Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Demeza

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

February 21, 2018

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
BRYAN AUSTIN DEMEZA

          Session November 7, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Tipton County No. 7807 Joe H. Walker, III, Judge

         The Tipton County Grand Jury indicted the Defendant, Bryan Austin DeMeza, on charges of aggravated child neglect, first degree felony murder, and three counts of aggravated child abuse. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements to law enforcement, which the trial court denied. The jury convicted the Defendant as charged and sentenced him to life for the first degree murder conviction. At a sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the Defendant's convictions for three counts of aggravated child abuse into his conviction for aggravated child neglect and sentenced the Defendant to twenty years to be served concurrently with his life sentence.[1] The trial court denied the Defendant's motion for new trial. On appeal, the Defendant argues that: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statements because he was subject to custodial interrogations without being informed of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); (2) the trial court erred in admitting extrinsic evidence of the Defendant's prior false statements under Tennessee Rules of Evidence 401 and 608(b); and (3) the evidence was insufficient for a rational juror to have found the Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The State argues that the trial court erred in merging the Defendant's three aggravated child abuse convictions into his aggravated child neglect conviction. After a thorough review of the evidence and applicable case law, we affirm the Defendant's convictions for felony murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse. Because the evidence at trial was insufficient for a rational juror to have found the Defendant guilty of aggravated child neglect beyond a reasonable doubt but was sufficient for a finding of guilt of child neglect, we reduce the Defendant's aggravated child neglect conviction to child neglect and remand for sentencing on the child neglect conviction. We also conclude that the trial court erred in merging the three aggravated child abuse convictions into the aggravated child neglect conviction and remand for sentencing on the Defendant's three aggravated child abuse convictions.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part and Remanded

          Bo G. Burk, District Public Defender; David A. Stowers (on appeal and at trial) and David S. Stockon (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders, for the appellant, Bryan Austin DeMeza.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jonathan H. Wardle, Assistant Attorney General; Mike Dunavant, District Attorney General; and James Walter Freeland, Jr., Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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

          OPINION

          ROBERT L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         On December 6, 2012, emergency responders arrived at the Defendant's home in response to a call about an unresponsive infant. The Defendant, the stepfather of the victim, Zayne DeMeza, [2] informed emergency responders that he had tripped and fallen onto Zayne. The emergency responders transported Zayne to a local hospital where the emergency room physician pronounced him deceased. Zayne was nineteen days old at the time of his death.

         Suppression Hearing

         The Defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements to law enforcement because his interviews with law enforcement were custodial interrogations and he was not informed of his rights under Miranda. At the suppression hearing, Special Agent Kira Johnson[3] of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") testified that she investigated Zayne's death. On December 6, 2012, she went to the Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton, where a nurse informed her that Zayne had died of respiratory failure and had also sustained "bruising around the neck, what appeared to be bruising around the buttocks, red [striation] of the back of his head, and a bruise on the forehead." After Special Agent Johnson completed her investigation at the hospital, she went to the Tipton County Sheriff's Office ("TCSO") to meet with Zayne's family. She explained that the Defendant "voluntarily came into the interview room to speak" with her and TCSO Detective Sherri Wassel "in reference to what occurred the night prior to Zayne's death and also the incident that caused his death." Special Agent Johnson recorded her interview of the Defendant. She stated that the Defendant had not been arrested, was not in custody, and was free to leave at any time. The Defendant informed Special Agent Johnson that he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Special Agent Johnson testified that she did not promise any leniency to the Defendant or threaten or coerce him to make a statement. Her first interview with the Defendant on December 6, 2012, lasted between an hour and an hour and a half. The Defendant made a sworn written statement[4]during this interview.

