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State v. Jones

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 9, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs January 18, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 13-04061 Lee V. Coffee, Judge

         The defendant, Jamie Jones, appeals his Shelby County Criminal Court jury convictions of felony murder and aggravated child abuse, claiming that the trial court erred by denying his motion to recuse, by permitting the State to amend the indictment, by admitting certain evidence at trial, and that the cumulative effects of these errors prevented him from receiving a fair trial. Discerning no error, we affirm.

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

          Mark Mesler (on appeal), and André C. Wharton and Alexander Wharton (at trial), Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jamie Jones.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Jennifer Nichols and Eric Christensen, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.



         In August 2013, the Shelby County Grand Jury charged the defendant with alternative counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated child abuse, and one count of aggravated child neglect, arising out of the death of the victim, the defendant's three-year-old son, L.S.[1] The trial court conducted a jury trial in August 2015.

         The State's proof at trial showed that the victim's mother, P.S.[2], was fourteen years of age when the victim was born on October 4, 2009. From the time of his birth until December 26, 2012, the victim resided with P.S., his grandmother, R.S., and his aunt, C.S., in Hernando, Mississippi. According to C.S., the defendant, who resided in Memphis, would see the victim "periodically."

         On December 25, 2012, the victim spent the entire day with his maternal family, and R.S. testified that he was "[h]ealthy" and "a happy little three-year-old." C.S. stated that the victim had no bruises, marks, or abrasions on his body when he fell asleep in her room that night.

         When C.S. awoke the next morning, the victim and P.S. were gone. P.S. testified that the defendant had arrived at her residence early on the morning of December 26 and that she and the victim had left with the defendant while the rest of the family was still asleep. P.S. let the victim return to the defendant's residence for the next several days.

         On January 1, the defendant arrived at the home of P.S.'s friend, Christina, with whom P.S. had been staying. When the victim got out of the defendant's car, P.S. noticed that the victim had a bruise on his forehead, and the defendant explained that one of his daughters had pushed the victim down some stairs. Shortly thereafter, C.S. arrived at Christina's house. C.S. observed the victim wearing only a diaper and noticed that the victim had a knot on his forehead just above his left eye. C.S. saw no other marks or bruises on the victim's torso, back, arms, or legs, but she did notice that the victim's lips were "very chapped" and that he had a small bruise on the inside of his lip. C.S. also believed that the victim appeared to be malnourished.

         C.S. returned home and reported what she had seen to R.S. and her brother. C.S. and R.S. then returned to the residence where the victim was staying, but P.S. informed them that the victim was not there. C.S. and R.S. eventually located the victim at the home of the defendant's sister, where they found the victim dressed in girls' clothing because, as P.S. explained, he had defecated in his clothing earlier. Through the testimony of C.S., the State introduced into evidence a photograph taken of the victim at that time, which appeared to show a fairly large bruise or knot on the victim's forehead above his left eye. R.S. called the police, and both police officers and a social worker arrived at the house sometime later. After C.S. and R.S. had spoken with the police officers, they returned home without the victim. They never saw the victim alive again.

         P.S. testified that, after her mother and sister had gone home, she took the victim to the hospital, at the direction of the social worker, to undergo a Computerized Axial Tomography ("CAT") scan. Following the CAT scan, the victim left the hospital with P.S. and the defendant, and the defendant eventually took the victim home with him while P.S. returned to Christina's residence. On January 8, P.S. took the victim to the Department of Children's Services ("DCS"). At that time, P.S. noticed that the victim had "little fingernail scratches on his face" that appeared to have been made by a child, and the bruise on his forehead was still present. Following the DCS meeting, the victim returned home with the defendant.

         On January 14, the defendant's mother arrived at Christina's house; she was crying and told P.S. that they needed to go to the hospital because the victim had fallen "down the stairs" and was unresponsive. Shortly thereafter, C.S. received a call that the victim was unresponsive and had been taken to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital ("Le Bonheur"). Before C.S. made it to the hospital, P.S. called to inform her that the victim had died.

