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State v. Daniels

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 16, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JOE EDWARD DANIELS

          Session October 18, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Jackson County No. 0893 David Earl Durham, Judge

         A jury convicted the Defendant, Joe Edward Daniels, of first degree (premeditated) murder. The Defendant was also convicted of certain collateral crimes and traffic offenses, including tampering with evidence, a Class D felony; abuse of a corpse, a Class E felony; failure to give notice of an accident, a Class C misdemeanor; leaving the scene of an accident, a Class C misdemeanor; driving on the wrong side of the road, a Class C misdemeanor; and failure to use due care, a Class C misdemeanor. The Defendant appeals his murder conviction, asserting that the State failed to prove premeditation and that the State's proof regarding the chain of custody of the corpse should have preceded the medical examiner's testimony. The Defendant also claims error in the jury instructions, including the trial court's decision not to charge attempt; the trial court's decision to charge flight; the trial court's inclusion of a charge regarding criminal responsibility and lack of notice regarding that charge; and the trial court's failure to charge facilitation. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Comer L. Donnell, District Public Defender; and Thomas H. Bilbrey (at trial and on appeal) and Joe McLerran (at trial), Assistant District Public Defenders, for the appellant, Joe Edward Daniels.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Counsel; Tom P. Thompson, Jr., District Attorney General; and Robert Lee (at hearing on motion for a new trial), James M. Lea, Jr., Robert Hibbett, and Edwin Sadler (at trial), Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Defendant was charged in this case after police discovered the corpse of the victim, Walter Greg ("Greg") King, in the woods near the Defendant's wrecked, blood-covered pickup truck. An autopsy revealed that the victim had been shot in the back of the head by a shotgun. The State sought to show at trial that the victim was last seen with the Defendant and that various pieces of physical evidence tied the Defendant to the crime. The Defendant sought to establish through his wife's testimony that the victim had been shot by the Defendant's uncle in the heat of passion during a struggle for a gun.

         On August 19, 2008, the victim resided at the Cherry Tree apartment complex in Celina, Tennessee. Robert Kevin Sloan performed maintenance for the apartment complex and was a friend of both the victim and the Defendant. Mr. Sloan testified that the victim was disabled as the result of a car accident that had left him in a coma for several months. The victim walked with a cane and had difficulty moving around. Mr. Sloan described the victim as clean-cut and neat, and he testified that the victim had one tattoo on his arm and another on his forearm. Marion Beck and Theresa Vincent, who also lived at the complex, confirmed that the victim had difficulty walking, and Ms. Beck stated the victim used a cane or held onto things when he walked.

         The Defendant, his wife, and his sons also lived at the apartment complex. Mr. Sloan testified that on August 19, 2008, the Defendant was in the process of moving out of his apartment. Mr. Sloan was painting the apartment as the Defendant and his wife cleaned and moved furniture into a residence across the street; the Defendant's children were playing in the parking lot. Mr. Sloan testified that the victim and Defendant were "somewhat" friends, and he stated that on that day, the two were sitting on the porch together. The Defendant and victim went two or three times in the Defendant's white Ford pickup truck to get beer and cigarettes, and Mr. Sloan, the Defendant, and the victim each drank approximately four to six beers. The victim and the Defendant returned from their second trip at around 3:00 p.m. The last time Mr. Sloan saw the victim, the victim told him that "they were going to make another beer run." Mr. Sloan saw the Defendant and victim leave in the Defendant's truck and never saw the victim again.

         Mr. Sloan acknowledged that he had been an alcoholic at the time and probably drank twelve or more beers that day, and he acknowledged that he was probably drinking when he spoke to police the next day. Mr. Sloan also acknowledged telling police that he did not think the victim left with the Defendant but believed he left with a man with a tattoo on his neck and a ponytail. He explained that he did see the man with the tattoo "come in and out of the store where [the Defendant's] wife worked." He also explained that at the time he made this statement, he thought the Defendant's truck was sitting at the Defendant's brother's house but he later realized that the truck at the Defendant's brother's house did not belong to the Defendant. It was instead a similar truck that could be distinguished because it had a tire in the bed whereas the Defendant's truck did not. Mr. Sloan testified he later told police he was mistaken about the truck's location.

         Ms. Beck and Ms. Vincent also testified to last seeing the victim with the Defendant at the apartment complex. Ms. Beck stated that she saw the Defendant and victim leaving together around dusk or dark. The Defendant was driving a white truck and the victim was a passenger. Ms. Beck never saw the victim alive again. Ms. Vincent testified that the victim came to her home for coffee in the morning. The victim stopped in again when Ms. Vincent's daughter was home. Ms. Vincent testified that based on her daughter's work schedule, the victim's second visit must have been at noon or at 3:00 p.m. Ms. Vincent was lying on the couch with her eyes closed, and the victim took her to be asleep and told her daughter he would be "back in a few minutes." Ms. Vincent looked out of the window and saw him get into the passenger's side of a pickup truck she recognized as the Defendant's truck. She only saw the driver's arm and cap and testified she could not be sure the driver was the Defendant. She acknowledged telling police that the driver was the Defendant and explained that she inferred the Defendant was the driver because it was his truck and she had not seen anyone else drive it. At trial, Ms. Vincent testified that she could not recall if it was the Defendant's white or red pickup truck that they left in, but stated that if she had at the time told police that it was a white truck, her statement would be correct.

