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State v. Bass

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

January 27, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
ROBIN BASS

          Assigned on Briefs September 7, 2016

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 13-04325 W. Mark Ward, Judge

          The Defendant, Robin Bass, was convicted of first degree murder in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate a robbery. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202(a)(2). In this appeal as of right, the Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction, arguing that there was no proof that he intended to rob the victim or that the murder occurred during the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate a robbery. Additionally, the Defendant argues that the extrajudicial confessions used to convict him were uncorroborated. Following our review, the judgment is affirmed.

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

          Claiborne H. Ferguson (on appeal), Memphis, Tennessee; and Stephen C. Bush, District Public Defender; Jim Hale and Patrick Newport, Assistant Public Defenders (at trial), for the appellant, Robin Bass.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Pam Stark and Ray Lepone, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

          This case arose following the December 24, 2011 shooting death of the victim, Gus Crittle. Thereafter, the Shelby County Grand Jury charged the Defendant with one count of murder in the first degree in the perpetration of or the attempt to perpetrate robbery. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202. A trial was held in the Criminal Court for Shelby County on October 26 and 27, 2015.

         At the Defendant's trial, the State offered the following evidence. Jerry Howard, a neighbor of the victim, testified that in December 2011, he was living at Country Squire Apartments and that the victim lived in the apartment directly above his. Mr. Howard was asked about what he remembered from the night of December 24, 2011, the night the victim was killed. Mr. Howard stated that he returned home from work around 7:20 p.m., and at 7:30 p.m., he began loading chairs into his car. He testified that at this time, nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary in the parking lot near his vehicle, and he went back inside his apartment. Mr. Howard explained that at 8:15 p.m., he took another load of items out to his vehicle, and he noticed what he thought was "some trash" lying on the ground between his "girlfriend's car and the neighbor's car." Mr. Howard walked closer and "saw that it was a dead body, blood [was] glistening off the hub caps and hood of the vehicle, and [he] saw blood coming from the [the victim's] shirt and jacket onto the pavement." Mr. Howard then explained that he saw a "blood trail" leading from the victim's body up to the victim's apartment. He called 911 and said that approximately thirty to forty-five minutes later the police arrived at the apartment complex. The police "locked down the whole section, nobody could leave or enter."

         Mr. Howard testified that between the first time he went to his vehicle at 7:30 p.m. and the second time he returned around 8:15 p.m., he heard a loud noise from the victim's apartment above him. He explained that he "heard a loud bang noise like a body was being body slammed onto the floor because it shook the chandelier above [his] dining room table . . . ." Mr. Howard stated that he had heard loud sounds from the victim's apartment before because the victim's children would occasionally "[run] up and down the hallways making noise." Mr. Howard said the noise that evening was similar to the noise made when the children were running in the victim's apartment. He stated he was going to go upstairs to say something to the victim about the noise, but his girlfriend convinced him to "just let it slide."

         Mr. Howard also testified that after the police arrived on the scene, he stayed and discussed what he had observed with the police. At trial, he identified four photographs of the apartment complex and the location of the victim's body in the parking lot. While viewing the photographs, Mr. Howard indicated that the location of the victim's apartment was directly above his own apartment. He also identified the victim's body lying next to a parked red Mustang. When asked if he heard any gunshots other than the "loud boom, " he responded, "I'm not a gunshot expert but I knew what I heard and it shook the chandelier, it shook the dining room chandelier. It sounded like a body hitting the floor."

         On cross-examination, Mr. Howard explained that he never heard anyone arguing. Aside from the loud "thud, " he testified that he did not hear anything else. He said that he was able to estimate the time he found the victim's body in the parking lot at approximately 8:15 p.m. "because after [he] saw the body [he] called 911 emergency number . . . [a]nd that was at 8:18 p.m."

         Deundre Dortch testified that he was the victim's best friend. Prior to the murder, the two worked together in apartment maintenance and performed inspections. He explained that they would "go in and out [of] people's apartments" and "fix whatever they needed fixed." Mr. Dortch explained that he and the victim were "together every day. [They were] like brothers." He stated that he had been to the victim's home at Country Squire Apartments several times and stated that the victim lived there with his girlfriend and his children. He also testified that on December 24, 2011, the victim's girlfriend and children had traveled out of town, and the victim was alone in their apartment.