         Matthew Balmut, a registered nurse in the emergency department at Le Bonheur, testified as an expert in the field of emergency room nursing. Mr. Balmut was working as the trauma nurse on January 14 when the victim arrived at the hospital shortly before 1:00 p.m.. Someone was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation ("CPR") on the victim when Mr. Balmut first encountered him in the hospital lobby. The victim was transferred to a stretcher, and the nurse who had been performing CPR on the victim climbed onto the stretcher with the victim and continued CPR all the way to the emergency department. Mr. Balmut testified that from the time he first encountered the victim until the victim's death, the victim never had a heart rate and never breathed on his own. All attempts to resuscitate the victim failed, and the victim was pronounced dead at 1:34 p.m.

         For close to three hours after the victim's death, Mr. Balmut remained with the body and examined the victim from "head to toe." Mr. Balmut described the victim's injuries:

[I]n five and a half years I've never - this is, by far, the worst set of injuries I've ever seen, by orders of magnitude worse than anything I've ever seen. I saw present, essentially, from head to toe, everything from his feet to his hands. His scrotum was bruised. He had what looked to me like burns across his head that looked like a friction burn, like when you get a carpet burn on your knee when you're a kid.

         When asked if the victim's injuries could have been caused by a fall down a set of eight stairs, Mr. Balmut responded as follows:

No, sir. Impossible. I guess anything is possible, but I don't see any way at all that these injuries could be caused by any number of falls of any height whatsoever. I've seen kids that have jumped off of bunk beds. I've seen kids that have come off of second, third floors of apartment buildings. I've seen kids that were ejected from a moving vehicle on the interstate and tumbled down a highway for a hundred-plus feet, and none of them had injuries nearly as severe - nothing near as severe as the injuries that he came in with.

         Mr. Balmut also recalled that the victim "had maybe [50] puncture wounds on his lower abdomen, pelvis, flank area that looked like they had ink, like - almost like if you just took a ballpoint pen and just sat there and just - and like stabbed somebody with it." Mr. Balmut denied that the victim's bruises were the result of resuscitative efforts. Mr. Balmut testified that the victim's injuries were "the worst thing [he'd] ever seen in years of working" at the hospital and opined that the injuries were the result of child abuse.

         Doctor Camilla Forsythe, a pediatric emergency physician at Le Bonheur, testified as an expert witness in the area of pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. Immediately upon seeing the victim on January 14, Doctor Forsythe knew that he "was a victim of trauma" based on "the distribution of wounds on the face and on the extremities." Doctor Forsythe noted that the victim, who was in full cardiac arrest when he arrived at the hospital, had "some form of burn on his face" along with "extensive" bruising on his face, his trunk, and his extremities. Doctor Forsythe learned from a social worker and from the defendant that the victim had allegedly "fallen down the stairs" earlier in the day and that the defendant had brought him to the hospital "to have him checked out." Doctor Forsythe had "never, ever seen a child fall down even a flight of stairs with the extent of bruising that" the victim had, recalling that the victim even "had a bruise on the tip of his penis."

         When the victim was brought to the emergency department from the hospital lobby, his body temperature was significantly lower than average, which suggested to Doctor Forsythe that the victim's circulation "had paused for a period of time that was longer than just getting from" the hospital lobby to the emergency department. Taking both his low body temperature and low lactic acid levels into account, Doctor Forsythe opined that the victim had had poor circulation for over an hour. In addition, the victim had no reaction to pain stimuli, no gag response, and his pupils were fixed and dilated. Doctor Forsythe opined that the victim died "of nonaccidental trauma" as the result of a "beating."

         When Doctor Forsythe informed the defendant and P.S. that the victim had died, P.S. was "extremely upset, " but the defendant said nothing. When Memphis Police Department ("MPD") Officer Michael Tippett informed the defendant that he would be taking him from the hospital to the police department for an interview, the defendant was "emotionless."

