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State v. Taylor

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 16, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs at Knoxville August 16, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. CC15-CR-348 William R. Goodman, III, Judge

         A Montgomery County Circuit Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Rawney Jean Taylor, of initiating a false report, a Class D felony; criminally negligent homicide, a Class E felony; and reckless endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor, and the trial court sentenced her to three years, two years, and eleven months, twenty-nine days, respectively. The court ordered that she serve the three- and two-year sentences consecutively for a total effective sentence of five years. On appeal, the Appellant contends that her three- and two-year sentences are excessive, that the trial court erred by ordering consecutive sentencing, that the trial court erred by denying her request for judicial diversion, and that the trial court erred by denying her request for probation. Based upon the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Christopher G. Clark and Zachary L. Talbot, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rawney Jean Taylor.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; M. Todd Ridley, Assistant Attorney General; John Wesley Carney, Jr., District Attorney General; and Kimberly Lund and Daniel Stephenson, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.



         I. Factual Background

         This case relates to the death of the Appellant's four-year-old daughter, Arianna Taylor. In August 2013, the Montgomery County Grand Jury returned a ten-count indictment, charging the Appellant and her then-husband, DeMarkus Montreal Taylor (hereinafter "DMT"), with felony murder of the victim; aggravated child abuse of the victim, the victim's older sister, and the victim's younger brother; and initiating a false report. In February 2015, the grand jury returned a fourteen-count superseding indictment. The Appellant and DMT moved to sever the charges involving the victim from those involving their two other children.[2] In July 2015, the Appellant and DMT were tried jointly for the following crimes committed against the victim: aggravated child abuse by DMT; felony murder in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse by DMT; aggravated child neglect by DMT; felony murder in the perpetration of aggravated child neglect by DMT; aggravated child neglect by the Appellant; felony murder in the perpetration of aggravated child neglect by the Appellant; initiating a false report by DMT; and initiating a false report by the Appellant.

         Although the Appellant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence, we will summarize the evidence at trial as it is relevant to sentencing. Christopher Shoemaker testified that he was a volunteer firefighter with the Woodlawn Fire Department. On July 12, 2013, Shoemaker responded to a call that a child was not breathing. He arrived at a mobile home on Dotsonville Road less than five minutes later and was the first responder on the scene. As his truck approached the residence, DMT was running on a gravel driveway toward him. DMT led him inside, Shoemaker went into a back bedroom, and he saw the victim lying on a bed. A blanket was pulled up to her chin, and a pillow was behind her head. Shoemaker moved the blanket and checked the victim's carotid artery for a pulse. Finding no pulse, he "went to check her regular pulse" and noticed that her arm was stiff and cold. A small amount of blood was in her nostril and on the edge of her lip. Shoemaker told DMT that "there was nothing we could do." He did not see any other children or adults in the home. On cross-examination, Shoemaker testified that he arrived about 3:00 p.m. and that the victim's hair "was flowing up behind her head and laid on the pillow."

         Jerry Buchanan testified that he was a volunteer firefighter with the Woodlawn Fire Department and the second responder on the scene. Christopher Shoemaker met him at the front door. Buchanan went inside and passed a man who was kneeling on the kitchen floor and appeared very distraught. As Buchanan entered the back bedroom, Shoemaker told him that the victim was cold to the touch and that rigor mortis had set in. Buchanan told Shoemaker they needed to exit the residence and not let anyone inside. Buchannan said that he did not see anyone else in the home but that he "heard them screaming and crying" in another bedroom.

         Lieutenant Danny Cotterell of the Montgomery County Emergency Medical Services testified that he was a paramedic and deputy coroner for the Montgomery County Medical Examiner. On July 12, 2013, he responded to the scene for the purpose of initiating life saving measures on the victim. However, when he touched the victim, he found that she had rigor mortis, "which means that there is nothing we can do any longer to attempt to resuscitate."

         Lieutenant Cotterell testified that he went into another bedroom and began questioning the Appellant for the coroner's report. The Appellant said "they" heard the victim snoring sometime the previous night. They checked on her, thought she was sleeping well, and left her alone. Lieutenant Cotterell also spoke with DMT. DMT told him that DMT had sent the victim to bed early the previous evening because she was "being bad." Sometime later, the victim started crying, came out of her room, and said her head hurt. DMT felt the victim's head but did not feel a bump, so he sent her back to bed.

         Lieutenant Cotterell testified that he examined the victim for the coroner's report and saw bruising on the right side of her face, on her chin, and on both arms. He also saw a wound or bruise on her chest. He felt the victim's head and noticed a depressed area behind her right ear. On cross-examination, Lieutenant Cotterell acknowledged that the Appellant was crying and upset.