         During her interview with the Defendant, Special Agent Johnson learned that the Defendant lived with the following individuals in a house on Drummonds Road in Tipton County: Zayne; Zayne's mother, Chelsea Whitesides; Chelsea's father, Billy Whitesides; and Chelsea's step-mother, Donna Whitesides. After the interview, the Defendant agreed to go to the Drummonds Road residence and reenact the events that led to Zayne's injury and death. The Defendant rode in the front passenger seat of Special Agent Johnson's unmarked vehicle and was not handcuffed or in custody. Detective Wassel also rode in Special Agent Johnson's vehicle and other detectives accompanied them in a separate vehicle. When they arrived at the Drummonds Road residence, Special Agent Johnson, Detective Wassel, and the other detectives made a video of the residence, photographed the residence, and collected items of evidence. Later, the Defendant reenacted the events of the evening of December 5 and morning of December 6 while law enforcement filmed the reenactment. The Defendant and law enforcement then returned to the TCSO, and the Defendant gave a second statement in the interview room. In his second statement, the Defendant "remembered another incident that occurred the week before in reference to him holding Zayne De[M]eza in his arms and [Zayne's] head colliding into the door frame."

         Special Agent Johnson interviewed the Defendant again on August 7, 2013. She decided to ask the Defendant to speak with her again because she had received the autopsy report on Zayne's death. She stated that the Defendant drove to the TCSO, did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and was not in custody during the interview. She did not threaten the Defendant to give a statement and did not know of anyone else who threatened the Defendant. She stated that the Defendant "started" the interview on August 7 and "wanted to talk about work" and "mentioned he was abused by his stepfathers." The Defendant gave a third written statement during the recorded interview and left. Special Agent Johnson did not inform the Defendant of his Miranda rights on December 6, 2012, or August 7, 2013.

         On cross-examination, Special Agent Johnson testified that, when she first interacted with the Defendant at the TCSO on December 6, 2012, he was in the lobby of the TCSO office. She stated that she spoke with the Defendant for thirty to forty minutes before the Defendant gave a sworn written statement. She explained that this interview was voluntary and that the Defendant could have left the TCSO at any time. Special Agent Johnson stated that, when she first interviewed the Defendant, she knew that Zayne had been in the Defendant's care before his death, but she was "still gathering information" and had not formed an opinion about Zayne's death or possible suspects. She explained that she asked the Defendant to provide a second statement after the Defendant reenacted the events that led to Zayne's death because she wanted to show the Defendant some photographs and to clarify his initial statement. She explained that she did not inform the Defendant of his Miranda rights on August 7, 2013, because she "wanted to speak with him in reference to the findings of the investigation and also the medical information [that] [law enforcement] received." The Defendant did not ask to speak with an attorney or ask to leave. She explained that she also discussed the autopsy and investigative findings with Chelsea on August 7, 2013. Special Agent Johnson testified that she began to consider the Defendant a suspect in Zayne's homicide on August 8, 2013, when she arrested the Defendant and informed him of his Miranda rights. The Defendant then asked for an attorney and did not give any more statements.

         Detective Wassel testified that, on December 6, 2013, she worked as a detective for the TCSO. On that day, she reported to the emergency department of the Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton to investigate Zayne's death. She stated that the Defendant, Chelsea, Billy, and Donna all traveled from the hospital to the TCSO in their own vehicles. They stayed in the lobby until they were taken to the interview room. Detective Wassel informed Zayne's family members that they could leave if they wanted to. She found Zayne's death suspicious and believed it could have been non-accidental. Detective Wassel stated that Chelsea, Billy, and Donna informed her that the Defendant was the last person that saw Zayne alive. She was present when the Defendant gave his first statement around noon on December 6. Detective Wassel explained that she did not inform the Defendant of his Miranda rights during his interview because he was not in custody. She stated that another deputy was "standing by" at the Defendant's house while the Defendant reenacted the events leading to Zayne's death to assist with processing the crime scene. Detective Wassel testified that the Defendant did not ask to leave or ask for an attorney on December 6.

         Detective Wassel explained that she interviewed the Defendant on August 7, 2013, after Zayne's autopsy report was released "[t]o see if there was a difference in the story, because there were different injuries that were not visible the day of the incident . . . ." She considered that the Defendant or Chelsea could have abused Zayne. She explained that she did not inform the Defendant of his Miranda rights on this occasion because he was not in custody and was free to leave.

