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Grasty v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

February 17, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs May 18, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 289910 Don W. Poole, Judge

         Petitioner, Quinzell Lawon Grasty, appeals the Hamilton County Criminal Court's denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. On appeal, he contends that trial counsel was ineffective for: (1) failing to challenge his first statement to police on the basis that he had requested counsel; (2) failing to file a pretrial motion in limine to exclude references to gang activity; (3) failing to object to the State's use of demonstrative evidence; (4) failing to object to the chain of custody of a backpack; (5) failing to request the trial court to question jurors about a newspaper found in the jury box; and (6) failing to disclose that he had a conflict of interest with Petitioner's stepfather. Petitioner also argues that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to include a copy of the suppression hearing transcript in the record on appeal and failing to raise sufficiency of the evidence as an issue on appeal. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Brandy Spurgin, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Quinzell Lawon Grasty.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; M. Neal Pinkston, District Attorney General; and Cameron Williams, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.




         Petitioner was convicted of first degree felony murder, second degree murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary and was sentenced to life. This Court affirmed the convictions and sentence. State v. Quinzell Grasty, No. E2012-00141-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 1458660 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 10, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 16, 2013).

         The following facts were set forth by this Court on direct appeal:

This case concerns the April 16, 2009, shooting death of Steven Matthew Coyle during a home invasion burglary and attempted robbery. A Hamilton County grand jury indicted appellant and a co-defendant for first degree murder, felony murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary. The trial court severed the trials of appellant and his co-defendant and held appellant's trial from October 5 through 8, 2009.
At appellant's trial, Chattanooga Police Officer Annette Butler testified that on April 16, 2009, she was dispatched to a residence on Standifer Gap Road in response to a shooting. When she arrived at the location, a man directed her to the victim's bedroom. Officer Butler found the victim lying on the floor and a female kneeling beside him. Officer Butler checked the victim's pulse and determined that he was deceased. Over appellant's objection, the State introduced photographs of the deceased victim as Officer Butler found him. Officer Butler testified that the back door of the residence had been "kicked in."
Sarah Gill testified that she had been dating the victim for six to eight months prior to his death. She had been living with him at the Standifer Gap residence since December 2008, along with his roommate, Samuel Eldridge; Mr. Eldridge's son; and occasionally Mr. Eldridge's fiancée. Ms. Gill testified that she and the victim were awakened by a "crashing sound" on April 16, 2009. She thought something had fallen, but the victim believed "it was somebody breaking in." The victim got out of bed, picked up a pocket knife, and approached the bedroom door. As he started to open the door, Ms. Gill "heard [a shot] and saw blood." At first she thought someone was playing a joke on them, but when she saw the victim's wound, she called 9-1-1 from her cellular telephone. The State played the recording of Ms. Gill's 9-1-1 call for the jury. Ms. Gill called Mr. Eldridge from another telephone while she spoke with the 9-1-1 operator, and he arrived shortly before the police. Ms. Gill testified that she learned shortly after moving in that Mr. Eldridge sold hydrocodone and marijuana from the residence. She knew that he had several guns in the house.
Samuel Eldridge testified that he received a telephone call from Ms. Gill at 9:16 a.m. on April 16, 2009, while he was at work. He immediately went home and went straight to the victim's bedroom. Mr. Eldridge found the victim lying on the floor next to his bed. He testified that the victim was already deceased. Mr. Eldridge talked to the 9-1-1 operator. He testified that he "was emotionally disturbed" during that conversation. The police arrived at the house thirty-five to forty seconds after he arrived. Mr. Eldridge testified that he had never seen appellant prior to the trial. He said that the Sunday before the victim's murder, he sold marijuana to a person named Mark at the Standifer Gap residence. Mr. Eldridge said that he had two handguns and an SKS rifle and that Mark saw the SKS rifle.
On cross-examination, Mr. Eldridge agreed that he had told the police a person named Thaddeus Watson, who had robbed him in the past, might have been responsible. He said that the police did not find any drugs at the residence and that he did not try to arrive before the police to hide his drugs. Mr. Eldridge agreed that he was not prosecuted on drug or weapons charges after the victim's death.
