Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Session November 15, 2016
from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 286393 Barry
A. Steelman, Judge
a jury trial, the Defendant, Tony Edward Bigoms, was
convicted of premeditated first degree murder and abuse of a
corpse, a Class E felony. See Tenn. Code Ann.
§§ 39-13-202, -17-312(a). The trial court imposed a
total effective sentence of imprisonment for life plus four
years. On appeal, the Defendant contends (1) that jury
separations occurred when the sequestered jury members were
allowed to go to their individual homes, unsupervised, to
pack their belongings at the start of the trial, were allowed
to make phone calls to family members during the trial, and
were allowed to visit with family members the day before the
trial concluded; (2) that the trial court erred in admitting
testimony from a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI)
special agent regarding that agent's testimony during a
previous murder trial at which the Defendant was acquitted;
(3) that the trial court erred in admitting evidence found as
a result of a warrantless search of the Defendant's cell
phone; (4) that the State failed to prove venue by a
preponderance of the evidence; and (5) that the evidence was
insufficient to sustain the Defendant's
convictions. Following our review, we conclude that
jury separations occurred when the jurors were allowed to go
home unsupervised and to make phone calls during the trial.
Furthermore, we conclude that the State failed to meet its
burden to show that no prejudice to the Defendant occurred
during these separations. Additionally, we conclude that the
admission of the TBI agent's testimony regarding the
Defendant's previous murder trial violated Tennessee Rule
of Evidence 404(b)'s prohibition against evidence of
other bad acts and that this error was not harmless. Finally,
we conclude that the trial court erred in admitting the
evidence found on the Defendant's cell phone as that
evidence was not relevant. Accordingly, we reverse the
judgments of the trial court and remand the case for a new
trial. With respect to the Defendant's remaining issues,
we will address those issues so as not to pretermit them.
See State v. Parris, 236 S.W.3d 173, 189 (Tenn.
Crim. App. 2007) (following a similar procedure).
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
E. Smith, District Public Defender; Steve Brown (at trial);
Jane J. Buffaloe (at trial); and Jay Underwood (at motion for
new trial hearing and on appeal), Assistant District Public
Defenders, for the appellant, Tony Edward Bigoms.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy
Wilber, Senior Counsel; M. Neal Pinkston, District Attorney
General; Lance Pope and Cameron B. Williams, Assistant
District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of
Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court.
Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., filed a separate concurring
opinion in which Timothy L. Easter, J., joined.
KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE
The Victim's Disappearance
victim, Dana Wilkes, was a "patient care
technician" at Dialysis Clinic, Incorporated in
Chattanooga. On November 9, 2012, the victim received her
paycheck and worked a normal shift, leaving the clinic at
4:55 p.m. At approximately 7:20 p.m., the victim pulled into
the parking lot of a Family Dollar to meet the Defendant. The
Defendant got into the victim's green Jeep and, after a
few minutes, they drove away. The Defendant and the victim
then went to a local Walmart. The victim purchased some items
and withdrew $240 from an ATM inside the Walmart. The
Defendant and the victim left the Walmart at approximately
8:50 p.m. They then went to a nearby Murphy gas station. The
Defendant pumped gas while the victim went inside and
purchased some items, including a pack of cigarettes for the
Defendant. The Defendant and the victim drove away from the
gas station shortly after 9:00 p.m.
victim was scheduled to be at work by 5:30 a.m. on November
10, 2012. She never arrived at the clinic. The victim's
supervisor, Leslie Brown, thought it was unusual that the
victim did not show up or call. Ms. Brown repeatedly tried
calling the victim that morning, but the victim did not
answer. Ms. Brown grew concerned and she and another staff
member drove to the victim's home. Ms. Brown noticed that
the victim's Jeep was not parked outside of the home, but
she did not go to the front door. Ms. Brown returned to the
clinic. Around noon, she received a phone call from the
victim's mother who was concerned about the victim. One
of the victim's co-workers, Zeddie Pryor, saw the
victim's Jeep on the side of the road near the Wilcox
Boulevard Tunnel around 11:00 a.m. Ms. Pryor did not know
that the victim was missing when she saw the Jeep. Later in
the day, another co-worker informed her about the
victim's disappearance and Ms. Pryor told the co-worker
that she had seen the victim's Jeep that morning. A
United States Postal Service employee also saw the
victim's Jeep around 2:00 p.m. that afternoon.
victim's mother called the victim's son, Robert
Preston Boulware, around noon on November 10, 2012, to tell
him that she was concerned because the victim was not
answering her telephone. Mr. Boulware tried calling the
victim himself, and when he received no answer, he went to
the victim's home. Mr. Boulware also noticed that the
victim's car was not parked outside her home. Mr.
Boulware found the front door unlocked. Mr. Boulware went
inside the home. The victim's purse and keys were
missing, but Mr. Boulware found the victim's insulin in
the refrigerator. Mr. Boulware explained that the victim was
diabetic and that she "always carried [insulin] in her
purse" when she went out.
point, Mr. Boulware was concerned enough to call the police
and file a "missing person" report. Officer Charles
Decker of the Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) responded
to Mr. Boulware's call around 4:00 p.m. Officer Decker
spoke to Mr. Boulware in front of the victim's home, and
Mr. Boulware told him that the victim "was [a] severe
diabetic, " that she "was last seen the night prior
at approximately 10 p.m., " and that her not showing up
for work or answering her telephone "was abnormal."
