Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs September 19, 2017
from the Criminal Court for McMinn County No. 14-313 Andrew
M. Freiberg, Judge
Thomas Paul Odum, was indicted for first degree felony
murder, first degree premeditated murder, conspiracy to
commit aggravated burglary, aggravated burglary, burglary,
theft of property valued at more than $1000, and possession
of a firearm by a convicted felon. Prior to trial, the State
filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty and
dismissed the first degree premeditated murder charge. At the
close of the State's proof, the trial court granted a
motion for judgment of acquittal with respect to the burglary
charge. The jury ultimately found Defendant guilty of felony
murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, aggravated
burglary, theft of property valued at more than $1000, and
possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Following the
penalty phase, the jury sentenced Defendant to life without
the possibility of parole. The trial judge separately
sentenced Defendant to an effective sentence of five years
for the remaining convictions, to be served consecutively to
Defendant's life sentence. Defendant appeals, arguing
that (1) the trial court erred by denying the motion to
disqualify the District Attorney's Office prior to trial;
(2) the trial court erred by denying the motion to suppress
Defendant's statement; (3) the evidence was insufficient
to support the convictions; and (4) the sentence was
excessive. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgments
of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
Richard Hughes, District Public Defender; Donald Leon Shahan,
Jr. (at trial and on appeal), and Bryan Hoss (at trial),
Assistant District Public Defenders, for the appellant,
Thomas Paul Odum.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Counsel; Stephen Crump, District
Attorney General; and Heather Higginbotham, Assistant
District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of
Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.
TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
4, 2014, Tyler Womack, the victim, walked from the home he
shared with his grandmother, Vicky Lee Womack, to a home
across the street to borrow an air compressor from his
neighbor, Art Ingram. When the victim did not return promptly
and failed to respond to several text messages from Ms.
Womack, she walked over to the Ingram property to look for
her grandson. She found the victim lying dead on the ground
next to an old car with a bag over his head. He had been shot
once through the eye.
Defendant, Amanda Britnell, and Martha Thompson were
developed as suspects and were ultimately arrested. In August
of 2014, all three defendants were indicted by the McMinn
County Grand Jury for conspiracy to commit aggravated
burglary, aggravated burglary, burglary, theft of property
valued over $1000, first degree felony murder, and first
degree murder. Defendant was also indicted for one count of
possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
November of 2014, the State filed a notice of intent to seek
the death penalty against Defendant, citing the following
aggravating circumstances: (1) Defendant was previously
convicted of one or more felonies, other than the present
charge, whose statutory elements involve the use of violence
to the person; (2) the murder was committed for the purpose
of avoiding, interfering with, or preventing a lawful arrest
or prosecution of Defendant or another; and (3) the murder
was knowingly committed, solicited, directed, or aided by
Defendant, while Defendant had a substantial role in
committing or attempting to commit, or was fleeing after
having a substantial role in committing or attempting to
commit, any first degree murder, arson, rape, robbery,
burglary, theft, kidnapping, aggravated child abuse,
aggravated child neglect, rape of a child, aggravated rape of
a child, aircraft piracy, or unlawful throwing, placing or
discharging of a destructive device or bomb. Prior to trial,
the trial court dismissed the first degree premeditated
murder charge upon motion by the State.
Hoffer was appointed by the McMinn County General Sessions
Court to represent Codefendant Britnell. In March of 2015,
after Codefendant Britnell's preliminary hearing, but
prior to Defendant's trial, Mr. Hoffer was hired by the
Tenth Judicial District Attorney's Office. Codefendant
Britnell received new counsel when Mr. Hoffer took this
position. The District Attorney's Office implemented
strict screening measures in April of 2015 to prevent Mr.
Hoffer from having any interaction with Defendant's case.
In April of 2015, Defendant filed a motion to disqualify the
District Attorney's Office on the basis of Mr.
