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State v. Watts

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 19, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs November 8, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Montgomery County No. 41300705 Ross H. Hicks, Judge

         A Montgomery County jury convicted the Defendant, Lee Dewane Watts, of two counts of first degree felony murder and one count of especially aggravated robbery. The trial court merged the Defendant's first degree murder convictions and ordered him to serve a life sentence for first degree murder and a consecutive twenty-five year sentence for especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions; (2) the trial court improperly sentenced him by ordering consecutive sentences and ordering the maximum sentence for the especially aggravated robbery conviction; and (3) the trial court erred when it ruled that the Defendant's prior convictions would be admissible should he testify. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

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

          Chase T. Smith, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lee Dewane Watts.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Counsel; John W. Carney, Jr., District Attorney General; and Arthur F. Bieber and Robert J. Nash, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J. and Alan E. Glenn, J, joined.



         I. Background and Facts

         A. Trial

         This case arises from the beating and robbery of the victim, the Defendant's mother, inside her home. The victim later died as a result of her injuries. A Montgomery County grand jury indicted the Defendant for two counts of felony first degree murder and one count of especially aggravated robbery. At a trial on the charges, the parties presented the following evidence: Officer Sean Walden testified that he was employed by the Clarksville Police Department and responded to a call at 9:00 a.m. on April 7, 2013. When he arrived at the scene, the victim's apartment, he found another officer, Sergeant John Crabbe, talking to the Defendant on the front porch and emergency personnel treating the victim inside. The Defendant identified himself as the victim's son. The Defendant indicated that the victim had recently received a monetary settlement, so police officers looked around the residence for money or evidence of a robbery. The Defendant stated that he had left the victim's apartment at midnight the previous night and had returned around 9:00 a.m. and found the victim "having trouble breathing."

         On cross-examination, Officer Walden testified that the Defendant told him that he had called his girlfriend before he called the police. The Defendant's girlfriend later arrived at the scene. Officer Walden recalled that there did not appear to have been a struggle at the victim's apartment; however he observed blood spatters on the victim's headboard and the ceiling of her bedroom. When Officer Walden arrived at the scene, the Defendant was wearing a purple shirt, which he took off at some point and placed on a chair.

         Sergeant John Crabbe with the Clarksville Police Department testified that he was the first to respond to the victim's apartment, where he found the victim in her bedroom and checked her injuries. The Defendant told him that there was approximately $2, 000 in cash in the victim's apartment that she had received from a settlement of benefits, which created a "line of discussion" that a robbery might have occurred. Sergeant Crabbe did not find any money in the apartment. He did, however, notice a hammer on the living room floor. Sergeant Crabbe described the victim when he found her: "moaning, bleeding - a lot of blood around on the bed, around the head area of the bed."

         A certified letter from the Nashville VA Regional Officer was admitted as an exhibit and read aloud in open court. The letter verified that the victim had received compensation benefits in the amount of $6, 876 and $696 in 2013.

         Jerri Willhyt testified that she lived in an apartment next door to the victim and had been introduced to the Defendant, the victim's son. Ms. Willhyt stated that she was at the victim's apartment almost every day, watching television, having dinner, talking, and playing computer games. To her knowledge, the Defendant spent three or four nights a week at the victim's apartment, but Ms. Willhyt "assumed" that he lived with his girlfriend. Ms. Willhyt recalled an evening when she had dinner with the victim and the Defendant, and the Defendant raised the topic of the victim's life insurance. The Defendant asked the victim whom she had named as the beneficiary of her life insurance policy, and the victim replied that the beneficiary was her sister. The Defendant asked the victim to name him as the beneficiary, and the victim refused. This conversation occurred approximately one week before the police were called to the victim's apartment on April 7. Ms. Willhyt recalled a conversation where the Defendant asked the victim for money, thirty or forty dollars, and the victim told the Defendant she did not have it. The victim showed the Defendant the money in her wallet because he did not believe her. Ms. Willhyt recalled that the victim told her that the Defendant had been asking about "Pop's VA, " in reference to the VA benefits the victim had received. Ms. Willhyt testified that on April 7, before the ambulance took the victim to the hospital, the Defendant asked Ms. Willhyt for money, which she refused to give him because he already owed her money.