Mr. Boulware recalled telling Officer Decker that the
victim's mother had last spoken to the victim the night
speaking to Officer Decker, Mr. Boulware went back to his
home. Around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., he received a phone call from
one of the victim's co-workers. Mr. Boulware was told
that the victim's Jeep had been seen near the Wilcox
Boulevard Tunnel. Mr. Boulware and his roommate went to check
on the Jeep. The Jeep was unlocked and Mr. Boulware looked
inside. On the driver's side, Mr. Boulware found the seat
moved as close as possible to the steering wheel and a pillow
in the seat. Mr. Boulware explained that the victim drove
that way because she was very short. Mr. Boulware did not see
the victim's keys or purse in the car. Mr. Boulware saw
"blood that was kind of dripping down" the glove
compartment when he looked at the passenger side. Upon seeing
the blood, Mr. Boulware called Officer Decker.
Decker found Mr. Boulware waiting on him next to the
victim's Jeep parked on the side of the road heading into
the Wilcox Boulevard Tunnel. Officer Decker did not notice
any blood in the area around the Jeep or on the outside of
the vehicle. Officer Decker did observe "what looked to
be blood spatter on the front passenger side of the
vehicle." CPD Detective Reginald Parks was called to the
scene when blood was found inside the victim's Jeep. Det.
Parks arrived around 7:00 p.m. and walked around the Jeep
looking for blood or other evidence. Det. Parks found nothing
outside the Jeep. Inside the Jeep, Det. Parks saw "a
noticeable amount" of what appeared to be dried blood.
Det. Parks noted that the majority of the blood was located
in the area of the front passenger seat. Det. Parks recalled
that there were blood "smears on the dash board"
and "some kind of spray of blood on the dash" and
steering wheel. Det. Parks also noticed blood "on the
console in between the seats" and more "smears of
blood in the back seat and some on the doors on the passenger
the Jeep was discovered, Mr. Boulware and a CPD officer went
back to the victim's home. While there, one of the
victim's neighbors approached Mr. Boulware, said that he
had the Defendant on the telephone, and that Mr. Boulware
should speak to the Defendant because the Defendant had seen
the victim the day before. Mr. Boulware told the Defendant
that the victim was missing, and the Defendant responded that
he had gone to Walmart with the victim the night before
"to get stuff for a toilet." Mr. Boulware told the
Defendant that they had found the victim's Jeep, but he
did not recall telling the Defendant about the blood found
inside the vehicle. Mr. Boulware asked the Defendant to call
if he heard anything about the victim. The next day, November
11, 2012, the Defendant called Mr. Boulware around noon. The
Defendant asked Mr. Boulware if he had heard from the victim
and about what the police had said the night before about
November 11, 2012, Det. Parks went to the Hamilton County
jail to speak to the victim's husband, Tom Wilkes. Mr.
Wilkes was a former patient at the clinic where the victim
worked. He and the victim had been married for about a year
prior to the victim's disappearance. At the time of the
victim's disappearance, Mr. Wilkes had been incarcerated
for approximately a week on a charge of driving while his
license was revoked. Several of the victim's co-workers
recalled having seen the Defendant at the clinic either with
Mr. Wilkes or introduced to them by the victim as Mr.
Wilkes's cousin. Mr. Wilkes died not long after the
on his conversation with Mr. Wilkes, Det. Parks decided to
speak to the Defendant. The Defendant told Det. Parks that he
knew the victim and had spoken to her at Walmart on November
9, 2012. The Defendant also said that "he may have
gotten a ride home" from the victim. The Defendant could
not recall what the victim was wearing that night. The
Defendant told Det. Parks that the victim had "said
something about going to sell some pills, " but he could
not provide any details about the alleged drug deal. Det.
Parks told the Defendant that the victim's Jeep had been
found, but he could not recall if he told the Defendant that
blood had been found inside the vehicle. Det. Parks also did
not recall any injuries on the Defendant "that jumped
out at [him]" when he spoke to the Defendant on November
The Police Investigation of the Defendant
November 12, 2012, Det. Parks decided to conduct a formal
interview with the Defendant because "[h]is name came
back up from a friend" of the victim's, Stephanie
Coleman. Ms. Coleman "was extremely agitated about the
conversation that she had supposedly had with" the
Defendant. However, Ms. Coleman initially declined to be
formally interviewed by Det. Parks because she was
intoxicated when they spoke. The Defendant, however, did not
object to the formal interview, and Det. Parks recalled that
the Defendant seemed calm during the interview. The interview
lasted for approximately forty-five minutes and was recorded.
The recording of the interview was played for the jury at
the interview, the Defendant told Det. Parks that the victim
had been "acting her normal self" on November 9,
2012. The Defendant stated that the victim had called him
after she had spoken to Mr. Wilkes that day and told him that
she was having trouble with her sink. According to the
Defendant, the victim met him at the Family Dollar, and they
went to Walmart to look for the part he would need to fix it.
The Defendant explained that the victim did not "know
exactly where" he lived, so she arranged to meet him at
the Family Dollar. The Defendant estimated that he met the
victim around 6:00 p.m. The Defendant said that he got
separated from the victim while they were inside the Walmart
and that they had to call each other to find one another.