         Vickie Huffman, the Defendant's mother, testified that she accompanied the Defendant to the TCSO on August 7, 2013. She stated that law enforcement wanted to speak with the Defendant because they had learned new information about the victim's case. The Defendant agreed to speak with law enforcement at the TCSO because Chelsea "wanted to know what [law enforcement] had found out." Ms. Huffman sat with the Defendant in the waiting room of the TCSO until a man wearing "black khaki combat-looking pants" and a "polo shirt" called for the Defendant. The Defendant "looked at [Ms. Huffman] and said, [']I don't want to go.[']" Ms. Huffman testified that the man said "[']You don't have a choice. You need to come talk to me.[']" Ms. Huffman saw the Defendant approximately three hours later after he finished speaking with the TCSO.

         The trial court found that the Defendant was not in custody during the December 6, 2012, or August 7, 2013 interviews. In its order, the trial court found the following:

In this case, the Defendant arrived at each meeting at the office voluntarily, he was not under arrest, and he agreed to speak with investigators. The investigators informed the Defendant that he could leave. Agent Johnson told the Defendant the subject matter of the interview, and, at that time, the Defendant agreed to the conversations and to ride to the scene and perform a re-enactment of the events as he stated occurred. The [D]efendant was not in custody or Mirandized and rode in the front seat of the unmarked vehicle to go to the house.

         The trial court found that "there was a point in time where the officers investigating the incident were unsure if a crime had been committed or if accidental injuries occurred because of death." Further, the trial court found that "[a]fter [law enforcement] received the autopsy report, which revealed additional injuries, then the [D]efendant became a suspect in a suspected crime." The trial court also found that "there was no behavior by the State's officials such to overbear the [D]efendant's will to resist to bring about confessions or statements that were not freely and voluntarily given." The trial court denied the Defendant's motion to suppress.

         Jury Trial

         The State's Proof

         Aubrey Stoddard testified that, in December 2012, he lived on Drummonds Road in Tipton County, and he was Billy and Donna's neighbor. He stated that, at that time, Chelsea and the Defendant also lived with Billy and Donna. On December 6, 2012, Mr. Stoddard woke up around 3:00 a.m. and let his dog go outside. He noticed that "all the lights" were on at his neighbors' house. He walked outside and "heard a loud noise [that] sounded like a door slammed real hard." Mr. Stoddard heard this noise "about five or six times with maybe five or ten second intervals in between." When he heard the last noise, he also heard "a loud squeal[.]" Mr. Stoddard estimated that he was approximately sixty to seventy-five feet away from his neighbors' house when he heard the noises. He stated that his hearing was "normal" and that the noises were "very loud."

         Jeannie Exley testified that, in December 2012, she worked as a paramedic in Tipton County. Ms. Exley responded to a call shortly after 3:00 a.m. concerning a nineteen-day-old child that was not breathing. She stated that Chelsea and the Defendant were standing on the porch of the residence when she arrived; she described their demeanor as "very nonchalant." Ms. Exley found Zayne in Billy and Donna's bedroom. As she walked into the bedroom, she noticed a "ring around his neck" that "looked like a ligature mark from like somebody had been hung." She also stated that Zayne was "bluish pale, " was not breathing, and did not have a pulse. She also observed bruises on Zayne's right shoulder and on his buttock area. Ms. Exley immediately picked up Zayne and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation ("CPR") and "rescue breathing" while she walked towards the ambulance. She also spoke with the Defendant, Chelsea, Billy, and Donna. She stated that the Defendant informed her that:

he got up with the baby to feed the baby and take care of the baby. They had been lying on the couch in the living room, and I guess when he was done feeding the baby he got up to go put the baby to bed and tripped over the carpet and fell on the baby. And then he picked the baby up, put the baby to bed, went ahead and put the baby to bed. A few minutes later, . . . he went to check on the baby, and that's when he said he noticed the baby wasn't breathing.

         Ms. Exley testified that none of the life-saving measures that she performed at the crime scene or during the ride to the hospital visibly affected Zayne's condition.

