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State v. Taylor

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 28, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
DEMARKUS MONTREAL TAYLOR

          Assigned on Briefs December 13, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. CC15-CR-189 William R. Goodman, III, Judge

         The Defendant, DeMarkus Montreal Taylor, appeals as of right from his conviction of first degree murder in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate aggravated child abuse, two counts aggravated child abuse, and one count of filing a false report. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-202(a)(2); -15-402; -16-502. On appeal, the Defendant contends (1) that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction, arguing that the evidence presented to the jury was predominately circumstantial and that there was no direct proof that the Defendant committed the offenses for which he was charged; (2) that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted autopsy photographs of the victim, specifically photographs of the victim's brain and eyes; (3) that the trial court erred when it denied the Defendant's motion for a new trial after counsel for the co-defendant attempted to introduce testimony regarding the Defendant's prior drug sales; and (4) that the trial court erred in admitting the victim's autopsy report, which contained un-redacted information regarding prior physical abuse. Following our review, we affirm the Defendant's convictions for first degree felony murder, aggravated child abuse, and false reporting.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Chase T. Smith, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the Defendant, DeMarkus Montreal Taylor.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Matthew Todd Ridley, Assistant Attorney General; John W. Carney, District Attorney General; Kimberly S. Lund and Daniel Stephenson, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen, and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises after emergency personnel responded to a call at the residence of the Defendant and his co-defendant, Rawny Taylor.[1] The call was made at approximately 2:56 p.m. on July 12, 2013 and regarded a four-year-old child who was not breathing. Christopher Shoemaker, a volunteer firefighter arrived on the scene first. The Defendant met Mr. Shoemaker as he arrived at the trailer and led him inside. Upon entering the trailer, Mr. Shoemaker walked to a back bedroom and observed the Defendant's four-year-old daughter, A.T., [2] lying on a bed, covered by a blanket up to her chin. Mr. Shoemaker checked the victim for a pulse, but he did not find one. Additionally, it appeared that rigor mortis had set in because the victim "was stiff and cold[, ]" according to Mr. Shoemaker. He observed that there was a "small amount of blood in her nostril and on the edge of her lip." After making these observations, Mr. Shoemaker did not believe that lifesaving measures would be able to help the victim, and he informed the Defendant "that there was nothing [he] could do."

         Mr. Jerry Buchanan, who worked for Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Service and Clarksville Fire and Rescue, explained that he was a medical first responder and that he arrived at the trailer following Mr. Shoemaker. In the trailer's back bedroom, he observed that the victim had blood on her right nostril and lip. After Mr. Shoemaker informed him that the victim "was cold to the touch and rigors had set in[, ]" Mr. Buchanan cleared the residence and did not allow anyone else inside.

         Mr. Danny Cotterell also responded to the emergency call. He testified that he was employed as a shift lieutenant with Montgomery County Emergency Medical Services, and his duties included being responsible for daily supervision of his shift, responding to critical calls, and acting as a Deputy Coroner for the County Medical Examiner. As a Deputy Coroner, he completed the initial coroner's report and sent it to the County Medical Examiner.

         Upon entering the bedroom, Mr. Cotterell "pulled the blankets back a little and reached down and touched [the victim]." He observed that the victim "had rigor mortis[, ]" which meant that "there [was] nothing [they] could do any longer to attempt to resuscitate." He explained that he saw "some blood coming from her nose and blood on her lips[.]" He further examined the body for the purposes of the coroner's report and found "bruising on the right side of [the victim's] face[, ]" "bruising on her chin[, ]" and "bruising on both arms." He also observed a "wound or bruise on her chest." When Mr. Cotterell touched the victim's head, he felt "a depressed area of the skull behind her right ear . . . [t]oward the back of her head."

         Mr. Cotterell left the bedroom and spoke to Ms. Taylor, the co-defendant and the victim's mother, regarding the victim's medical history. Ms. Taylor told him that she had checked on the victim the night before. She heard the victim's snoring but believed that she was sleeping well and left her alone. The Defendant told Mr. Cotterell that he put the victim to bed early the night before because she had been misbehaving. The Defendant said that sometime later the victim came out of her room and told the Defendant that her head was hurting. The Defendant felt her head but claimed he did not feel any bumps, so he sent her back to bed.

         Deputy Shanna Grice was a patrol officer with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and testified that she was working on July 12, 2013, and responded to the call regarding a four-year-old, non-responsive child at the Defendant's residence. Upon looking into the bedroom, she observed the victim lying "in a position that was not very natural and [she] noticed . . . bruising on [the victim's] left arm." Deputy Grice went back outside and secured the residence. She asked both parents and the two other children to remain in the front right bedroom of the trailer away from the victim's room. During this time, the Defendant did not appear to be very emotional and Ms. Taylor cried and "was . . . very upset."

         Mr. Michael Allen Mason testified that he was neighbors with the Defendant and his family. He lived in a mobile home on a nearby lot and was able to see the Taylor's home from his own. Mr. Mason explained that he had known the Defendant and Ms. Taylor for about ten years. He testified that, at approximately 9:30 or 10:00 a.m., on the morning of July 12, 2013, he returned home from work to retrieve something he had forgotten. From Mr. Mason's home, he observed the Defendant and Ms. Taylor sitting outside on the back steps of their trailer and claimed that "it seemed as though one were consoling the other."

