Assigned on Briefs July 25, 2017
from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-00672 James
M. Lammey, Judge
a jury trial, Eric Sims, the defendant, was convicted of one
count of first degree murder, six counts of attempted first
degree murder, and six counts of employment of a firearm
during attempted first degree murder. The trial court imposed
an effective sentence of life in prison plus one hundred and
eighty-six years. On appeal, the defendant challenges the
sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his convictions, the
admission of evidence regarding his gang affiliation, and the
length of his sentence. Following our review, we affirm the
judgments of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
Golder, Memphis, Tennessee (on appeal), and Joseph McClusky
and Chelsea Harris, Memphis, Tennessee (at trial) for the
appellant, Eric Sims.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Breanne N. Hataway, Assistant Attorney General; Amy Weirich,
District Attorney General; and Raymond Lepone and Neil
Oldham, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the
appellee, State of Tennessee.
Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Alan E. Glenn and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.
ROSS DYER, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
10:00 p.m. the night of August 2, 2013, Ronald Singleton and
Tradarius Jones, known as "T.J., " got into a fight
near the intersection of Bishops Bridge Road and Beauchamp
Drive in Memphis, Tennessee. Mr. Singleton was a middle
ranking member of Piru, a street gang affiliated with the
Bloods. Mr. Jones was a member of Crips, another street gang.
Following the fight, Mr. Singleton returned to the nearby
home of Jason Smith, where several other Piru members were
gathered, including the defendant, Jerome Jackson, Darius
Buckner, and Jason Smith. The defendant was the highest
ranking Piru member present, followed by Mr. Jackson and Mr.
Smith. Mr. Buckner was the lowest ranking gang member
present. After learning of the fight, the defendant, Mr.
Jackson, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Buckner left to find Mr. Jones.
Mr. Smith left in his black Pontiac GTO. Mr. Jackson left in
his purple Plymouth Breeze, with the defendant and Mr.
Buckner riding as passengers. The defendant, Mr. Jackson, and
Mr. Smith all wore their hair in dreadlocks. The defendant
brought his .357-caliber handgun with him that, according to
Mr. Singleton, he always carried. Mr. Singleton stayed behind
at Smith's house.
defendant and his fellow gang members returned to the
intersection of Bishops Bridge Road and Beauchamp Street and
found Mr. Jones. As the victims, Montarius Pigrum, Kaylin
Brown, Addrinne Odom, Michael Tate, Cedrick Ford, Demetrius
Ford,  and Tyrone White approached the
intersection, they saw a dark car with tinted windows in the
middle of the street and several men fighting Mr. Jones. One
of the men looked at the victims and said something like
"you all want some of this?" and "this Piru
stuff." The victims, who were unarmed, saw the defendant
and another man had guns, so they began running. Mr. Buckner
and one of the men with dreadlocks began chasing the victims
down Beauchamp Street. As the victims ran from the men, gun
shots were fired at them. Demetrius testified that as he ran,
he could hear bullets fly past his head. According to Cedric,
one of the bullets hit the ground close to his foot.
trial, the witnesses offered conflicting testimony regarding
who fired the shots and which man with dreadlocks chased the
victims down Beauchamp Street. Mr. Odom could not identify
the man who fired the shots and testified, "The person
that was shootin', he had dreads, and that's all I
just know that he had." Mr. Jackson testified that he
and Mr. Buckner chased the victims, but the two of them were
unarmed, and the defendant fired the shots. Mr. White
identified Mr. Buckner, who did not wear his hair in
dreadlocks, as the individual who fired the gunshots. Mr.
Tate identified the defendant as the man who fired the shots.
Cedric identified Mr. Smith as the individual who fired the
shots, and Demetrius identified the defendant as the one who
fired the shots.
victims separated as they ran. The defendant returned to the
dark car, climbed into the driver's seat, picked up Mr.
Jackson, and moved to the front passenger seat of the
vehicle. Mr. Pigrum, Mr. White, and Cedric ran down Beauchamp
Street, climbed a fence, and ran into Bertram Cove. Mr. White
and Cedric hid together in the backyard of a house in the
cove. Mr. Pigrum ran in a different direction and ended up in
the driveway of a neighboring house. While hiding, Cedric saw
the same car he noticed by the park pull into the cove. The
defendant exited the passenger side of the car and fired
shots at Mr. Pigrum. Later that night, Cedric and the other
victims learned Mr. Pigrum died.
Gainer, who lived on Bertram Cove, was in his driveway at the
time Mr. Pigrum, Mr. White, and Cedric ran into the cove. Mr.
Gainer saw Mr. White and Cedric hide in a yard two houses
away, and Mr. Pigrum run into Mr. Gainer's driveway. Mr.
Pigrum advised Mr. Gainer there had been a fight in the park
and gunshots were fired. Mr. Gainer asked Mr. Pigrum if he
needed to call somebody, and Mr. Pigrum said no. Mr. Gainer
then saw Jackson's Plymouth Breeze pull into the cove.
The back end of the car was wrecked, and because of the
damage, Mr. Gainer recognized a photograph of the car at
trial. Mr. Gainer said a man was hanging out of the passenger
side of the car and fired gun shots in his direction. Mr.
Gainer went into his house, leaving Mr. Pigrum in the
driveway. Mr. Pigrum ended up getting shot, as did Mr.