         At 10:45 p.m. on August 19, 2008, Trooper Edwin Crouch was called to examine a wrecked vehicle on Sugar Creek Road. The vehicle was a white Ford pickup truck which had gone down an embankment. Skid marks on the roadway and through the rock indicated the path the truck had taken. The driver was not with the vehicle. Trooper Crouch noticed "a lot" of blood on the tailgate of the truck and in the bed, and he saw fingerprints and hand prints in the blood on the car. Because the truck was registered to the Defendant, Trooper Crouch tried to locate the Defendant at hospitals and at his last known address, where he was no longer living. The Defendant was not at the scene and did not notify police of the accident. The truck was put in a secured, indoor facility by the towing company. Trooper Crouch acknowledged that the wreck looked like someone "just missed the curve." A video of the scene was introduced into evidence but is not part of the appellate record.

         The next day, at approximately 6:00 or 6:30 p.m., Lisa Bybee was riding her bicycle on Sugar Creek Road. She saw two dogs at the side of the road, and she noticed that one was near a corpse which was about twenty-five feet from the road. She rode home, called 911, and returned in her vehicle to direct emergency personnel to the area with the body. Ms. Bybee testified that the body was near the old bridge and near the house of Robert Daniels, who was identified in other testimony as the Defendant's uncle.

         Agent Jason Wilkerson with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") responded to the discovery of the victim's body. Agent Wilkerson testified that the body was approximately 300 yards from the Defendant's wrecked truck. There was blood in the roadway above the body and major trauma to the victim's head, along with "scavenger activity." Agent Wilkerson described the victim's body as a Caucasian male lying face down nineteen feet off the road down an embankment. His body was nude, but there was a shirt wrapped around his waist. Agent Wilkerson collected evidence from the site, including a pair of bloody shorts found near the body and two swabs taken from the reddish brown substance in the roadway above the body. He also collected a baseball cap, bottle, lighter, and blood-speckled leaves near the site of the wreck. Agent Wilkerson had the white truck put inside a trailer and moved to the TBI for analysis. Trooper Crouch, who returned to the scene, testified that the body appeared as though it had been dragged because of the way the feet were lying and the shirt was rolled down. Agent Shannon Brown measured and documented the scene and testified that the corpse and vehicle were found near a residence belonging to the Defendant's uncle, Robert Daniels.

         Agent Wilkerson tried to contact the Defendant, who was in Indiana. The Defendant's wife called Agent Wilkerson a number of days after the body was found and said that the Defendant would meet with him. Agent Wilkerson met the Defendant and his wife at a highway patrol station, and the Defendant claimed he had not been driving the truck at the time of the homicide and did not know what happened to the victim. The Defendant told Agent Wilkerson, "[I]f I did know what happened, I would be afraid to say. I have four boys and I don't want what happened to Greg to happen to them."

         Agent Wilkerson took DNA samples from the Defendant and his wife and took the Defendant's fingerprints. He also retrieved fingerprints taken from the victim by the medical examiner. He acknowledged that the Defendant's uncle, Robert Daniels, was also charged in connection with the murder and that a case against Mr. Daniels was pending.

         Jim Morgan, the Jackson County coroner, testified that the victim's body was found fifteen to twenty feet from the road. At first, responders believed the body originated from the wreck, but Mr. Morgan questioned that conclusion based on large wounds to the head and neck. He ordered an autopsy and arranged transportation to Nashville, but he did not take the body there himself.

         The State called Dr. Amy McMaster, a forensic pathologist, and the defense objected to the State's introduction of the testimony of Dr. McMaster based on a failure to prove the chain of custody of the body. The trial court stated that it would wait until the close of proof to rule on the Defendant's motion, noting that the State could introduce further evidence to bolster the chain of custody.

         Dr. McMaster testified that she performed the autopsy on the victim on August 21, 2008. The victim's toxicology results showed that he had anti-seizure medication, two anti-depressants, and alcohol in his system at the time of death. She testified that the alcohol level in his urine, which was .22 percent, would not necessarily correlate to his blood alcohol level. The victim's body was beginning to decompose and suffered from "postmortem carnivore activity" around the head and neck. However, she was able to determine that he had a large, round "defect" on the back left of his skull due to a shotgun wound. Dr. McMaster recovered birdshot pellets from his skull and brain. The hole in the victim's head was well-defined, and she estimated that the gun was fired within a few feet. She stated that no soot was visible and that the shot was most likely fired from closer than ten feet. She stated that the type of "wound pattern" suffered by the victim could be produced during a struggle. Defense counsel asked Dr. McMaster, "And if a person - if a gun is being pointed at them and they turn their head then it would hit right in that area, wouldn't it?" However, Dr. McMaster disagreed, stating that "those two scenarios are, in my opinion, mutually exclusive, " elaborating that she believed that the victim's wound was inconsistent with a struggle for the gun. Dr. McMaster testified that the path of the wound was left to right and slightly back to front. She determined that the manner of death was homicide.

