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Mendenhall v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 25, 2017

BRUCE D. MENDENHALL
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs September 20, 2016 at Knoxville

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2007-D-2738 Steve R. Dozier, Judge.

         The petitioner, Bruce D. Mendenhall, was convicted in 2007 of first degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, and his application for permission to appeal was denied. Subsequently, he filed a petition for habeas corpus relief, which the court treated as a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that trial counsel had been ineffective. Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court concluded that the petitioner's claims were without merit. The record on appeal supports this determination. Accordingly, the order of the post-conviction court denying relief is affirmed.

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

          Nathan D. Cate, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Bruce D. Mendenhall.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; M. Todd Ridley, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Pamela Anderson, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., joined.

          OPINION

          ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE.

         FACTS

         The facts upon which the petitioner's conviction was based are set out in the opinion of this court on the direct appeal:

[The petitioner's] trial began on May 10, 2010. The victim's sister Roxanna Wayman testified that Ms. Hulbert [the victim] had a history of drug and alcohol addiction, and Ms. Wayman was aware that Ms. Hubert [sic] was engaging in prostitution at the time of her death.
Nicholas Turner, the head of security at the Travel Centers of America truck stop in Nashville, testified that he discovered the victim's body in the early morning hours on June 26, 2007. Mr. Turner found the body at approximately 12:50 a.m. He checked to see if the victim was breathing and "didn't see anything so [he] called 911." He estimated that the first police officer arrived approximately thirty seconds to one minute after he made the emergency call. On cross-examination, Mr. Turner testified that he was training another security officer that night. The officer, Robert Nelson, left at approximately 12:15 a.m. Mr. Turner "had him basically tail [him] on [his] duties. . . ." While walking with Mr. Nelson around the truck stop, Mr. Turner showed Mr. Nelson a hole in a fence near where the body was found. Mr. Turner testified that prostitutes and drug dealers would enter the property through the hole in the fence. Mr. Turner testified that he had last checked the area where the victim's body was found at approximately 12:15 or 12:20 a.m., and he had not seen the body there.
Sgt. Robert Durbin was patrolling the area of downtown Nashville on June 26, 2007. At approximately 1:00 a.m., he was dispatched to the Truck Stops of America in response to a dead body. When he arrived, he met with private security officer Nicholas Turner, who took Sgt. Durbin to the area where the body was discovered behind some parked trailers. Sgt. Durbin testified that "it was plainly apparent to [him] that [Ms. Hulbert] was deceased." She was naked and had "blood all over her head." She was lying on her back and her feet were positioned with the soles together and her knees spread apart. Her left hand was stretched out beside her with her wrist turned up. She was wearing an ID bracelet, and the name on it was clearly visible.
Sgt. Stephen Beck of the Metro police department arrived at the crime scene after Sgt. Durbin. Sgt. Beck noticed "some blood droplets" on the ground between two trailers. He also saw a "muddy area outside of the trailer going towards the area [where the body was found] and there was a footprint in there. . . ." Sgt. Beck testified that the footprint "seemed out of place as there were no other footprints in and around the area."

         Officer Tim Matthews looked in several trash barrels around the truck stop, searching for weapons, women's clothing, anything with blood on it, or any plastic similar to the plastic found under the victim's head, but he did not find anything. He also searched under the trailers.

         Lt. Frank Regans was the supervisor of the crime scene. He worked in the identification unit. Lt. Regans took two castings of two different shoe prints found in the area of the victim's body.

         Officer Charles Linville testified that the victim's face and head were bloody. There was also blood on the victim's feet. She also had scratches and bruises. He collected swabs from the victim's chest area, thigh area, and stomach.

         Lee Meeks saw the victim in the evening on June 25, 2007. Mr. Meeks, the victim, and a man named "Hollywood" were "just riding around using drugs" in Hollywood's van. Hollywood stole "six to eight cases" of beer and sold the beer. They used the money from selling beer to buy "crack." At approximately 10:20 to 10:30 p.m., they parked near the truck stop. Approximately 45 minutes after they arrived, the victim left the van. Mr. Meeks thought the victim was going to walk to White's Front Market to meet "her old man Derrick." The last time Mr. Meeks saw the victim she walked between two parked trucks. The victim did not return to the van. Mr. Meeks and Hollywood left at approximately 1:30 a.m. Mr. Meeks testified that he did not contact the police when he learned that the victim had been killed because he had a criminal record. He was interviewed by the police while he was incarcerated for vandalism, and he agreed to submit a DNA sample.

         Joseph Uhlir, a retired truck driver, had parked for the night at the truck stop in Nashville. He testified that he arrived "roughly maybe about 11:00 to the 12:00 midnight frame roughly." He "backed [his] rig" into a parking spot in the back where it was "kind of secluded." He noticed another truck park beside him. He testified that it drove in "faster in [his] opinion than normal." He also thought it was unusual that the truck parked in the opposite direction as his truck. He testified that the truck was also blocking another truck to its left. Mr. Uhlir radioed the truck beside him to tell him that he was blocking another driver, and the driver stated that he was "not going to be [t]here that long." Mr. Uhlir finished working on his logbook, listened to the radio "just for a little bit, " and "climbed in the back and tr[ied] to get some rest." He then heard the engine of the truck beside him. The engine got "louder and louder." Mr. Uhlir looked out of his window to make sure the truck did not collide with his truck while reversing, and the headlights blinded him. Mr. Uhlir testified that he "thought the tractor was white, " but that "it could have been a light yellow color[, ] too..... He testified that the other truck was at the truck stop for less than half an hour.

         Medical examiner Feng Li performed an autopsy on the victim. The victim was 25 years old at the time of her death. She died from a gunshot wound on the back right side of her head. The projectile was still in the victim's head, and based on the location of the bullet, Dr. Li determined that the victim was shot from behind and at a downward trajectory. The wound was consistent with a "close range gunshot wound" because there was soot material around the entrance wound. Dr. Li testified that the victim "would have died instantly" from the gunshot. The victim also had an abrasion caused by some type of blunt object near the gunshot entrance wound. Dr. Li testified that the victim had "multiple blunt force injuries" and other cuts and abrasions. Dr. Li described the victim's other injuries. She had bruises and contusions around her left eye, nose, and forehead and around her neck and chest. She had superficial cuts on her hands. Dr. Li testified that the victim's injuries could have been inflicted by a nightstick. Dr. Li testified that the victim also had a laceration of the anus, which he testified was inflicted at the time of death or after the victim's death. The victim also had contusions around her genitalia. Dr. Li testified that those injuries were caused by blunt force and could have been caused by an erect penis. Dr. Li testified that the ...


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