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State v. Ball

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 7, 2017


          Session April 11, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-06091 Glenn Ivy Wright, Judge.

         A Shelby County jury found the defendant, Justice Ball, guilty of especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, carjacking, employing a firearm during a dangerous felony, and evading arrest. The trial court imposed an effective fifteen-year sentence to be served at one hundred percent, and the defendant appealed. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, arguing the evidence was insufficient to find him criminally responsible for the indicted offenses, while further challenging the constitutionality of the criminal responsibility statute. The defendant also argues the trial court erred in instructing the jury on criminal responsibility and their duty to not independently investigate the case. The defendant asserts the trial court erred by not granting his pre-trial motion to suppress or motion for a mistrial made during the State's case-in-chief. Finally, the defendant asserts the trial court's cumulative errors warrant a new trial. After our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Gregory D. Allen, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Justice Ball.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin Smith, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Austin Scofield and Omar Malik, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          J. Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.


          J. ROSS DYER, JUDGE


         In the early morning hours of July 8, 2014, four men carjacked, kidnapped, and robbed Muhammed Ceesay, the victim, as he was driving home from work in Shelby County, Tennessee. While pursuing the stolen vehicle, an officer saw the defendant jump out of and run from the victim's car. As a result, the defendant was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-305; aggravated robbery, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-402; carjacking, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-404; employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-17-1324(b); -1324(i)(1); and evading arrest, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-16-603.

         At the joint trial of the defendant and co-defendant, Kennith Kimble, the victim stated he was driving home from work at approximately 3:20 a.m. on July 8, 2014, when his 1996 Toyota Rav 4 stalled as he approached a red light on Shelby Drive. At the time, the driver's side window was rolled down and the doors were unlocked. As the car restarted, two men approached the victim's stationary car. One man hit the victim across the face with a gun, and both men began demanding money. Despite giving the men his wallet and cell phone, the two men got into the backseat of the victim's car, continued to hit him, and told him to drive to an ATM located at the First Tennessee Bank branch on Shelby Drive. The frightened victim complied.

         On the way to the bank, the men instructed the victim to stop near the WalMart on Shelby Drive. There, the men in the backseat started "shouting at two of their friends across the road." The two "friends" got into the victim's car, "one of them jumped in the back and one of them jumped in the front." According to the victim, the defendant was the "friend" who got into the front seat and Kimble got into the backseat. Kimble demanded the gun from the man who initially hit the victim, and continued hitting the victim, while the defendant did not say anything or hit him. The victim explained he intentionally looked at the men in his car throughout the incident. He also stated he did not give any of the men permission to enter his car.

         After picking up the defendant and Kimble, the men told the victim to drive to another ATM located at a gas station near Kirby Parkway and Shelby Drive. There, the victim tried to explain to the men that he could not withdraw cash. Upon hearing this, the original gunman hit the victim on the head, causing him to fall out of the car. The victim explained, "when he hit me, I felt dizzy and my weight fell on the door and the door opened, because it was already unlocked." After falling out of the car, the victim ran away and called police from a nearby gas station. During the incident, the victim was forced to drive several city blocks with the four men.

          Officer Brandon Hazlerig with the Memphis Police Department responded to the victim's call around 3:20 a.m. When he arrived at the gas station, he noted the victim "had a swollen, bloody lip and he was very nervous, scared." The victim explained four black males carjacked him and gave a description of his vehicle. Less than ten minutes later, dispatch announced that the victim's car had been located. Specifically, Officer David Garrett spotted the victim's car on Hickory Hill and Mingle Drive. He began following the car as it headed northbound on Hickory Hill. Officer Garrett stayed approximately one hundred feet behind the car, explaining that he "followed it, giving directions through dispatch for other cars to come into the area to assist." While following the victim's car, Officer Garrett noticed "[t]he vehicle slowed to, maybe, five to ten miles per hour, so I realized they were getting ready to bail." At that time, Officer Garrett turned on the headlights, a spotlight, and the blue lights on his patrol car.

         After jumping out of the car, two of the suspects ran north and two ran south. Officer Garrett stated he clearly saw the defendant run from the car. He testified, "[t]he rear passenger side door flew open and a male black jumped out, however, he stumbled and fell in the street. When he popped up, he popped up right in front of my, looking right into my headlights and I immediately recognized him as Justice Ball." Officer Anthony Billingsley testified that he helped establish a perimeter after the suspects ran from the victim's car. He saw footprints emerging from the wood-line, and ultimately arrested Kimble as a result. Though Officer Billingsley's name is listed on the defendant's arrest ticket, he maintained he did not arrest the defendant. Additionally, Officer Billingsley explained he did not photograph the scene.

         Michael Coburn, a crime scene investigator with the Memphis Police Department, processed the victim's 1996 Toyota Rav 4 after the July 8, 2014 crimes. Investigator Coburn photographed items found inside the victim's car, including two cell phones and the victim's wallet and its contents. He also lifted fingerprints from the victim's cell phone and the exterior of the victim's car. Nathan Gathright, an expert in latent prints, testified that the defendant's left palm print was found on the victim's cell phone, and prints belonging to a man named Malik Pounds were found on the exterior of the victim's car.

         Finally, the State offered the defendant's statement into evidence through Sergeant Reginal Titus of the Memphis Police Department. Sergeant Titus interviewed the defendant after the defendant waived his Miranda rights. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). Sergeant Titus explained that he believed the defendant "tried to downplay his involvement" as he explained the events of July 8, 2014. In the statement, which Sergeant Titus read into the record, the defendant admitted to fleeing from the victim's car, but stated he "didn't know nothing about the stolen car but [he] knew about them trying to get the money and taking him to the ATM." The defendant admitted to turning off the victim's cell phone but stated the other men told him "to turn it off because they can track it." The defendant stated he "was sitting in the back behind the passenger, " and noted that he did not hit the victim while in the car.

         In his statement, the defendant further explained that after failing to get cash from the victim at the ATM, another suspect "pushed the victim away, " and they drove off. The defendant claimed he asked the men to take him home, but a police car, with its lights on, started following them. The defendant told the men to pull over and "[j]ust take the ticket, " but they continued driving down Myers Road instead. The defendant stated, "[w]hen the car started slowing down, everybody hopped out. When everybody hopped out, the car was still moving and I hit the ground and then I got up and start running." The defendant ran into the woods as the victim's car crashed, and was soon arrested in the area, along with Kimble. After being arrested, officers took the defendants to the Kroger on Hickory Hill where officers "let the victim identif[y]" the two suspects.

         During their testimonies, the victim and Officer Hazlerig described the identification of the defendants in the Kroger parking lot. According to Officer Hazlerig, the showup occurred because two men were located in the area, "and we wanted to make sure that we had the right ...

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