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Watkins v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

March 2, 2017

RODNEY WATKINS
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs January 18, 2017 at Knoxville

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 09-07892 Lee V. Coffee, Judge.

         The petitioner, Rodney Watkins, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his 2009 Shelby County Criminal Court jury conviction of second degree murder, for which he received a sentence of 25 years. In this appeal, the petitioner contends only that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm.

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

          Monica A. Timmerman (on appeal) and William B. Kelley (at hearing), Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rodney Watkins.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Alanda Dwyer, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          JAMES CURWOOD WITT, JR., JUDGE.

         A Shelby County Criminal Court jury convicted the petitioner of second degree murder, and the trial court imposed a 25-year sentence. This court affirmed the convictions on direct appeal. See State v. Rodney Watkins, No. W2010-02570-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App., Jackson, Feb. 13, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. July 16, 2013).

         In Rodney Watkins, this court stated the facts of the case. Lamika Turner, the victim, disappeared on February 3, 2009. Id., slip op. at 1. According to the victim's mother, the victim "was supposed to have gone to the [petitioner]'s home." Id., slip op. at 2. When a police investigator spoke with the petitioner on February 7, the petitioner stated that he had last seen the victim getting into a car with a man known as "'Keevin, '" whom the petitioner later identified in a photographic lineup as Kevin Lee Harris. Id. On May 8, police officers discovered a badly decomposed body inside a bedroom of an abandoned house at 1517 Cella Street, which residence was located next door to the petitioner's house. Id., slip op. at 3, 4, 6. Through the aid of dental x-rays, the body was positively identified as that of the victim. Id., slip op. at 2.

         Officers who processed the scene discovered pieces of a cinder block in the bedroom where the victim's body was located. Id., slip op. at 3. One of the cinder block pieces "appeared to have blood and black hairs on it." Id., slip op. at 4. The victim's body was found face-down underneath two mattresses; she was wearing only a shirt, and "[b]ased upon the way the victim's clothing was removed, " officers believed it to be likely that she had been the victim of a sexual assault. Id., slip op. at 4, 5. The medical examiner testified that the victim had sustained skull fractures and determined that the victim's cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Id., slip op. at 16.

         Mr. Harris testified and denied any involvement in the victim's death. Id., slip op. at 10. According to Mr. Harris, "on the last night the victim was seen alive, " she visited Mr. Harris' house at 1400 Cella Street with her sister. Id., slip op. at 7. When the victim, her sister, and others left at sunrise the following morning, the victim asked fellow guest, Floyd Jackson, to "take her to the [petitioner]'s house." Id.

         The petitioner was interviewed by Memphis police officers in early July 2009. Id., slip op. at 18. In his first written statement, the petitioner denied any responsibility for the victim's death and claimed that he was not present when she died, blaming the murder on Mr. Harris and a man known as "Benzo." Id. The following day, however, the petitioner told officers that he "wanted to tell the truth":

[T]he [petitioner] stated that he and the victim were at 1517 Cella Street about to have consensual sex when he heard a noise outside. The [petitioner] said the victim had been undressing and he had been applying a condom to himself. The [petitioner] said that he told the victim to dress and that he picked up a cinder block. The [petitioner] said Benzo came through the door aggressively. . . . [T]he [petitioner] claimed he raised the cinder block in the air and hit the victim, who was standing behind him, on top of the head and caused her to fall. . . . [T]he [petitioner] stated that Benzo continued coming toward him aggressively and that the [petitioner] fell on top of the victim, hitting the back of her head with the cinder block. . . . [T]he [petitioner] claimed he and Benzo struggled and that he was able to ...

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