Defendant told Det. Parks that after they finished shopping
at Walmart, he and the victim went to the Murphy gas station.
The Defendant initially claimed that, after getting gas, the
victim dropped him off at his girlfriend's apartment.
Later in the interview, the Defendant said that the victim
dropped him off back at the Family Dollar and that he walked
back to his girlfriend's apartment. The Defendant told
Det. Parks that he could not recall when the victim dropped
him off or what she was wearing that night. The Defendant
stated that he assumed the victim went home to put away the
items she had purchased at Walmart and that he felt confident
about that assumption because he had heard that those items
were not found in her Jeep. The Defendant also said that he
had not heard from the victim since that night.
Defendant claimed that while he was with the victim, she said
that she was "supposed to been [sic] meeting somebody to
sell some pills" and that "[s]he was waiting on the
call or whatever." The Defendant told Det. Parks that
the victim was supposed to have met earlier that day with
someone named Chris who wanted to buy some pills, but that
Chris never showed up. The Defendant also thought that the
victim was going to meet "another guy, " but he did
not know that man's name. The Defendant explained that
Mr. Wilkes sold pills and that the victim would drive him to
make the sales. The Defendant said that he had seen Chris at
the victim's house before and also mentioned that one of
Mr. Wilkes's regular customers was called Skip. The
Defendant told Det. Parks that the victim had both her and
Mr. Wilkes's cell phones with her that night. The
Defendant denied that he had ever sold drugs for Mr. Wilkes
and claimed that the victim did not deliver any drugs while
he was with her.
Defendant admitted that he had been to the victim's home
two or three times since Mr. Wilkes had been arrested. The
Defendant denied that he was staying with the victim and had
a key to her home. The Defendant also denied having a
romantic relationship with the victim. The Defendant told
Det. Parks that he was staying with his girlfriend and
"trying to manage" his aunt's house since his
aunt had been hospitalized. The Defendant also told Det.
Parks that "some dude name[d] J.C. was calling" the
victim and trying to convince her to move in with him while
Mr. Wilkes was incarcerated.
Defendant said that someone named Pat had told him the
victim's Jeep had been found. The Defendant sent Pat a
text message that said the police "found a little blood
over there on the passenger side." The Defendant told
Det. Parks that he did not know how the blood got in the Jeep
and that the victim was not bleeding when he was with her.
One of the investigators in the room with Det. Parks told the
Defendant that they had only found a "small" amount
of blood, like if a "finger was bleeding." The
Defendant said that he "didn't know how much
blood" was found just that he was told there was
"some blood over there." The Defendant told Det.
Parks that the victim would not let anyone drive her Jeep.
However, the Defendant admitted that he had driven the Jeep
when the victim first purchased it. The Defendant claimed
that after he learned of the victim's disappearance, he
drove around the neighborhood of his aunt's house looking
for the victim because it was near where the victim's
Jeep was found, but he never found any trace of her.
interviewing the Defendant, the police continued their
investigation into the victim's disappearance. On
November 13, 2012, the victim's home was searched. Some
of the items the victim had purchased at Walmart on November
9th were found in her home. The toilet appeared to be broken
and was running when the investigators searched the home. In
the victim's closet, the investigators found a beige bag
with several pill bottles inside. More pill bottles were
found on the bottom of the victim's nightstand. A yellow
bag containing still more pill bottles was found beneath the
victim's bed. Among the pill bottles was a bottle of
methadone prescribed to Mr. Wilkes. None of the pill bottles
found in the home were linked to the Defendant.
November 16, 2012, the investigators executed search warrants
for the apartment the Defendant shared with his girlfriend
and the Defendant's aunt's house. The Defendant and
his girlfriend were present for the search of their
apartment. Det. Parks testified that the Defendant "was
fine" during the search. Det. Parks described the
apartment as being "very clean" at the time of the
search. During the search, a pair of shoes that smelled
heavily of bleach was seized from the apartment's laundry
room along with a blue bucket. There were no laces and no
inserts in the shoes when they were seized. Several other
items were seized from the apartment and the Defendant's
aunt's house, but subsequent forensic testing by the
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) revealed no physical
connection between the seized items and the victim's
disappearance. Det. Parks testified that he "noticed
what appeared to be some abrasions on the back of [the
Defendant's] hands" that day.
concluding the searches, Det. Parks and Sergeant Jayevan
Montgomery, a homicide investigator, conducted a second
interview of the Defendant. This interview was recorded and
lasted several hours. The recording of this interview was
played for the jury. The interview began with the
Defendant's estimating that the victim dropped him off at
the Family Dollar after they got gas at the Murphy gas
station, around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. The Defendant could not
remember in which direction the victim drove away. The
Defendant claimed that he then walked to his car and drove to
his aunt's house.
Defendant denied that he spent the night at his aunt's
house and claimed to have stayed there three hours. The
Defendant told Det. Parks that he left his aunt's house
to go back to his apartment around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. The
Defendant said that, once he got to the apartment, he took a
shower, went to bed, and did not wake up until the morning.
The Defendant initially denied going back out that night or
calling anyone. The Defendant told the investigators that he
may have called the victim to see if she had spoken to Mr.
