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Johnson v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 24, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs August 8, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2010-B-977 Mark Fishburn, Judge

         A Davidson County jury convicted the Petitioner, Steven Woodrow Johnson, of first degree felony murder, especially aggravated burglary, aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and the trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of life in prison. This court affirmed the Petitioner's convictions on appeal, save the especially aggravated burglary conviction, which we modified to aggravated burglary. State v. Steven Woodrow Johnson, M2011-00859-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 3877787, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Nashville, Sept. 7, 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Feb. 13, 2013). In 2013, the Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court held a hearing on the petition and denied relief. On appeal, we affirm the post-conviction court's judgment.

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

          Manuel B. Russ, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Steven Woodrow Johnson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Counsel; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Janice Norman, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.



         I. Facts and Procedural History

         This case arises from the death of the victim, John Young, inside his home during a home invasion. For this offense, a Davidson County grand jury indicted the Petitioner for first degree felony murder, especially aggravated burglary, attempted especially aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony.

         A. Trial

         In our opinion on the Petitioner's first appeal, this court summarized the facts presented at trial as follows:

Officer Eric Bacon with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department testified that in the early morning hours of November 23, 2008, he responded to a shooting call at a residence located at 524 Wesley Avenue in East Nashville. Upon entering the residence through the front door, Officer Bacon briefly spoke with George Young, the victim's roommate and brother. He then went to the rear bedroom where the victim, John Young, was "near death, " lying on the bed with a gunshot wound to his head. Upon entering the bedroom, Officer Bacon discovered a revolver on the floor next to the victim's foot and secured it. Paramedics soon arrived to transport the victim, and Officer Bacon was able to conduct a walk-through of the residence. He observed that the back door had been forced open, shell casings were scattered on the floor, and bullet holes were in the walls.
George M. Young, Jr. testified that he resided at 524 Wesley Avenue with the victim. On the night of November 22, 2008, they watched a football game and went to bed around 10:30 p.m. A few moments later, Mr. Young heard a knock at the back door. The victim went to the bathroom window through which he could see two men standing on the back porch; Mr. Young stood beside the victim. The victim told the two people to leave, and they complied. From the front door of the residence, Mr. Young then observed the two men walking west down the street. The victim told Mr. Young that the men stated that "Dewayne" sent them to borrow money. After Mr. Young returned to bed, a noise in the home awakened him, and he discovered a man in his room, pointing a gun at his face. The man told him to get up. When Mr. Young stood up, the man hit him in the back of the head with his gun, knocking him to the floor. Gunshots began to ring out, and Mr. Young lay face down on the floor. Mr. Young then heard glass breaking, which the shooter caused by jumping through the bedroom window. Mr. Young called 9-1-1 and called out to his brother. However, he "never could hear anything." Mr. Young testified that he kept some money in the back of his closet, but the intruder did not take anything from the home that night.
Richard Allen testified that he resided at 308 Dinwiddie Drive with Robert Taylor and Mr. Taylor's wife, Crystan Shawn Taylor. On the evening of November 22, 2008, Allen was in possession of Crystan's cellular phone. He received a call from [the Petitioner] in which he asked if Allen "wanted to go out and do something." [The Petitioner] thereafter drove to Allen's residence with [the Petitioner's] brother, Richard Johnson, and another man whom Allen had never met before. The men all got into [the Petitioner's] vehicle, and Allen had a conversation in the back seat of the vehicle with the man whom he did not know. Allen testified that the man "[w]anted to hit a lick. They were going to do a robbery." Allen stated that the man wanted $60, 000 that was in a shoe box in the home of "two old guys." Allen was not certain if [the Petitioner] could hear the conversation, but Allen asked [the Petitioner] what he thought about the conversation. However, Allen could not recall how [the Petitioner] replied. Allen then stepped out of the vehicle and returned to his house, not wanting to participate in the robbery. Allen left instructions with Crystan "to just answer the phone and say no[, ]" if [the Petitioner] called. Allen and Robert Taylor then left the residence to go to a tattoo shop. After hearing about the home invasion and murder on the news, Allen contacted [the Petitioner] the next day and asked [the Petitioner] if he had been involved. [The Petitioner] responded that he had no involvement in the reported incident.
