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State v. Thompson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 27, 2017


          Session November 15, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 104175 G. Scott Green, Judge

         Defendant, Ricky Thompson, appeals from his conviction for reckless aggravated assault, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion when it failed to declare a mistrial after a potential juror made highly prejudicial remarks that undermined the authority of the trial proceedings and contaminated the rest of the venire. Additionally, Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted photographs of surgical procedures performed on the victim. Following our review, we conclude that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in denying the Defendant's motion for a mistrial. Additionally, we conclude that the surgical photographs were improperly admitted into evidence but find the error to be harmless. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

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

          Gerald L. Gulley, Jr. (on appeal) and Scott C. Frith (at trial), Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Ricky Thompson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Robert W. Wilson, Assistant Attorney General; Charme P. Allen, District Attorney General; Kevin Allen, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J. joined.




         This case arose after a physical altercation between the Defendant and the victim, Nathaniel Drew, on May 31, 2014. The victim suffered injuries to his face that resulted in extensive surgeries and a two-week long hospital stay. The Knox County Grand Jury charged Defendant with one count of aggravated assault and one count of aggravated robbery. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-102, -402. The case proceeded to a jury trial on September 8, 2015.

         I. Voir Dire

         During voir dire, the following colloquy occurred between the trial court, counsel for Defendant, and Tom Miller, a member of the venire:

THE COURT: Is there anything else any of you feel like you need to bring to the attention -- yes, sir? Mr. Miller?
MR. MILLER: Just prior to being carjacked, burglarized, raped, beaten, and tortured, humiliated, Chris Newsom had just left our house. And I agree wholeheartedly with Gary Christian[1] when he says the court system is flawed, and is an advocate for the guilty and does nothing for the victim. And that's the way I feel and my mind is focused on him today. Is this young man over here guilty? Based on where he's at, yeah, I think he is.
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT: Your Honor, I object.
MR. MILLER: Well, I'm just saying -- I mean, that's what you brought us up here -- you said say what's on your mind. That's what I'm saying.
THE COURT: You think maybe if you were in [Defendant's] position you would want a juror with a little bit different mindset than what you've got?
MR. MILLER: I would think I would want somebody with a totally different mindset than what I've got.
THE COURT: All right. I'm going to allow you to be excused for cause, Mr. Miller. Thank you for your candor.

         Counsel for Defendant objected to Mr. Miller's comments and made a motion for a mistrial. The trial court denied his motion and made the following comments to the potential jury members:

[Mr. Miller] was speaking his mind. This is the process by which we speak our mind. Anybody else feel that way? All right. I'm going to remind you again, just because they accuse somebody doesn't mean they've done anything. He may or may not be guilty of anything. We don't know yet. But he is presumed at this point to be innocent. Every one of us carry that presumption with us.

         II. Trial

         At trial, the victim testified regarding the incident with Defendant. The victim lived in an apartment at the Walter P. Taylor Homes ("Walter P.") and had known Defendant for approximately one year. Defendant's mother lived at Walter P., and Defendant occasionally stayed with her there. The victim and Defendant spent a lot of time together, and they "would sit, drink, smoke weed, . . . [and] drink beer all day." The victim further explained that "[j]ust about every day[, ]" he gave Defendant "beer and weed." In the past, Defendant had asked the victim to borrow money, but the victim refused. On occasion, the victim gave Defendant money to purchase beer for the two of them to drink together. Defendant would go to the market, purchase beer, and return to the victim's apartment at Walter P.

         The victim discussed the details of the day of the attack on May 31, 2014. He explained that his aunt was his "overseer" and wrote him a check every month. That day, she took him to the bank, and he cashed a check for $350. He purchased some cleaning supplies and "went out to eat." On the way home, he stopped and bought two cases of beer. He returned home with the remainder of the cash and bundled it into a "dummy bankroll." The victim had requested that part of his check be cashed as one-dollar bills, so that he when he rolled the cash together, he appeared to have a "big bankroll." The victim explained that he did this because he liked to gamble. That evening, the victim testified that he showered around 8:30 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. and waited on a cousin to arrive and take him to the "Old City."

         The victim did not remember the exact time that Defendant arrived at his apartment that evening, but he claimed that it was some time after he showered and was waiting on his cousin. When Defendant arrived, the victim was sitting on a couch in his living room counting his money. Defendant knocked, identified himself, and the victim told him to "come on in." Once inside, Defendant demanded that the victim give him a beer, but the victim refused, saying, "I can't give you a beer every day." While talking to Defendant, the victim walked into the kitchen and ...

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