Wilkes while he was driving from his aunt's house to his
apartment but that she did not answer. The Defendant further
said that he did not believe that he had called the victim
Defendant told the investigators that the victim had said
that two different people were going to come by her home to
buy pills. The Defendant explained that Mr. Wilkes and the
victim sold pain pills. According to the Defendant, Mr.
Wilkes did most of the selling, but the victim was trying to
keep the business going while Mr. Wilkes was incarcerated.
Despite this, the Defendant assured the investigators that
the victim did not abuse pills or other types of drugs. The
Defendant said that he was good friends with Mr. Wilkes but
claimed that he did not know the victim that well.
Defendant said that he was unsure of where he went the day
after he saw the victim. The Defendant believed that he had
picked up his cousin and then gone to his cousin's house
to watch football and drink. The Defendant did not know what
time it was when he got home that day but told the
investigators that Pat had called to tell him about the
victim's disappearance while he was on his way home. The
Defendant also told the investigators that someone named
Patrick had called him and "told [him] they found the
[victim's] body" and then called him later to tell
him "that they found her with a slight heartbeat."
The Defendant said that Patrick's girlfriend worked with
investigators asked the Defendant about his conversation with
Ms. Coleman. The Defendant said that he and Ms. Coleman had
been romantically involved in the past and that she called
him wanting to "hang out and everything." The
Defendant explained that Ms. Coleman wanted to get some
cocaine and that he had told her that they could go to his
aunt's house and "chill out." It was during
this conversation that the Defendant told Ms. Coleman that
the victim was missing. The investigators asked the Defendant
if he told Ms. Coleman about blood having been found inside
the Jeep. The Defendant replied as follows: "No, I told
her that they found some, you know, like you told me, a
little blood on the passenger side of the car. They found it
on Wilcox without keys in it." The Defendant denied that
he told Ms. Coleman that he got out of the victim's Jeep
around 10:00 p.m. and that "blood was on somebody's
investigators confronted the Defendant about the fact that
the surveillance video from the gas station showed that he
and the victim were there at 9:00 p.m. The Defendant
responded that he did not think he was out that late.
However, the Defendant was sure that he called the victim
around 10:00 p.m. to see if she had talked to Mr. Wilkes.
Det. Parks told the Defendant that the victim's neighbors
heard someone leave the victim's home around 10:00 p.m.
The Defendant denied going to the victim's home that
night. The investigators also confronted the Defendant about
the fact that his girlfriend claimed that the Defendant would
take her car out at night after she had taken her nightly
sleeping pill. The Defendant admitted to sometimes doing that
and stated that he did not know if his girlfriend was asleep
when he got home on November 9th.
investigators also confronted the Defendant with the fact
that he called the victim's cell phone at 2:30 a.m. The
Defendant said that he did not remember calling her and that
he did not talk to her. The Defendant claimed that he
"must have hit it by accident." The Defendant told
the investigators that he was home at 2:30 a.m. The
investigators then confronted the Defendant with the fact
that during this call, his cell phone connected to a cell
tower that did not cover the area of his apartment. The
Defendant claimed that he must have been on his way home from
his aunt's house at 2:30 a.m.
point, the investigators noted that the cell tower used
during the 2:30 a.m. call covered the area around the Wilcox
Boulevard Tunnel. The Defendant said that he did not know why
he would be in that area "unless [he] was out there
trying to get [him] a skeeze or something." The
Defendant then admitted that he "went back out"
that morning, telling the investigators that he
"probably snuck out of the house to try to make a booty
call with somebody." The Defendant claimed that he went
to the eastside of the city and "just rode around for a
little while." The Defendant told the investigators that
"they sell kind of cheap" in that part of
Chattanooga and he could pay a prostitute seven dollars for
sex. However, the Defendant claimed that he did not meet
anyone that morning. The Defendant insisted that he called
the victim by mistake. The Defendant also claimed that he did
not see the victim's Jeep while he was driving around
Defendant admitted to the investigators that he had
propositioned the victim "awhile back." The
Defendant explained that about six or seven months before the
victim's disappearance, he was drunk and offered to pay
the victim twenty-five dollars for sex. The Defendant said
that the victim told him no and that Mr. Wilkes talked to him
after the fact and "squashed all of it." The
Defendant said that it was not a big deal and that the victim
was still comfortable with him afterwards. The Defendant
denied ever having sex with the victim and claimed that he
did not think of the victim "like that." The
Defendant reiterated that he only propositioned her because
he was drunk.
the investigators claimed that the cell phone records showed
that the Defendant's phone was with the victim's
phone at 2:30 a.m. The Defendant asked how far away the
phones were and if the victim's phone was moving with his
phone. The Defendant then denied that he was with the victim
that morning and that he called her phone in an effort to
find it. The Defendant also denied that he was with the
victim after 11:00 p.m., that he went back to her home, or
that he called her to arrange a meeting somewhere else. The
Defendant further denied that he knew where the victim was or
that he had killed her. The Defendant assured the
investigators that if the victim were dead, then no evidence
from her body would point to him.