         Madalyn Mason testified that, in December 2012, she was an Emergency Department Charge Nurse at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton. Around 3:00 a.m. on

          December 6, 2012, Ms. Mason observed Ms. Exley come into the emergency department while performing CPR on an infant; she noticed that the infant "was cold[] [and] did not have a pulse . . . ." Ms. Mason also observed bruises on the infant's neck and buttocks.

         Dr. Buffy Cook testified that he was a board certified family physician and that he was the Tipton County medical examiner. He investigated Zayne's death. Around 4:29 a.m. on December 6, 2012, Dr. Cook was notified that Zayne's death "seemed to be suspicious because there was some bruising around the neck." After the trial court declared Dr. Cook to be an expert in the area of family medicine, he testified that, at the time of his death, Zayne weighed approximately twelve percent less than he did at his birth. Dr. Cook stated that, if he had examined Zayne as a healthy child at that age, the weight loss would have raised his concern about abuse or neglect. He also stated that he examined Zayne's birth records and found "zero risk factors for birth injury . . . ." Dr. Cook testified that it was normal for a hospital to discharge an infant two days after birth when the mother had received late prenatal care and had tested positive for a bacterial infection, as Chelsea had. When Dr. Cook examined Zayne on December 6, 2012, he observed a red mark around Zayne's neck and injury to his buttock area. However, he did not observe any injuries to Zayne's ribs.

         Dr. Cook reviewed Zayne's autopsy report and noted that "[t]here were fractures of the left first and right first to fourth ribs[, ]" which were "acute" or fresh. The autopsy report also noted that Zayne sustained "calluses of the left third and fourth ribs, which mean[t] that those [we]re old[, ]" on the posterior side of those ribs. [5] Dr. Cook estimated that the older rib fractures occurred between Zayne's birth and nine or ten days of age. Dr. Cook explained that rib fractures in infants occur three ways: the broken ribs could have been caused by "fingers digging in from behind the child, putting excessive pressure on the back. And then basically you have the bone up against an immovable object such as that wall, and then it snaps at the back of the rib." Additionally, an anterior rib fracture is caused "whenever someone falls with a child because the force is coming to the front of the child." A lateral, or side, rib fracture is caused when the infant is squeezed on its sides. He explained that the various stages of healing indicated three possible sources of the injuries:

It could either be birth, which effectively that's ruled out, not only in my mind but in the medical literature, medical knowledge as a whole.
It could be that it was some type of accidental trauma. Again, in this study that required typically falls from greater than six feet or excessive force such as falling with a child directly onto concrete, something like that.
The other is that it would be consistent with abuse.

         Dr. Cook testified that Zayne's "rib fractures in various stages of healing" were "a very, very, very high indicator of abuse" and that the fact that Zayne's injuries were at various stages of healing indicated that he had been in multiple incidents of injury. Dr. Cook also cited a medical study that conducted "the largest known review of posterior rib . . . fractures in children to date" and found that "the vast majority of these, [thirty-two] out of the [thirty-nine], were attributable to abuse, and the vast majority of those that were attributable to abuse had rib fractures in various stages of healing." The study also found that sixty percent of rib fractures in abused infants occurred in the posterior region.

         Dr. Cook also noted that Zayne's autopsy revealed bleeding under the scalp and spots of bleeding in the temporo-occipital area of the brain. Dr. Cook explained that these injuries appeared to be seven to ten days old and could have been caused three ways: blunt force trauma from birth, lack of blood flow from birth, or temporary suffocation. Because Zayne exhibited no birth risk factors, Dr. Cook believed that the injuries were caused by temporary suffocation. Zayne was also diagnosed with focal axonal spheroids of the brainstem; Dr. Cook explained that this was "basically [an] injury that you would see possibly from shaking or lack of blood flow or some type of force." Additionally, Zayne sustained bleeding under the skin at the back of his neck and bleeding in the epidural area of the thoracic region of the spine. Zayne's autopsy report also revealed that Zayne had fat in his liver; Dr. Cook explained that this could have been "residual from birth" or from malnutrition. Based on his observations of Zayne and his review of the birth records, hospital records, and the autopsy report, Dr. Cook believed that the injuries to Zayne's ribs were non-accidental.