Gainer's car. At trial, Mr. Gainer testified that he
heard from his house the gunshots fired near the park
approximately ten minutes before witnessing the gunshots
fired in his driveway.
Jackson testified that he drove his car into Bertram Cove and
saw Mr. Pigrum in a driveway. As he turned around in the
driveway, he hit the back of his car on the curb, and the
bumper fell off his car. He got out of the car to retrieve
the bumper, and the defendant began arguing with Mr. Pigrum,
eventually shooting him. Mr. Jackson and the defendant then
returned to the car and drove back to Mr. Smith's house.
Singleton was waiting in the driveway of Mr. Smith's
house when the defendant, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Buckner, and Mr.
Smith returned. According to Mr. Singleton, the gang members
were gone approximately ten minutes, and he heard two sets of
gunshots fired during that time span. The men discussed what
happened, and the defendant said he fired shots.
Branley Pfeil with the Memphis Police Department
("MPD") responded to the emergency call to Bertram
Cove. The caller initially reported suspicious activity and
an unknown individual banging on the front door, but Officer
Pfeil learned en route that gunshots had been fired and
someone had been injured. Officer Pfeil arrived and found Mr.
Pigrum unresponsive with a gunshot wound to his face. Officer
Pfeil spoke with Mr. Gainer and waited on the other officers
and the ambulance to arrive. Officer Marcus Mosby, also with
the MPD, responded too. As the crime scene investigator
assigned to the matter, Officer Mosby was tasked with
preserving and collecting evidence at the scene. Both Officer
Pfeil and Officer Mosby identified photographs of the crime
scene and of Mr. Pigrum.
following morning, Detective Fausto Frias and Officer Stacy
Milligan with the MPD collected four bullet casings from the
corner of Bishops Bridge Road and Beauchamp Drive. Special
Agent Cervinia Braswell, the Tennessee Bureau of
Investigation ("TBI") forensic scientist assigned
to identify the firearms, was tendered as an expert in her
field at trial and identified three of the casings as .357
Winchester bullet casings and one as a .40-caliber Winchester
bullet casing. Detective Frias and Officer Milligan recovered
eight bullet casings from Bertram Cove. Agent Braswell
identified them as .357 Winchester bullet casings. According
to Agent Braswell, all the .357 bullet casings were fired
from the same gun, which was most likely a Glock or Smith
& Wesson Sigma Series pistol. All recovered bullet
casings appeared fresh.
Michael Coburn, an MPD crime scene investigator, processed
two vehicles as evidence in this matter. On August 5, 2013,
he processed a black Pontiac GTO for DNA and fingerprints and
retrieved sixteen print cards from the vehicle. The
fingerprints recovered belonged to the defendant, Jackson,
and Smith. He also collected items from the vehicle,
including a paystub belonging to Smith. On August 13, 2013,
Officer Coburn processed a purple Plymouth Breeze for DNA and
fingerprints, and retrieved eight print cards from the
vehicle. The fingerprints recovered belonged to the defendant
and Jackson. He also collected clothes found inside the
vehicle and a shoebox found inside the vehicle. The shoebox
also had fingerprints belonging to Jackson.
Chancellor, M.D., the chief medical examiner for Shelby
County, performed an autopsy on Mr. Pigrum and was tendered
as an expert in her field at trial. Dr. Chancellor's
external examination revealed two gunshot wounds, one on the
left side of Mr. Pigrum's jaw and one on the left side of
his neck. During her internal examination, Dr. Chancellor
found two bullet fragments in the left side of Mr.
Pigrum's neck and determined the bullet tore the left
carotid artery and left jugular vein, two of the largest
blood vessels in the body. Dr. Chancellor opined the cause of
Mr. Pigrum's death was a gunshot wound to the neck, and
his manner of death was homicide. According to his mother,
Katrina Pigrum, Mr. Pigrum was seventeen years old at the
time of his death.
the close of the State's proof, the defendant moved for a
judgment of acquittal, and the trial court denied the
request. The trial court then considered whether it would
allow the State to impeach the defendant with his prior
felony convictions for aggravated burglary, two counts of
aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment with a deadly
weapon, all occurring within the past ten years, and ruled
the prior convictions were admissible under Rule 609 of the
Tennessee Rules of Evidence. The trial court then held the
defendant's Momon hearing, and the defendant
expressed his desire not to testify. The defendant did,
however, proceed with calling Khadijah Woods and Cornell
Brown to testify on his behalf.
Woods, the defendant's sister, testified that she lived
in an apartment with the defendant and their mother in August
of 2013. She remembered August 2, 2013, because it was the
Friday before school began. She and the defendant were in the
apartment together all day. Cornell Brown stopped by the
apartment that night, and the defendant briefly went outside
to talk to him. The defendant did not leave the apartment any
other time that evening.
Brown testified that he remembered August 2, 2013, because he
was released from jail that day after being falsely accused
of murder. He had been incarcerated for fifteen months and
was released around 7:00 p.m. After his release, Mr.
Brown's girlfriend took him to his grandmother's
house. Mr. Brown visited his grandmother for an hour and left
to visit his mother. On his way to his mother's house,
Mr. Brown decided to stop at the defendant's apartment to
see if he still lived there. The defendant was home, and the
men talked in front of the apartment. On cross-examination,