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State v. King

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 22, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs March 21, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 104304 Steven Wayne Sword, Judge.

         Defendant, Melvin King, was convicted by a Knox County jury of first degree murder, aggravated burglary, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, three counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, reckless aggravated assault, attempted especially aggravated robbery, and aggravated animal cruelty. He was sentenced to an effective life sentence. On appeal, he argues that the evidence is insufficient to support dual convictions for especially aggravated kidnapping and attempted especially aggravated robbery, that the trial court improperly allowed the State to admit autopsy photographs into evidence, and that the trial court improperly gave the jury an instruction on flight. After a review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. However, because the trial court did not enter judgment forms disposing of each count of the indictment, we remand the matter to the trial court for entry of a separate judgment form for each count of the indictment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed and Remanded.

          Phillip Lomonaco (at trial) and J. Liddell Kirk (on appeal), Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Melvin King.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jonathan H. Wardle, Assistant Attorney General; Charme P. Allen, District Attorney General; and TaKisha Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.



         Factual Background

         In October of 2014, Defendant and four codefendants-Braylen Bennett, Roderick Curtis, Dwaine Love, and Charles Byrd-were indicted by the Knox County Grand Jury in a multi-count indictment after an incident at the home of John Huddleston during which Mr. Huddleston was shot and killed. The indictment charged the defendants with twenty-five different offenses, including: three counts of aggravated burglary (in concert with two or more persons); one count of employing a firearm during the commission of an aggravated burglary; two counts of the especially aggravated kidnapping of Jeremiah Gilman; two counts of the especially aggravated kidnapping of John Huddleston; eight counts of the first degree felony murder of John Huddleston; one count of the aggravated assault of Sydney Smith (in concert with two or more persons); two counts of the attempted especially aggravated robbery of Daniel Nicely; two counts of the attempted especially aggravated robbery of Jeremiah Gilman; one count of aggravated animal cruelty by killing a companion animal; and one count of aggravated animal cruelty by seriously injuring a companion animal.[1]

         Mr. Huddleston, the murder victim, lived at a house on Valley View Drive in Knoxville with several other people and two dogs. He rented bedrooms in the house to Daniel Nicely and Jeremiah Gilman. Mr. Nicely sold marijuana from the house and often kept cash and a quantity of marijuana in a small safe or in other locations around the house. Cody Hall also lived at the house. Sydney Smith, the girlfriend of Mr. Nicely, was at the house on the evening the incident took place.

         Defendant came to the house two days before the incident and talked to Mr. Nicely. Mr. Nicely recalled that Defendant "asked [him] for a girl's name, if she lived there." He did not know Defendant and told him that the girl did not live at that address. After Defendant left, Mr. Nicely and the victim talked about how Defendant's actions were "a little strange and peculiar" so they walked out to the front porch and saw Defendant "hop into a gray Infinity" with a missing front license plate and drive away.

         On June 25, 2014, Charles Byrd got a new job and wanted to get some marijuana to celebrate. Mr. Byrd, who testified at trial for the State, recalled that he had been hanging out with codefendants Dwaine Love and Braylen Bennett that day and that none of them were able to find any marijuana. At some point that day, Mr. Byrd, Mr. Love, Mr. Bennett, Defendant, Rodrick Curtis, Brandon Phelps, and someone identified only as "BJ" were all hanging out together. Defendant suggested to the group that he knew of a location where marijuana was available. The group discussed a plan to get marijuana from the victim's house by robbing the people at the house. Defendant offered money to everyone who became involved in the proposed robbery. The victim was the specific target.

         During the evening of June 25, 2014, the victim, Mr. Nicely, Mr. Hall, Ms. Smith, and Mr. Gilman were hanging out at the house watching television. At some point that night, Ms. Smith got a text message from a friend asking how many people were hanging out at the house that night. By the early morning hours of June 26, Mr. Nicely and Ms. Smith, were asleep in their bedroom while Mr. Hall was asleep on the couch. Mr. Gilman was not in his bedroom as he was awake in the living room watching television.

         That night, the defendants went to the victim's house in two separate cars, a Jeep and Defendant's Toyota Camry. Mr. Byrd, Mr. Love, Mr. Curtis, and Defendant went to the front door while Mr. Bennett, Mr. Phelps, and "BJ" went to the back door. They all wore bandanas or fabric over their faces, and two of the men had guns. When someone came to the back door with a gun, Mr. Curtis, Mr. Phelps, and Mr. Bennett ran around the house and entered through the front door.

         Mr. Hall was awakened by a "loud bang at the door." He jumped up from the couch in time to see Mr. Gilman "flying across the room." He saw "someone with a gun running in the house, and . . . people behind him just bum rushing in." Mr. Hall took a defensive position on the floor but was almost instantly thrown on the couch. Someone placed what he described as a "gray silver shade" colored gun to his head and demanded to know the location of the "dope." The men hit Mr. Hall "four or five times on the head" and then told him to keep his "head down." He sought refuge under a table. Mr. Hall saw Mr. Gilman "getting hit" by the men. At some point, Mr. Gilman was told to unplug the PlayStation. From his vantage point under a table, Mr. Hall could hear the men telling someone down the hall in one of the bedrooms to "open the door." They threatened to shoot through the door of one of the bedrooms.

         Mr. Nicely was asleep in his bedroom and "woke to a bunch of yelling and loud noises and guys demanding stuff." Ms. Smith awoke to "three loud bangs" coming from "the front of the house." Mr. Nicely's bedroom door was open at the time he awoke. He saw someone run past his bedroom door so he jumped up out of bed and shut the door and locked it. He grabbed the .22 rifle he kept in his room and "was looking for [his] SKS." Mr. Nicely put his gun down and "braced [himself] at the door." A man with his face partially covered with cloth came to the bedroom door and busted it down. Mr. Nicely later identified the man as Defendant because he recognized his "eyes and nose" from his visit to the house a few days earlier. Ms. Smith was also able to identify Defendant. Defendant placed a gun to Mr. Nicely's forehead and demanded "dope." Defendant also pointed the gun at Ms. Smith and told her to "[g]ive [him] all [her] stuff." Ms. Smith was "freaking out." Mr. Nicely was "scared" and thought that this "[c]ould be it." A "frenzy" in the other room distracted Defendant momentarily and suddenly four to five males ran past the bedroom door with the victim "chasing them with a gun." Mr. Nicely propped the door to his bedroom back into place while Defendant and the other men were distracted. He and Ms. Smith remained inside the bedroom braced against the door.

         At the same time Mr. Nicely and Ms. Smith were in the bedroom, Mr. Hall was still hiding in the living room under a piece of furniture. He thought he first saw the victim "walking, and [the men] sat him down in the chair" in the living room. The men instructed Mr. Hall to continue to put his "head down." Mr. Hall then saw the victim go "to the hallway, " and one of the dogs, Diesel, started "barking really loud." Mr. Hall grabbed the dog by the collar. The "next thing" he heard was the men yelling that the victim "ha[d] a gun." He heard multiple shots, and both he and Mr. Gilman immediately started "running towards the door trying to get out as fast" as possible. Mr. Hall, Mr. Nicely, and Ms. Smith all heard multiple shots but did not see who fired the shots or who was hit by the shots. Mr. Curtis ...

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