         On cross-examination, Dr. Cook clarified that rib fractures in infants can also be caused by "bone fragility." He also explained that the medical study that he cited concluded that, for an infant to fracture a rib from an accidental fall, "the fall had to be more than six feet in nature and also had to be of tremendous force to sustain rib fractures." Dr. Cook also stated that an infant in utero could not sustain a posterior rib fracture if the pregnant mother was in a car accident. Dr. Cook recommended that a pregnant mother should begin her prenatal care as soon as she confirms the pregnancy, but he stated that infants are "perfectly fine" when a pregnant mother begins prenatal care eight months pregnant. In Zayne's case, Dr. Cook stated that there was no indication that Zayne had any complications from Chelsea's late prenatal care. He noted that Zayne "was born in a very rapid time, only four hours[, ]" which meant that "there wasn't very much time for any injury to occur." Dr. Cook also noted that Zayne "went home within two days of being born." Regarding the autopsy report's conclusion that the manner of Zayne's death was "undetermined[, ]" Dr. Cook explained that he spoke several times with the forensic pathologist who performed Zayne's autopsy, and the forensic pathologist could not determine whether Zayne's death was caused by abuse or birth injury. However, Dr. Cook disagreed and stated that birth injury was "effectively ruled out" in Zayne's case.

         Dr. Lisa Piercey testified that she specialized in child abuse pediatrics. She reviewed Chelsea's prenatal records, Zayne's birth records, a Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Investigation ("SUIDI")[6] packet, as well as the following:

a case file from the Tipton County Sheriff's Office, the local medical examiner's records, the ER records from Baptist-Tipton on the day of [Zayne's] death, the autopsy report dated the day after [Zayne's] death, various pathology reports from the autopsy samples, six pages with multiple photographs on each page of [Zayne], and then another page of photographs of the ribs where they actually removed them from the body and took sections of those.

         After the trial court declared Dr. Piercey an expert in pediatric child abuse and child maltreatment, she testified that none of the records that she reviewed showed any birth risk factors except Chelsea's late prenatal care. She noted that Zayne's delivery was "uneventful" and that he stayed in the hospital for an extra day of observation because Chelsea tested positive for a bacteria. She stated that it was normal for an infant to be discharged two days after birth and that Zayne's APGAR scores were eight and nine.[7]Regarding Zayne's weight at death, Dr. Piercey stated the following:

[Zayne] was born weighing six pounds[, ] [fifteen] or so ounces, and when he died he was six pounds[, ] one ounce . . . . So he lost almost a pound from the time he was born. And that doesn't sound like a lot, but for a baby that size that's about [fifteen] percent of his entire body mass.
[T]he fact that almost three weeks after birth he was a pound under his birth weight and hadn't even gotten back to his birth weight, so his weight in addition to the appearance, which is his appearance on the photographs, were pretty consistent with malnutrition.

         Dr. Piercey also noted that Zayne's autopsy report showed several findings of skin trauma. She explained that Zayne's "bottom was raw and red [due to] really bad diaper rash. There was a history that he had some diarrhea, which is pretty common with malnutrition." However, she believed that the bad diaper rash was unrelated to Zayne's other skin trauma. She noted that Zayne had "a couple of bruises on his forehead on either side of his forehead[, ]" "a bruise in front of his left ear[, ]" and "bruising all the way around his neck." Dr. Piercey observed that the bruising was "more prominent" on the right side of Zayne's head, that the bruising "went down over his collar bone on the right side[, ]" and that "there was a larger distinct bruise in the very back of his neck underneath the hairline." Dr. Piercey also explained that Zayne suffered bleeding in the brain, brain damage, deep bruising in the back of his neck, and bleeding and bruising in his spinal cord.

