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Stone v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 6, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs April 19, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Bedford County No. 18042 F. Lee Russell, Judge

         A Bedford County Circuit Court jury convicted the defendant, John Willie Stone, of burglary of an automobile, theft of property valued at $500 or less, and aggravated assault, and the trial court imposed a total effective sentence of 21 years' incarceration. Shortly after the conclusion of his trial and prior to the entry of his judgments or his sentencing hearing, the defendant filed a pro se motion seeking new counsel, which the trial court interpreted as a petition for post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. Following a combined hearing on the defendant's motion for new trial and his purported petition for post-conviction relief, the trial court denied all claims. In this appeal, the defendant challenges both the sufficiency of the convicting evidence and the length of his sentence in addition to the ineffectiveness of his trial counsel. Because the trial court erroneously treated the defendant's motion for new counsel as a petition for post-conviction relief, we vacate the portion of the trial court's judgment which denied post-conviction relief to the defendant. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in Part; Vacated in Part

          Wesley Hall, Unionville, Tennessee, for the appellant, John Willie Stone.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Zachary T. Hinkle, Assistant Attorney General; Robert J. Carter, District Attorney General; and Michael D. Randles, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.



         In April 2015, the Bedford County Grand Jury charged the defendant with one count each of burglary of an automobile, theft of property valued at $500 or less, and aggravated assault. The trial court conducted a jury trial in October 2015.

         The State's proof at trial showed that on the night of August 26, 2014, Caitlin Pope drove her truck to her parents' residence on East Franklin Street in Shelbyville. She arrived at approximately 9:30 p.m. and parked in front of the house. Ms. Pope left the vehicle unlocked with the windows down, and she placed her wallet in a cup holder between the two front seats of the vehicle while she went inside the house.

         Andrew Joel Doak testified that his parents lived next door to Ms. Pope's parents and that on the night of August 26, he had driven to his parents' house to pick up some food. As he was walking to his vehicle which was parked on Franklin Street, he noticed "some legs hanging out a driver's side vehicle next door." Finding this suspicious, Mr. Doak approached the vehicle, and the man, who was "hanging out of the driver's side window" and who was later identified as the defendant, jumped to the ground and began to walk away. Mr. Doak followed the defendant and noticed that he "st[uck] something under his shirt and down in his pockets." Due to the darkness and the fact that the defendant was wearing a hat, Mr. Doak was initially unable to discern much about his appearance.

         After Mr. Doak had followed the defendant a short distance, the defendant suddenly turned and "threw his hands" up, asking Mr. Doak, "What's up?" Mr. Doak inquired what the defendant was doing, and the defendant responded that he wasn't "doing nothing." Mr. Doak then accused the defendant of breaking into the truck, which the defendant denied. The defendant then began to run. Mr. Doak gave chase, and the defendant reached under his shirt and told Mr. Doak, "Don't make me pull this on you." The defendant "darted away, " and Mr. Doak attempted to round a tree and cut him off when the defendant tripped and fell to the ground. The defendant immediately jumped to his feet and lunged at Mr. Doak; Mr. Doak was "really scared, " and his only thought was "don't let him get close enough if he does have" a weapon. To keep the defendant at bay, Mr. Doak kicked him in the head, but the defendant managed to stay on his feet. Mr. Doak and the defendant continued to scuffle, during which Mr. Doak saw "something get throwed [sic] out from under [the defendant's] shirt." Eventually, Mr. Doak gained control of the defendant and held him on the ground while Mr. Doak called 9-1-1. While Mr. Doak was speaking with the 9-1-1 dispatcher, he felt something hit his arm. Mr. Doak noticed that his right forearm had been cut near his elbow, and he saw "the blade . . . coming at [his] arm again." Mr. Doak informed the dispatcher that the defendant had a knife, and he tossed his telephone aside so that he could concentrate on disarming the defendant. Mr. Doak was afraid of being stabbed. The defendant continued to struggle, and Mr. Doak ultimately took control of the knife and cast it away, all the while keeping the defendant pinned to the ground. Shelbyville Police Department ("SPD") officers arrived a short time later.

         When SPD Lieutenant Mike Baker arrived at the scene, he recognized the defendant "immediately." Fellow SPD Officer Chris Vest handcuffed the defendant and placed him in his patrol car, and Mr. Doak assisted Lieutenant Baker in locating the folding knife and Ms. Pope's wallet, both of which were a few feet from the area where Mr. Doak had pinned the defendant to the ground. Officer Vest photographed the injury to Mr. Doak's arm, which photograph was admitted into evidence along with photographs of Ms. Pope's wallet and folding knife.

         Lieutenant Baker acknowledged that the defendant had a "visible injury" to his head, and Officer Vest recalled that the defendant had a "small cut" on the inside of his thumb.

         Just as Ms. Pope was preparing to leave 15 to 20 minutes after arriving at her parents' house, Mr. Doak arrived at the front door and handed Ms. Pope her wallet. Ms. Pope verified that the contents of her wallet - a driver's license and two debit cards - were still there, but she noticed that the wallet "was smashed up." Ms. Pope confirmed that the value of her wallet and its contents were worth less than $500, and she denied knowing the defendant or giving him permission to enter her vehicle and take her property. Sometime later, Ms. Pope realized that a folding knife she kept in her truck was missing. At trial, Ms. Pope identified the knife recovered from the crime scene as her own.