Defendant denied that his girlfriend did not know the victim
was missing until she saw it on television and insisted that
he told her. When asked about the pair of shoes that had been
bleached, the Defendant said that he had cleaned them in
bleach in order to get some grease off them. The Defendant
said that his girlfriend might have complained about the
bleach he used to clean the shoes. When asked about the
abrasions on the back of his hands, the Defendant said that
they probably had come from "pulling brush and
stuff" for a class on landscaping that he was taking.
The interview concluded with the investigators asking the
Defendant where they should look for the victim, and the
Defendant suggested that they look around where her Jeep was
after interviewing the Defendant, the investigators learned
that the Defendant had access to a third house. The Defendant
did not tell the investigators about this house, and they
only learned about it after secretly following the Defendant
and observing him spend the night at the house. On November
20, 2012, the investigators executed a search warrant at this
house. Sgt. Montgomery recalled that the Defendant's
"demeanor was quite different from" November 16th.
Sgt. Montgomery thought the Defendant "was obviously
upset, agitated, [and] seemed bothered by [their]
presence" at the third house. Det. Parks recalled that
the Defendant arrived at the house toward the end of the
search and that he was "agitated." Items were
seized from this house, but subsequent forensic testing by
the TBI revealed no physical connection between the items and
the victim's disappearance. All of the locations were
searched for evidence of blood, but none was found.
Attempts to Corroborate the Defendant's Statements
addition to the searches, the investigators attempted to
corroborate the Defendant's statements. David Thomas
Lindie testified at trial that he lived above the
Defendant's apartment. On November 9, 2012, Mr. Lindie
came across the Defendant walking along the road and offered
to give him a ride. The Defendant told Mr. Lindie that he was
walking to the Family Dollar to meet some friends and to work
on a car. Mr. Lindie drove the Defendant to the Family Dollar
and waited with him for about five minutes until a green Jeep
pulled into the parking lot. When the Defendant saw the Jeep,
he said "there they are" and got out of Mr.
Defendant's girlfriend, Mary Morris, testified at trial
that she and the Defendant had been in an "on and
off" relationship for "a couple of years" and
that the Defendant lived with her on November 9, 2012. Ms.
Morris had the Defendant move out of her apartment after the
police searched it on November 16, 2012. Ms. Morris recalled
the Defendant's leaving before dark on November 9th and
saying that he was going to fix the victim's car. Ms.
Morris recalled that the Defendant called her that night, but
she could not recall what the Defendant said. Ms. Morris
believed that the Defendant got home around 10:00 or 10:30
p.m. that night. Ms. Morris did not notice anything unusual
about the Defendant when he got home. Ms. Morris recalled
that the Defendant took a bath and went to bed. Ms. Morris
thought that the Defendant was in bed when she woke up the
next morning and that he was wearing the same pajamas in
which he went to bed.
Morris testified that she took sleeping pills and used a
breathing machine at night. Ms. Morris admitted that the
Defendant could have gotten out of bed and left the apartment
without her noticing. Ms. Morris recalled that on November
10, 2012, the Defendant soaked a pair of gray shoes in a
bucket of Clorox in the bathtub. Ms. Morris testified that
she did not use Clorox because she had a lung condition. Ms.
Morris also testified that she had seen the Defendant soak
his shoes in Clorox before November 10th and that she had
previously described the Defendant as being "too
clean" and "always [keeping] his clothes
clean." Ms. Morris testified that she learned about the
victim's disappearance from a television news story.
Morris gave a statement to investigators on November 16,
2012. In that statement, she said that the Defendant had left
on November 9, 2012, around 6:00 p.m. and returned around
11:00 p.m. Ms. Morris stated that the Defendant was wearing
"them gray tennis shoes that he soaked in Clorox"
when he left. Ms. Morris also stated that the Defendant
called her that night and said that he was at Walmart with
the victim and the victim's mother. Ms. Morris said that
she knew the Defendant routinely left the apartment after she
went to sleep because she would find her car moved and low on
gas the next morning. Ms. Morris also told the investigators
that the Defendant had brought the bleach from his aunt's
house and that she had never seen him bleach his shoes before
November 10th. Ms. Morris stated that when she learned about
the victim's disappearance, the Defendant said,
"Don't cry, [the victim's] going to be all
right." Ms. Morris said that she asked the Defendant
about his being with the victim the night before she
disappeared and he said that he "just took her to
Walmart." The Defendant then "cut it off . . .
[and] got angry a little bit."
Coleman testified at trial that she had known the victim for
three or four years, that the victim was her "best
friend, " that her husband and Mr. Wilkes were friends,
and that she had lived with the victim and Mr. Wilkes for a
few months. Ms. Coleman knew the Defendant through the victim
and Mr. Wilkes. Ms. Coleman recalled that the Defendant would
go to the victim's home to work on cars and called Mr.
Wilkes his cousin. According to Ms. Coleman, Mr. Wilkes
"went to jail all the time, " and the Defendant
would "help [the victim] out" when Mr. Wilkes was
incarcerated. Ms. Coleman denied ever having sex with the
Defendant, but she claimed that the Defendant had previously
offered to pay her money in exchange for sex.
Coleman testified that on either November 11 or November 12,
2012, she received a phone call from the Defendant. Ms.
