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State v. Taylor

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 16, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs: March 7, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 11-03335 W. Mark Ward, Judge

         The 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.

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

          Joseph 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 of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., joined.



         In May 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.

         The 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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 night.

         Wilbur 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.

         Mr. 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.

         On 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.

         Lieutenant 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.

         Travis 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 ...

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