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State v. Henderson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

February 26, 2018


          Session July 11, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 15-00211 Paula L. Skahan, Judge

         The Appellant, Martiness Henderson, was convicted in the Shelby County Criminal Court of first degree felony murder and received an automatic life sentence. On appeal, he contends that he is entitled to a new trial because he was denied proper jury selection and that his life sentence violates the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties' briefs, we conclude that the trial court committed reversible error during jury selection. Therefore, the Appellant's conviction is vacated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for a new trial.

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

          Claiborne H. Ferguson, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Martiness Henderson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin Smith, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Pam Stark and Sam Winnig, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.



         I. Factual Background

         In January 2015, the Shelby County Grand Jury indicted Brandon Vance, Walter Collins, and the Appellant for the first degree felony murder of Larry Wilkins. The Appellant, who was seventeen years old at the time of the crime, was transferred from juvenile to criminal court and was tried separately from his codefendants.

         The Appellant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence. Nevertheless, we will briefly summarize the evidence presented at trial.

         Dionne Lee, the victim's fiancée, testified that in March 2014, she and the victim lived together in the Sycamore Lake Apartments. The victim was trying to sell his black Ford Mustang and had placed an advertisement on Craigslist. On the night of March 9, Lee took a nap in bed, and the victim slept on the couch. At some point, Lee was awakened by five or six gunshots. She noticed that the victim was not on the couch, went outside, and saw people standing around. She asked them what had happened, and they told her that "the guy in the Mustang had shot the guy right there." Lee turned around and saw the victim lying on the ground. The victim's Mustang was gone, but a gold Chevrolet Monte Carlo was present. Lee had never seen the Monte Carlo at the apartments previously. She felt the car, and it was warm.

         Officer Michael Huff of the Memphis Police Department (MPD) testified that when he arrived at the scene, the victim was lying on the ground, and a Monte Carlo was "[n]ot very far" from the victim. Officer James Smith arrived and found four spent shell casings.

         Corrie O'Bryant testified that on March 9, she was living in the Sycamore Lake Apartments and arrived home just before midnight. She saw three or four men looking under the hood of a Mustang, which she thought was "kind of abnormal for that time of night." O'Bryant parked her car and heard gunshots. She went into her apartment and heard a woman screaming. O'Bryant went back outside and saw the victim lying on the ground where the Mustang had been parked. The Mustang was gone.

         Laveeka Allen testified that she lived in Sycamore Lake on March 9 and was doing homework when she heard four or five gunshots. She looked out her apartment window and saw three or four men standing outside. One of the men fell, and two or three men ran. A dark-colored Mustang left the apartment complex.

         Sergeant James Sewell of the MPD testified that he obtained a search warrant for the gold Monte Carlo and that a "drive-out" tag issued to Brandon Vance was in the vehicle. Sergeant Sewell also found property belonging to Vance and Walter Collins in the car. A two-way radio or "walky-talky" was in the back seat and was still turned on.

         Officer James Johnson of the MPD testified that on March 10, he heard a be-on-the-lookout or "BOLO" for a Ford Mustang used in a homicide. He saw the vehicle traveling ahead of him and later found it abandoned with a door open. A witness told Officer Johnson that he had seen "some guys run eastbound."

         Edward Cunningham testified that on March 10, he was working as a technician for Memphis Light, Gas and Water and was tearing down an electrical meter when he heard "the loud roaring of a car" and saw a black Mustang drive by. He then heard "[a] ruckus" and "some footsteps" and saw two young African-American males run by him. The Mustang's doors were open. A police officer arrived, and Cunningham told the officer what he had seen.

         Sergeant Kevin Lundy of the MPD testified that the Appellant was identified as a suspect in the shooting and taken into custody. On March 11, Sergeant Lundy spoke with him and advised him of his rights. The Appellant's mother was present, and the Appellant signed a waiver of rights form. At first, the Appellant claimed he did not know anything about the shooting. However, after Sergeant Lundy "confronted" the Appellant with information about the case, the Appellant stated as follows: The Appellant and his two "cousins, " Vance and Collins, found a car for sale on Craigslist and made arrangements with the victim to look at the car. The three of them planned "to go look at the car and do a test drive and once they came back they were going to rob the guy and take his car." The Appellant was armed with a pistol and was the only person with a weapon. After they test-drove the Mustang, the Appellant "upped the gun at the dude, panicked and shot him." The Appellant later threw the gun into the river. The Appellant told Sergeant Lundy that they went to the victim's apartment to steal the victim's car but that he did not mean to kill the victim.

         Officer Michael Coburn of the MPD testified that he processed the Mustang for fingerprints and obtained prints from the hood, front bumper, two front quarter panels, and driver's door window. The parties stipulated that Vance's fingerprints were on the Mustang's front bumper and that the Appellant's fingerprints were on the outside of the driver's door.

         Dr. Marco Ross, the Chief Medical Examiner at West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center, testified as an expert in forensic pathology that the victim sustained six gunshot wounds. The bullets entered the victim's upper right back, middle right back, lower left back, the back of his upper left arm, his right elbow or upper right arm, and the back of his right thigh. Some of the bullets passed through the victim's vital organs, and his cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds. Toxicology tests on the victim were negative for alcohol and drugs. On cross-examination, Dr. Ross acknowledged that none of the bullets entered the front of the victim's body.

         The Appellant testified that at the time of the shooting, Brandon Vance was twenty-one years old and Walter Collins was seventeen. Vance and Collins were brothers. The Appellant was friends with them and referred to ...

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