Hoffer's involvement in the case.
trial court held a hearing on the matter. At the conclusion
of the hearing, the trial court denied the motion, finding
that even though an actual conflict of interest existed,
there was no damage or irreparable injury. Specifically, the
trial court determined that the District Attorney's
Office implemented adequate screening procedures and
safeguards prior to Mr. Hoffer joining the office. The trial
court also determined that the evidence established that Mr.
Hoffer did not share any confidences that he was privy to as
a result of his limited representation of Codefendant
Britnell. In other words, the trial court determined that the
State met its burden by clear and convincing evidence. The
trial court entered a written order denying the motion.
Defendant filed a motion in the trial court seeking
permission for an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee
Rule of Appellate Procedure 9. The trial court denied the
motion. Defendant then filed a motion for reconsideration of
his previous motion to disqualify the District Attorney's
Office, and the trial court again denied the motion.
Defendant filed an application for permission to appeal to
this Court pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure
10. This Court denied the application for permission to
appeal on the basis that there was no proof that the trial
court "so far departed from the accepted and usual
course of judicial proceedings as to require immediate
review." State v. Thomas Paul Odum, No.
E2016-00342-CCA-R10-CD (order Feb. 26, 2016) (quoting Tenn.
R. App. P. 10(a)). The Tennessee Supreme Court subsequently
denied the application for permission to appeal. See
State v. Thomas Paul Odum, No. E2016-00342-SC-R10-CD
(order Apr. 11, 2016).
November of 2015, Defendant filed a motion to suppress his
statement. In the motion, Defendant complained that
"through coercion, law enforcement agents continued to
question him" after he asked for a lawyer in violation
of his 5th and 14th Amendment rights.
After a hearing, the trial court determined that Defendant
was in custody but voluntarily chose to answer questions
after being advised of his rights. Specifically, the trial
court found that Defendant asked for a lawyer and the
interviewers immediately stopped questioning Defendant.
Shortly thereafter, Defendant reinitiated the interview by
engaging the interviewers in conversation about the crime.
Defendant was again advised about his rights before giving a
statement. The trial court denied the motion to suppress.
the victim was eight years of age, he moved in with his
grandmother, Ms. Womack, in rural Athens, Tennessee. Mr.
Ingram lived across the street from the Womacks and often
invited the victim to spend time at his home. Mr.
Ingram's property and home were filled with old cars,
guns, hunting equipment, a camper, and various other items.
Ingram knew Defendant. Shortly before the victim's death,
Mr. Ingram had agreed to allow Defendant to perform 50 hours
of work on a Nissan 300ZX in exchange for a 1972 GMC pickup
truck. Defendant came by the Ingram property to discuss his
work schedule on June 30 and worked approximately five hours
that day. Mr. Ingram informed Defendant that he would be out
of town for the remainder of the week visiting his girlfriend
in Ringold, Georgia, and that Defendant could return the
following Monday to work on the vehicle. Mr. Ingram did not
give Defendant permission to work on the vehicle or be
present at the house while he was out of town.
he left that day, Defendant told Mr. Ingram that he wanted to
swap a bicycle for two antique Owlhead pistols described as
"wall-hangers" owned by Mr. Ingram. Mr. Ingram went
inside the house. Defendant followed him inside without being
invited. Though they did not make the exchange that day, they
discussed a potential swap.
Friday, July 4, Ms. Womack asked the victim to take her car
across the street to Mr. Ingram's home to borrow an air
compressor to put air in one of her tires. She was aware that
Mr. Ingram was out of town, so she sent him a text message
asking his permission to use the air compressor. Mr. Ingram
gave the victim permission to enter his property, and the
victim walked over to Mr. Ingram's around 12:40 p.m.
Womack became concerned when the victim did not return in a
prompt manner. At first, she thought that maybe Mr. Ingram
was home and the victim had engaged him in conversation. Ms.
Womack looked outside to see if she could see the victim
coming back toward the house. She heard a "bang."