Cordarious Holloway testified that in April 2009, Trammel Poindexter, a friend of his since eighth grade, called him for a ride one day. Mr. Poindexter also asked him to pick up appellant, "Mike, " and a third individual. Mr. Holloway did not know appellant prior to that day. Mr. Poindexter and the other men gave Mr. Holloway directions to an area near the Rainbow Creek apartment complex. He recalled that they drove past a particular house three to four times because either his passengers did not know where they were going or he missed the directions because he was sending text messages while driving. Mr. Holloway parked at the Rainbow Creek apartments and told his passengers that they "need[ed] to find out what [they were] going to do." Someone exited the vehicle and came back while he was parked, but Mr. Holloway did not know which passenger. The other men told Mr. Holloway to drive back down the street. He complied, and they asked him to turn around because they "passed it again." Mr. Holloway pulled over, and he told Mr. Poindexter to drive his car and take care of whatever they were planning to do while he walked to a place to use the restroom. Mr. Poindexter and the other passengers drove away, and Mr. Holloway walked down the street.
Eventually, Mr. Poindexter and the others returned to pick him up. Mr. Poindexter continued to drive the car, and he took Mr. Holloway home. Mr. Holloway did not notice anything different about the demeanor of any of the passengers during the drive, including appellant. He said that he did not "hear any conversation about hitting a lick or a robbery."
Mr. Holloway testified that later that day, he heard about a murder near Rainbow Creek on the news. He had also heard "that some stuff was on the street said [sic] about me being out there at that time." Mr. Holloway approached a police officer at a McDonald's restaurant to tell him that he had been in the area of the murder earlier in the day. The officer had him talk with a detective. Mr. Holloway talked with one detective and then talked with Detective James Holloway. At the behest of the police, Mr. Holloway called Mr. Poindexter to ask whether Mr. Poindexter and the others had done anything while he was not with them. Mr. Holloway also talked to Mr. Poindexter in person while wearing a recording device.
Jonathan Mance, a former Chattanooga Police officer with the crime scene office, testified that on April 27, 2009, he collected DNA samples using buccal swabs from appellant, Cordarious Holloway, Trammel Poindexter, Michael Adams, and Avery Davis.
Chattanooga Police Detective James Holloway testified that he was the lead investigator for the Coyle homicide. He responded to the crime scene on April 16, 2009. As he walked through the scene, he observed that the rear door appeared to have been forced open. He observed the victim "[l]ying in the floor just inside the doorway of his bedroom." Detective Holloway also interviewed Sarah Gill and Samuel Eldridge and canvassed the neighborhood for leads.
At approximately 7:30 p.m. on April 16th, Detective Holloway "received a phone call . . . from the police dispatch, stating that an Officer Tyrone Williams requested [he] call him." He called Officer Williams, who told him that Cordarious Holloway had approached him and said "that he [thought] he may have transported the suspects out to the scene." Detective Holloway asked Investigator Carl Fields to go talk to Cordarious Holloway and Officer Williams. Eventually, Detective Holloway met Cordarious Holloway at the police service center and interviewed him at approximately 10:00 p.m. Cordarious Holloway gave Detective Holloway names and nicknames of the people who might have been involved in the victim's death.
The police recorded telephone conversations between Cordarious Holloway and Trammel Poindexter, but they did not "get any viable information" from those conversations. On April 27, 2009, the police placed a recording device on Cordarious Holloway and had him speak to Mr. Poindexter in person. Based on that conversation, Detective Holloway developed appellant as a suspect. The same day, Detective Holloway asked the police department's fugitive unit to bring Trammel Poindexter, appellant, and Michael Adams to the police service center. Detective Holloway began interviewing Trammel Poindexter at 6:59 p.m. He interviewed Michael Adams at 8:18 p.m.
