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Miller v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 17, 2017

JEFFERY LEE MILLER
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Session December 13, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. 037842 William R. Goodman, III, Judge.

         The Petitioner, Jeffery Lee Miller, appeals the Montgomery County Circuit Court's dismissal of his petition for writ of error coram nobis. The Petitioner seeks relief from his premeditated first degree murder conviction. The Petitioner argues that (1) the coram nobis court erred by determining that due process considerations did not toll the statute of limitations; (2) the coram nobis court abused its discretion by applying an incorrect legal standard regarding reasonable diligence in its order and final judgment; (3) the coram nobis court's grounds for dismissal were erroneous; and (4) the coram nobis court's assessment of the State's open file policy was erroneous. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court.

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

          Roger Smith, Nashville, Tennessee, (at trial), and Karen McDonald, Nashville, Tennessee, (on appeal), for the Petitioner, Jeffery Lee Miller.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H. Findley, Senior Counsel; John W. Carney, District Attorney General; and Helen O. Young, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr. and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE.

         On April 28, 1997, the Petitioner was charged with one count of premeditated first degree murder in the shooting death of Josh Kelly. At the conclusion of his first trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared. On August 25, 1997, a second trial was held, and the Petitioner was convicted of the charged offense. The facts underlying the Petitioner's conviction are as follows:

The evidence at trial established that on September 1, 1996, the [Petitioner] shot and killed the victim, Josh Kelley. The evidence indicated that earlier that evening, three young ladies, Tennille, Cassie, and Heather, were driving "up and down" Riverside Drive in Clarksville, Tennessee. They visited a motel where Mike Powers, Cassie's boyfriend, was throwing a party. While in the motel room, Tennille saw the [Petitioner] preparing to leave the room, at which point someone handed a gun to him. The [Petitioner] then left the party. Shortly thereafter, the three young ladies decided to go cruising on Riverside Drive again. They pulled in the parking lot of Page and Taylor's Sporting Goods Store to change drivers. As they were changing seats, a young man in the parking lot told them to "suck [his] dick or leave." The three young ladies left the area and returned to the party at the motel.
When they arrived at the motel, the ladies told Mr. Powers about the young man's comment. At this point, Mr. Powers and the [Petitioner], who had returned to the motel, went to the [Petitioner's] car, and the [Petitioner] followed the ladies to the parking lot of Page and Taylor's Sporting Goods Store. According to the [Petitioner's] second statement to the police, upon arrival at the parking lot, the [Petitioner] told Mr. Powers to "get the gun from under the passenger seat." According to at least one witness, when Mr. Powers exited the vehicle, he had a gun in his waistband. The [Petitioner] and Mr. Powers then approached a group of teenagers standing in the parking lot. The evidence at trial indicated that Mr. Powers asked which of them had told his girlfriend to "suck [his] d**k." In response, the victim stepped forward and said, "We don't know you. We don't know your girlfriend. We didn't say anything to anybody." Mr. Powers then pulled the gun from his waistband and pointed it at the victim. According to one witness, the [Petitioner] told Mr. Powers to "cap [the victim]." Mr. Powers lowered the gun to his side, at which point the [Petitioner] took the gun out of Mr. Powers' hand. The [Petitioner] cocked the gun, pulled the slide back, pointed the gun at the ground in front of the victim's feet, and fired. The [Petitioner] then raised the gun, pointed it at the victim's chest, and fired. After the shooting, the [Petitioner] and Mr. Powers left the scene.

         The Petitioner received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole.[1] In his direct appeal, the Petitioner challenged the sufficiency of the evidence arguing that the shooting was an accident and that he was high on cocaine and unable to form the necessary intent. This court affirmed the conviction on direct appeal, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. State v. Jeffery Miller, No. 01C01-9801-CC-00029, 1999 WL 398188, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 18, 1999). Thereafter, the Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective because he failed to call his co-defendant, Michael Powers, as a witness. He also challenged the failure to charge the lesser included offenses of premeditated first degree murder. Jeffery Lee Miller v. State, M2003-02841-CCA-R3-PC, 2005 WL 901130 at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 19, 2005). The Petitioner also filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Jeffery Miller v. Jewell Steele, Warden, M2012-01628-CCA-R3-HC, 2013 WL 3872835, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 24, 2013). This court affirmed the denial and dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief and writ of habeas corpus.

         On July 21, 2015, nearly eighteen years following his conviction, the Petitioner, through counsel, filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis alleging that he had "newly discovered evidence which may have resulted in a different judgment or a different punishment had the evidence been presented at his trial." After requesting his investigative file from the Clarksville District Attorney's Office, the Petitioner discovered additional statements from two key witnesses, Jeremy Gibbs and Matthew Bryant. Jeremy Gibbs testified on behalf of the State in the Petitioner's trial, and Matthew Bryant testified as a State witness in the trial of Michael Powers, the Petitioner's co-defendant. Prior to the Petitioner requesting his investigative file, the only statement he had was Detective Cheryl Anderson's handwritten version of Gibbs' statement.

         The Petitioner claims that Gibbs' handwritten statement was "significant" because it contained additional information that was not "conveyed in the question-and-answer statement written by Detective Cheryl Anderson." Gibbs' handwritten statement included a description of the Petitioner that varied from "Gibbs's trial statement and his statement at the preliminary hearing." Finally, Gibbs' handwritten statement included "his admission that he entered the crime scene and picked up one of the shell casings." The Petitioner claims that Gibbs' statement could have been used to "damage[] the integrity of the . . . investigation and the credibility of the prosecution's law enforcement witnesses" and show that "the crime scene was not secure, that no log of persons at the scene was disclosed, and that the prosecution witnesses did not report . . . Gibbs's tampering with the evidence."

         The Petitioner also asserts that Bryant's statement was important because this statement "[was] consistent with [the Petitioner's] testimony and [was] inconsistent with the version of events related by the prosecution witnesses." Bryant's statement was handwritten by Bryant and then typed by the Clarksville Police Department. In Bryant's statement, he claimed that the Petitioner fired two shots at the ground and then left the scene. The Petitioner argues that this statement corroborates his "defense that the shots were not fired at the victim and that the shooting was not premeditated." The Petitioner asserts that he was not at fault in failing to present the alleged newly discovered evidence because he did not discover the two witness statements until he received the investigative file in August 2014.

         Attached to the petition were affidavits signed by the Petitioner, the Petitioner's counsel, whom we will refer to as appellate counsel, and Chris M. Jones, a former Shelby County Sheriff and alleged expert in the field of police practices. In the Petitioner's affidavit, he explained that he requested his investigative file from the Clarksville District Attorney's Office, which he received in late August 2014. He claimed that there were two witness statements he had never seen and that he "had no knowledge of the contents of these statements." The Petitioner also claimed that trial counsel never discussed the contents of these two statements with the Petitioner, and he believed that trial counsel was not aware of these witness statements. The affidavit from appellate counsel stated that both the Petitioner and appellate counsel sent letters to trial counsel asking him if he received the two witness statements at issue. Trial counsel did not respond to the Petitioner's or appellate counsel's letters. In the third affidavit, Jones stated that the Clarksville Police ...


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