Coleman admitted that she was intoxicated during her
conversation with the Defendant. Ms. Coleman testified that
the Defendant was "fine" at the start of their
conversation. The Defendant asked her to come over to his
aunt's house because he wanted "to show [her]
something." The Defendant told Ms. Coleman that his aunt
was in the hospital. Ms. Coleman testified that she declined
the Defendant's offer because she thought it would be
"morbid" to be in his aunt's house while she
was hospitalized. Ms. Coleman denied that there was any
discussion about having sex or using cocaine during her
conversation with the Defendant.
Ms. Coleman rejected the Defendant's offer, the Defendant
told her that the victim was missing. Ms. Coleman was unaware
of the victim's disappearance, and she "flipped
out" upon hearing the news. Ms. Coleman recalled that
the Defendant said that he was the last person to see the
victim and that he had gone to Walmart with the victim to get
a part to fix her toilet. According to Ms. Coleman, the
Defendant also said that the victim had dropped him off at
the Family Dollar and then left "to go make a pill
sale." Ms. Coleman testified that she repeatedly asked
the Defendant who the victim was going to see, but the
Defendant did not respond. Instead, the Defendant said that
the victim's Jeep had been found with blood inside it.
Coleman denied that the victim sold pills. She admitted that
Mr. Wilkes sold pills and that the victim would drive him to
the sales because Mr. Wilkes did not have a valid
driver's license. Ms. Coleman also admitted that she was
heavily medicated when she spoke to the investigators and
that she repeatedly refused to give them a formal statement
because of her intoxication.
Vickerson testified that she worked with the victim and lived
next door to her for a time. Ms. Vickerson and the victim
would socialize outside of work. Ms. Vickerson knew Mr.
Wilkes and had met the Defendant once. Ms. Vickerson
testified that she lived with her boyfriend, Patrick Dixon.
Ms. Vickerson testified that she never talked to the
Defendant about the victim's disappearance and that she
never called him.
Dixon testified that he knew Mr. Wilkes from having worked
"on a few of [his] cars" and that he met the victim
after she and Mr. Wilkes married. Mr. Dixon recalled that Ms.
Vickerson was upset about the victim's disappearance, so
he called the Defendant on November 10, 2012, to ask if he
had seen or heard from the victim. The Defendant told Mr.
Dixon that he had gone to Walmart with the victim the
previous night and that he had brought her back to her home,
taken her groceries inside for her, and left to go back home.
Mr. Dixon testified that he called the Defendant several more
times on November 11, 2012, to talk about the victim's
disappearance. Mr. Dixon denied telling the Defendant that
the victim's body had been found or that she had been
found with a "slight pulse." Mr. Dixon testified
that on November 11, 2012, he had no idea where the victim
was. Mr. Dixon admitted that, at the time of trial, he was
facing charges for selling cocaine.
Fortson testified that he knew Mr. Wilkes because Mr. Wilkes
had worked on his car. Mr. Fortson knew the Defendant through
Mr. Wilkes, but he did not know the victim. On November 9,
2012, Mr. Fortson received two phone calls from Mr.
Wilkes's cell phone at 10:00 and 10:17 p.m. Mr. Fortson
did not answer the calls and testified that he did not speak
to the victim that night. Mr. Fortson testified that he did
not know that Mr. Wilkes was incarcerated at that time. Mr.
Fortson also claimed that he did not know that Mr. Wilkes
sold pills and denied ever having bought or sold any
narcotics with the victim. Mr. Fortson testified that the
Defendant called him several times on November 10, 2012, and
that he tried to call Mr. Wilkes back on the morning of
November 11th. Mr. Fortson admitted that when investigators
asked to search his car regarding this case, he told them
that they would find marijuana inside the car.
Rozema testified at trial that he went to school with the
Defendant and that he purchased Xanax from Mr. Wilkes. Mr.
Rozema claimed that he had only met the victim one time and
"barely" knew her. According to Mr. Rozema, the
victim called him from Mr. Wilkes's cell phone on
November 9, 2012, at 9:40 and 10:28 p.m. wanting to sell him
some Xanax. Mr. Rozema testified that he turned down the
victim's offer because he was trying to quit abusing
Xanax. Mr. Rozema further testified that he never spoke to
the victim again after those conversations. Mr. Rozema denied
meeting the victim that night and denied having anything to
do with her her disappearance and murder. Mr. Rozema admitted
that he had two prior theft convictions and that, at the time
of trial, he was incarcerated for driving under the influence
and domestic assault.
Discovery of the Victim's Body
morning of November 25, 2012, Jeremy Pruitt and two of his
friends were duck hunting on South Chickamauga Creek. Around
8:30 or 9:00 a.m., Mr. Pruitt saw what he thought were some
"Halloween decorations" on the creek bank. Mr.
Pruitt and his friends brought their boat over to the bank
and got out. They quickly realized that what they had seen
was a body and called 911. CPD Officer Eric Hindman was the
first officer to respond. He arrived at the 3700 block of
Youngstown Road, which was about two or three feet up an
embankment from where the victim's body was found.
Officer Hindman found a bra on the road just inside the
guardrail on the same side of the road as the creek.
body was on its back. It had been decapitated and had no
hands. There were shoes and jeans on the body, but the upper
torso was naked and "significantly decomposed."