         Officer Shanna Grice of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) testified that on July 12, 2013, she responded to the scene of an unresponsive four-year-old child. When she arrived, first responders were exiting the mobile home and told her that "she's gone." Officer Grice said that she went to the back bedroom and that the victim "appeared [to be] in a position that was not very natural." The victim also had bruising on her left arm. Officer Grice secured the Appellant, DMT, and their two other children in another bedroom. DMT was calm and not very emotional, but the Appellant "was crying at different times." The Appellant and DMT were taken out of the room separately to speak with an investigator. Officer Grice said that as the Appellant and DMT were taken in and out of the bedroom, the Appellant became more and more upset and began hyperventilating. Officer Grice asked the Appellant if she needed medical attention or water, and the Appellant said she would calm herself down.

         Michael Allen Mason testified that he lived in the same mobile home park as the Appellant and DMT, that he knew them and their children, and that he could see their home from his home. About 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. on July 12, 2013, Mason returned home and saw the Appellant and DMT on their back steps. One seemed to be consoling the other. DMT was sitting down, and the Appellant was behind him with her hand on his shoulder. Mason said that "it seemed odd for them to be out there" and that they usually would wave to him. However, that day, "they looked over, almost in a way that they didn't want [him] to see them."

         On cross-examination, Mason acknowledged that the Appellant looked upset and distraught and said that "they were both upset." Mason acknowledged giving an interview to police on July 17 in which he stated that DMT waved to him on July 12.

         Investigator Jeff Morlock of the MCSO testified that on July 12, 2013, he took a statement from DMT in his patrol car. The statement was reduced to writing and signed by DMT. Investigator Morlock read the statement to the jury, saying as follows:

"Yesterday, my kids started acting up, doing nasty things with each other. Then I had split them up by putting Ariana on her bed and my son on the couch with time out. After I walked out of the room, Ariana had come out and told me that she hit her head. So I felt her head for knots and there wasn't any. I told her to lay down and you will be okay. After that, we made some dinner for the kids. Ariana would not wake up but she was breathing and snoring. We just figured that she was tired, so by 11:30 or 12:00 we had made all the kids go to bed and Rawny and myself went into the room to give them all a kiss and Ariana was snoring and breathing good. So we checked on her again before we went to sleep and she was doing the same thing so we just figured she was tired. My wife woke up the next" and he started to write morning and he crossed it out and wrote "afternoon and checked on her and then she run back in the room with me and said she was cold and not breathing. I jumped out of the bed, ran into the room and shook her a little bit to try and wake her up. She didn't get up and then I called."

         On cross-examination, Investigator Morlock testified that DMT sat in the front seat of his patrol car and gave the statement voluntarily.

         Joshua Wall testified that on July 12, 2013, he was an investigator for the MCSO, responded to the victim's home about 4:30 p.m., and photographed the scene. The victim was still lying in bed, and two other beds were in the room. The victim had injuries on her arms.

         Investigator Mark Wojnarek of the MCSO testified that he interviewed DMT at the sheriff's office but that he could not remember when the interview occurred. The recorded interview was played for the jury. During the interview, DMT said that the Appellant went to work on July 11, 2013, and that he looked after the children. The victim and her brother were doing "nasty stuff" to each other, so he separated them by putting his son on the couch and the victim in bed. The victim later complained that she had hit her head, so DMT went to her room and rubbed her head. The victim was "alright" and lay back down. When the Appellant got home from work, she and DMT checked on the victim. The victim was sleeping, snoring, and would not wake, but DMT was not concerned because he thought she was tired. The other children went to bed about 10:00 p.m. The next day, DMT and the Appellant woke about 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. Their other children got up about the same time. The Appellant went to check on the victim and screamed that the victim was not moving. DMT checked on the victim and telephoned 911 about thirty seconds later. He said he did not know how she died and was "waiting on the autopsy." He stated that the victim had a shunt in the right side of her head and that he was hoping the victim's hitting her head did not cause her shunt to "crinkle." He said "nobody went crazy like that and beat" the victim.

         Norman Ray Clark, III, testified that he was the custodian of records for Sprint and identified records for a cellular telephone account in the Appellant's name. According to the records, the Appellant's telephone received a call at 10:32 a.m. on July 12, 2013. The call was answered by voicemail. The telephone received a second call at 10:35 a.m., and someone answered the call. The Appellant's telephone received a third call at 1:30 p.m., but the call was answered by voicemail. Someone used the telephone to call 911 at 2:54 p.m.