         When asked what he remembered about the evening of December 24, 2011, Mr. Dortch said that on that morning, he had made plans to meet "up with" the victim later in the day. He indicated that he received a call from the victim around 6:00 p.m. that evening, but he missed the call. He attempted to return the call several times, but the victim never answered or called back. He again explained, "I never got an answer, but [that] is normal because . . . I talk to him every day." Mr. Dortch also stated that the victim was on call to respond to emergency apartment maintenance issues, and he "figured he was at the apartment complex . . . working[.]"

         Mr. Dortch testified that around 7:00 p.m. that evening, he received a call to "fix a hot water tank" at an apartment complex where he worked. He explained that this apartment complex was located very close to the apartment complex in which the victim lived. After Mr. Dortch fixed the hot water tank, he drove by the victim's apartment complex on his way home. He glanced in the parking lot but did not see the car the victim usually drove, so he continued driving without stopping. He then said that a few minutes after passing the victim's apartment complex, he received a call from another apartment maintenance worker, who asked if he had spoken to the victim that evening. That worker then told Mr. Dortch, "[T]he police [are] over there by his house, you might need to come back and see what's going on." Mr. Dortch attempted to call the victim "probably ten times, " but he still never got an answer. When he returned to the victim's apartment, "one of the officers put [him] in the back of the police car and they asked [him] a few questions." He stated the police asked him if he could "identify some tattoos" that might help them determine the identity of the victim. Mr. Dortch then identified the man on the ground as the victim.

         Mr. Dortch admitted that the victim sold marijuana out of his apartment. On cross-examination, Mr. Dortch further discussed the victim's marijuana "selling habits." When asked if the victim would have let a stranger come into his home, Mr. Dortch responded, "not that [he] knew of."

         Willie Bond stated he knew the victim because the victim was a "maintenance man" at Trinity Lakes, the apartment complex in which he lived. Mr. Bond explained that he had exchanged several phone calls with the victim on the night of December 24, 2011, because the victim was supposed to come to Mr. Bond's apartment at Trinity Lakes to "drink something" with him. Mr. Bond testified that the victim originally planned to arrive at his apartment at 6:00 p.m.; however, "it was almost 8:00 o'clock when [he] talked to him again and that's when he said [he was] on his way[.]" Mr. Bond said he waited for forty-five minutes and then left his apartment. He stated he never saw the victim again.

         Richard Kirkpatrick testified that he knew the victim because he was the apartment manager at Trinity Lakes where the victim "worked with [him] as one of [his] maintenance men." He said that on December 24, 2011, he spoke with the victim. The victim called him to "make sure that he could do overtime. [There was] an upstairs unit . . . that had . . . a toilet that was stopped up, . . . so he called to make sure that he could do that." Mr. Kirkpatrick confirmed that he approved the victim's overtime work that day and testified that he never saw or talked to the victim again.

         Dr. Karen Chancellor explained that she was the Chief Medical Examiner for Shelby County, and she testified as an expert in forensic pathology. After conducting an autopsy on the victim, Dr. Chancellor found that he had suffered a gunshot wound to the front of his chest and another gunshot wound to his right hand. She determined that the cause of death was "the gunshot wound injury of the chest that harmed the heart and the right lung causing massive bleeding inside the body." She testified that the toxicology analysis of the victim's blood revealed that there were "cannabinoids present in the blood[, ]" which she explained were "products that are in marijuana[.]"

         On cross-examination, Dr. Chancellor testified that she collected the personal effects that were on the body of the victim at the time of his death. Along with his clothes, shoes, and hat, Dr. Chancellor documented finding $1, 456 in the victim's pocket.

         Willie De Jeanette Taylor explained that the victim was her son and that he was murdered on Christmas Eve 2011. When asked if she knew the Defendant prior to her son's murder, she said no. She then explained that she dealt with the grief of losing her son by communication "through letters[, ] witnessing and ministering to [the Defendant] for three years[.]" She said that she also visited the Defendant once at the jail. She confirmed that visit occurred on December 27, 2012, near the time of the one-year anniversary of her son's death. She was then asked if the Defendant confessed to murdering her son during the visit, and she replied:

I'm not going to say he confessed to me but when I went in to see him he was crying bitterly and he looked at me and he told me, he said for all that I am which may not mean a lot to you ...

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