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State v. Elliott

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

January 26, 2017


         Session: July 26, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Campbell County No. 16462 E. Shayne Sexton, Judge

         A Campbell County Grand Jury indicted the defendant, Lisa Estelle Elliott, on one count of second degree murder as the result of the shooting and death of her fiancé. Following trial, a jury convicted the defendant of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter, for which she received a four-year sentence to be served in confinement. On appeal, the defendant argues the trial court erred when denying her motion for mistrial due to a prejudicial narrative objection made by the State. The defendant further contends that due to her lack of a criminal history, strong educational background, and continuous work history, the trial court erred in denying her request for an alternative sentence. Based on our review of the record, submissions of the parties, and pertinent authorities, we disagree and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Michael G. Hatmaker, Jacksboro, Tennessee, (on appeal and at trial) and Brent Gray (trial only) for the appellant, Lisa Estelle Elliott.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; John H. Bledsoe, Assistant Attorney General; Jared R. Effler, District Attorney General; and Courtney Stanifer, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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



         Facts and Procedural History

         Early the morning of February 2, 2014, the defendant shot and killed the victim, Larry David Champlin, in the back bedroom of their home. The victim's adult daughter and two small children were home at the time. Following a call reporting a domestic disturbance with gunshots, several law enforcement officers responded to the crime scene, including Deputy David Wormsley and Lieutenant John Long, both with the Campbell County Sheriff's Office. Upon their arrival, the officers brought all occupants of the home to the living room to wait during their investigation. While standing in the living room, the defendant reported that the victim was angry because she poured out his liquor. The defendant also made these unsolicited statements: "is he alive, I believe he's just drunk;" "I shot him, he's dead, isn't he;" "just take me to jail, I killed him;" "is he dead, who cares, I don't care if he is or not;" and "go ahead and take me - put me in the car, take me on to prison, let me die there."

         The officers found the victim lying on the floor of the master bedroom next to the bed. The bed was slightly askew, and there was a bloody handprint on it. A nearby lamp had been overturned, and there was a .38 caliber revolver on a shelf in the closet. The bathroom door was open, and there was blood spatter on the shower, floor, and door handle. The victim had an apparent gunshot wound on the left side of his neck. An autopsy later confirmed the victim died as a result of a gunshot that entered the left side of his neck, travelled through his chest area, and then became lodged in his back.

         The officers put the defendant, who smelled strongly of alcohol, in a patrol car and took her to the hospital to have her blood drawn for alcohol and toxicology testing. The shooting occurred around 4:45 a.m., officers arrived at the scene around 5:00 a.m., and the defendant gave a blood sample around 9:25 a.m. The defendant's blood alcohol level was .06 when she gave the blood sample and would have been approximately .14 at the time she shot the victim. The victim had a blood alcohol level of .22 at the time of his death. Toxicology tests were negative for both the defendant and the victim, indicating they did not have illegal drugs in their systems at the time of the shooting.

         At trial, the defendant theorized the victim shot himself following a domestic altercation. On cross-examination, the defendant's counsel questioned Lieutenant Long about his investigation and asked whether he learned the defendant and victim had gotten into an argument that morning. Lieutenant Long repeatedly answered that he did not know because he was not present at the time of the shooting. After continued questions about whether during his investigation he learned a struggle had occurred, the State objected, stating:

Your honor, I object again. He's insinuating this is something the defendant said by asking a preceding question related to the defen - or excuse me - the witness interviewing the defendant. He's trying to back door without having her take the stand and be subject to cross-examination, is what all of this entire line of questioning is about.

         The trial court sustained the objection. The defendant subsequently moved for a mistrial, arguing the State insinuated in the presence of the jury that the defendant has a duty to testify. The trial court denied the motion but cautioned on the dangers of making narrative objections. The trial court further pointed out that prior to the start of trial, it told the jury the defendant does not have to testify, and the jury would be told this again prior to deliberating.

         As part of its case-in-chief, the State called Karen Champlin, the victim's ex-wife, as a character witness. The State also called Deputy Wormsley, Lieutenant Long, and several expert witnesses. The defendant called James McCall, another officer with the Campbell County Sheriff's Office, as her only witness. Officer McCall confirmed many of the details of the investigation that were already in evidence, including the fact that officers were called to the scene in response to a domestic disturbance. The defendant did not testify.

         At the close of all proof, the trial court charged the jury. As part of its instructions, the trial court again told the jury the defendant had the right not to testify, and an adverse inference may not be drawn from the defendant's decision not to testify. ...

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