There was a path leading from the body to the road and the
foliage was "leaning towards the bank of the creek,
" which suggested to Sgt. Montgomery that the body had
been moved from the roadside to the bank of the creek. A
white t-shirt and a yellow "key fob" were found in
the brush near the body. The t-shirt was inside out and
soiled. A lighter and a white methadone pill were found in
the pockets of the jeans. The clothing recovered at the scene
was similar to what the victim had been seen wearing on the
surveillance videos taken at Walmart and the Murphy gas
station on November 9, 2012. Mr. Wilkes identified the body
as the victim based on photographs of the victim's
tattoos. Subsequent DNA testing confirmed that the body was
the victim. The victim's head and hands were never found.
upon the discovery of the victim's body, the
investigators again searched Ms. Morris's apartment, the
Defendant's aunt's house, and the third house in
which he had been staying. More items were seized. However,
subsequent forensic testing by the TBI revealed no physical
connection between the items and the victim's murder. The
police also searched the Defendant's car. They discovered
that the car had recently been cleaned and were unable to
recover any fingerprints from the car. There was no evidence
of blood in the Defendant's car and items seized from the
car were revealed to have no physical connection to the
victim's murder based upon subsequent forensic testing by
the TBI. The victim's cell phone, Mr. Wilkes's cell
phone, the victim's purse, and the keys to the
victim's Jeep were never recovered. Sgt. Montgomery
admitted at trial that the investigators did not know the
specific location where the victim was murdered. Ms. Morris
testified at trial that the Defendant would sometimes go
fishing and that he would get bait from a tackle shop not far
from where the victim's body was found.
James Kenneth Metcalfe, chief medical examiner for Hamilton
County and an expert in forensic pathology, performed an
autopsy of the victim's body. Dr. Metcalfe testified that
the victim's body was in the process of decomposing when
his office received it and that the process was "fairly
advanced in the exposed areas." Dr. Metcalfe explained
that the autopsy "was hampered by the fact that [the
victim's body] had decomposed significantly." Dr.
Metcalfe was able to determine that the victim had methadone
at a level within the "therapeutic" range in her
blood at the time of her death. The victim also had a blood
alcohol level of .057 percent. Dr. Metcalfe found contusions
to the victim's "mid abdomen and neck, " but he
was unable to determine whether these were inflicted pre- or
post-death. Dr. Metcalfe was also unsure if the victim had
been sexually assaulted because there was "no
unequivocal injury" to her pelvic area. Anal and vaginal
swabs taken from the victim during the autopsy were negative
for the presence of semen. Dr. Metcalfe concluded that the
manner of the victim's death was homicide, but he was
unable to determine the cause of her death.
Murray K. Marks, an expert in forensic anthropology and a
forensic anthropologist at the Knox County Regional Forensic
Center and the University of Tennessee Medical Center,
observed the victim's autopsy and took samples from
several of her bones. Specifically, Dr. Marks collected
samples of two vertebrae from the victim's neck and
"the ends of four bones from the forearm[s] of the
body." Dr. Marks examined the victim's left ulna and
radius. The victim's left radius had saw marks and jagged
edges from the bone being broken, what Dr. Marks referred to
as "a breakaway spur." Dr. Marks testified that the
wounds were on the wrist or hand end of the bone. The
victim's left ulna had "deeper" saw marks and
was "severed all the way through." Dr. Marks opined
that the cuts were made by a four-millimeter-thick blade. Dr.
Marks also opined that the blade was a manual saw given all
of the "false start" wounds he found on the bones.
Dr. Marks found the same pattern on the bones taken from the
victim's right arm, with the right radius' having
been broken and the right ulna's having been
"severed all the way through."
respect to the vertebrae taken from the victim's neck,
Dr. Marks testified that they were sawed until the
victim's head broke off when "enough pressure [was]
applied." Dr. Marks testified that the saw marks were on
the backside of the vertebrae and opined that the victim was
face down when her head was removed. Dr. Marks further
testified that the vertebrae would have been difficult to saw
through. Dr. Marks explained that the perpetrator would have
had to saw through "spinal cord, a lot of blood vessels
on either side of the neck, and then a lot of musculature up
at the base of the skull." Dr. Marks testified that
there was no way that he could determine whether the victim
was alive or dead when her head and hands were removed. Sgt.
Montgomery testified that no saw with a four millimeter blade
was recovered during the investigation of the victim's
victim's Jeep was impounded and searched by CPD crime
scene investigators. In the back seat, the investigators
found blood smears on the lower right of the center console
and the bottom interior of the rear passenger door. The
investigators also found blood stains on the left side of the
center console and the floor board of the rear passenger
seat. On the front passenger side, the investigators found a
Coke can, a phone book, a receipt from the Murphy gas
station, and the back of an earring on the floor board. In
the passenger seat, they found a wad of blonde hair and an
earring. Blood was found on the floor board and the dash of
the front passenger seat. There was blood spatter and smears
on the glove compartment and dash. There was also blood
spatter on the front passenger door and the windshield.
investigators took blood swabs from several areas of the Jeep
and also collected several cigarette butts from the center
console. A partial shoe print was taken from the interior of
the driver's side window, but it did not match any of the
Defendant's shoes that were seized by the police. There
was no vegetation or debris found inside the Jeep. One of the
investigators who searched the Jeep, Gregory Mardis,
testified at trial that the blood smears found in the back
passenger seat area suggested that "[s]omething with
blood on it went by that seat and rubbed on it as it went
by." He also testified that almost all of the blood was
found on the passenger side of the vehicle and that is likely
where whatever act of violence occurred.
