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State v. Hill-Williams

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 9, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JOSHUA HILL-WILLIAMS

          Assigned on Briefs September 7, 2016.

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-03966 John Wheeler Campbell, Judge

         A Shelby County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellant of first degree premeditated murder, and the trial court sentenced him to life. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction, that the trial court erred by ruling that evidence of the victim's gang affiliation was irrelevant to the Appellant's claim of self-defense, that the trial court erred by admitting hearsay text messages into evidence, and that the trial court erred by giving a flight instruction to the jury. Based upon the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Vicki M. Carriker (on appeal and at trial) and Daniel K. Hamilton (at trial), Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Joshua Hill-Williams.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Zachary T. Hinkle, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and George Kirby May, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert W. Wedemeyer and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          NORMA MCGEE OGLE, JUDGE

         I. Factual Background

         On December 21, 2013, the Appellant shot and killed Evvann "Juice" Harris. At trial, Officer Chad Conley of the Memphis Police Department (MPD) testified that about 12:40 p.m. on December 16, 2013, he responded to a 911 theft call at the Appellant's home on Douglass Avenue and spoke with the Appellant. The Appellant told the officer that the victim had knocked on his door and that he had opened the door for the victim because he knew the victim. The Appellant claimed that he "set down his gun, " that the victim grabbed it, and that the victim ran. The Appellant described the gun as a Glock 19, and he provided the gun's serial number, LGA460.

         Officer Jerry Capps of the MPD testified that he was assigned to investigate the December 16 theft of the Appellant's gun. On December 19, the Appellant came to the police department, spoke with Officer Capps, and named the victim as the person who took the firearm. The Appellant also claimed that he chased the victim out of his home and into the front yard. The Appellant said the victim turned around, pointed the gun at him, and told him, "I will shoot you. I will kill you." Officer Capps acknowledged that the Appellant's claims about chasing the victim outside and the victim's threatening to shoot him were not in the original 911 report. Officer Capps put together a photograph array and showed it to the Appellant. The Appellant selected the victim's photograph and identified the victim as the person who took his gun.

         Officer Capps testified that he told the Appellant that he was going to file an arrest warrant for the victim for theft and aggravated assault and that "it would take a couple of days to get that done." The Appellant was concerned about seeing the victim because they lived in the same area, and Officer Capps told the Appellant to stay away from the victim. Officer Capps also told the Appellant to leave the area and telephone the police if the Appellant saw the victim. The Appellant was "worried about a confrontation, " and Officer Capps told him that "you have a right to defend yourself just like everyone else."

         On cross-examination, Officer Capps acknowledged that the Appellant had a handgun carry permit and that people tended to be calmer and more clear-headed a few days after an incident. The Appellant "seemed a little worried about his safety." He was very cooperative, wanted his pistol returned to him, and wanted the victim to go to jail.

         Shandra Denise Harris, the victim's mother, testified that in December 2013, the victim was twenty-one-years old; lived with her; and was employed by Staff Line, a temporary service. On Saturday, December 21, the victim was at home with his mother. About 2:00 p.m., she drove him to a friend's house in the Barron Court Apartments. The victim referred to his friend as "Big Red." About 4:00 p.m., Ms. Harris received a telephone call that the victim had been shot.

         Officer Brandon Westrich of the MPD testified that about 4:00 p.m. on December 21, 2013, he responded to a shooting in an apartment at the Barron Court apartment complex. When Officer Westrich arrived, a man met him outside the apartment and said his friend had been shot inside the apartment. Officer Westrich opened the door and saw the victim lying on his side. The victim had multiple gunshot wounds, and Officer Westrich used a towel to apply pressure to a gunshot wound in the victim's neck until members of the fire department arrived. Firemen cut off the victim's clothes and discovered a Glock 19 pistol with an extended magazine in the front of his waistband. The magazine was loaded, and the serial number for the gun was LGA460. The fire department transported the victim to the hospital. Three or four other people were in the apartment, and Officer Westrich immediately developed the Appellant as a suspect.

         On cross-examination, Officer Westrich testified that he saw no signs of forced entry into the apartment. On redirect examination, he testified that he did not see the gun in the victim's waistband until the firemen cut off the victim's clothes because the victim's shirt was covering the gun.

         Officer Josh Shearer of the MPD testified that he responded to the Barron Court apartment on December 21 and saw an African-American male lying on the floor. Officer Shearer described the location of the victim as follows: "When you walk into the apartment there's a couch to the right, then the left corner I'm not sure which direction, I'd have to look at a map but he was laying in the corner." Officer Westrich was assisting the victim, who had been shot several times. The victim was bleeding "quite a bit, " so the officers tried to stop the bleeding as much as possible. Officer Shearer said he never noticed a firearm while he was helping the victim. On cross-examination, Officer Shearer acknowledged that other people were in the apartment.

         Latrice Mills testified that about 4:15 p.m. on December 21, 2013, she was driving in the area of the Barron Court Apartments and saw more than two men run out of an apartment. The men ran to a church parking lot next door to the apartment complex and got into an "older red car with some shade of gray on it." Mills saw the car "fly past" her and "turn down a side street."

         On cross-examination, Mills testified that it was still light outside and that one of the men had a gun in his waistband. Mills was driving about thirty-five miles per hour, and she acknowledged that the red car may have been traveling only forty miles per hour when it passed her. On redirect examination, Mills testified that the red car "got to the next block pretty quick, it was trying to get away from the scene."

