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State v. Johnson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

March 8, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs January 5, 2017

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-01032 Chris Craft, Judge

         The Defendant, Dondre Johnson, was convicted by a Shelby County Jury of first degree murder committed during the perpetration of an attempted robbery and received a sentence of life imprisonment. In his sole issue on appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Phyllis Aluko, Assistant Public Defender (on appeal); and Constance J. Barnes, Assistant Public Defender, Memphis, Tennessee (at trial), for the Defendant-Appellant, Dondre Johnson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Ray Lepone and Reginald Henderson, Assistant District Attorney Generals, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams and Alan E. Glenn, JJ., joined.



         This case arises from the murder of David Santucci in August 2013. The Defendant and his co-defendant, Mario Patterson, were subsequently arrested and charged with first degree felony murder. The State filed a motion to sever the Defendant's case from his co-defendant's case, and the trial court granted the motion. Following a jury trial, the Defendant was convicted as charged. As relevant to the issues raised by the Defendant in this appeal, the facts presented at the September 2015 trial were as follows:

         Steven Ferguson testified that on August 12, 2013, he was working as a security guard at the Rumba Room nightclub on South Main Street in Memphis. Around 1:30 a.m., Ferguson was outside smoking a cigarette with a group of people and two other security guards. Ferguson testified that he noticed a car drive past the nightclub and quickly make a U-turn in the street, which got his attention. After the car drove away, Ferguson heard a gunshot, and he looked down the street and saw "a guy running towards the car." Ferguson recalled that "[the guy] got in the back seat, right behind the driver's side, " before the car sped off. Ferguson also testified that there were no streetlights where he had seen the car so he could not identify the person who got in the car. Ferguson and another security guard walked towards the area where the car had been, saw the victim lying in the street, and called the police. Ferguson testified that a group of people gathered around the victim and that he turned the victim on his back while bystanders applied pressure to the wound and talked to the victim in an attempt to keep him conscious. Ferguson recalled that there was blood on the ground and a cell phone was lying next to the victim, who he identified as a white male in his late twenties. Ferguson testified that the nightclub he worked at was about ten or fifteen feet away from where the shooting occurred.

         Taneshia Lawrence testified that she was at the same nightclub around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. on August 12, 2013. Lawrence testified that she was sitting outside at a bench on the corner of South Main Street and Pontotoc Street when she heard a gunshot. Lawrence recalled seeing a light green or gray Pontiac speed past and turn down Pontotoc Street from Main Street. Lawrence also recalled seeing a man run to the car and two men jump in the back of the car. Lawrence testified that, before the gunshot, she saw "a white male and a black male, facing each other, " and that, after the gunshot, she saw the white male fall. After the security guards ran to the victim, Lawrence also walked to the victim and, along with another bystander, comforted the victim and put pressure on his wound. Lawrence testified that the victim was unable to speak and was "basically just g[]asping for breath and squeezing my hand." Lawrence also saw a gunshot wound on the victim's upper chest.

         Sharae Robertson testified that she was walking outside the Rumba Room around 1:30 a.m. on August 12, 2013. Robertson heard a gunshot and then saw a "green Grand Am speeding down Pontotoc Street." Robertson testified that she walked to where she heard the gunshot and saw "a white male lying in between a burgundy car and a black truck." Robertson recalled that the victim "was l[]ying on his back and he was gasping for air, trying to breathe and talk, but he couldn't." Along with Lawrence, Robertson assisted the victim and "tried to help him by applying pressure to his wound and let him know that somebody was there for him." Robertson also testified that she saw three individuals in the car, two males and one female.

         Officer Aaron Kant of the Memphis Police Department ("MPD") responded to a call at the area of 275 South Main Street on the night of the murder. He arrived in less than a minute and immediately saw the victim lying unconscious on the ground. Officer Kant also observed two women on each side of the victim rendering aid when he arrived on the scene. Officer Kant was the first officer on the scene. After confirming it was not an active shooter situation, Officer Kant gathered witness information and immediately put out a city-wide broadcast with a description of the car witnesses observed leaving the scene. After the victim was taken by ambulance, Officer Kant noticed blood and a shell casing on the ground. Other MPD officers took photographs and collected evidence at the scene, including a single nine millimeter Luger shell casing and a spent bullet.