Regarding Zayne's rib fractures, Dr. Piercey stated the following:
. . . [T]he first rib is in the neck, and it's really difficult to break the first rib because it's protected by pretty much everything. And so the medical literature is very clear that when you have a first rib fracture, . . . you have to be worried about very significant high impact trauma, things like major car wreck, falling out of a multiple story window, major, major trauma. First rib fractures are pretty unusual.
And so [Zayne] had first rib fractures on both sides, and then he had fractures of the number two, three, and four ribs on the right side. And if you remember what I said earlier, the bruising was deeper and more prominent on the right side, and so that's not surprising that the rib fractures were more on that side.

         Dr. Piercey noted that Zayne had older fractures on his left third and fourth ribs and that there were no notations in Zayne's birth records which indicated that his rib fractures were sustained during his birth. Dr. Piercey explained that rib fractures sustained during birth are usually caused when the infant is delivered using a vacuum or forceps or when the infant is large. She noted that none of these factors applied to Zayne. She could not exclude the possibility that Zayne sustained the older rib fractures during birth, but she believed it was "very, very, unlikely" and noted that the older rib fractures did not cause Zayne's death. Dr. Piercey explained that squeezing Zayne would be consistent with his rib fractures "[b]ecause the shaking itself doesn't cause rib fractures, but holding the baby and squeezing and holding the baby while shaking causes rib fractures." Dr. Piercey stated that Zayne's injuries were not consistent with an accidental fall because a fall "doesn't cause bruises all the way around your neck and on both sides of your head and neck. And a simple fall is not going to cause these very high impact rib fractures [that] [Zayne] had." Dr. Piercey concluded that Zayne "was severely abused, likely on multiple occasions, and the final incident of abuse resulted in his death." She stated that "the shaking of his neck and body caused his spinal cord injury, the brain injury, and the bleeding" and explained that an individual stops breathing when their brain stem and spinal cord are injured, which resulted in Zayne's brain damage and eventual death.

         Billy testified that, in November and December 2012, he lived on Drummonds Road with his wife, Donna, the Defendant, Chelsea, and Chelsea's other minor child, K.Y.[8] He stated that Zayne's biological father lived with Chelsea from February to August 2012. The Defendant began dating Chelsea at some point after that and eventually moved into Billy's house. The Defendant and Chelsea were married on November 5, 2012, and Zayne was born on November 17, 2012. Billy stated that the Defendant worked for Federal Express while he lived at Billy's house and that the Defendant generally worked in the afternoon.

         Prior to Zayne's death, Billy was aware that the Defendant and Chelsea had been treating Zayne's diaper rash. Billy offered to take Zayne and Chelsea to the doctor, but Chelsea declined because they were not currently covered by health insurance. Billy testified that, on December 5, 2012, he went to sleep around 9:00 p.m. Around 9:30 p.m., he heard Zayne crying, so he got up and took Zayne into the living room. The Defendant also came into the living room and fixed a bottle for Zayne. Chelsea was in her room at this time, and Donna was asleep. Billy fed Zayne and then Zayne fell asleep while Billy and the Defendant watched television and talked. Billy did not see any red mark around Zayne's neck while he was holding Zayne. Around 11:00 p.m., Billy gave Zayne to the Defendant and went to bed. Shortly before 3:00 a.m., Billy heard a knock on his bedroom door. The Defendant came into the room carrying Zayne and told Billy and Donna that he had fallen and that he did not think Zayne was alive. The Defendant was "fairly calm" while he spoke with Billy and Donna. Billy called 911 while Donna performed CPR on Zayne. Billy stated that the Defendant had a cellular telephone and also noted that the Defendant walked past the landline in the residence to get to Billy's bedroom. Chelsea woke up as Billy spoke with the 911 dispatchers. Billy then told the Defendant and Chelsea to wait outside for the ambulance. After the ambulance arrived, a female EMT walked into the bedroom, checked Zayne, and "immediately" picked him up and took him to the ambulance. Billy testified that, at that time, he was not aware of any prior incidents of the Defendant dropping Zayne or falling with Zayne. He stated that he did not hear a loud knocking noise or a squeal that night.

