted them "to protect [Mr. Christie] and his children
and [the] mother of his children."
did not think that the phone was relevant evidence because
the case "hinged on the autopsy report" and Mr.
Christie's statement to police that he was with the
victim before she died. Defendant also knew from a training
class she attended that the pictures could be recovered by
the police. She explained that if she wanted to permanently
delete the photographs and video, she would have destroyed
the S.D. card and "gotten rid of the phone."
Defendant admitted that she held on to the phone until after
Mr. Christie was indicted for the victim's death but that
she eventually gave it to Mr. Christie's attorney.
Defendant testified that she "[a]bsolutely" did not
delete the photographs with the intent to impair their
verity, legibility, or availability as evidence in an
investigation or official proceeding. However, Defendant
admitted that she knew what Mr. Christie was asking her to do
was to commit a crime. Additionally, Defendant testified
that, as an attorney, she never instructed clients to delete
items off their phones.
conclusion of the trial, the jury found Defendant guilty of
tampering with the evidence. Prior to sentencing, Defendant
introduced an application for judicial diversion. The trial
court held a rather lengthy sentencing hearing at which
several witnesses testified. The trial court considered the
factors in favor of and against the grant of judicial
diversion, ultimately concluding that Defendant was not an
appropriate candidate for judicial diversion. The trial court
sentenced Defendant to a sentence of four years and six
months. The trial court determined that a sentence of full
probation would depreciate the seriousness of the offense,
ordering Defendant to serve a "period of shock
incarceration of a hundred and fifty days" prior to
release on probation.
filed a timely motion for new trial. It was later amended by
counsel. The trial court denied the motion after a hearing. A
timely notice of appeal followed the denial of the motion for
new trial. On appeal, Defendant raises the following issues:
(1) whether the evidence was sufficient to support the
conviction for tampering with the evidence; (2) whether the
trial court properly instructed the jury on the elements of
tampering with the evidence; (3) whether Michael
Robinson's presence on the jury violated Defendant's
right to a fair and impartial jury; and (4) whether the trial
court abused its discretion in denying judicial diversion.
of the Evidence
insists on appeal that the evidence was not sufficient to
support her conviction for tampering with the evidence.
Specifically, she argues that the video and photographs on
the cellphone were not evidence and that she did not delete
the items "with the intent to destroy or conceal the
photographs or video" and the State did not prove