         Ms. Willhyt testified that on April 6, the night before the victim was found injured, Ms. Willhyt planned to go to the victim's apartment at 5:30 p.m., but the victim was taking the Defendant to work. At 8:30 p.m., Ms. Willhyt saw the victim's porch light come on, so she invited the victim over for dinner. The victim declined and said she was going to bed. Ms. Willhyt did not see the victim again that evening. Ms. Willhyt stated that it was not uncommon for the Defendant to arrive at the victim's apartment at around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. At around midnight that night, Ms. Willhyt saw the victim's porch light come on, so she looked out her window and saw the victim's front door being shut from the inside. Ms. Willhyt did not observe anything else, and she went to bed at 2:00 a.m.

         Bobby Lee Majors testified that he lived twenty or thirty feet from the victim's apartment and that he was grilling with some friends outside his house on April 6, 2013. His party ended at about 9:00 p.m., and he went to bed before 10:00 p.m. The next morning, Mr. Majors took his dog outside and was cleaning up his yard when he saw the Defendant coming out of the victim's apartment between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. A short time later the police and paramedics arrived at the victim's apartment. Mr. Majors saw the Defendant walking down the street before the police arrived. Mr. Majors recalled that he had seen the Defendant the night before around dusk, wearing the same clothes he was wearing the next morning. Mr. Majors recalled that the Defendant was wearing a purple shirt.

         Satara Ealum testified that on the night of April 6, 2013, and into the morning of April 7, she, the Defendant, and two other men were "smoking crack" in the Summit Heights projects, a fifteen-minute walk from the victim's apartment. Ms. Ealum was introduced to the Defendant by the two other men that evening, and she recalled that the Defendant paid for the crack they smoked, which was "served" to them by young boys. Several times throughout the night the group needed more crack, so the Defendant would leave and return with more money; he claimed to be going back and forth to his mother's house. After each trip to his mother's house, the Defendant returned with money. At around 4:00 a.m., the Defendant and Ms. Ealum checked into a hotel room, and he left the next morning at around 8:00 a.m. She estimated that they smoked crack at Summit Heights from midnight until 4:00 a.m. Ms. Ealum reiterated that the Defendant paid for the crack that they smoked and that he also paid for the hotel room. She estimated that the Defendant provided several hundred dollars that night. Ms. Ealum testified that when the Defendant left the hotel room he said he was going to his mother's to get more money, but he never returned.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Ealum testified that she was a convicted felon and had a crack cocaine addiction. Ms. Ealum recalled that on April 6, 2013, she was walking with a friend in Summit Heights projects when they met the Defendant and the two other men, "Jay" and "JB, " who were getting high off crack cocaine. The group went inside an apartment to continue smoking together. She testified that a crack cocaine high lasts fifteen to twenty minutes. The Defendant left the apartment, telling the group he was going to his mother's house to get more money to buy more crack cocaine. At some point while they were inside the apartment that night, the Defendant told Ms. Ealum that he had done something wrong.

         Jessie Buckley, or "JB, " testified that he met the Defendant on the night of April 6, 2013, when he and a group went to Summit Heights and smoked crack cocaine inside an apartment. The Defendant paid Mr. Buckley for the crack cocaine, initially paying one hundred dollars for a purchase and then two hundred dollars for a second purchase. He did not recall the Defendant leaving the apartment at any time.

         On cross-examination, Mr. Buckley agreed that the Defendant had in fact left the apartment at some point and returned with more money to buy more crack cocaine from Mr. Buckley. Mr. Buckley described himself as the middle man for the buy.

         John Fisher, or "Jay, " testified that he knew Mr. Buckley who introduced him to the Defendant at Summit Heights. He guessed that the group that evening, which included himself, the Defendant, Mr. Buckley, and Ms. Ealum, gathered together around 1:30 a.m. and began smoking crack cocaine. When the group ran out of cocaine, the Defendant left to get more money and came back with several hundred dollar bills. The following morning, the Defendant sent a text message to Mr. Fisher saying that the Defendant's mother had been beaten up. The Defendant reiterated in his messages that he had been with Mr. Fisher the night before, and Mr. Fisher sent a message to ...

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