         On cross-examination, Billy testified that the Defendant helped to care for K.Y. and that he had never observed the Defendant mistreat K.Y. He stated that the Defendant generally had a calm demeanor. Billy agreed that he gave a statement to law enforcement on December 6, 2012, and another statement in September 2013. On redirect examination, Billy stated that the Defendant told him that he received medical training while he was in the U.S. Navy.

         Chelsea testified that she met the Defendant in August 2012, the Defendant moved in with her at the end of September or beginning of October, and they were married on November 5, 2012. In October 2012, Chelsea had an ultrasound and confirmed her pregnancy with Zayne. The Defendant accompanied Chelsea to her doctor on this visit and "was a little upset" that Chelsea was expecting a boy. After Zayne's birth, Chelsea was not aware of any health problems that Zayne experienced besides diaper rash. At some point between Zayne's birth and death, Chelsea noticed a bruise on Zayne's forehead and asked the Defendant about it. At first, the Defendant told Chelsea that he "couldn't remember" what happened. Later, the Defendant told Chelsea that he was holding Zayne while he walked through a door and that Zayne's head hit the door frame.

         On December 5, 2012, Chelsea went to bed between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m.; Zayne was in the living room with the Defendant and Billy. Around 2:30 a.m., Chelsea woke up to the sound of the Defendant talking with Billy and Donna. She heard the Defendant say "Call 911. I think Zayne's dead." Chelsea went into Billy and Donna's room where she saw Donna performing CPR on Zayne. Billy had already called 911, so Chelsea "ran outside to flag the ambulance down." The Defendant later joined her outside to wait on the ambulance. After the emergency responders left with Zayne, Chelsea and the Defendant followed the ambulance to the hospital. Billy, Donna, and K.Y. also followed in a separate vehicle. While they were driving to the hospital, Chelsea asked the Defendant how Zayne was injured. The Defendant told her that he had fallen. Shortly after she arrived at the hospital, Chelsea learned that Zayne was deceased. Law enforcement officers then informed Chelsea and her family members that they needed to go to the TCSO. While at the TCSO, Chelsea gave a statement.

         The Defendant continued to live with Chelsea and her family until he was arrested in August 2013. During that time, Chelsea asked the Defendant "multiple times" about how Zayne was injured, and the Defendant told her that "he had gotten up off the couch and [had] fallen over the chair on top of [Zayne]." After the Defendant's arrest, Chelsea learned that, according to the Defendant, Zayne had been injured another time when Zayne slipped out of the Defendant's arms, hit the Defendant's knee, and then hit the kitchen floor.

         On cross-examination, Chelsea stated that she gave two statements to law enforcement regarding Zayne's death. She gave one statement on December 6, 2012, and another statement on July 30, 2015. She agreed that, when Zayne was on the bed and Donna was giving him CPR, the Defendant was "in a panic." Chelsea stated that Zayne was in good health except for having diarrhea since he was discharged from the hospital. She stated that she did not hear a loud noise on the night of Zayne's death. She explained that the Defendant would care for Zayne during the night while she slept. She considered the Defendant to be a father figure to Zayne, and she never observed him be abusive towards K.Y. Chelsea stated that she did not receive prenatal care other than her ultrasound during her pregnancy with Zayne. She testified that she had two minor car accidents during her pregnancy with Zayne. She also stated that the Defendant's cellular telephone did not get good reception at Billy's house. Chelsea stated that, in her opinion, Zayne appeared to be gaining weight before his death.

         On redirect examination, Chelsea explained that her first car accident while pregnant occurred in September 2012; she stated that the vehicles were not damaged, and she did not need medical attention. The second accident occurred in October 2012, and she received medical attention from EMTs, who determined that she was not injured. Chelsea was wearing her seatbelt during both accidents.

         Vickie Huffman testified the Defendant enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly after he graduated from high school in 2010. The Defendant told her that he was being trained as a field medic in the Navy. He also told her that he was looking into becoming a Navy Seal. Ms. Huffman testified that she learned of Zayne's death several hours after he passed away, while the Defendant was still at the TCSO. Two or three days after Zayne's death, the Defendant or ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.