According to Detective Holloway, the fugitive unit located appellant at approximately "19:26 or 19:30 on the 27th." The fugitive unit brought appellant to the police service center. Detective Holloway informed appellant of his rights, and appellant waived his rights and agreed to speak with him. During the trial, the State played an audio recording of appellant's statement to police. After telling several different versions of events, appellant told Detective Holloway that several weeks before the murder, a white man named "Mark" told him about a person named "Sam, " who would be a good target to rob because he had lots of drugs, money, and guns. On April 16th, appellant suggested to Trammel Poindexter, Michael Adams, and others that they should burglarize Sam's house. They all rode together in a small, white car to Sam's house. Michael Adams kicked in the back door. Appellant had a sawed-off shotgun that had been stored in a black backpack. He described the shotgun as having one barrel and as being sixteen to eighteen inches in length. He also described how the shotgun opened. Appellant said that he was checking to see if anyone was in the child's bedroom when the victim opened a door behind him. Appellant "was just turning around, . . . and the gun went off." He said that he did not "mean to kill the man" and that he wished he could tell the family that he was sorry. Appellant said that he did not know what happened to the gun.
On May 6, 2009, appellant contacted Detective Holloway through the correctional center's employees. Detective Holloway had appellant brought to the police service center and interviewed him again after appellant signed a second rights waiver form. The State also played an audio recording of appellant's second statement. In his statement, appellant said that he had heard that the others involved were planning to let him take all of the blame. He told Detective Holloway that Michael Adams shot the victim. Michael Adams was under house arrest at the time, so he asked appellant to "take the charge" for him. Appellant said that he had been in a gang but had "dropped [his] flag" because the other gang members had not supported him after he was arrested. He also said that he had been threatened by various people because he told the police that Michael Adams was involved in the burglary.
On cross-examination, Detective Holloway testified that he asked the fugitive unit to bring appellant to the police service center because Trammel Poindexter named appellant as the shooter during Poindexter's conversation with Cordarious Holloway. When Detective Holloway interviewed Mr. Poindexter, he identified appellant as one of the individuals "who entered the residence and who had subsequently talked about the shooting and that he had done the shooting." Detective Holloway agreed that the police discovered a mixture of three different DNA profiles on a backpack found at the crime scene, and neither Trammel Poindexter nor appellant could be excluded as contributors of the DNA.
Chattanooga Police Officer Brian Russell of the crime scene unit testified that he participated in the initial walk-through of the crime scene at 7616 Standifer Gap Road on April 16, 2009. He recalled seeing a black backpack in the living room, but no one collected it. On May 7, 2009, Samuel Eldridge's mother brought the backpack to the police service center because she found it while cleaning the residence and did not know to whom it belonged.
Chattanooga Police Investigator Greg Mardis testified that he responded to the crime scene at 7616 Standifer Gap Road on April 16, 2009. He identified photographs of the crime scene and noted the location of shotgun wadding and a pocketknife in relation to the victim. He collected the shotgun wadding and pocketknife as evidence.
The trial court accepted Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") Agent Mark Dunlap as an expert in DNA and serology. Agent Dunlap tested six areas of the black backpack provided to him by the Chattanooga Police Department for DNA. He found DNA from at least four individuals and concluded that Trammel Poindexter and appellant could not be excluded as contributors. On cross-examination, Agent Dunlap testified that Michael Adams and Cordarious Holloway could be excluded as contributors to the DNA on the backpack.
The trial court accepted TBI Agent Steven Scott as an expert in firearms. The Chattanooga Police Department sent him shot shell wadding in association with this case, and he concluded that the wadding was consistent with a twelve-gauge, Winchester AA type wadding. Agent Scott also received "[eighteen] fired lead birdshot pellets" that he determined to be "number seven and a half birdshot" based on "size and weight specifications." Agent Scott explained that when pellets leave a shotgun, "they are together in one mass." From a twelve-gauge shotgun, the pellets begin to spread into a cone-shaped pattern after traveling five to seven feet from the muzzle of the gun. For demonstration purposes, Agent Scott produced a shotgun from the TBI collection that he had modified based on appellant's description given during his first statement to the police. He explained that the hammer would have to be cocked on the weapon to allow a person to pull the trigger. Agent Scott demonstrated for the jury that the sawed-off shotgun could be placed inside the black backpack previously entered as an exhibit.
Dr. James Kenneth Metcalfe, a pathologist at the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office, testified that the victim died from a gunshot wound to the head. He described the wound as having "a central cluster in which [there was] a hole and then some small holes around the margin on the skin." He estimated that there were 230 pellets inside the victim's skull. Dr. Metcalfe removed eighteen pellets as a sample. He opined that no medical intervention would have prevented the victim from dying.

