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State v. Hughes

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 29, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs May 10, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2013-A-43 Mark J. Fishburn, Judge

         The Defendant, Jacob Scott Hughes, was convicted of first degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse, for which he was sentenced, respectively, to life and twenty-five years, to be served consecutively, as a result of the death of the sixteen-month-old daughter of his girlfriend. On appeal, he raises three issues: (1) the trial court erred in ruling that he could not refer to his co-defendant, who was the mother of the child, as his "co-defendant, " as well as to the fact that she had entered a guilty plea to lesser-included offenses; (2) the trial court erred in not redacting from his Facebook message a racial slur, which previously had been ruled inadmissible; and (3) whether autopsy photographs were properly admitted as exhibits during the testimony of the medical examiner. Following our review, we conclude that the issues raised on appeal are without merit and affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

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

          Grover Christopher Collins, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jacob Scott Hughes.

          Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., joined.


          ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE


         Although the Defendant, on appeal, does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions, we will set out a condensed version of the trial testimony, which we have determined to be sufficient to support the convictions.

         Ashley Judkins testified that she was an assistant manager at the Sonic Drive-In, where the victim's mother, Neena Costanza, worked. Ms. Judkins said that, around 11:30 a.m. on July 8, 2012, she telephoned Ms. Costanza because she had not yet arrived for work. Later, Ms. Costanza arrived and clocked in at 11:52 a.m., in a car driven by the Defendant, with the victim sitting in her car seat. Ms. Judkins spoke with the victim "for just a minute, " and the victim was "happy and dancing" to a song on the car radio. There were no visible injuries to the victim at that time. When the Defendant backed out of the parking lot, he screeched his tires and sped off. Ms. Costanza "was upset, [and] definitely wasn't herself that day."

         Ms. Judkins said that at 3:00 p.m., Ms. Costanza, who was "frantic and upset, " was driven to her apartment by Thomas Whitehead, the manager of the drive-in. When Mr. Whitehead returned to the drive-in, he and Ms. Judkins went to the hospital where the victim had been transported. Ms. Judkins described the Defendant's demeanor at the hospital: "He didn't seem like [the victim's condition] was bothering him at all, and he was more concerned about his own well-being since he had been in the hospital the day before, and when we were outside, he seemed totally fine, just smoking a cigarette, walking around normal." The Defendant told Ms. Judkins that because the victim had "black tarry stools, " he had put her in the bathtub to clean her, and when he returned from getting some bleach, the victim had fallen between the bathtub and toilet.

         Thomas Whitehead, the current manager of a Sonic Drive-In in Ocala, Florida, testified that he previously had been the general manager of the drive-in on Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville. On July 8, 2012, he was working at the Nashville drive-in when Ms. Costanza told him that her baby was not breathing. He told her to call 911 and drove her to her residence. Inside the residence, he saw the naked victim, who had a "big bruise" on her left cheek, lying in the bathtub. The victim was "gargling, sounded like she was trying to breathe, but she couldn't." Additionally, the victim had "reddish discoloring in her vaginal area." Ms. Costanza asked the Defendant about the bruise on the victim's cheek, and he replied that she "fell." Mr. Whitehead said that the Defendant was "[r]ude [and] disrespectful" to Ms. Costanza. He did not see the Defendant perform CPR on the victim or give her rescue breaths. Later, at the hospital, the Defendant was "[s]tand off-ish."

          David Caruthers testified that he was a firefighter/paramedic with the Nashville Fire Department and on July 8, 2012, responded to a "child not breathing" call at the victim's apartment. When he entered the apartment, he saw the victim lying on the floor on a towel or blanket. He said that the victim was "lifeless. There was no motion, no movement, no crying, the baby's hair was wet, extremely cold to the touch." He discovered that the victim was still breathing and "[s]cooped her up, immediately went to the ambulance where [he] had plenty of room and all of [his] equipment that [he] could work with her." He noticed that she had bruising above her eye, as well as to her chest and lower abdomen.

         Carl Standley, an engineer/paramedic with the Nashville Fire Department, testified that he also responded to the call at the victim's apartment. He said that the victim had bruises on her cheek and under her left eye, a dilated left pupil, and a possible bite mark on her left thigh. Later, at the hospital, the Defendant told Mr. Standley that he put the victim in the bathtub after she had vomited and "pooped brown stuff." He left ...

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