         The defendant's wife, Teairra Jones, recalled seeing "three bumps" on the victim's head around January 1 and stated that the defendant had told her that the victim had fallen down the stairs. On the morning of January 14, the defendant drove Mrs. Jones to work, and he then returned home to watch the victim and his two young daughters. Shortly after noon, the defendant called Mrs. Jones:

He told me that [the victim] had fallen and that he couldn't get him to respond. He did take him a bath, and he laid him down, but he couldn't get - when he fallen, he took him a bath, and when he laid him down, he couldn't get him to wake up.
I was like, "Well, Jamie, " I was, like, "Get him to the hospital." And he was, like, "Okay, I'm going to have to take him to the hospital."

         Mrs. Jones asked a co-worker to drive her to the hospital, and while en route, she spotted the defendant's car and flagged him down. She then got into the defendant's vehicle and saw the victim, who was "laying there" and "kind of making a little noise." The victim's eyes were closed, and Mrs. Jones was unable to tell whether the victim was breathing or had a pulse. According to Mrs. Jones, the defendant began "vomiting everywhere" when the doctor informed them that the victim had died. Mrs. Jones confirmed that the victim was "fine" when she left for work on the morning of January 14, and, with respect to post-mortem photographs of the victim, she testified that the victim had multiple bruises that she had not seen earlier in the day.

         MPD Crime Scene Investigator J.R. Rector photographed the defendant's residence and testified that the exterior of the defendant's apartment complex had eight steps leading to a landing, followed by eight additional steps leading to the defendant's second-floor, two-story apartment. Photographs of the apartment's interior revealed what appeared to be fecal matter smeared on a hallway wall leading to the downstairs bathroom and an indentation on the wall opposite the fecal matter. On the second floor of the apartment, Officer Rector photographed a blue towel located in the hallway floor just outside the upstairs bathroom, and he stated that "the towel and the floor beneath it had been soiled with fecal matter." Officer Rector testified that the blue towel was wet when he collected it on January 14. A photograph of the apartment's interior staircase depicted at least nine carpeted stairs.

         Doctor Karen Chancellor, Chief Medical Examiner for Shelby County, performed the victim's autopsy and testified as an expert witness in the field of forensic pathology. Through Doctor Chancellor's testimony, the State introduced into evidence 41 photographs depicting the following injuries to the victim's body: bruising on the back of his head; bruising and abrasions on the top of his head; bruising on the right side of his head; a bruise on his left cheek; an abrasion and a small scratch around his left ear; multiple areas on the victim's forehead, nose, upper lip, chin, and below his right eye where the "top layer of the skin has been removed" likely due to a "burn or chemical type burn"; a half-inch scratch or abrasion on his lower right side of his face; bruising and a laceration on the inside of the victim's lower lip; a large abrasion underneath the victim's chin; a large bruised area on the right side of the victim's neck; multiple scratches on the back of the victim's neck; a two-inch bruise on the back of the victim's right shoulder; multiple bruises on the back of the victim's left shoulder; a large, rectangular area of bruising just below the right side of the victim's ribcage "which could [have] be[en] caused by a part of a shoe" as well as multiple smaller bruises on the right side of the victim's torso; several smaller bruises on the left side of the victim's torso; multiple bruises extending from the victim's right shoulder to the upper arm to the forearm to the hand; multiple bruises extending from the victim's left shoulder to his upper arm to his forearm, as well as scratches and abrasions on his left arm; "large areas of bruising" on both the right and left sides of the victim's back, in addition to scratches on his back; the buttocks and back of the upper thigh area, which was "just one large area of bruising"; two bruises on the back of the victim's right knee; bruising on both of the victim's inner thighs; bruising on the victim's upper right thigh; bruising on the tip of the victim's penis; bruising on both of the victim's lower legs; multiple bruises on the victim's lower right quadrant; a large area of bruising on the victim's right ...

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