Grasty, 2013 WL 1458660, at *1-5.

         Post conviction Hearing

         Appellate counsel testified that she began representing Petitioner at some point while his motion for new trial was pending. She later filed an appellate brief in the Court of Criminal Appeals. Appellate counsel testified that Petitioner, his step-father, and trial counsel had a "falling out, " and Petitioner was briefly represented by another attorney who had filed the motion for new trial. Appellate counsel recalled meeting with Petitioner while he was still incarcerated in the local jail, and she had "numerous conversations" with Petitioner and his family.

         Appellate counsel testified that sufficiency of the evidence was raised in the motion for new trial. However, she did not raise the issue in the appellate brief. Appellate counsel testified that it was her practice to review every issue raised in the motion for new trial and then "hone" the issues down to those that she thought might entitle Petitioner to relief. She testified that there was also an issue concerning a newspaper, featuring a color picture and story about Petitioner's case, which was purported to have been found in the jury box after the verdict. However, a bailiff testified that the newspaper belonged to him and had fallen off the counter. Appellate counsel testified that the issue was not significant to her, and she had reviewed all transcripts concerning the matter. She also noted that there had been a request for an investigator to interview the jurors. Appellate counsel felt that the issue was not strong because there was no indication that the jurors saw the paper, "[i]n fact, just the opposite." She noted that she did not interview any of the jurors. Appellate counsel also believed that the juror issues would be more of a post-conviction issue because "it's pretty hard to [interview jurors] in the context of the motion for new trial."

         Appellate counsel testified that on appeal, she argued that there was error concerning Petitioner's motion to suppress. She said that she received transcripts of the suppression hearings from the court reporter and as a rule in all of her cases, did not check-out the appellate record. Therefore, she was unaware that the clerk's office did not include the transcript in the record on appeal. However, appellate counsel testified that the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed the issue without the transcript.

         Appellate counsel testified that she did not challenge the suppression issue based on violations of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments because that claim had not been raised in the trial court and that trial counsel argued other grounds for challenging the statements. She said that she would have argued that there was a Miranda violation because Petitioner had initially requested an attorney, and he had unknowingly been appointed an attorney by the time of the second interview.

         Concerning the backpack issue, appellate counsel testified that trial counsel had conceded the chain of custody at trial. Therefore, appellate counsel did not believe that she could raise the issue on appeal. She noted that the backpack had been found after the shooting during clean-up by the victim's family members. The item, which contained multiple sources of DNA, was sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for testing. The results of the testing revealed that Petitioner along with Trammel Poindexter could not be excluded as contributors of the DNA.

         Quita Johnson, Petitioner's mother, testified that Petitioner called her at approximately 5:30 p.m. on April 28, 2009, and told her that police were at their residence to arrest him. Petitioner was eighteen-years old at the time and babysitting his younger brother. Ms. Johnson testified that Petitioner completed the ninth grade in school and could read and write. He had no prior involvement with police. Ms. Johnson testified that she later heard from Petitioner after 2:00 a.m., and he informed her that he was being charged with murder. She learned two weeks before trial that Petitioner had an attorney, and she learned the day before trial that he had given a second statement to police. Ms. Johnson testified that trial counsel would not speak with her other than to tell her the week before trial that Petitioner needed clothes, a haircut, and other items for the trial.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Johnson testified that as a juvenile, Petitioner had an incident at school involving indecent exposure. He was sent to school in Memphis for a year where he received counseling. Ms. Johnson testified that Petitioner lived with her uncle in South Carolina for a period of time. She said that he quit school while in the tenth grade, and he moved back to Chattanooga.

         Ralph Williams testified that he was previously married to Petitioner's mother, and he had known Petitioner since Petitioner was one-year old. Mr. Williams said that Petitioner's trial counsel had been appointed to represent Mr. Williams in a juvenile court matter in 2005. Mr. Williams testified that during their first meeting, trial counsel did not want to hear anything that Mr. Williams had to say, and trial counsel threatened to have Mr. Williams sent for a mental evaluation. Mr. Williams filed a complaint against trial counsel, and new counsel was appointed to represent Mr. Williams.

         Mr. Williams testified that when he learned trial counsel was representing Petitioner, he told Petitioner about his prior experience with trial counsel. He said that Petitioner told him things about Petitioner's case, and Petitioner wanted Mr. Williams to write letters to the trial judge to have trial counsel removed from the case. Mr. Williams testified that he wrote letters on Petitioner's behalf, and he also heard that trial counsel and the trial court were having ex parte conversations about Petitioner's case. Mr. Williams testified that Petitioner filed motions to have trial counsel, appellate counsel, and the trial judge disqualified; however, the motions were denied. Mr. Williams was not present on the last day of trial when the newspaper was discovered, but he saw a copy of the newspaper at a hearing on the matter. Trial counsel testified at the post-trial hearing.

         Trial counsel testified that he had practiced law for fifteen years and was appointed to represent Petitioner "a few years ago." He said that Petitioner gave two statements to police, and trial counsel filed a motion to suppress the first one contending that Petitioner was unconstitutionally in police custody when he gave the statement. He said: "My main focus was how they took and what I believe they took him without probable cause from his residence to the police station and then questioned him where he gave that damning statement." Trial counsel testified that he was unaware that Petitioner had been appointed counsel at the time Petitioner gave the second statement on May 6, ...

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