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State v. Sims

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

September 5, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs July 25, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-00672 James M. Lammey, Judge

         Following 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.

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

          Robert 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.

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


          J. ROSS DYER, JUDGE.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Around 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.

         The 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, [1] 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.

         At 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.

         The 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.

         Christopher 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Officer 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.

         The 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.

         Officer 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.

         Karen 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.

         Following 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.

         Ms. 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.

         Mr. 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, Mr. ...

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