         MPD Officer Ashton Britton testified that he was on patrol on August 12, 2013, when he heard a call on police radio about a shooting and a description of the shooter's car. Officer Britton proceeded to the nearby Foote Homes area to drive around and look for the car. In the parking lot of the Foote Homes apartment complex, Officer Britton saw a car with its parking lights on. Officer Britton testified that, in his experience, this was unusual, and there had been a lot of recent car break-ins in the area, so he proceeded to investigate further. Officer Britton testified that the car appeared to be unoccupied but, upon approaching the car, he saw "the top of an individual's head, duck down into the vehicle." Officer Britton then drew his gun and told the individuals in the car to put their hands up. At that point, Officer Britton testified that he realized their car matched the description of the earlier broadcast and he called for backup. Officer Britton testified that the individual in the front seat kept dropping his hands and the individual in the back seat attempted to get out of the car. Officer Britton testified that he told them if they got out of the car he would shoot them. Officer Britton identified the Defendant at trial as the individual sitting in the back passenger seat who tried to open the door.

         MPD Officer Michael Coburn testified that he took photographs and collected evidence found in the car after it was towed to the MPD crime scene warehouse. Officer Coburn identified multiple photographs, which were introduced at trial, including photographs of the car, two cell phones found in the car, a gun with an extended magazine found in the car, and a maroon ski mask found in the back seat of the car. Officer Coburn testified that the gun was loaded with a bullet in the chamber and that the magazine was loaded with live rounds.

         Jerrica Norfleet testified that she was dating the co-defendant, Mario Patterson, in August 2013. Norfleet testified that she did not know the Defendant but that she had seen him "maybe, once or twice." On August 12, 2013, Norfleet picked up Patterson and drove him to his home around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. When she arrived at Patterson's house, the Defendant was sitting outside on the porch. Norfleet testified that she later drove Patterson and the Defendant to a nearby corner store and that they were "just riding around" while Patterson and the Defendant were "on their cell phones calling different people." Norfleet testified that they were calling people and asking "'do you know where some money is, or do you know where a lick is?'" Norfleet testified that, at the time, she did not know what a "lick" was, but now she knew it was a "robbery." Norfleet recalled that Patterson was directing her different places to go, and she "became frustrated and asked him to drive." After Norfleet got in the passenger seat and Patterson started driving, she saw Patterson pass a gun to the Defendant in the back seat. Norfleet testified that the Defendant then asked her to take a picture with her phone, and she "kind of reached back and took the picture." Norfleet stated that, "[o]nce I came up it was a picture of him wearing a ski mask and holding the gun." The photograph from Norfleet's phone was introduced at trial.

         Norfleet testified that Patterson continued to drive and that they eventually approached "an older black couple downtown, headed towards Beale Street, " and the Defendant stated something like "'Let's get them'" or "'Let's get them, they got some money.'" Because it was crowded downtown, Norfleet testified that they "couldn't get to that couple" so they made a left turn down another street "and that is when the victim was on the street." Norfleet testified that they saw the victim crossing the street and that "[y]ou could tell he probably was nervous, or something, or maybe scared, because he started to speed up to get across the street." Norfleet testified that Patterson was parking when the Defendant jumped out of the car. After Patterson parked the car he also got out, and the Defendant said something to the victim that Norfleet could not hear. Norfleet testified that the victim shouted, "'Get the fuck out of here'" and the Defendant responded, "'What do you mean get the fuck out of here?'" and then the gun went off. Norfleet jumped in the driver's seat from the passenger seat and started to drive. As she was driving away, Norfleet testified that she saw the victim falling and Patterson and the Defendant jumped in the back seat of the car. Norfleet also testified that, as she was driving, Patterson was directing her where to go and the Defendant "was shouting, 'That n**** said, get the fuck out of here, I should have got personal and shot that n**** three more times.'"

         Norfleet testified that Patterson directed her to drive to the Foote Homes apartment complex. Norfleet backed into a spot in the apartment's parking lot and attempted to turn the car's headlights off but accidentally left the parking lights on because she was nervous. Norfleet testified that Patterson climbed in to the front passenger seat, and the Defendant remained in the back seat. Norfleet also testified that, because there were probably police in the area, they "would sit here for a second, [and] hopefully by that time everything will be okay and we could leave." However, Norfleet testified that a police officer drove past the apartments and then entered the parking lot and parked in front of her car. Norfleet stated that Patterson told everyone to "slouch down in the seat of the car, " but the officer saw them and told them to put their hands up or he would shoot. Norfleet testified that Patterson and the Defendant discussed running and opened their doors, but the officer told them if they ran he would shoot them. More ...

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