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State v. Crowley

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 17, 2018


          Assigned on Briefs June 27, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2013-A-678 Mark J. Fishburn, Judge

         The Defendant, Christopher Jerald Crowley, was convicted by a jury of premeditated first degree murder and sentenced to imprisonment for life. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202. On appeal, the Defendant contends (1) that the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of expert witnesses about the Defendant's mental health that the Defendant sought to present to establish that the killing was a voluntary manslaughter; (2) that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (3) that the trial court erred in admitting testimony from a witness about a statement the Defendant made several months before the killing; and (4) that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the Defendant's conviction. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Jason M. Chaffin, Nashville, Tennessee (at trial); and David M. Hopkins, Murfreesboro, Tennessee (on appeal), for the appellant, Christopher Jerald Crowley.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Katherine C. Redding, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Brian Ewald and Leandra Justus Varney, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.




         During the early morning hours of October 18, 2012, the victim, Robert Mitchell, was sleeping on a bench across the street from the Criminal Justice Center in downtown Nashville. The victim's aunt, Linda Cloyd, testified at trial that the victim typically lived with family members, but that in October 2012 the victim was homeless and working at the Nashville Rescue Mission.

         Mario Hambrick was the co-owner of a bail bonding company and was working at his office near the Criminal Justice Center on October 18, 2012. Mr. Hambrick testified that he was going to his car at approximately 3:00 a.m. when he heard a single gunshot. After hearing the gunshot, Mr. Hambrick saw "a black Nissan Maxima with tinted windows . . . [rush] down the street and bust[] through [a] stop sign." Mr. Hambrick called the Criminal Justice Center property guard, James Cathey, to tell him about the gunshot. Mr. Hambrick also flagged down two Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) officers he saw leaving the Criminal Justice Center.

         MNPD Officer Charles Shaw was one of the officers flagged down by Mr. Hambrick. Officer Shaw recalled that the bench was about "a half a block" away from him when Mr. Hambrick flagged him down. When he got to the bench, Officer Shaw saw the victim "slumped over" on the bench. The victim had a gunshot wound to his head. The victim "was not responsive." Officer Shaw "called for medical aid" and began "secur[ing] the scene."

         The victim was declared dead at the scene. The victim's backpack containing his belongs was found next to him. The investigating officers also found the victim's wallet and identification. A .380 caliber shell casing was found by a lamppost near the bench. The Criminal Justice Center had several closed-circuit television cameras. The investigating officers reviewed the surveillance footage with the Criminal Justice Center property guard and the footage was played for the jury at trial.

         The surveillance footage showed a black sedan drive by the bench where the victim was sleeping at 2:31 a.m. The black sedan returned at 2:33 a.m. and parked near the bench with its headlights turned off before it drove away again. This pattern was repeated several times over the next thirty minutes. The Criminal Justice Center property guard became suspicious of the black sedan and zoomed in on its license plate.

         At 3:03 a.m., the black sedan returned, "pulled into oncoming traffic, " and parked facing the wrong direction at the curb by the bench. The surveillance footage showed that the sedan's driver's side door was open and that a person got out of the sedan. The person walked toward the bench and out of view of the surveillance camera. The sedan was left running with the driver's side door "wide open." The person was then seen returning to the sedan at "a much faster pace, " and once the person was inside the sedan, it "immediately sped away."

          The investigating officers ran the license plate number of the black sedan seen on the surveillance footage. The sedan was registered to the Defendant. Officers were dispatched to the apartment complex where the Defendant lived. The access gate to the apartment complex showed that the Defendant had entered the apartment complex at 3:15 a.m. on October 18, 2012. However, the officers were unable to locate the Defendant's car. As the officers were searching for the Defendant, his car pulled into the apartment complex. The Defendant was taken into custody at approximately 5:00 a.m. The arresting officers described the Defendant as being "very calm, " "very compliant, " and quiet. The Defendant did not ask the officers why he was being arrested and handcuffed.

         The Defendant consented to a search of his car. No gun was found in the Defendant's car or on his person. The clothing the Defendant was wearing was seized for forensic testing and a gunshot residue test was administered on the Defendant's hands. Subsequent forensic testing by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation revealed that gunshot residue was present on the sweatshirt the Defendant was wearing when he was arrested. The swabs of the Defendant's hands were inconclusive for gunshot residue.

         An autopsy was performed on the victim and the victim's cause of death was determined to be "a gunshot wound to the back of his head." The bullet entered the left side of the victim's head and came to rest near the front of the right side of the victim's brain. The bullet was recovered from the victim's brain and placed into evidence. The medical examiner testified at trial that the ...

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