Ms. Womack sent a text message to the victim asking him
"what was that bang?" Because it was the Fourth of
July, Ms. Womack assumed that she had heard fireworks. When
the victim did not respond, she sent several additional text
messages to him. The victim still did not respond. Ms. Womack
walked outside and yelled for the victim. She eventually
walked across the street to Mr. Ingram's property to
search for her grandson. She found him lying on the ground
next to an old car. There was a bag over his head. He had
been shot one time in the head. Ms. Womack, hysterical,
called 911 to report the shooting.
that same time, Margaret Mashburn, Ms. Womack's next door
neighbor, was sitting on the front porch of her house talking
to her daughter. Ms. Mashburn saw a person walk in front of
the Ingram house and then "look up behind it like she
was seeing maybe if a car or somebody was coming down the
driveway." She then saw the person walk down the
driveway and continue down the road. Ms. Mashburn thought
that the person walking in Mr. Ingram's front yard
"looked like a girl."
Timothy J. Davis, Jr., of the McMinn County Sheriff's
Office was the first officer to respond to the 911 call. He
was dispatched to Mr. Ingram's home on a report of a
"possible suicide." He encountered Ms. Womack,
"running out into the yard towards the road, pointing
[the officers] towards the back of the home." She was
"hysterical, " "really manic, " and had
blood on her hands from trying to administer first aid to the
victim. Deputy Davis found the victim "against a car,
slumped over." Deputy Davis described the victim as
having an "impact site from a firearm to his right
eye" and there being "quite a bit of blood."
There was a "bag partially over the head" of the
victim and an impact site on the vehicle.
to the Medical Examiner, Dr. Christopher Lochmuller, the
victim died as a result of a single gunshot to the right eye.
The entrance wound contained "searing, " which
indicated that the muzzle of the gun was held either very
close to the skin or was in contact with the skin at the
point of impact. Dr. Lochmuller opined that the victim's
head was covered by the nylon bag and that the muzzle of the
gun was touching the bag at the time the victim was shot.
Joseph Paul Johnson arrived on the scene shortly after Deputy
Davis. The officers worked together to secure the scene,
taking note that Mr. Ingram, the property owner, was not
home. Officers saw a still for making moonshine, several
bottles of morphine and lidocaine, needles, and other drug
paraphernalia around the home as well as several firearms
inside the home. It appeared that one of the outbuildings and
a camper located at the residence had been forcibly entered.
Detective Blake Witt of the McMinn County Sheriff's
Office was one of the officers on the scene that day. As part
of the crime scene investigation, he recovered a cigarette
butt from the driveway. DNA on the cigarette butt found in
the driveway matched the Defendant's DNA. Three other
cigarette butts located in the driveway, on the kitchen
table, and on the back porch matched the DNA of Codefendant
days after the victim's death, Detective Witt met with
Mr. Ingram. During the interview, Mr. Ingram explained that
he hired Defendant to work at his property prior to the
victim's death. He also identified many items that were
missing from his property after the victim's death,
including guns, scopes, ammunition, bottles of wine,
camcorders, DVD players, knives, arrows, crossbows, and
swords as well as other items. The interview with Mr. Ingram
led to Defendant being developed as a suspect.
sheriff's office began to receive reports from people who
located some of the missing items. Police eventually executed
a search of the residence of Maggie Britnell, the mother of
Codefendant Britnell. At the residence, officers found a
number of Mr. Ingram's missing items. Defendant arrived
at the Britnell home while the officers were executing the
search and was taken into custody.
time of his arrest, Defendant was in possession of a six-shot
Ruger Superhawk .44 Magnum pistol with five rounds in the
cylinder and one round missing. At the police station,
Defendant initially signed a waiver of rights form and agreed
to speak with officers. When Defendant learned he was being
accused of murder, he asked for an attorney. The officers
immediately ceased the interview. Within seconds, ...