Crystan Shawn Taylor testified that on November 22, 2008, Allen was in possession of her cellular phone at their residence while she was at a tattoo shop with a friend. When Crystan returned home, Allen was leaving the residence with Robert Taylor, and Allen stated to Crystan that "[the Petitioner] may call. If he calls, tell him I'm not here and I said no." After midnight, Crystan received a call from [the Petitioner], asking for "Ricky." Crystan responded that "Ricky said to tell you he's not here and he said no, " although she did not know the meaning of her response. [The Petitioner] then replied, "[T]hat's all I need to know."
Alicia Catherine Johnson, [the Petitioner's] wife, testified that in 2008, she and [the Petitioner] resided with [the Petitioner's] parents in their home at 1221 London Bridge Road. [The Petitioner's] brother, Richard Johnson, also resided there. She stated that she and [the Petitioner] were arguing constantly, and their marriage was "falling apart." On the evening of November 22, 2008, she was at a family dinner at church with [the Petitioner], Wendy Johnson, Richard Johnson, and other family members. Also in attendance was a man named Francisco Ancona, whom Alicia knew
as "Brobro, " and Gail Barber. At the dinner, Alicia overheard [the Petitioner] and Ancona talking about "hitting a lick." Although she did not think they were referring to committing a robbery, she knew this term could refer to a robbery. She stated that she thought [the Petitioner] said the term, but she was "not positive." She stated that, although she did not know what they were referring to, it made her feel "sick" because "anything that has to do with hitting a lick would be somebody getting in trouble." After the dinner, she and [the Petitioner] returned home with their children in his vehicle. Alicia got into an argument with [the Petitioner], and [the Petitioner] left the home. Alicia began calling [the Petitioner] on his cellular phone, but he did not answer. Later that night, [the Petitioner] returned home with Richard Johnson. They were carrying Ancona into the home. Ancona had a cut on his leg, and the two men put him into the shower. Alicia testified that she knew something was wrong because [the Petitioner] was very upset. Wendy Johnson and Barber also appeared at the home between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. [The Petitioner] would not tell Alicia what had happened, but later [the Petitioner] turned on the news, which was broadcasting a story about the victim, and stated, "[T]hat's it."
Alicia Johnson further testified that [the Petitioner] and [the Petitioner's] fiancee, Tangia Tobitt, contacted her and attempted to "intimidate" her about testifying. She stated that she was afraid of them. Alicia spoke to Detective Curtis Hafley with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department about the incident on two occasions, but she gave different statements each time. She said she was scared the first time, and the second time she "felt more comfortable" with Detective Hafley. In her first statement on May 28, 2009, Alicia told Detective Hafley that she was asleep when [the Petitioner] and the other men came to the home that night, and a loud noise awakened her. However, she did not mention Wendy Johnson and Barber being in the home or that she saw any blood. She gave her second statement to Detective Hafley on March 28, 2010, in which she proffered this additional information. However, she did not tell Detective Hafley about the conversation she overheard between [the Petitioner] and Ancona at the family dinner about "hitting a lick" because she "didn't want to get in trouble." She only revealed that information shortly before trial.
Elizabeth Gail Barber testified that on November 22, 2008, she and her son went to the Walmart parking lot in Madison, Tennessee, to meet [the Petitioner], Richard Johnson, and Ancona, whom she knew as "Frank." Wendy Johnson was also at the meeting. [The Petitioner] asked Barber if she "wanted to make some money, about a thousand dollars." They wanted
to use her vehicle, a Chevrolet S-10 truck, "[g]oing to the robbery." She stated that she followed [the Petitioner] in his vehicle to a side street off Trinity Lane, where they exchanged vehicles, and she saw [the Petitioner] remove a gun from the middle console of his vehicle. She stated that she thought "that they were going to use [the gun] to go do the robbery, " meaning she thought Ancona was going to take the gun into the home when he committed the robbery. Richard Johnson and Ancona then took her truck "to go by and do the robbery." After Richard Johnson and Ancona took Barber's vehicle, she and Wendy Johnson went with [the Petitioner] in his vehicle.
[The Petitioner] then drove to a White Castle restaurant and waited in the parking lot. Barber heard [the Petitioner] talking on the phone to someone, asking "if that was gunshots" approximately twenty to twenty-five minutes after the meeting on Trinity Lane. Richard Johnson and Ancona then approached them in Barber's truck, and Ancona got into [the Petitioner's] vehicle. [The Petitioner] ...

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