         On cross-examination, Mr. Mason was asked by the co-defendant's counsel if he had "personal knowledge that [the Defendant] ha[d] sold marijuana in the past?" Counsel for the State objected to the relevance of the question, and the Defendant's counsel objected and requested a mistrial arguing that the question was overly prejudicial and that it could not be cured by a curative instruction. The objection was sustained. However, the court denied the request for a mistrial but instructed the jury to disregard the question.

         Investigator Jeff Morlock worked with the Criminal Investigations Section of the Montgomery County Sheriff's office and testified that he was involved with the investigation of this case. Investigator Morlock assisted in interviewing the Defendant at the scene, took photographs of the scene, and searched inside of the residence. The Defendant voluntarily made a statement to Investigator Morlock. The Defendant wrote out his statement and signed it, which Investigator Morlock identified and read into the record:

Yesterday, my kids had started acting up, doing nasty things with each other. Then I had to split them up by putting [the victim] in her bed and my son on the couch with time out. After I walked out of the room, [the victim] had come out and told me that she had hit her head. So I felt her head for knots and there wasn't any. I told her to lay down and you will be okay. After that, we made some dinner for the kids. [The victim] would not wake up but she was breathing and snoring. We just figured that she was tired, so by 11:30 or 12:00 we had made all the kids go to bed and [Ms. Taylor] and myself went into the room to give them all a kiss and [the victim] was snoring and breathing good. So we checked on her again before we went to sleep and she was doing the same thing so we just figured she was tired. My wife woke up the next . . . afternoon and checked on her and then she run back in the room with me and she said she was cold and not breathing. I jumped out of the bed, ran into the room and shook her a little bit to try and wake her up. She didn't get up and then I called.

         Also, Investigator Morlock identified photographs he had taken of the Taylor residence.

         Investigator Joshua Wall testified that he was an investigator with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. Mr. Wall stated that on July 12, 2013, he responded to the Taylor residence at approximately 4:30 p.m. His duties included searching the area and taking photographs of the scene. Mr. Wall identified photographs that he took of the inside and outside of the trailer. He observed that the bedroom in which the victim was located had three beds, two of which were unoccupied, and one on which the victim was lying. While in the room, he took photographs of the victim on the bed. He identified multiple photographs he had taken of the victim, and they were entered into evidence.

         Investigator Mark Wojnarek testified that he was a criminal investigator with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and that he responded to the scene at the Taylor residence on July 12, 2013. He was working as a supervisor, and his duties included directing personnel and crime scene technicians, assigning a lead investigator, and watching the body. Later in the investigation, Investigator Wojnarek conducted an interview with the Defendant at the jail. Investigator Wojnarek identified a partial recording of the jail interview, and the recording was entered into evidence.[3]

         Mr. Norman Ray Clark, III, a custodian of records with Sprint, testified to verify Ms. Taylor's telephone records. Mr. Clark identified a copy of a record maintained by Sprint for the telephone number 931-302-3179. The account holder for this telephone number was Ms. Taylor. The record showed incoming and outgoing calls "and text messages with the appropriate date and time as well as the numbers that [were] in communication with one another." Based on his review of the Sprint document, there were three incoming calls in the morning on Ms. Taylor's telephone before the telephone was used to call 911. The first and third calls were unanswered, but according to the length of the second incoming call, it was answered.

         Investigator Julie Webb was a criminal investigator employed with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and helped investigate this case. On July 12, 2013, she responded to the call at the Defendant's residence, and spoke with Ms. Taylor. Regarding the day before, Ms. Taylor informed Investigator Webb that she had left the residence for work at 9:30 a.m. The Defendant and their three children, M.T., A.T., and D.T., were still asleep. She returned home from work at 7:30 p.m. and stated that the victim was in bed at that time. She tried to wake the victim for supper, but she would not wake up and was snoring loudly. Ms. Taylor acknowledged that it was unusual for the victim "to snore like that, that loudly." After dinner, D.T. "went to sleep on the couch[, ]" and M.T. "went into her bedroom . . . and [Ms. Taylor] started a movie for her." When the children were in bed, "she and her husband took a shower together, they put on lotion." Around midnight, Ms. Taylor checked on the victim again and "she was still snoring loudly, she had never woken up[, ]" and Ms. Taylor "kissed her" and then "went to sleep herself." Ms. Taylor told Investigator Webb that she and her husband woke up late on July 12, 2013. Two of their children had come in for breakfast, but the victim had not joined them. Ms. Taylor went to check on the victim and found her cold and non-responsive. Ms. Taylor ran down the hall and screamed for her husband. Ms. Taylor put her statement in writing. Investigator Webb identified it, and it was entered into evidence.

         On July 12, 2013, Investigator Webb also entered the Defendant's residence and went into the room in which the victim was found. She observed "a very small little girl laying on top of the bed and she was deceased." The victim had "bruising on her left arm[, ]" "discoloration on her face[, ]" "blood around her nostrils, and her mouth had what appeared to be like teeth marks and it . . . had blood on it."

         Investigator Webb also spoke with Ms. Taylor on August 6, 2013. On that date, Ms. Taylor admitted that she and the Defendant had not been truthful about the time of day that they discovered the victim. They found the victim on the morning of July 12, 2013, and Ms. Taylor was afraid to call the 911 and decided not to call at that time. In this ...


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