Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs May 18, 2016
from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 289910 Don W.
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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
Spurgin, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Quinzell
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.
T. Woodall, P.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in
which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ.,
T. WOODALL, PRESIDING JUDGE
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).
following facts were set forth by this Court on direct
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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, ...