         Investigator Julie Webb of the MCSO testified that she went to the victim's home on July 12, 2013. She went into the back bedroom and saw the victim lying on a bed. The victim had what appeared to be bruising on her left arm and a lot of discoloration on her face. Blood was around her nostril, and her mouth had blood on it and "what appeared to be like teeth marks." Investigator Webb spoke with the Appellant, and the Appellant told her the following: The Appellant went to work about 9:30 a.m. on July 11. When she left, DMT and the children were sleeping. The Appellant got home about 7:30 p.m. The victim was in bed, and her brother was on the couch. The Appellant tried to wake the victim for dinner, but the victim was "snoring loudly, " which was unusual. At some point, the Appellant put her two other children to bed. About midnight, she checked on the victim, and the victim was still snoring loudly. The Appellant kissed the victim and went to sleep. The family woke up the next afternoon. The Appellant's two other children came in for breakfast, but the victim was not with them. The Appellant went to check on the victim and found her cold and unresponsive. The Appellant ran down the hall, screaming for DMT.

         Investigator Webb testified that she interviewed the Appellant three additional times on August 6. During the Appellant's first interview, she admitted that she and DMT had not been truthful about discovering the victim and that she got up in time for work on July 12. The victim was cold, and the Appellant started screaming. DMT came into the bedroom, and they tried to wake the victim. However, the victim was stiff. The Appellant was afraid to call 911, so she and DMT decided "not to do that at that time." The Appellant denied seeing marks on the victim's face and never claimed that DMT stopped or prevented her from calling 911.

         On cross-examination, Investigator Webb testified that the Appellant said she spoke with DMT about the victim on the night of July 11 and that he assured her "everything was fine." When Investigator Webb went into the victim's bedroom on July 12, the victim's bruises immediately "stuck out" to the officer. She said that the lighting in the bedroom was dim but that the lighting was probably better than it was at night. Investigator Webb stated that the Appellant was charged with the same offenses as DMT "because she had a child that wouldn't wake up and she talked about multiple times trying to wake her up, she wouldn't wake up, and this child had multiple injuries at that time." Investigator Webb acknowledged that there was no proof the Appellant saw the victim's injures on July 11 and that the Appellant was crying and emotional on July 12.

         Investigator Webb testified that during her second interview with the Appellant on August 6, she told the Appellant that she knew DMT had beat the victim to death but that DMT would not admit it. During Investigator Webb's final interview with the Appellant, the Appellant was sobbing. The Appellant's story about what happened on July 11 remained consistent. Her story about waking up and finding the victim stiff on July 12 also remained consistent. On redirect examination, Investigator Webb testified that the Appellant was awake about five hours before she and DMT called 911.

         MT testified that she was eight years old and the victim's older sister. She said that she saw "[t]hem hurting [the victim] in the bathroom" and that the victim was "getting beatings" while MT was in her bedroom. Afterward, MT saw the victim in the victim's bed. MT said that the last time she saw the victim, the victim was "all blue and her teeth were blue and stuff." MT tried to wake the victim but was unable to do so. She told her parents about the victim, they "came in there, " and they returned to their bedroom. They did not call a doctor right away.

         The State asked MT, "[H]ow was [the victim] getting beat?" MT answered, "With his hand sometimes" and "[s]ometimes a belt." MT said the victim "didn't want to get hit, so she said I don't want to get a spanking, she kept talking." MT stated that the Appellant was at work during the beating and that the victim was in bed when the Appellant came home.

         On cross-examination, MT acknowledged that she had talked with a lot of people about what happened to the victim. She said that she did not hear the victim snoring and that the victim "looked scary" on July 12 because the victim's lips were blue. The State asked if the victim looked scary the previous night, and MT said, "No, I don't think so." She acknowledged that the Appellant was at work when the victim "got this . . . whipping" and said that the Appellant did not whip the victim "at that time."

         Adele Lewis of the Davidson County Medical Examiner's Office testified as an expert in forensic pathology that she performed the victim's autopsy on July 13, 2013. Dr. Lewis listed the injuries on the outside of the victim's head as follows: bruising on and behind her right ear, which frequently occurred when someone "boxe[d]" a child's ear; a black bruise on her right cheek; a brownish-yellow bruise on her left cheek; two black bruises on her left jaw "with some scrapes on the tops of those"; a scrape under her chin; and several pinpoint hemorrhages on the left side of her neck that were indicative of someone grabbing her around the neck or striking her on the neck. Dr. Lewis listed the injuries to the inside of the victim's head as follows: bruises and scalp bruises on both sides of the top of her head, a deep scalp bruise on the back of her head, bleeding under the covering of her brain between the skull and the brain, bleeding on the right side of her brain and on the underside of her brain, bruising and bleeding inside the back of her neck where the spinal cord connected to the head, and bleeding on the spinal cord itself. Dr. Lewis described the spinal cord injury as "a whiplash type injury" ...

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