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Watkins v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 20, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs November 8, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2011-A-663 Cheryl Blackburn, Judge

         The petitioner, Cedric Watkins, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his first degree premeditated murder conviction, arguing that the post-conviction court erred in finding that he received effective assistance of trial counsel. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

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

          David M. Hopkins, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellant, Cedric Watkins.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Megan M. King, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.


          ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE


         In 2013, the petitioner was convicted of the first degree premeditated murder of Thomas Turner and sentenced to life imprisonment. Our direct appeal opinion reveals that the conviction stemmed from the petitioner's having shot the victim, who had bought drugs from him, in the belief that the victim was a "snitch" who might have been responsible for the arrest of two of the petitioner's associates. State v. Cedric Wayne Watkins, No. M2013-01268-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 2547710, at *1-3 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 4, 2014). Among the State's witnesses at trial was the petitioner's associate, William Carter, who testified that after he let the petitioner out of his vehicle at the victim's hotel, the petitioner came running back to his car carrying a laptop computer, got back inside, and said, "[T]wo shots to the head[;] he ain't talking no more." Id. at *3 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Other State witnesses included Brianna Stanton and Stephanie Littlejohn, who each heard the petitioner make incriminating statements about the killing. Among other things, Ms. Littlejohn testified that the petitioner "told her that he had shot the victim three times." Id. at *2. Ms. Stanton testified that several days before she learned about the victim's death, the petitioner went somewhere with Mr. Carter and then returned to their hotel room where he "said that they 'were all supposed to take it to the grave.'" Id. at *1. Ms. Stanton agreed she had testified at an earlier court hearing that the petitioner "said something 'along the lines of [ ] they had to do what they had to do to somebody who was snitching'" before making the statement about taking the information to their graves. Id. The State also introduced recorded jail telephone calls between the petitioner and Ms. Stanton in which the petitioner "told Ms. Stanton to 'stick to the script' and said that they would 'fight this s*** to the end.'" Id. at *2.

         The petitioner presented as a witness in his behalf a woman named Deborah Cox, who testified that Ms. Littlejohn told her that she had shot the victim and that the gun she had used would never be found. Id. at *4.

         On January 20, 2015, the petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in which he raised a number of claims, including ineffective assistance of counsel. Following the appointment of post-conviction counsel, he filed an amended petition in which he alleged that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately investigate the case or consult with the petitioner, failing to effectively cross-examine Ms. Cox on inconsistencies in her trial testimonies, not objecting to hearsay testimony from a police detective, and failing to call Clifford Parrish and Lashona Wooten as defense witnesses. The petitioner alleged that Mr. Parrish would have testified that Ms. Littlejohn confessed to him that she killed the victim. The petitioner alleged that Ms. Wooten, who testified at his first trial that resulted in a hung jury, would have testified that she did not see the petitioner at the scene of the crime, but instead "another individual she could identify and an unidentified person." Finally, the petitioner alleged that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to file a timely Rule 11 application for permission to appeal.

         At the evidentiary hearing, appellate counsel testified that she intended to file a Rule 11 application in the petitioner's case but got his case ...

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