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Sykes v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 29, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs May 2, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County Nos. 98-02267, 98-02268, 98-02269, 98-02270 James M. Lammey, Judge

         A Shelby County jury convicted Antonio Sykes ("the Petitioner") of first degree premeditated murder, especially aggravated robbery, and two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping. He received an effective sentence of life without parole plus seventy-five years. The Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, arguing that the State had withheld exculpatory evidence that one of the State's witnesses received a plea deal in exchange for favorable testimony, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and that the exculpatory evidence constituted "newly discovered evidence" within the meaning of the coram nobis statute. The State filed a response and motion to dismiss, arguing that the Petitioner "fail[ed] to allege any new evidence relating to the matters litigated at trial[]" and that the petition was barred by the statute of limitations. The coram nobis court summarily dismissed the petition and found that the Petitioner failed to present actual evidence of a plea deal between the witness and the State. On appeal, the Petitioner concedes that his petition was untimely filed but argues that this court should toll the statute of limitations and address the merits of his petition. After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, we affirm.

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

          Antonio Sykes, Mountain City, Tennessee, pro se.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Robert W. Wilson, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Glen Baity, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner of first degree premeditated murder, especially aggravated robbery, and two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, for which the Petitioner received an effective sentence of life without parole plus seventy-five years. State v. Matrin Becton & Antonio Sykes, No. W1999-00581-CCA-R3-CD, 2002 WL 1349530, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 19, 2002), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 9, 2002). The testimony presented at trial was summarized by our court in its opinion on the Petitioner's direct appeal as the following:

On August 29, 1997, Veronica Johnson was celebrating her birthday at the L & B Lounge in Memphis. Ms. Johnson testified that nine or ten members of the "Gangster Disciples" forced Devin Haywood, a mentally challenged man, to his knees at gunpoint and began to beat him. Marshall Shipp, the victim in this case, pushed the gang members away from Mr. Haywood and told them to leave him alone. The gang members and the victim, who was also a member of the Gangster Disciples, began to argue. Ms. Johnson testified that the victim was told that he was "no longer a Gangster Disciple" and that he had "signed his death certificate."
Cheryl Patrick, the victim's girlfriend, testified that on September 15, 1997, the victim came to her house and together they went to a Laundromat on Third Street and then to the L & B Lounge. At the L & B Lounge[, ] the victim and Ms. Patrick were confronted by 13 to 20 men. The men told the victim that they needed to talk with him in private and that he should come with them. The victim offered to follow the men in his car, but they insisted that one of their own ride in the victim's car with him and Ms. Patrick. Ms. Patrick testified that one of the men who confronted the victim was [co-d]efendant Becton. Ms. Patrick further stated that [co-d]efendant Becton was armed with a black, semi-automatic pistol. The victim, Ms. Patrick, and one of the gang members got into the victim's car. The victim then took Ms. Patrick home and followed [co-d]efendant Becton and the rest of the men.
Ricky Aldridge, the victim's cousin and also a Gangster Disciple, testified that members of the gang were required to follow certain rules or be punished. Some of the punishments included 3 minute beatings, 6 minute beatings, and death. Ricky Aldridge stated that the victim, while a member of the gang, did not participate in gang activities. Ricky Aldridge further stated that on September 15 several members of the Gangster Disciples inquired as to the whereabouts of the victim. He testified that the gang members were considering putting both he and the victim on "violation" for a previous incident. Eventually, several gang members approached Ricky Aldridge and his brother Timothy Aldridge. The gang members took them to the apartment of a man called "Tombstone, " the "governor" of a Memphis sect of the Gangster Disciples. Ricky Aldridge testified that he went with the gang members because he feared for the safety of his family if he refused. The victim was in the apartment when Ricky Aldridge arrived, along with some twenty members of the Gangster Disciples, several of whom were armed with automatic weapons.
The gang members discussed the punishments to be given to the victim and Ricky Aldridge. Tombstone told [co-d]efendant Becton to decide on and inflict a punishment. [Co-d]efendant Becton then ordered all of the gang members, the victim, and Ricky Aldridge into three waiting vehicles. The vehicles drove through several neighborhoods, eventually stopping at a gas station where Ricky Aldridge was approached by [the Petitioner] and told to empty his pockets. Ricky Aldridge gave [the Petitioner] approximately twenty dollars and noticed that [the Petitioner] was wearing a gold herring-bone necklace and coin ring that the victim had previously been wearing. The vehicles were then driven to DeSoto Park where the victim and Ricky Aldridge were grabbed by the back of the pants and forced to walk up a steep hill.
Once on top of the hill, the gang members, including both [co-defendant Becton and the Petitioner], encircled the victim and began to beat him with their fists. The gang members beat the victim for fifteen minutes. Eventually, the gang members began using a baseball bat and a tire iron to beat the victim. Specifically, Ricky Aldridge testified that [the Petitioner] beat the victim with a baseball bat until [co-d]efendant Becton took the bat from him, told him he was not using it properly, and then [co-d]efendant Becton began to beat the victim around the head with the bat. The victim was rendered unconscious early in the assault and lay motionless as the gang members continued to beat him. When the gang members finished with the victim, they turned to Ricky Aldridge and beat him with their fists for approximately six minutes. After beating Ricky Aldridge, [the Petitioner] once again turned his attention to the victim, stripping the victim of his pants and underwear. Ricky Aldridge then noticed that [the Petitioner] had a gun. Shortly thereafter, as Ricky Aldridge was being helped back down the hill, he heard a gunshot on the hill from the direction where the victim lay. Immediately after the gunshot, [co-defendant Becton and the Petitioner] came from the direction of the gunshot and began walking down the hill. Ricky Aldridge testified that [co-defendant Becton and the Petitioner] were the only people in the area from which the gunshot came, and [the Petitioner] had a gun in his hand moments after the shot was fired. Ricky Aldridge and the gang members then left the scene.
Ricky Aldridge returned later with Patrick Owen to find the victim severely injured, but still alive. They placed the victim in the backseat of Patrick Owen's girlfriend's car. Patrick Owen's girlfriend, Sharon Grafton, then called police and medical personnel. Ms. Grafton testified that the victim had been beaten severely and was bleeding profusely. She also testified that the victim was naked from the waist down. Ms. Grafton also testified that the victim had previously told her that he wanted to disassociate himself from the gang.
Timothy Aldridge, the brother of Ricky Aldridge, cousin of the victim, and also a Gangster Disciple, testified that he accompanied Ricky Aldridge to the gang meeting at the home of "Tombstone." Timothy Aldridge testified that both [co-defendant Becton and the Petitioner] were present at the meeting, and [the Petitioner] was armed with a .45 caliber pistol. Timothy Aldridge further testified that at the conclusion of the meeting[, ] [co-d]efendant Becton announced that he would handle the punishments of the victim and Ricky Aldridge. Timothy Aldridge stated that he rode to DeSoto park in the same car as the victim and was present when [the Petitioner] ordered the victim to take off his jewelry. Timothy Aldridge then saw [the Petitioner] put on the jewelry.
Timothy Aldridge continued to testify about the severe beating incurred by the victim, and he admitted that, because of his fear of the other gang members, he feigned participation in the attack by "pretending" to hit the victim. Timothy Aldridge was helping his brother back to the vehicles when he heard a gunshot from the location of the victim. Timothy Aldridge further stated that [co-defendant Becton and the Petitioner] were the only people in the area from which the gunshot came.
Officer William Poteet of the Memphis Police Department responded to a dispatch call at approximately 1:30 a.m. on September 15, 1997, and found the victim in the back seat of a car, covered in blood and naked from the waist down. The officer stated that the victim's injuries were so severe he thought the victim had been shot in the head. Dr. Thomas Deering, assistant medical examiner, testified that the victim suffered blunt trauma to the head, multiple skin lacerations, multiple puncture wounds, and a gunshot wound to the left buttock. Dr. Deering further stated that the blows to the victim's head caused his skull to fracture and pieces of bone to enter the victim's brain. The doctor testified that the victim died as a result of the head trauma complicated by the bleeding caused by the gunshot wound.
Jacqueline Yancey, a former girlfriend of [the Petitioner], and Arthur Jones, Ms. Yancey's cousin, both testified that approximately a week after the victim's death they saw [the Petitioner] wearing the victim's gold necklace and ring.
Robert Walker, the "head of security" for the Memphis Gangster Disciples, also testified that he was present when "Tombstone" complained to the head of the Memphis gang that the victim had become "rebellious" and should be punished. Mr. Walker testif[i]ed that "Tombstone" was told to "take care" of the victim. Mr. Walker also outlined the organizational structure and forms of punishment used by the gang. Specifically, Mr. Walker stated that one way gang members would symbolize their displeasure with another gang member while carrying out a death punishment would be to strip the person of his clothes and shoot him in the buttocks. Furthermore, Walker testified that [co-d]efendant Becton informed Walker that he shot the victim.

Matrin Becton & Antonio Sykes, 2002 WL 1349530, at *1-3. This court affirmed the Petitioner's convictions. Id. at *11. Our supreme court ...

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