         Agent Wilkerson, testifying after Dr. McMaster, stated that he recognized the body at the autopsy as the one from the road based on height, weight, state of decomposition, and tattoos. After Dr. McMaster's testimony, the State presented the testimony of Jeff Davenport, a paramedic who transported the body from Sugar Creek Road to the Emergency Medical Services Center. He stated that he left the body at the center and that he believed Mr. Morgan was there at the time. Brian Horton testified that he received paperwork from Mr. Morgan and that he then transported the body from the Ambulance Service to the medical examiner's office in Nashville. Agent Hunter Greene of the TBI testified that the fingerprints of the deceased taken by the medical examiner matched the known prints of the victim.

         Agent Greene also conducted fingerprint analysis on the white truck. She recovered five latent prints that were of value from the truck. The Defendant's right palm print appeared twice on the tailgate. His left middle fingerprint was on the driver's side, and his right palm and left thumbprint were on the passenger's side. One of the palm prints was in the same area that was the source of a blood sample which contained the victim's DNA. Agent Greene testified that blood would "pretty much" cover pre-existing fingerprints on a surface. After examining the patterns of the fingerprints in the blood, she concluded that the blood in the fingerprints was on the Defendant's hand first and was then transferred to the truck when he touched the surface.

         Agent Patrick Ihrie of the TBI examined the DNA samples submitted by Agent Wilkerson. Agent Ihrie testified that the two blood swabs from the road, the blood on the shorts, and the blood on the leaves near the crash site contained the victim's DNA. The victim's DNA was also found on the tailgate of the white truck, in two samples taken from the bed of the truck, and in a spot of blood below the driver's armrest in the truck's interior. Agent Ihrie could only obtain a partial DNA profile from the hat found near the crash site. The DNA he found was a mixture from two individuals. The major contributor was consistent with the Defendant's DNA, and the Defendant's wife could not be excluded as the minor contributor.

         The Defendant's wife, Kim Daniels did not appear when first summoned, and the State presented her testimony as that of a hostile witness. Ms. Daniels testified in support of the Defendant's claim that the victim was shot by someone else, was shot by accident, and was shot in the heat of passion.

         Ms. Daniels had been married to the Defendant for ten years at the time of trial, and they had four children together. On August 19, 2008, Ms. Daniels went to Jamestown on an errand with three children: an infant, a two-year-old, and a four-year-old. Ms. Daniels's car had a flat tire, and she got a ride from a stranger to her destination, where she called the Defendant to help her. She acknowledged that she was upset that the Defendant was drinking that day. The Defendant and victim fixed the tire and then took her and the children to the car. She rode with the baby in the passenger's seat, and the two young boys and the victim rode in the bed of the truck. The Defendant and the victim left after they returned to Celina, and she never saw the victim again.

         Ms. Daniels testified that the Defendant came home in the middle of the night with a cut on his forehead and asked her to clean the cut. He said he was going to his sister's home in Indiana. She did not recall telling Agent Wilkerson that he told her he had "messed up." On August 20th, the Defendant called her to ask if his truck was back. He instructed her to report it stolen, and she did so. Ms. Daniels met with the Defendant in Indiana about two days after the victim's death. There, the Defendant told her his version of events.

         According to what the Defendant's wife testified he told her, the Defendant and victim went to the house of the Defendant's uncle, Robert Daniels, and the three were drinking and began discussing sex. The Defendant told his wife that the victim asked them if they had "ever messed around with a boy before, and they said, no." The Defendant's wife testified:

And I don't remember exactly what all he said was said, but then Greg said that he had - Greg expressed like an interest in our son ..., and then Bob got angry and went in his house and got a gun and loaded it, and Greg said he didn't have the nerve, and Bob put the gun up to his head and they all three struggled over it and it discharged.

         Ms. Daniels clarified that the Defendant had told her that his uncle, Robert Daniels, had the gun when it went off and that the Defendant told her that he did not have the gun. She also testified that she told the TBI that approximately one week before the shooting, the couple's children were missing and the Defendant found them at the victim's house. She testified that her son was four at the time.

         Ms. Daniels acknowledged that she and the Defendant went to Kentucky, where they registered under a false name at a motel. Eventually, she took the Defendant to meet a TBI agent at a highway patrol station. She acknowledged that she "might have" told Agent Wilkerson that the Defendant told her "that he took the body and he put it in the back of his truck and then he dumped the body and then he had a wreck and then he went back across the creek to his Uncle Bob's house."

         The State tried to elicit testimony from Ms. Daniels regarding prior statements she had made to law enforcement regarding the Defendant's suspicions that the victim and Ms. Daniels were having an affair. Ms. Daniels denied telling Agent Wilkerson that the Defendant accused her of having an affair with the victim or with Mr. Sloan based on a hair he found in the bathroom. She did not recall telling Agent Wilkerson that the Defendant asked, "[D]id I bring the right boyfriend with me?" when he came to get her in Jamestown. She did not recall telling Agent Wilkerson that the Defendant again accused her of having an affair with ...


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