Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs April 19, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Bedford County No. 18042 F. Lee
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.
R. App. P. 3; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in Part;
Vacated in Part
Hall, Unionville, Tennessee, for the appellant, John Willie
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
Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which John Everett Williams and Camille R. McMullen, JJ.,
CURWOOD WITT, JR., JUDGE
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,  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.
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.
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.
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
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