Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs August 15, 2017 at Knoxville
from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2009-A-769
Steve R. Dozier, Judge
Aryel Okraku, the Petitioner, was convicted of two counts of
aggravated child neglect and one count of reckless homicide.
He received an effective sentence of sixty years. Trial
counsel did not file a timely motion for new trial or notice
of appeal, and after filing a petition for post-conviction
relief, the Petitioner was granted a delayed direct appeal.
On direct appeal, this court merged the aggravated child
neglect convictions but otherwise affirmed the
Petitioner's convictions. The Petitioner then renewed his
petition for post-conviction relief and alleged that trial
counsel's performance was deficient because he
"neglected to use the strongest piece of impeachment
evidence available to him-evidence that could have
discredited the State's theory that the cocaine ingested
by the victim belonged to [the Petitioner]." After a
thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we
affirm the post-conviction court's denial of relief.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
C. Caldwell, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kwaku
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew
C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn Funk, District
Attorney General; and Jennifer Smith and Tammy Meade,
Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State
L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Camille R. McMullen, J.,
L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE
Factual and Procedural Background
testimony at trial established that, during the day leading
up to the incident, the victim, who was three years old, was
in the custody of Ms. LaTonya Majors, who did not observe the
victim pick up or ingest anything unusual. State v. Kwaku
Aryel Okraku, No. M2013-01379-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL
3805801, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 1, 2014), perm.
app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 19, 2014).
evening, Ms. Majors returned to her home after being unable
to locate a friend to watch the victim while Ms. Majors
attended her cosmetology class. Id. at *2. The
Petitioner returned to the home "a few minutes"
after she and the victim returned but quickly left and stated
that he was going to his mother's residence. Id.
The victim then began displaying unusual behavior, such as
praying, stating that she saw or was talking to Jesus, and
naming people she knew. Id. When the Petitioner
returned, Ms. Majors brought the victim to him to show him
her unusual behavior. Id. The victim collapsed while
the Petitioner was holding her. Id. Ms. Majors
estimated that "'[p]robably 20 to 30 minutes'
elapsed between the time when she first observed the victim
praying to the time when the victim collapsed in the [the
Petitioner]'s arms" and that "the victim was
back at home for 'about 45 minutes to an hour"
before she collapsed.'" Id. A neighbor
began performing CPR on the victim, and Ms. Majors called
9-1-1. Id. at *3. The paramedic who responded, Mr.
Anthony Bryant, observed that the victim "was seizing
and was just twitching pretty much all over . . . .
[Her][e]xtremities, body, head, eyes were twitching."
direct appeal, this court summarized additional evidence, as
After the victim arrived at Southern Hills Hospital, doctors
were able to start the victim's heart beating again. Mr.
Bryant then transported the victim to Vanderbilt
Children's Hospital after about "20 or 30
minutes." Mr. Bryant agreed that nothing about the
victim's behavior was inconsistent with the victim's
having suffered a cocaine overdose that day.
. . . .
Once the victim arrived at Vanderbilt Children's
Hospital, doctors informed Ms. Majors that the victim was
nearly unresponsive. Ms. Majors then learned on June 13,
2008, that the victim had cocaine in her system and that the
cocaine was the cause of her unusual behavior. Upon learning
that the victim had tested positive for cocaine, Ms. Majors
"freaked out" on the [Petitioner], shouting at him
and telling him that she hated him.
Ms. Majors became upset with the [Petitioner] based upon a
December 2006 incident, where Ms. Majors found the victim
playing with a bag in her mouth in a closet in the room that
Ms. Majors shared with the [Petitioner]. The bag was small
and appeared to have been torn off and tied, and Ms. Majors
observed two "rocks" inside the bag that were dark
yellow. Ms. Majors confronted the [Petitioner] about the bag
when he returned home, and the [Petitioner] told her that the
bag contained "rat poison." Ms. Majors did not
believe the [Petitioner] and kept asking him about the
substance in the bag, at which point the [Petitioner] told
her that she "kn[e]w what it [was] and just kind of gave
a smirk." Although the [Petitioner] did not specifically
tell her what the substance was, Ms. Majors surmised that the
bag contained rock cocaine. She believed it was cocaine
partially because she knew that rat poison looked "like
a green little pellet" and because the items in the bag
did not match that description, nor were there rats in the
residence. The [Petitioner] eventually left with the bag and
told Ms. Majors that he had been holding it for a friend.
. . . .
The morning after discovering that the victim tested positive
for cocaine, Ms. Majors had a conversation with the
[Petitioner] at their home where they discussed how the
victim could have tested positive for cocaine. The
[Petitioner] told Ms. Majors that the victim possibly could
have gotten the cocaine from a ball cap because the
[Petitioner] had "cooked some up" in the microwave
the night that the victim collapsed. He said that some of
"it" may have gotten onto the cap. The [Petitioner]
asked Ms. Majors if the victim had been playing with any of
his hats, and Ms. Majors replied that she had, that she
"always plays with all of his caps." Ms. Majors was
not aware that the [Petitioner] had been cooking anything in
the microwave on the night of the incident, and, although the
[Petitioner] did not say what he had been cooking, it was
insinuated to Ms. Majors that it was cocaine because the
disclosure came during a conversation about how cocaine could
have entered the victim's system. That same day, Ms.
Majors relayed the details of this conversation to police
officers and also informed them of the December 2006
Ms. Majors described the conversation between herself and the
[Petitioner] as "sarcasm, but at the same time it was
[the [Petitioner]] saying that he was doing it." The
[Petitioner] informed Ms. Majors that he discovered a hat
with powder on it, and Ms. Majors saw the hat and observed
that it had a white powder. The [Petitioner] stated that he
was "back at it, " meaning that he was selling
drugs again. Ms. Majors agreed that she never observed any
large amounts of cash or digital scales or other drug
paraphernalia in the townhouse.
Id. at *4-5. Dr. John Davis, a forensic pathologist
and assistant medical examiner at Forensic Medical, did not
perform the victim's autopsy but agreed that the
victim's cause of death was related to her ingestion of
cocaine. Id. at *5. Dr. Donna Seger testified that
"cocaine is rapidly absorbed into the body and that
'the highest level of cocaine occurs very shortly after
you ingest it, certainly within an hour.'"
Id. She also testified that "seizures occur
quickly after a peak level of cocaine is reached."
Ms. Aniesha Ollie testified that Ms. Majors was her best
friend. She shared childcare responsibilities with Ms.
Majors; Ms. Majors would look after her children when Ms.
Ollie could not find a babysitter, and Ms. Ollie would do the
same for Ms. Majors. Ms. Ollie did not have any contact with
the victim on the day that she was admitted to the hospital.
She testified that ...