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State v. Boutrous

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 16, 2018


          Session December 12, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2014-D-3002 Monte Watkins, Judge

         Defendant, Mena Mekhaen Boutrous, was convicted of two counts of aggravated arson and one count of attempted first degree murder after a bench trial. The trial court merged the two counts of aggravated arson and sentenced Defendant to twenty years for the conviction for aggravated arson and twenty years for the conviction for attempted first degree murder, to be served concurrently. On appeal, Defendant argues that: (1) the trial court erred by excluding evidence of Defendant's mental health; (2) the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions; and (3) the sentences were excessive. After a review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Manuel B. Russ, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mena Mekhaen Boutrous.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Alexander C. Vey, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Roger Moore, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.



         In October of 2014, the Davidson County Grand Jury indicted Defendant for two counts of aggravated arson and one count of attempted first degree murder after a fire at Tornado Wireless in Nashville. Because of the fire, the store and its owner, Rimon Boutrous, were burned.[1] Defendant waived his right to a jury trial.

         At the bench trial, the following facts were introduced. On a day prior to May 10, 2014, Defendant purchased a used cell phone from Tornado Wireless, the victim's store. Tornado Wireless was located in a strip mall next to a grocery store. The store specialized in selling used cell phones and working on broken or damaged cell phones. The building was owned by Ahmed Sankari, who also operated the grocery store. On May 10, the victim was working at Tornado Wireless along with one of his employees, Mohammed Salem. At some point that day, Defendant entered the store and demanded a refund on a cell phone he had purchased at the store. According to the victim, Defendant threatened to kill the victim if he did not get a refund. The victim informed Defendant that he operated the store with a strict "no refunds" policy.

         Defendant exited the store and retrieved a container of gasoline from the trunk of his car. Defendant proceeded to throw gasoline at the store building and inside the store. The victim was in the back of the store at the time Defendant returned. The victim heard the disturbance, walked to the front of the store, and asked Defendant what he was doing. The victim tried to push Defendant out the door. The victim testified that Defendant doused him with gasoline. As Defendant neared the door to the parking lot, he ignited a lighter in his opposite hand. Both the store and the victim were immediately engulfed in flames. Mr. Sankari could see black smoke emanating from Tornado Wireless.

         Officer Jiyayi Suleyman of the Metro Nashville Police Department was responding to a "domestic call" in the area near Tornado Wireless. Officer Suleyman "was flagged down by numerous individuals saying there was an individual on fire across the street of Lafayette." When he arrived, Tornado Wireless was on fire and two men were "rustling, tussling" in a physical altercation outside the store. The men were later identified by Officer Suleyman as Defendant and Mohammed Salem.

         Soon thereafter, Officer Suleyman saw the victim exit the burning store, "yelling and screaming." Officer Suleyman described that the victim's skin was "coming off his hands and facial area" like "when you light a candle on fire and how the wax drips off." Officer Suleyman tried to get the victim to remain calm despite his obvious pain. The victim, who was twenty-two years of age at the time of the incident, suffered burns on over 60% of his body. At trial, the victim explained that he could no longer "lead his life like a normal person" and it "would be better for [him]" to die. The victim was in the hospital for approximately two months after the incident and still required treatment for residual health problems.

         The crowd outside the building reported to the officer that Defendant started the fire. Officer Suleyman spoke to Defendant who was described as "calm and relaxed." Defendant explained to the officer that he came to the store seeking a refund for his purchase and, when the victim refused, Defendant brought the gasoline can into the store to "scare the victim into giving a refund for the phone."

         Mr. Sankari was working at his grocery store next door when the incident took place. Mr. Sankari recognized Defendant as a customer of the grocery store. Mr. Sankari stated that Defendant stood out because he had an "eye problem" where his "eyelashes keep blinking." Mr. Sankari asked the victim about Defendant. The victim told Mr. Sankari that Defendant had a "medical issue" for which he was "under treatment."

         The building sustained substantial fire damage near the entrance and the countertop inside the store. Kevin Neville, the assistant fire marshal and fire investigator, smelled gasoline vapor "outside in the parking lot." The presence of gasoline was evident inside the store; there was a clear burn pattern inside the store with "heavy charring" on the countertop. Gasoline had clearly been poured "along the counter and on the floor." The only clear point of origin for the fire was the victim himself. It appeared to Mr. Neville that the fire started near the front of the store. Mr. Neville surmised from his investigation that a "gasoline vapor explosion" occurred inside the store near the front of the store.

         Defendant's brother, George Boutrous, testified that Defendant came to the United States in 2006. George came to the United States in 2012. When Mr. Boutrous first arrived, he assisted Defendant with taking care of various tickets, court costs, and fees. George helped Defendant get a driver's license and access to a car. Defendant eventually moved in with George. Over objection from the State, he testified that Defendant was prescribed medication for and suffered from mental illness, that Defendant did not "sleep well, " and that Defendant started looking "differently" beginning in 2012. George claimed Defendant talked to an "invisible person" and would "fight[] with that person who was not actually there." According to George, Defendant did not regularly take the medication that he was prescribed. In fact, Defendant had neglected to take his medication for approximately "forty days to two months" prior to the incident. George also testified that Defendant smoked marijuana on a regular basis.

         Defendant testified in his own defense. He claimed that the victim sold him a stolen cell phone. Defendant testified that he took the phone to the store in order to obtain a refund when the victim "started to pick a fight." Defendant walked out of the store, heading to his car to get something "from the trunk and fight." Defendant was going to get some type of jack rod or metal tool but found only a gasoline can. He took the gasoline can into the store to try to "scare" the victim into giving him a refund for the phone. Defendant admitted that he poured gasoline on the counter in front of the victim, covering as much space as possible with gasoline. The victim tried to wrestle the gasoline can out of Defendant's hands. Defendant claimed that during the struggle, gasoline spilled onto the victim's shirt. Defendant eventually got a few steps outside the store before he lit a cigarette lighter at his side. Defendant then recalled the victim running toward him just before "everything was on fire."

         Defendant noted that he took several medications, including Haloperidol, Bentropine, and Trazodone and that he had been hospitalized for a mental condition prior to the incident. He claimed that he was not taking his medication on the day of the incident and, at the time, was also smoking marijuana daily. Defendant admitted that he smoked marijuana shortly before the incident. Defendant insisted that prior to the incident, he and the victim were friends who regularly spent time together. In fact, Defendant testified that he merely wanted to scare the victim after the victim refused to give him a refund but that the victim actually threatened Defendant during the incident. Defendant admitted that he was aware of the victim's no refund policy but thought that their friendship may influence the victim's decision to waive the refund policy. Defendant also testified that he was aware the victim was leaving for Egypt the next day and that Defendant may never receive his refund if he did not ask for it on the day of the incident. Defendant explained that this was "the worst thing that [ever] happened to [him]."

         At the conclusion of the proof, the trial court found Defendant guilty of both counts of aggravated arson and one count of attempted first degree murder. The trial court merged the two counts of aggravated arson. At a subsequent sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Defendant to twenty years for the conviction for aggravated arson and ...

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