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Vaughn v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 13, 2017

MARY L. VAUGHN
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs February 23, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hawkins County No. 15CR0223 John F. Dugger, Jr., Judge

         The petitioner, Mary L. Vaughn, appeals the denial of her petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged her 2014 Hawkins County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded convictions of second degree murder and aggravated child abuse, arguing that she was denied the effective assistance of counsel and that her guilty pleas were not knowingly or voluntarily entered. Discerning no error, we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

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

          Nicholas Spring Davenport, V, Morristown, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mary L. Vaughn.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Robert W. Wilson, Assistant Attorney General; James O. Phillips, District Attorney General; and M. Ryan Blackwell and Cecil C. Mills, Jr., Assistant District Attorneys 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

         The Hawkins County Grand Jury charged the petitioner with two counts of first degree felony murder, one count of aggravated child abuse, and one count of aggravated child neglect for her role in the death of the victim, Alexa Rae Linboom. Pursuant to a plea agreement with the State, the petitioner entered a "best interests" guilty plea[1] to aggravated child neglect and a reduced charge of second degree murder. The agreement provided for consecutive sentences of 20 years with a 100 percent release eligibility percentage for the petitioner's conviction of second degree murder and 15 years with a 60 percent release eligibility percentage for the petitioner's conviction of aggravated child neglect. In exchange for the petitioner's plea, the State agreed to dismiss those counts of the indictment charging the petitioner with aggravated child abuse and felony murder in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse.

         The State offered the following detailed recitation of facts at the guilty plea submission hearing:

These cases concern the death of Alexa Rae Linboom, a five-year-old child at the time of her death. Alexa was the daughter of Randall Vaughn and the step-daughter of [the petitioner]. On December 31, 2011, [the petitioner] and Randall Vaughn were having a New Years Eve get-together at the residence of 319 Ridge Haven Drive in Surgoinsville, Tennessee. Present at the house that evening were [the petitioner], Randall Vaughn[, ] and several family members including Alexa.
The following morning, January 1st, 2012, [the petitioner] and Randall Vaughn discovered two empty grape soda cans at their home. [The petitioner] asked Alexa if she had dr[u]nk the sodas without permission and that she was prohibited from doing [so]. Alexa responded affirmatively that she had in fact dr[u]nk the grape sodas. Randall Vaughn and [the petitioner] then decided to attempt to break Alexa of this behavior. [The petitioner] and Randall proceeded to take Alexa into the bathroom of their home. There, as punishment for sneaking the grape sodas, Alexa was required to drink numerous additional grape sodas. During this punishment Alexa consumed an undetermined amount of grape soda and also ingested a substantial amount of water. The total amount of fluid ingested by Alexa as part of this disciplinary act was estimated to be approximately 2.4 liters. As a result of the extreme volume of liquid consumed Alexa began vomiting and having diarrhea. She also began clenching and posturing in a decorticate manner, which can be signs of loss of brain activity. Alexa was taken to the Hawkins County Emergency room by [the petitioner] and Randall Vaughn hours after the punishment began.
Alexa presented unresponsive at the Hawkins County Emergency Room. Alexa was then air-lifted to the Johnson City Medical Center where she was admitted to the Niswonger Children's Hospital. Emergency medical intervention was initiated, however, unfortunately, their efforts proved unsuccessful. Alexa Linboom was pronounced dead on January 3rd, 2012. An autopsy examination was conducted on January 5th, 2012, at the East Tennessee State University Department of Forensic Pathology. The final autopsy revealed that the extreme volume of liquid which Alexa consumed caused the sodium level in her blood to drop and resulted in her brain swelling. Alexa's brain proceeded to herniate through her skull[, ] and she eventually died. In the autopsy report, Dr. Karen Cline-Parhamovich concluded the cause of death to be acute fluid water intoxication causing hyponatremic encephalopathy. The manner of death was concluded to be a homicide.

         The petitioner filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief, alleging, among other things, that she had been deprived of the effective assistance of counsel and that, as a result of counsel's deficient performance, her guilty pleas were not knowingly and voluntarily entered. She claimed that counsel performed deficiently by failing to fully explain the ramifications of her plea agreement, failing to seek a ...


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