         Dexter Blakely testified that he knew the victim and the Appellant through mutual friends in the Orange Mound neighborhood of Memphis. On December 21, 2013, Dexter[1] was at the Barron Court apartment of his cousin, Jevonda Harris. Harris was not there, but the victim; Tranishi Wright, Dexter's girlfriend; Eldridge Bobo; Demarco "Big Red" Blakely; and Gerard Butler were there. Dexter said that "[e]verybody was just talking, chilling, " that he and Wright went into a back room, and that he heard four or five gunshots. He went into the living room and saw the victim lying on the floor in a corner.

         On cross-examination, Dexter testified that he never saw the victim with a gun and that he did not know the victim had a loaded gun that day. He acknowledged telling a police officer that he heard three or four gunshots.

         Eldridge Bobo testified that he had known the victim and the Appellant five or six years. On the afternoon of December 21, 2013, Bobo, "Tootie, " "Big Red, " and "Little D" were in Jevonda Harris's living room. Dexter Blakely and Tranishi Wright were "in the back." Bobo said that he was sitting on the couch, that Tootie was sitting to his right, that the victim was sitting in a folding chair next to a card table, and that Demarco was asleep on a loveseat. At some point, Bobo received a telephone call from his friend, "Albert." During their conversation, Bobo told Albert the names of the people who were in the apartment. Thirty minutes to one hour later, Bobo heard a knock on the door. Demarco answered the door, and someone pushed him backwards into the apartment. Bobo saw an arm extend into the doorway and saw a gun. He said that he heard "like commotion" and "pow" and that he jumped over the couch. There was a pause, and he then heard "pow, pow, pow." The shooter ran away.

         On cross-examination, Bobo acknowledged that the commotion he heard could have been two bodies colliding. Later that day, he gave a written statement at the police department. He denied telling the police that he heard the victim say "what's up" just prior to the shooting. He said he did not know the victim had a gun on December 21.

         Twenty-four-year-old Demarco "Big Red" Blakely testified that he had known the victim since Demarco was sixteen years old and the Appellant since Demarco was five or six years old. In December 2013, Demarco was living with his cousin, Jevonda Harris, in the Barron Court Apartments. On the afternoon of December 21, Demarco was at the apartment and was in the living room with the victim, Gerard Butler, and Eldridge Bobo. Dexter Blakely and Tranishi Wright were in the back room. Demarco was asleep on a couch by the door, Bobo and Butler were sitting on another couch, and the victim was sitting in a folding chair. Demarco heard a knock on the door and answered it. The Appellant was standing at the door and had a black pistol in his right hand. The gun was at the Appellant's side.

         Demarco testified that the Appellant "poked his head in" the apartment to see if the victim was there. The Appellant then pushed Demarco out of the way, looked at the victim, and asked, "[W]here my gun?" The victim began to stand up, and the Appellant started shooting at him. The Appellant fired one shot, paused, and fired "four or five quick ones." Demarco said that he was afraid the Appellant was going to shoot him and that he "stepped out" of the apartment. After the shooting, the Appellant "walked off" to a parking lot. Someone telephoned the police, and Demarco telephoned the victim's mother. He later looked at a photograph array and identified the Appellant as the shooter.

         On cross-examination, Demarco acknowledged that the men had been smoking marijuana in the apartment that day. He said that he knew the victim had stolen the Appellant's gun but that he did not know the victim had the gun on his person at the time of the shooting. The victim did not say anything to the Appellant before the shooting.

         Twenty-three-year-old Gerard Butler testified that he had known the victim since Butler was fifteen but that he did not know the Appellant. On the day of the shooting, Butler was at the apartment and heard a knock on the door. Demarco opened the door, and "[there] was an argument." Demarco said something like, "[D]on't bring that [sh**] over here." Butler saw the Appellant come into the apartment with a gun. The Appellant pointed the gun at the victim, and the victim stood up. The Appellant said something to the effect of, "[Y]ou're not going to take nothing else." He walked to the victim and shot at him seven or eight times. Butler said he ran out of the apartment and called 911. He did not see the Appellant leave the apartment, but he saw someone "jump in a red car" that was in the church parking lot and saw the car "pull off." A second person was in the car, which was a black or red Camaro.

         On cross-examination, Butler testified that he did not smoke marijuana that day. He said the victim did not say anything to the Appellant or take any steps toward the Appellant prior to the shooting. He denied telling police officers that the victim "tried to rush" the Appellant.

         Officer David Smith of the MPD testified that he arrived at the apartment after the shooting to collect evidence and take photographs. The apartment was in disarray, and a substance that appeared to be blood was on the floor. Officer Smith collected a Glock firearm, eight nine-millimeter spent shell casings, and two bullet fragments.

         Sergeant Lorenzo Young of the MPD testified that he went to the apartment after the shooting. The victim had been removed from the scene, but blood was on the floor where the victim had been lying. Sergeant Young said that a Beretta nine-millimeter handgun ejected shell casings to the right and that the casings "[popped] out" one to three feet from the gun. He said most of the shell casings found in this case were near the body, indicating that the victim had been shot at very close range. On cross-examination, Sergeant Young testified that members of the fire department were in the apartment prior to his arrival, and he acknowledged that evidence could have been moved.

         Officer John Nunnery of the MPD testified that on December 21, 2013, he and his partner were on patrol in the Orange Mound area when he heard a description of the suspect vehicle: a red, T-top Camaro with gray primer paint on it. About 4:28 p.m., Officer Nunnery and his partner located the car in the driveway of a home on Douglass Avenue. The home was about one and one-half miles from the scene of the shooting, and the officers later learned the residence was that of the Appellant

         Officer Nunnery testified that he and his partner touched the Camaro and that it "was warm . . . like it had just been turned off." They heard a television inside the residence and knocked on the door, but no one answered. They looked inside the Camaro and saw an identification badge with the ...


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