Laura Boos of the TBI testified at trial as an expert in
serology and DNA analysis. Dr. Boos tested several items
involved in this case. Dr. Boos's analysis of one of the
cigarette butts found in the victim's Jeep revealed the
presence of both the Defendant and the victim's DNA, with
the Defendant being the major contributor. The same was also
true of a Newport cigarette butt found in the Jeep. However,
that cigarette butt also tested positive for the presence of
human blood. The Defendant stated during his interview with
Det. Parks and Sgt. Montgomery that he smoked Newport
cigarettes, and a receipt for Newport cigarettes was found at
the Defendant's aunt's house. A swab taken from the
Jeep's steering wheel also tested positive for human
blood. Based upon DNA analysis, Dr. Boos concluded that the
blood found inside the Jeep belonged to the victim. Dr. Boos
testified that the shoes seized from the Defendant's
apartment were negative for human blood. However, Dr. Boos
testified that putting the shoes in bleach would wash off the
blood and destroy any DNA on the shoes.
Boos also tested the bra found on Youngstown Road near the
victim's body. Dr. Boos's analysis revealed the
presence of human blood and the victim and the
Defendant's DNA. The victim was the major contributor and
the Defendant was the minor contributor. Dr. Boos testified
that she could not determine if the Defendant's DNA was
on the bra before or after the blood was deposited on it. Dr.
Boos was asked if the Defendant's DNA could have been
deposited on the bra simply by touching it. Dr. Boos
responded that "a simple touch" "would not
leave enough DNA in a mixture" to be detectible.
Instead, the Defendant would have needed to touch the bra
with "enough force and friction to leave enough skin
cells among [the victim's] DNA." Dr. Boos was unable
to find semen on any of the victim's clothes. Dr. Boos
did find blood on the victim's shirt and one of her
shoes. However, Dr. Boos was unable to create a DNA profile
from these samples. Dr. Boos was able to conclude that blood
found on the victim's jeans belonged to the victim.
Hamilton, a civilian CPD employee, testified at trial as an
expert in "cellular records analysis." Mr. Hamilton
testified that his analysis was based on billing records
provided by the cell phone providers for the Defendant, the
victim, and Mr. Wilkes. Mr. Hamilton noted that the Defendant
and the victim called each other several times throughout the
day on November 9, 2012. The victim's last answered call
was a phone call from the Defendant at 8:07 p.m. The last
calls from Mr. Wilkes's phone were made at 10:00 and
10:17 p.m. on November 9, 2012. After those calls, no calls
were made or connected to Mr. Wilkes's cell phone. The
Defendant called the victim's phone at 2:32 a.m. on
November 10, 2012. The call lasted six seconds. After that
call, the Defendant did not call the victim's phone
Hamilton then testified about establishing the location of
cell phones based upon the cell phone tower records. Mr.
Hamilton explained that this method of establishing the
location of a cell phone was not like "GPS
tracking" and was "very broad . . . [because it did
not provide] detailed spots out there . . . on a
street." Rather, this type of evidence provided "a
broad swipe." Mr. Hamilton admitted that this was not a
"precise" way to establish the location of a cell
phone. Mr. Hamilton further admitted that he could not say
that a phone call was made from a particular place, just that
it was consistent with a certain area.
Hamilton testified that the victim's cell phone connected
to Cricket tower 612, which covered a geographic area that
included the victim's home, for the phone calls made
between approximately 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. on November 9, 2012.
During this same timeframe, the Defendant's cell phone
connected to T-Mobile tower 28903, which covered a geographic
area that included the Defendant's apartment with Ms.
Morris. From approximately 7:50 p.m. until the victim's
last answered call at 8:07 p.m., both the victim and the
Defendant's cell phones connected to the corresponding
Cricket and T-Mobile towers that covered the area around the
Walmart and Murphy gas station.
10:00 p.m., Mr. Wilkes's cell phone connected to Cricket
tower 612, which covered a geographic area that included the
victim's home, the Defendant and Ms. Morris's
apartment, and the Family Dollar store. At 10:17 p.m., Mr.
Wilkes's cell phone connected to Cricket tower 658, which
covered a geographic area that included the Defendant's
aunt's house. At 2:32 a.m. on November 10, 2012, the
Defendant's cell phone connected to T-Mobile tower 8693,
which covered a geographic area that included the Wilcox
Boulevard Tunnel and the location where the victim's Jeep
was found. The victim's cell phone from this same call
connected to Cricket tower 611, which covered the same
geographic area as T-Mobile tower 8693. From that point on,
all of the phone calls to Mr. Wilkes and the victim's
cell phones connected to Cricket tower 611.
10:48 a.m. on November 10th, the Defendant's cell phone
connected to T-Mobile tower 8681, which covered a geographic
area that included the third house police searched in
connection with their investigation of the Defendant. The
Defendant's cell phone then connected to T-Mobile tower
8693, which covered the Wilcox Boulevard Tunnel area, at
10:57 a.m. Mr. Hamilton testified that he "field
tested" T-Mobile tower 8693 and that he could not
connect to it from Ms. Morris's apartment. Mr. Hamilton
also admitted ...