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State v. Boswell

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 5, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
COYNICK BOSWELL

         Session: September 6, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 14-00658 James C. Beasley, Jr., Judge

         Following a jury trial, the defendant, Coynick Boswell, was convicted of the first-degree murder of the victim, Kadrian Woods. On appeal the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction for premeditated murder and his request for and instruction on self-defense. Having thoroughly reviewed the record and although the evidence is sufficient to sustain the jury's verdict, we conclude that the trial court erred when it failed to instruct the jury as to self-defense. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the matter for a new trial.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Reversed; Case Remanded

          Michael R. Working, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Coynick Boswell.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; David H Findley, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Colin Campbell, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          J. Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Norma McGee Ogle, J., joined.

          OPINION

          J. ROSS DYER, JUDGE

         Factual Background

         1. Overview

         The defendant was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder on October 26, 2016. This case arises out of an altercation at the Eden Point Apartments in Memphis, Tennessee on August 23, 2013. The defendant confronted the victim on the stairway of the apartment complex. The defendant, armed with a handgun, accused the unarmed victim of giving him counterfeit money. The confrontation escalated, and the defendant discharged his weapon several times. The victim was struck twice, once in the upper back and once in the abdomen. The wound in his back caused critical internal injuries from which he later died. The defendant fled the scene but was later arrested.

         The defendant's trial focused primarily on the testimony of three witnesses to the confrontation. First, Brandon Sails testified that the victim had just left his apartment before encountering the defendant on the stairway. Secondly, Wardell Thomas explained he accompanied the defendant to Eden Point Apartments. Finally, Carlos Daniel, the victim's cousin, testified he was with the victim when they both left Mr. Sails' apartment. Only Mr. Thomas and Mr. Daniel were witnesses to the entire altercation, while Mr. Sails saw most of the fight through his window and open door. All three witnesses positively identified the defendant in a photo line-up and at trial as the shooter.

         At the conclusion of the trial, the defendant requested an instruction on self-defense. The trial court denied the request. The jury was instructed on first-degree murder as well as the lesser included offenses of voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and criminally negligent homicide. The jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. The defendant moved for a new trial, which was denied. The defendant now appeals challenging the failure to instruct the jury to consider self-defense and arguing there is insufficient evidence to sustain the jury's verdict.

         2. Witness Testimony

         The State's proof consisted of testimony from the victim's mother, the responding officers, the three witnesses from the scene, and the testimony and report from the medical examiner. The victim's mother testified that her son was twenty-three years old at the time of the shooting. The first officer on the scene, Officer Matthew Dyess, testified that by the time he responded, the altercation had ended and his main role was securing the scene for the other officers who were arriving. The State called each of the three eyewitnesses to testify to their recollection of the events.

         A. Brandon Sails

         Mr. Sails testified that on the night of the shooting, the victim was in Mr. Sails' apartment "for maybe fifteen to twenty minutes." Mr. Daniel arrived about a half-hour before the victim. Mr. Sails testified that the victim and Mr. Daniel left the apartment together and that he could view them through the open blinds in the living room window and through his open door. Mr. Sails noted that the victim was not armed when he left the apartment. As the victim was leaving, Mr. Sails saw two men ascending the stairs towards Mr. Daniel and the victim, one of whom he recognized as Mr. Thomas. Mr. Sails saw Mr. Thomas and Mr. Daniel shake hands and then immediately heard two gunshots. He then heard the victim shout, "What's up with you bro?" Mr. Sails testified he heard nothing spoken between the parties prior to hearing the shots. Mr. Sails stated he saw the defendant gesture to something at his side during the confrontation. The following exchange took place between Mr. Sails and the State when he was asked about the gesture:

State: Prior to that gesture, did you see [the victim] use any violence against the person that made that gesture?
Mr. Sails: I saw [the victim] charge the person who made the gesture as intent to not let him get whatever it was that he gestured at his waist side for.
Sate: Prior to that charge, did you see [the victim] use any violence against that person?
Mr. Sails: It was -- it looked like in defense. Because the way [the victim] said, What's up with you, Bro, it was a scared intent, ...

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