         With this evidence, the State rested. Following the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for judgments of acquittal and a Momon colloquy, the defendant elected to testify.

         The defendant testified that he was walking home on the night of August 26 when he realized that Mr. Doak was following him on Franklin Street. The defendant asked Mr. Doak what he was doing, and Mr. Doak "just hauled off and . . . hit [him] with something, " striking him in his left eye. The defendant clarified that Mr. Doak, prior to striking him, had asked "what [the defendant] was doing in a vehicle or something." The defendant denied any involvement with a vehicle that night or even seeing a vehicle before being attacked by Mr. Doak.

         The defendant said that Mr. Doak continued to hit him throughout their scuffle, causing the defendant to be "[v]ery dazed" and "confused." Because Mr. Doak was choking him, he was concerned that Mr. Doak would kill him, and he was unable to move freely. The defendant denied having a knife but agreed that he had sustained a cut to his right thumb.

         On cross-examination, the defendant stated that Mr. Doak had a knife, which he produced shortly after encountering the defendant, and the defendant insisted that he sustained the cut to his thumb when he attempted to block the knife thrust. The defendant was unsure which hand Mr. Doak used to hold the knife, but he believed that Mr. Doak was holding the closed knife in his hand while hitting the defendant. The defendant was unsure when Mr. Doak managed to open the knife. When asked how the knife ended up on the ground a few feet from the scuffle, the defendant responded that he managed to shake the knife out of Mr. Doak's hand. The defendant stated that he attempted to tell Officer Vest his side of the story during the ride to the police station but that Officer Vest essentially told him that "he really didn't want to hear what [the defendant] had to say." The defendant adamantly denied breaking into Ms. Pope's vehicle and stealing her wallet and knife. The defendant opined that Mr. Doak "could have stole[n]" Ms. Pope's property and placed it at the crime scene.

         On rebuttal for the State, Officer Vest testified that, during the brief, 60-second ride to the jail, the defendant never attempted to tell "his side of the story" and that, in fact, the defendant "never spoke to [Officer Vest] about anything that took place" that night.

         Based on this evidence, the jury convicted the defendant as charged of one count each of burglary of an automobile, theft of property valued at $500 or less, and aggravated assault. Shortly after the conclusion of the trial, the defendant filed, pro se, a letter which the court interpreted to be a petition for post-conviction relief, [1] and on November 4, 2015, the court appointed counsel to represent the defendant in post-conviction proceedings. The following day, the defendant appeared before the trial court and voluntarily withdrew his petition, and the trial court memorialized the dismissal of the petition on November 5.

         On December 2, 2015, the defendant filed, pro se, a "Motion for Appointment of Counsel, " in which he claimed to have received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, outlining the ways in which he believed trial counsel had been ineffective and asking the court to appoint new counsel. The trial court reappointed post-conviction counsel to meet with the defendant and counsel him "about the wisdom of pursuing" a post-conviction claim prior to a hearing on the defendant's motion for new trial or a sentencing hearing. At the December 3 hearing on the defendant's motion, which the court again interpreted to be a "petition for postconviction, " the defendant assured the court that he wished to pursue his post-conviction issues prior to the resolution of the underlying issues. Post-conviction counsel stated on the record his admonitions to the defendant:

I have explained to him that I have a concern that if he is trying to, for lack of better terminology, fold into his motion for new trial, PC elements, those are going to be decided and he's going to [be] barred from bringing those up later in a petition for postconviction relief, somewhat undercutting his positions. I have explained I'll ardently argue whatever he asks me to argue, but nonetheless, he is proceeding in that direction . . . of folding in.

         Because the defendant would not be dissuaded from his pursuit of ineffective assistance of counsel issues, the trial court postponed the date of his sentencing hearing to permit new counsel appropriate time for preparation. Following an April 2016 sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced the defendant as a career offender to a term of 6 years' incarceration for the burglary of an automobile conviction, and the court imposed a 15-year sentence as a Range III, persistent offender for the aggravated assault conviction, to be served consecutively to one another. With respect to the misdemeanor theft conviction, the trial court sentenced the defendant to a term of 11 months and 29 days' incarceration, to be served concurrently with the other two convictions, for a total effective sentence of 21 years.

         At the outset of the May hearing on the defendant's motion for new trial and purported petition for post-conviction relief, the court again cautioned the defendant about his choice to pursue post-conviction relief at that stage of the proceedings:

The Court: Okay. Mr. Stone, ordinarily, in a motion for new trial, the subject matter is mistakes made by the judge, mistakes made by the General, and mistakes made by the jury, I guess. That's what you would ordinarily be complaining about in trying to get me to grant a new trial.
Now, it's my understanding that you've expanded upon that a bit and you are going to be complaining about your former attorneys. Now, here's the problem, we have a separate procedure which is initiated by a petition where you're asking for post-conviction relief, and that comes along after the trial, after the sentencing hearing, after the motion for new trial, and after appellate review has been exhausted, after your case has gone up to the Court of Criminal ...

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