Assigned on Briefs: March 7, 2017
from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 11-03335 W.
Mark Ward, Judge
defendant, Deangelo Taylor, appeals his Shelby County
Criminal Court jury convictions of second degree murder and
attempted aggravated robbery, claiming that the trial court
erred by admitting certain witness testimony and that the
evidence was insufficient to support his convictions.
Discerning no error, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed.
A. McClusky (on appeal) and Lauren Fuchs (at trial), Memphis,
Tennessee, for the appellant, Deangelo Taylor.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David
H. Findley, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich,
District Attorney General; and Tracye Jones and Omar Malik,
Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State
Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert L. Holloway, Jr.,
CURWOOD WITT, JR., JUDGE
2011, the Shelby County Grand Jury charged the defendant with
one count each of premeditated first degree murder,
aggravated robbery, and employing a firearm during the
commission of a dangerous felony, arising out of the November
25, 2009 shooting death of the victim, Robert Williams. The
trial court conducted a jury trial in July 2015.
State's proof at trial showed that the victim and his
roommate, Larry Martin, shared an apartment in Memphis; two
of the victim's cousins and one of the victim's
uncles lived there as well. Mr. Martin testified that, on the
morning of November 25, 2009, he saw the victim
"counting money" although Mr. Martin did not know
the amount of the money. Sometime after that, the victim left
the apartment and drove away. Mr. Martin later looked out the
front apartment window and saw the victim standing near his
vehicle; it appeared to Mr. Martin that the victim had just
arrived home. Mr. Martin noticed that two men were standing
close to the victim and that a neighbor, Wilbur Ruffin, was
nearby working on his own vehicle. Mr. Martin stated that the
faces of the two men talking to the victim were obscured by
"hoodies, " but he noticed that one of the men was
a few inches taller than the other man. While the victim was
speaking with the two men, Mr. Ruffin approached and joined
the conversation, which lasted "less than five
minutes." When the victim reentered the apartment, he
"was mad . . . about something." Although Mr.
Martin never saw any of the men with a gun and did not
witness a robbery, Mr. Martin testified that the victim told
him that he had been robbed, and he heard the victim say that
"he needed some peace" and that "these Ns have
me messed up, F'd up." Shortly thereafter, the
victim left the apartment with his cousin, Tony Winters.
Winters testified that on the evening of November 25, the
victim asked Mr. Winters "to come ride with him"
because someone had robbed him. Mr. Winters stated that the
victim did not tell him where they were going; he just told
Mr. Winters to "come ride with him":
We just went to riding and looking. He was looking for
someone. I don't know who he was looking for. But then,
like, I guess when he saw that person whoever he saw, he was
flinching. I asked him who did he see. He ain't said - he
ain't say nothing so we just kept on riding. Then next
thing I know I heard gunshot[s] and I just ducked down in the
car and stayed down until the gunshot[s], you know, stopped.
But he kept looking up. And when the - that last time he
looked up, a bullet caught him in the head.
Winters estimated that he heard "about 11 or 12"
gunshots. Mr. Winters never saw the shooter, and he insisted
that neither he nor the victim had a firearm with them that
Ruffin, the victim's neighbor, testified that on the
evening of November 25, he was working on his vehicle just
outside of his apartment when the victim arrived at home,
parking his car near Mr. Ruffin's vehicle. Mr. Ruffin
denied speaking with the victim that evening or engaging in a
conversation with anyone. Mr. Ruffin stated that,
approximately 20 minutes after the victim arrived, "two
masked gentlemen" wearing hooded shirts approached the
victim, who was standing by the driver's side of his
vehicle. Mr. Ruffin said that the two men "laid [the
victim] on the ground" and "checked his pockets or
something like that" before fleeing. Mr. Ruffin stated
that he "th[ought] he s[aw] a gun" on one of the
two men who accosted the victim. Mr. Ruffin could not recall
whether one or both of the men rifled through the
victim's pockets. Mr. Ruffin agreed that his memory had
"become a little fuzzy" in the intervening years,
and the prosecutor presented Mr. Ruffin with the statement he
gave to police officers on January 27, 2010, in an effort to
refresh his recollection. After reviewing the four-page
statement, Mr. Ruffin testified that "most of [the
statement was] untrue" and that he did not recall making
any of the statements contained therein.
Ruffin testified that he first spoke with police officers on
November 30 and that he told the officers at that time that
he "didn't see nothing." On January 5, 2010,
Mr. Ruffin was brought into the police station to view a
photographic lineup of potential suspects. Mr. Ruffin stated
that the officers were "yelling" at him, telling
him what to say, and behaving as if "they already kn[e]w
who did it." When Mr. Ruffin was again brought to the
police station on January 26, officers were attempting to
"pin" a recent robbery on Mr. Ruffin "if [he]
didn't tell them something just in the[ir] exact
words." Mr. Ruffin told the officers that
"[w]hatever [they] put down there [he'll] sign
it" because he "just want[ed] to go home."
With respect to the written statement he provided on January
27, Mr. Ruffin stated that he told the officers that the
defendant had robbed the victim because the defendant was
someone he knew from the neighborhood. Mr. Ruffin insisted
that, when he idenified the defendant in a photographic
lineup as the man who had robbed the victim, he had been
forced to do so by the police. When asked why his account of
the events of November 25 had changed, Mr. Ruffin testified
that he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and
that he was afraid.
cross-examination, Mr. Ruffin stated that his entire body was
underneath his vehicle when he heard a "commotion"
on November 25 and saw "two pairs of legs" standing
near the victim. Mr. Ruffin remained beneath the vehicle and
heard footsteps running away. At that time, Mr. Ruffin
advised the victim not to follow the men, but he watched the
victim and Mr. Winters "jump in the car" and
leave. Mr. Ruffin testified that, when he initially spoke
with police, he informed them that the victim's family
had been threatening him. When Mr. Ruffin provided his
January 27 statement and photographic identification of the
defendant, he did so because the police officers were
threatening to charge him with a different robbery.
David James Parks with the Memphis Police Department
("MPD") testified that he, along with MPD Detective
Eric Freeman, interviewed Mr. Ruffin on both January 26 and
27 at the MPD. Lieutenant Parks explained that Mr. Ruffin was
initially brought in on January 26 to discuss his role in a
recent robbery and that Mr. Ruffin was provided with his
Miranda warnings but that officers also wanted to
speak with Mr. Ruffin about what he had witnessed during the
robbery of the victim. Mr. Ruffin signed a waiver of his
rights, never asked for an attorney, and did not appear to be
under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Lieutenant Parks
denied threatening Mr. Ruffin in any way. Lieutenant Parks
then interviewed Mr. Ruffin, who stated that the defendant
had robbed and murdered the victim. On the following day, Mr.
Ruffin provided officers with a signed, written statement in
which he stated that the defendant and a "lil small
short dude" had robbed the victim at gunpoint with
"a black 9 or a .40." Mr. Ruffin described the
defendant as either "20 or 21" years of age, five
foot, 10 inches tall, and having either "dreads or
braids" and a reddish skin tone.
Wright testified and conceded that he gave a statement to MPD
officers in January 2011 in which he admitted accompanying
the defendant during the robbery of the victim, but on the
witness stand, Mr. Wright denied knowing the defendant or
having any involvement with the robbery or murder of the
victim. When the prosecutor asked Mr. Wright to read his
prior statement, Mr. Wright ...